Friday, May 12, 2017

Be Brave

Every year I look for a new technology to use with my students. Choosing a new tool can be exciting and challenging at the same time and educators must consider many things before introducing something new to their students. 

I taught third graders and occasionally second graders for reading. While many thought they were too young, I believed that given practice and scaffolding, they could master any of the tools presented. And they did. They learned how to use Google Forms, Slides, Docs, and Drawings. They created VoiceThreadsblogged end of quarter book reviews, and learned proper netiquette. They participated in a global read aloud, had Google Hangouts with a class across the country, and engaged in a book talk with another class using TodaysMeet

In Untangling the Web, 20 Tools to Power Up Your Teaching, Dembo and Bellow discuss a few things teachers must consider when evaluating a new technology tool.

  • Education friendly portal
  • Student accounts
  • Privacy settings
  • Public sharing 
  • Global search
  • Registration process
  • Ability to save offline
  • Sharing capabilities
  • Publishing options
  • Exit strategy
  • Cost

For me, cost and the registration process was at the top of my list. It had to be free and it had to be easy for students to log in. I had the opportunity to reach out to teachers in our district and learn about their opinions of this process. Mr. Thomas, Mr. Kent, and Mr. Brashear are technology teacher leaders at their school sites. 

How do you decide which tools to use with your students?

Mr. Brashear believes the project should guide the tool. He focuses on building his students' confidence with the technology by first introducing them to something basic and then building on that with tools that require more skill.

This isn't something I considered, but recognized that it is something I do. Depending on the accessibility of iPads or MacBooks at a site, many of our students only engage with the technology during benchmark testing. Consequently, when they join a classroom with a teacher who has more accessibility to devices, and s/he encourages students to let the project guide their learning, they may hesitate. When asked how to do something on a website or app, I will often tell students to explore and just figure it out.

To build on that idea, Mr. Kent considers the cost-benefit mindset. He takes into consideration the amount of time required to teach the tool itself and if it will ultimately facilitate a deeper understanding of the content being taught. Additionally, he decides if the new technology related skills will likely be needed in future learning, or career.
This is important to consider and communicating this to students can be beneficial too. Engaging them in the decision making process will help them become better consumers and allow them an opportunity to articulate a defense for choosing/declining a certain tool.

Mr. Thomas believes that the first thing to consider is if the tool will enhance their learning. It's risky to add something new and he is careful that it doesn't waiver from the objectives he is trying to accomplish. Like Mr. Kent, he also considers the amount of time that will need to be spent on instructing the students on the use of the tool. Teachers must also be knowledgeable about how to troubleshoot expected mistakes.

Often, with sites that include a educational platform, the teacher's interface can be different from the students'. Before introducing it to students, I create both a teacher and student account and navigate through it as a student. This allows me to see ahead of time where my students might get stuck.

What obstacles do you need to overcome to obtain permission to do such a project?

The response to this was very similar among these three teachers. With the support of their leadership team, they do not feel that permission is needed to proceed with the projects they choose. As Mr. Thomas mentions, technology in our district is a highly sought after addition to the curriculum. The strict firewall does cause some issue with the restricted websites and permissions to use iPad cameras or to have app/software installed does require district approval. The greatest obstacles are access to devices and time.

What advice would you give to a teacher seeking to replicate your efforts?

"Be confident about what you are doing, make sure administration knows your ability and also gain admins faith in you that you are keeping kids in mind at all times." - Mr. Brown

"First - look for examples of how teachers have used it. There are some great examples out there - as well as some not so good ones. Next, find someone who has used them. Pick their brains on what they encountered when they engaged their students. Finally - Be BRAVE! Plan on something going wrong - those moments are great teaching moments - it teaches perseverance, troubleshooting, and problem solving. It's one of those ways to help students become a literate digital citizen. " - Mr. Thomas

"Be unrelentingly persistent. You as the classroom teacher know your students, have an idea of their technology skills (as well as your own), and will need to be a staunch advocate. Students will be at all levels and it will require perseverance but well worth the payoff." - Mr. Kent

I chose to quote their responses to this final question because they were so powerful. I would give the same advice to teachers. Be brave. You can't mess it up and you can't break the device (unless you try really really hard.) Take the risks, share that fear with your students. Let them see you fail and let them see you try again. Look for support and look for examples of how other teachers are using technology.

This First Year

Many times teachers leave the classroom because they are burned out and need a change. I left because I love what I do and wanted to impact students and teachers beyond my school. As a technology coach for the district, my role is to support teachers with the implementation of technology. In this first year, it hasn't been as easy as I thought. It's been a year of building relationships and trust, but I hope that more teachers will reach out and be confident, brave, and persistent. My goal is to meet them where they are and build their confidence so they can build their students'.

Special thank you to Mr. Brashear, Mr. Thomas, and Mr. Kent. They each are passionate about providing their students the opportunity to engage in meaningful activities and are true teacher leaders.

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