Bags bags bags!

Unloading all the overnight gear…

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Grounded.

I used to be famous (or maybe notorious) for taking my shoes off to do presentations. I can’t tell you how this habit started, but I CAN tell you that it felt good.

I stopped doing that. I started being a “professional.”

Except, every now and then…I needed to get down and dirty with something I was teaching–usually an interactive projector (they lend themselves to down-and-dirty) or something I felt extremely passionate about. I’d end up totally in the zone, barefoot, occasionally on my knees and flinging my arms around like I was a bird (or, perhaps, more gracefully–a ballerina).

And it felt good.

For whatever reason, this popped into my head today–this former barefoot-ness. And I thought, “I should do that again.” And then I thought, “I should most certainly NOT do that again!” After all, I’m a professional! Right?

Call me insane, call me a hippy, call me Meadowflower Junebug or something, but there is something incredibly grounding about being barefoot–about taking off your stupid, uncomfortable (yet professional) heels, your Target wedges, your whatever, and just being rooted. I think we could all use a little more grounding lately.

SO I’M BRINGING IT BACK. 

Tomorrow, I’m going to attempt to present to a bunch of strangers with my shoes off. I’m going to make a thing of it. It’s going to be my thing (again). Because, after–what feels like–ages of feeling like we were all making it up as we went along, scrambling, searching, and responding to countless initiatives sent from above, I finally feel grounded.

I promise to get a pedicure.

Sincerely,

Meadowflower Junebug, barefoot hippy

We have to stop pretending

So I just came across a post by Rodney Turner (who came across a post by Beth Still–who came across a post by Scott Mcleod), listing five things we have to stop pretending in Education.

Here’s my addition…

We have to stop pretending:

  • that acronyms are necessary to make an Education initiative or tool official. (See this list.)
  • that teaching special-needs and under-served students is in any way similar to teaching average and above-average students.
  • that we actually know what good teaching looks like.
  • that standardized testing is a decent and useful way of assessing kids.
  • that any of us really know what we’re doing. (We’re just doing what we think is best.)

Feel free to make your own list and tag it with #makeschooldifferent.

The Glowing Scantron

There is only ONE THING I hate more than numbered list titles–you know: 12 Great Apps for Engagement! 27 Reasons This Dog Is Having A Better Day Than You! 195 Ways Evernote Can Change Your Life! Seriously, I despise numbered titles. Just give me a good, old-fashioned article or blog post without the uber-convenience of numbered headings; your lists are dumbing down what could be good writing.

So, back to the thing I hate MOST: computer-based, high-stakes assessment.

Join the club, right? I know that this is a hate that’s pretty widespread and easy to support. But here’s my specific problem with testing: it’s a technology priority. All chromebooks go bye bye and get handed off to a silent lab of testers. All computer labs are shut down and become a place of gloom and doom. Great learning with technology stops and the tech becomes, once again, a typing and clicking machine–no longer a transformative tool. Desktop support becomes the testing troubleshoot squad. Teachers start saying things like, “Those third graders really needed time on the computer so they could learn how to type better for the assessment.

I could barf.

The thing I spend all year championing is suddenly a device of doom–an insular world of judgement and right and wrong, a multiple-choice machine, a locked-down, secure-browsered testing tool. What–three weeks ago-was a path to information, a global community, collaboration, and creativity is now, basically, a glowing Scantron.

And, dear SBAC, no matter how interactive you make that glowing Scantron, it’s still a standardized test. Having the ability to drag and drop an answer or hover for definitions of words does not (not not not not NOT) make a test more valid or accurate or real-world or ANYTHING. It just makes it harder to TAKE the test, because–now–in addition to content literacy, kids need pretty extreme amount of computer literacy in order to SHOW their content literacy.

This is not a new thought by any means. But, I figured it couldn’t hurt to add my opinion to the giant stack of negative opinions of this thing. One day, that giant stack of opinions will fall over on someone’s head.

Until then, carry on, minions of the glowing Scantron.

The Red Badge of Doom

I am starting a new tradition. As a part of my new-formed anti-stress campaign, I’m doing something that might seem totally uncharacteristic of someone who is so tech-minded.

I’M DISCONNECTING ALL WEEKEND.

Well, sort of.

After reading one-too-many articles on how blue light affects sleep, how lack of sleep affects everything, and how the constant beep of updates from my Family group text affects my sanity (wait–I didn’t read that; I just know it), I’ve decided–for the second weekend in a row–to shut it all off.

Last Friday, I uninstalled Facebook from my phone. (Admittedly, I kept Messenger.) I took off Instagram. Deleted the Twitter. I turned off any and all notifications, badges, and sounds from everything that was left. Gone. It was all gone.

Granted, it’s easy to do things like this, because–really–it’s not all gone. It takes a whole 5 seconds to re-install the apps and everything is there, just like you left it. I can’t imagine deleting ACCOUNTS. So the step I’ll take is to delete the app. Let’s not get crazy here.

At first, I was very confused. Actually confused. I kept reaching for my phone and lighting it up and staring at it, but no red bubbles of happiness (or doom, depending on the app) were staring back at me. I realized very quickly that I pick up my phone at pretty much every possible interval–at stoplights, in line for checkout, when I pass the phone walking from room to room, during commercials, during boring parts of TV shows, on the toilet (yeah, I said it). A few hours into no-notification life, I stopped the knee-jerk phone checking.

BUT THEN WHAT DO YOU DO? You’re telling me I have to stand in line at Walgreens and–what–read the bad headlines of the Star? I’m supposed to look at the traffic lights when I’m stopped at them? I’m not supposed to Instagram my salad? How am I supposed to eat this PERFECT salad without sharing how beautiful it is?!

Granted, I’m exaggerating, but not that much. My constant connectedness was ridiculous, and was actually starting to mess with my ability to function. I didn’t feel comfortable being in just one conversation at a time; I had to have three other digital conversations going on simultaneously. I couldn’t just watch TV; I had to watch TV and text and Google “can you propagate ivy” and be alerted that my sister was picking up the comforter my mother had washed that afternoon. One can imagine how that might wear a soul thin.

When Monday rolled around, I couldn’t help but re-install Instagram. I convinced myself that seeing pretty pictures was less harmful than most of my smartphone activities. I also follow a tiny and select group of people on Instagram who can be counted on to only post photos of their dogs, babies, and flowers, so there I’m guaranteed to not have a stream full of depressing news or overshares.

Wish me luck on weekend #2 of disconnectedness (lite). Just don’t do it on Twitter or Facebook, because I won’t get the notification.

Keep your money. I want good learning.

If I had a dollar for every time a teacher asked me what app they should use or what website they should send their kids to, I’d be richer than Richy Rich.

SPOILER ALERT: I’m not.

But I AM frustrated with this kind of thinking. I guess, several years ago, this WAS how technology was integrated into learning–you had some great sites that you could plop kids on and they’d be able to explore some corner of the internet they didn’t know about. Or (in my day) you got to play Number Munchers or Oregon Trail when you were done with your assignment.

Nowadays, we care more about what we want the kids to learn, and THEN what or if technology should be involved. This makes it harder on teachers in some ways, because we have to run through the list of resources and devices available (if we even KNOW of what’s available) and choose the right one. The hardest thing–maybe–is realizing when no technology is the right one.

And then, even more difficult, is the option of providing students with choice as to what device or tool they use–or if they use one at all. They’re no longer all doing a prescribed PowerPoint with set information on each slide; they’re:

  • creating a lesson to teach the class a concept or skill
  • demonstrating a scientific principle using video or animation
  • publishing a collaborative blog about a lit circle book
  • etc.

They’re creating something with an objective in mind, and–if a teacher has the guts–deciding how they want to do that.

This–I believe–is the most powerful shift in instruction with technology in our district: student choice. It requires a teacher who is willing to introduce different platforms or devices, allow (possibly) unknown programs or devices to be used, allow students to teach themselves and each other, and embrace the chaos of non-uniformity.

So, even if I COULD have a dollar for every question about the “magic app,” I DON’T WANT IT.

Keep your money. I want good learning.

Being more “mer”

By now, many teachers in my district are familiar with the SAMR model.

 

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about what each part means, what it looks like in a classroom, and stressing that we should be moving toward MR (I pronounce this mer, like a big dummy)–Modification and Redefinition. We’ve taken fun quizzes where we had to evaluate lesson plans on the SAMR scale and questioned how they could be “more MR.” I feel like we’ve done this a million times.

And yet, it’s actually very difficult for us all to live in MR.

Don’t get me wrong; there are times when you just need to type an essay out instead of writing it by hand (obvious–but necessary–Substitution). There are times when you just show the kids a YouTube video because it’s hook-ish and engaging. But where do you draw the line here and stop doing things in the Substitution and Augmentation world just because. 

We have this ingrained need to let our students do that cool Civil War website just because it’s awesome. Or to teach them how to do crazy stuff on Pixlr just because it turns out a really nice picture and you can hang up spectacular examples of student work. Or show them that Ted Talk just because it really ties in with the theme of the lesson and who doesn’t love Ken Robinson?

But–do you make take students on a field trip to the museum just because it’s awesome? Do you teach them how to draw a three-dimensional box just because it turns out a really nice bunch of papers to hang on the wall? Do you play them that REM song just because it goes really well with the theme of the book you’re reading?

NO.

You take kids to the museum because you’ve been studying Realism and you want them to see and evaluate the masters. You teach them to draw a 3D box so they can create a culminating perspective project on a real or imagined street.  You play them the REM song so they can contrast the lyrics with the words of the author in that book you’re reading and debate whether or not they would agree with each other.

So let’s stop.

Let’s have purpose. Let’s allow kids to create, synthesize, evaluate and teach with technology, not just sit with it. Let’s use the power of a global web to collaborate and crowdsource. Let’s consider if the technology we’re choosing is a valuable part of the lesson or a babysitter and pacifier or this fun new app we heard about on Twitter.

I’d argue that we’re also dangerously nearing a point where technology for technology’s sake is no longer automatically engaging for students. Simply putting a device in front of them won’t necessarily excite them anymore, so the move to MR is essential.

So here’s my plea: Let’s stop throwing tech into lessons like sprinkles on ice cream. And <insert extended simile here> because it would be ridiculous to continue the point when YOU GET IT. Don’t you?

CHROMEBOOKS: Making it look easy

My district recently purchased (and is in the process of distributing)–like–ONE MILLION Chromebooks for students. I may be exaggerating, but barely. They’re stacked like a fire hazard in heaps in the Tech Services basement and have quickly been sprinkled like fairy dust in primary, middle, and high, with a whole cart reserved for one lead technology teacher at each school. The kids there squealed with joy and were immediately put to work on the Chromebooks, resulting in delight and phrases like, “Can we stay in from recess and do Khan Academy?”

Unfortunately, a 1:1 Chromebook classroom doesn’t happen automatically. Feel free to respond audibly with a big “DUH,” but the things that aren’t automatic are worth exploring; the little things that make it look like it happens with ease aren’t so easy to notice–unless you’re looking. My lead technology teachers have been hand-picked for their ability to be wizzes at integrating tech into the classroom in meaningful ways. So what do they do that makes this thing look easy?

Create processes for starting activities:

1. Assign each Chromebook and student a number, and have them always use that Chromebook. This not only streamlines the Chromebook-grabbing que, but help teachers track breakage, theft, and general funny business. If you know that Suzy in 1st period and Jenny in 2nd period always use Chromebook #15, when you notice something strange about #15 during 3rd period, you know who to consult. Match them up with the number on your roster or assign them a number based on seats. But whatever you do, DON’T create a paper sign in and sign out sheet and tape it to the cart. Trust me on this; this is a logistical nightmare.

2. Make them open a set of tabs that you’ll be using–not just one at a time as you need them. Plan out the sites you’ll be using, and direct the students to open all of those tabs at the start of the lesson. This will significantly decrease lag-time between sites or activities.

3. Adopt a digital lesson plan landing page that’s always used–a teacher website, Google Classroom, a shared document. Teach the students to consult this page with questions before, during, and after a lesson. Once students are trained to check the lesson plans digitally, they’ll ask far fewer questions about the activity–at least process-related questions. Including simple, step-by-step directions and links to online activities or shared docs will eliminate the need to repeat yourself a zillion times.

Let kids teach themselves:

4. Encourage students to share (and model) new things they find related to the hardware or software. If a student figures out a keyboard shortcut that the class might find handy, have him speak out and show the class. If they found a quicker way to search for images in a document, let them model that on an overhead.

5. Rely on students to help their neighbors or table-mates. Instead of running around the room to answer each hardware- or software-related question, allow students to help each other. Generally, there’s a kid close by that can quickly show another how to do something. Not only does this take the load off of you, but it gives students chances to be leaders and teachers, and gives them ownership of their learning and their devices.

Create process for ending or transitioning activities:

6. Give students a set amount of time to wrap-up their current activity or thought. Simply telling them they have two minutes to finish up where they are and allowing them that time will make transitioning and ending activities smoother. Telling them to stop and expecting an immediate response is unrealistic, and–frankly–rude. A kid might be able to instantly put away a piece of paper, but shouldn’t be expected to slam shut a  Chromebook; give them a moment to finish up, log out, and calmly close the device.

7. Just as there should be a process for retrieving their Chromebook, students should be taught a process for returning them to the cart or storage container. Send them back row by row or in small groups so you don’t end up with a cluster of kids pushing each other out of the way to put their device back.

I am not engaged.

It is 3:10 on a Friday (well, it was when I started drafting this post). The coffee buzz is gone. I’m starving, I’m squirrely, and I am most certainly not engaged.

I’m not whooping and hollering and raising my hand. I’m not running around playing four corners with a big ole smile on my face. I’m not curiously seeking answers to well-posed questions.

My boss is not in charge of keeping me entertained. It is not his responsibility to make sure that every hour of every workday we’re all enthralled and actively participating in inquiry. It is absolutely not his job to make sure that–even now, when I have 17 minutes left of work on a Friday–Evyan is ENGAGED.

Don’t get me wrong; I love my job. I am genuinely happy to do what I do (just about) every day. I have all of the tools I need–and more–have a glorious amount of autonomy and the support to make meaningful things happen. I work for a school district that’s just big enough to hold weight and just small enough where it’s kinda like Cheers.

But, unless you’re–say–Kim Kardashian and you get to go shopping on an unlimited budget for a living, there are plenty of times when work isn’t engaging. So why, then, are we putting so much emphasis on engagement in the classroom? If the aim is to prepare kids to be “college and career ready,” shouldn’t we teach them–at least part of the time–how to power through stuff that (generally) isn’t really all that fun or interesting? Are we doing society a great disservice by discouraging traditionally un-engaging things like old-school lecturing and note-taking? Will our kids be able to sit quietly at two-hour meeting without falling asleep or screaming obscenities because they’re bored and don’t know how to handle it?

I’m not arguing that we should purposely torture students in order for them to be stand-up, well-behaved citizens. Well, not entirely. I’m arguing that we seem to be leaning towards a world in which teachers are expected to provide students with a learning environment that is bell-to-bell active and in which students should always be happy participants. It’s just not realistic, and–I’d say–it probably isn’t a good idea.

This, my first post, may make me one of the most unpopular people on the internet–especially if Charlotte Danielson reads this (which–I mean–I’m sure she’ll do–right?!). I encourage you to argue with me. And I look forward to arguing back.