I’m Building an Empire Here

I seriously love podcasts. My husband actually got me into them; he was constantly listening to podcasts when he would do yard work. I finally dove into the world of podcasting a few years ago, and haven’t really looked back since. The challenge now is there are new and interesting podcasts coming out all the time and I sometimes end up with upwards of 10 unplayed podcasts! Then I get stressed out about all the pods I have to listen to!

Many of the podcasts I listen to often include an interview component. One of the newest podcasts I’m listening to is The Planning Period podcast hosted by Brad Shreffler. He and I crossed paths at ISTE this year; he attended our session and reached out afterward. We talked a lot about paradigm shifts that are necessary in education and teacher professional development. He also asked me some tough questions about education and its future! You can check out the full episode here. 

So, now I’ve officially “made it” as a podcaster. I’ll just retire now.

 

Kidding. But, it was really cool and I enjoyed being on the other side of the microphone.

Eric and I were able to finally connect this week and record a podcast recapping our takeaways from ISTE. We shared some big themes and takeaways from ISTE. Common between the two of us? The opportunity to network and dive into deep conversations with teachers and other industry leaders. One of the best parts of the event was the conversation we had with Rushton Hurley at the MACUL meetup. We talked education policy and how it looks different in New Zealand, the U.S. and even varied among different sates. Check out our episode here.

Moving forward, it’s time to start implementing some of the ideas and models I learned about with some of our schools. Scalability and replication of models is important, and I want to make sure that what I bring to our school leaders and curriculum team is realistic for implementation in our district. We are focusing a lot of our professional development this year on 8 schools that are being redesigned with new flexible seating, interactive flat panels, and focusing our teaching and instruction around student interactivity, creation, and sharing their learning quickly and easily with their classmates, teachers, and the world at large.

What are your goals for this school year? 

Did you attend ISTE? What were your key takeaways? 

Why #ISTE17 Was My Favorite ISTE Yet…

Y’all, Texas got me!

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Enjoying the Riverwalk

A couple weeks ago (side note – how has it already been two weeks!? This summer is flying by), I went to San Antonio along with a few thousand other educators for one of the biggest education conferences of the year. Even though it took me over 13 hours to get there – hello cancelled flights, delays, and lost luggage – I had a blast and learned SO MUCH deep in the heart of Texas.

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Significantly less excited to be traveling 6+ hours in and stuck at O’Hare

Honestly, I could write thousands of words about the energy and beautiful chaos of ISTE, but I am going to try to focus on a couple of my big takeaways from the conference, and why this was my favorite one yet. (Full disclosure, I leave every ISTE thinking it was the best one ever…)

Professional Learning Among Professionals

One of the best parts of attending a conference is being surrounded by so many professionals, on fire for improving their practice, sharing what they’ve already done, making connections, and planning how to improve their teaching the next year. This year I was honored to be chosen to present at ISTE on the work I’ve been doing with podcasting in our school district. It is always exhilarating – and terrifying – to present on what you’ve done to a group of educators. I really appreciated how folks took the time to Tweet me, engage in our presentation, and reach out after the presentation to continue the conversation. While there are always a plethora of sessions to choose from as well as Playgrounds, Poster Sessions, and other types of learning to engage in, the most value I always find is in those conversations with others. The opportunity to dig deep, to think critically, to have your ideas challenged, to reflect on your own ideas and practice are all invaluable.

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Model The Behavior You Want to See

We know a lot about how people learn, and the efficacy of engaging with learning versus just hearing about something. And yet, so often, the type of professional learning teachers experience goes against everything we know about best practice. Teachers complain all the time that most of the professional development isn’t useful, is a waste of time, or that they never have the chance to really “learn” because they hear about something once or twice and never revisit it again. One of the best sessions I attended was called “Designing ‘Just Right’ Professional Development” and the presenters – Connie Lippenholz, Lucy Podmore, and Matthew Patty – were not only engaging and entertaining, but it was clear they have given deep thought about what pedagogical approaches will best meet their learners, and will create a systemic change in the ways their teachers model instruction. (You should totally follow them on Twitter because they are awesome!)

Visit the Exhibit Hall

You can’t expect to attend a huge technology conference without a large presence of all kinds of new (and more seasoned) tech companies and tools. It can be totally overwhelming to try to visit all the vendors, so probably don’t even try. But, many vendors are becoming more in tune with what educators are looking for and what kinds of powers they have. A teacher might see a super cool tool and want to bring them back to their school, but most teachers don’t have any budgetary powers. I think a lot of vendors understand that are are focusing more on how their tools could be implemented in a classroom setting. Nearpod had a bunch of mini sessions where teachers could sit and experience using their software in a mock classroom setting. Google also has many different sessions showcasing “nuts and bolts” type examples of how their products can be implemented in a variety of learning environments. Seeing those examples are more powerful than showing a principal or superintendent a flashy flier.

Attend Networking Events

After the conference each day, several vendors host happy hour and cocktail events. A lot of the ISTE PLNs have networking events, too. This is a great way to learn a bit more about a company’s product or offering, but more valuable, is the chance to talk to other educators. We attended a dinner with myON, a company committed to creating a digital literacy environment for students to boost student reading and excitement around reading. We learned a bit more about some of the new offerings and the philosophy behind the company. But, over dinner, I got to hear from two different people from schools who have implemented myON in their district and the effects its had on student reading, growth, and achievement on standardized tests. There is value in spending time with other educators – friends and strangers alike – and doing it in a more relaxed setting is even better.

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Take Time to Reflect

It’s important to spend some time reviewing resources, ideas, products, people, etc. that came across your path. Then, begin setting some goals for your practice. I love to blog in order to reflect, set public goals, and hold myself accountable. Some people podcast – which I’m planning to do, also! Sharing what you learned with your colleagues is also powerful.

ISTE is incredibly overwhelming but also so inspiring and energizing. I had a blast in San Antonio – despite getting “Deep in the Heart of Texas” stuck in my head for about a week.

 

Next year, ISTE is a little closer to home in Chicago, and I’m already excited for it!

 

Do as I Say, Not as I Do…

Why is innovation critical? The other day, General Motors announced that it will be laying off 1,100 workers in the Lansing area. Their plant that currently produces the GMC Acadia is cutting its third shift, and all of those jobs are going to Tennessee. This is the fourth layoff they’ve announced since November 2016. Here in Lansing, we have also endured Oldsmobile – a company born and bred in the Capital City – closing its plant and ceasing to exist as a product. Michigan’s auto industry and its struggles shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone who lived through the Great Recession. And while in many ways GM and Chrysler are doing much better, it’s easy to look around and see the effects of the Great Recession on the local economy. Across the board, more and more jobs are being lost to automation and advances in technology – not to “bad trade deals” as a certain leader has alluded to…

Listening to the YouTube Live this week, a couple of things stuck out to me:

“The jobs that can be automated eventually will be. That’s why we need innovators.” – George Couros

I couldn’t agree more. There is vast opportunity for new jobs, to solve complex problems, to fill an existing need, and to generate a lot of money for local, state, and national economies. Obviously on a micro level, a new job that fills a need could be very lucrative for someone, on a macro level, in order to stay relevant we must change and innovate. And yet…we are still working on outdated machines and within models that were designed to solve 20th century needs. It’s pretty crazy when you think about it.

A place where I see this dichotomy is in education – in professional learning specifically. George referenced that a lot of the problems in education aren’t from the teachers themselves, but from their leadership. I (mostly) agree with this. We ask a LOT of teachers – collect an inane amount of data, differentiate, be innovative, integrate technology to a high level, reinforce social skills, teach curriculum, support all learners all of the time in culturally-relevant ways, etc. While all of these things (aside from the overwhelming data collection…) are essential to supporting students and helping them learn and grow, it can be really hard to do, especially when you’re being asked to do things you’ve never done before. Having leadership that models and brainstorms with you ways to be more innovative and feel like you have permission to try new things.

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We had a PD day not long ago on implementing our new math curriculum. Rather than giving people time to share ways they have used the different components in their classes, the PD was focused on the “nuts and bolts” and reviewing (for the umpteenth time!) the online resources available. While that is helpful for some people, other teachers benefit from hearing how their colleagues are changing their teaching strategies.

Another example I see time and time again is asking teachers for feedback – on a paper survey – and only at the end of a session. While feedback is an incredibly powerful tool, it needs to be done throughout the process, and there are ways we can utilize technology to make it more efficient.

I loved Sarah’s thoughts around good leaders providing support and space for their teachers. It’s kind of reminiscent of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – we need to feel cared for and loved before we can do anything else. Teachers need to know that their leaders have their backs and they have the opportunity to capitalize on their strengths and fly. When I was still in the classroom, I was never afraid of trying a new technology out with my students because I knew that they would figure it out – and teach me something new in the process. Teaching 8th grade students about the Constitutional Convention (prior to the Hamilton craze) could be somewhat challenging to make it meaningful and relevant for them. So I worked on ways to create innovative learning experiences. We made videos that parodied reality shows – Real Housewives of Colonial America for example. Students had to really KNOW that material in order to create a coherent and accurate video. But, I wouldn’t have had the courage to do that if I didn’t have a principal who understood that my ability to connect with students on their level was a strength and I needed the space to be able to do that.

How do we move more leaders and teachers in this direction? I truly believe a culture shift in how we define professional learning opportunities is crucial. Teachers willingly give up their weeknights and Saturdays to engage in Twitter chats or attend EdCamps because they have control over the type of learning they experience. These types of learning opportunities also provide teachers the time they so desperately need to really think through challenges, create innovative projects and lessons, to collaborate, and to connect. Additionally, there needs to be an expectation – and accountability – that the provided time is really being used for that purpose. While there is value in spending 5-10 minutes “venting” about the problems, it’s not the most productive use of your 60 minute PLC time – EVERY week. Or half listening while grading papers and responding to email while your colleagues are speaking – it’s rude and unprofessional. I get it; I taught middle school for 4 years, often had 180 English essays to grade, etc. But at the same time, we would not accept that behavior from our students, so why do we think it’s okay for us to do that? Teachers and administrators need to change the culture of professional learning – space and support – but also accountability and professionalism.

What say you? How can we create more innovative learning experiences for teachers and administrators?

Tinkercad Tutorials

Several classrooms at Mt. Hope STEAM have been putting their creativity skills to the test and designing different types of buildings and cars for their moon colonies. I love this unit because it allows students to be so creative while still implementing design and engineering principles to make it a bit more challenging.

Last year students used Google Sketch-Up and created some really unique designs. Sketch-Up offers a lot of really advanced 3d Design software tools, some of which are a bit too challenging for 4th graders to master. So, we decided to try another tool this year – Tinkercad. Tinkercad is great because it’s so user friendly and easier to design in 3D than Sketchup (at least for younger students).

Once students create their house and cars on Tinkercad, we’re going to use our 3D printer to print them. For theme night next week, we will have our moon colonies set up. It should be really cool!

If you’re interested in using Tinkercad with your students, here are a couple of tutorial videos I created for teacher and students. It would be easy enough to post a link to the videos either on your teacher webpage or as an announcement on Google Classroom. Then students could access them as much as they want, pause when they need to, rewind, etc. I hope you find them helpful!

Aligning a Roof Shape
Creating a Window
Creating an Arched Doorway

Going Beyond Google

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, several of the schools I am working with are Going Google. Earlier this summer, I worked with one of my schools and did some basic training on Google Drive – Docs, Forms, and Classroom, specifically. As with most things we learn, you have to use it or you lose it. I don’t take personally that staff doesn’t remember every single thing I taught them!

This summer I have worked hard to provide personalized learning opportunities for my teachers by providing drop-in office hours. A few teachers have taken up this option, but the majority have not. And that’s okay; we all need breaks and all are busy. However, as a Technology Integration Specialist, I want to share my knowledge and strengths to help teachers engage students in new ways and to hopefully make their lives easier! Starting next week and going through the month of July, I am offering some more in-depth and focused teaching of Google Apps.

While there is value in learning the technical “how-tos”, they don’t really help if you never provide teachers time to practice and practical ways to use these tools. Yeah, they are fun and exciting at first, but if you don’t have any real pedagogical and curricular connections, then what’s the point? My hope is that these summer Google training sessions will be useful for teachers.