The System

I’ve been spending a lot of time in professional development – in book studies, Twitter chats, reading and engaging with blogs, and talking with other teachers and ed tech coaches at events – and I’m really confused.

It seems like so much has changed in education and yet nothing has changed. We know better how students learn. The skills and demands that students will be expected to have are far different than those that existed when I went to school. Our world is much more connected. Technology and access to information inundates and sometimes overwhelms us. It can feel impossible to process all that information sometimes. And yet… I still walk into classrooms and see teachers refusing to let students engage with the world. I hear teachers tell students not to touch anything until they are given explicit instruction. I watch students puzzle and problem-solve on their own, but then shut down when forced to follow along step by step with a teacher or trainer. The thing is, adults feel safe when someone tells them what to do step by step. Kids don’t! Think of a toddler. How does he or she learn? A little boy puzzles over how to get the block into a hole; he tries several holes until he finds the shape that matches the block.

We want students to be problem solvers. We want them to be critical thinkers. Students no longer need us to TELL them what they need to know, we need to show them how to find the answers. We need to teach them HOW to assess and analyze the information they’re given. Students need to apply the knowledge they have in ways that are meaningful, make sense, challenge them.

Nothing is going to change in education until we – the system – changes. We have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We have to be okay with giving up some control. We have to be alright with students exploring – and maybe stumbling upon something they shouldn’t. And when they do, we capitalize on that and use it as a teachable moment. If we only tell kids what NOT to do – and punish them when they make a mistake – how likely are they to actually try and innovate?

Trying to Process…

Happy Friday, friends!

After Tuesday’s election and the early Wednesday morning results, I found myself deeply saddened by the outcome. Admittedly, I was going to be very sad when President Obama left office. I have been inspired by his leadership, vision, exemplars, and policies. Any person coming in to replace him was not going to make me happy. However, I cannot help but feel a profound sense of sadness and fear at the prospect of president-elect Trump. I do not tend to agree with most Republican policies, but I can appreciate that Republicans have differing views than my own, and mostly have reasoned and nuanced details on why they hold those positions. This feels different. I do not support hated, racism, intolerance, misogyny, or xenophobia.

On Wednesday I felt like I just needed to take a few minutes to process my thoughts and get some ideas off my chest. For what it’s worth, here is my reflection.

 

It’s Election Day!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last year, you’re probably pretty sick and tired of hearing about the U.S. Presidential Election. The good news is that it will all be over tomorrow! img_6350

Here at Sheridan Road, we have been harnessing the glut of information around the election to run a school-wide PBL unit. The driving question for the project has been “How can we use knowledge of the U.S. Presidential election to create a successful campaign for Sheridan Road STEM’s student council race?”

img_6354

Over the past two months, students have been engaged in researching and participating in how the election process works – fundraising to pay for commercials and campaign posters, interviewing “constituents” to see what issues are important, and working hard to make sure they lock up their votes. Additionally, students have learned about how the electoral college works, the popular vote, the issues that voters are working on, how and why we elect people to represent us, and what the civic responsibilities are in choosing a candidate.

There will be a president and vice president selected from each grade level – each 4th, 5th, and 6th grade have nominated a candidate. Those candidates have created posters, campaign videos, and have given speeches. Students have heard from local politicians about their own path to election and have had the opportunity to ask questions about the process.

One of the key components of a good PBL is that it is relevant and timely. Clearly capitalizing on the election has helped make this unit timely, but it is also relevant for the students because they are actually choosing candidates who will represent their grade level on the school’s student council. Sheridan Road has tried to model as much as possible the real election process. Once the nominees were chosen from each class, students divided into committees to help their candidate win the election. In order to air their commercials or hang their campaign posters, students had to fundraise and earn money to pay for their commercial slot. Candidates have had to give interviews about what their platform is. We have even had debates between the different candidates at each grade level. (Fourth Grade, Fifth Grade, and Sixth Grade)

Sixth grade students used the website I Side With to evaluate the issues that are important to them and what their positions are. Once they received their results and saw which of the 4 main candidates they sided with, they created a series of fake text messages between themselves and friend, telling their friend which candidate they sided the most with and why.

img_6355

Today is our election day since our schools are closed tomorrow for the election. On Wednesday, we will have the results and the losing candidates will give their concession speeches.

Global Read Aloud

Okay so I have used Twitter a lot for professional connection and learning for the past few years. And I know its power. But I’ve never really witnessed firsthand how powerful it can be! I’ve tweeted out a question and gotten a few responses. I’ve never really had an overwhelming amount of responses to something – until yesterday.

I created a Padlet (basically an interactive corkboard) about the first 5 chapters of a book called Pax. Pax is one of the books chosen for this year’s Global Read Aloud, a collaborative project designed to engage students with reading. I tweeted out the link to the Padlet, inviting people to collaborate on it. In less than 24 hours, I’ve had more than 63 students view and add to my Padlet from all over the WORLD! That’s amazing! Not to mention that it’s incredibly fun (for lack of a better term) to have people comment on your stuff. I get so excited when I have a comment on my blog to moderate; it validates me so much more than just writing for myself. While I get pleasure in sharing my words just to share and get my thoughts out, I’m much more nuanced and thoughtful when writing a blog because of the potential for other people to read it.

This is my second year participating in the Global Read Aloud, and it is such an amazing and inspiring project. I don’t know how Pernille Ripp does it, but she chooses books that are beautiful, engaging, and resonates so much with a variety of students. Last year, we read Fish in a Tree to our 4-6 Reading Class. This is a group of students who are used to feeling the like the “dumb” kids because they struggle with reading. It was such a powerful experience to see them EXCITED about reading and giving them a voice to share how they were connecting with the book.

This year, Pax is also really impacting our students. Working in an urban district, students come to us with a lot of deficits, many with unstable home lives. Peter (one of the main characters) is relatable to them in a lot of ways because he too struggles with belonging, betrayal, and all the challenges of growing up. Pax is also relatable, even though he’s a fox, because he struggles with finding his way and who he is. I cannot wait to get deeper into this book with my students.

Are you participating in the GRA? We’d love to connect with you via Skype or Google Hangout! 

 

First Day of School

Today, thousands of young scholars attended school for the first time in a couple of months. Teachers have spent lots of time decorating hallways and classrooms, perusing their class list and trying to learn student names, scouring Pinterest for engaging ice-breaker activities that students haven’t done countless times before, and students arrived in their new clothing, freshly sharpened pencils, a variety of colored pens and markers stuffed in brand new backpacks. Some students were anxious to begin their first day of formal schooling. For others, this is old hat, and they are marking time until they walk across that stage and collect their diplomas. Many parents anxiously waved goodbye to their children through misty eyes and tried to look brave.

As I traveled through some of the schools today, I was struck by how, despite the incredibly hot and humid weather, teachers, secretaries, principals, cafeteria workers, janitors, and other support staff greeted their students with smiles and hellos. Our schools are not air conditioned, friends. Here in the Mitten state we often don’t need air conditioning but for a handful of days in the fall and spring. But these buildings many of the teachers teach in are old with few windows that open, that cling to the heat, so that even early mornings don’t offer much respite. I know I have a hard time concentrating and being a pleasant member of society when I’m sweaty and feel like I can’t cool down. Not to mention working with 25 K-3 students, or saying the same “Welcome” speech 6 or 7 times to a group of eight graders and still maintaining my charming personality!

Bravo, Lansing teachers! Day one is over and I am inspired by you. We have a wonderful community of supportive, passionate, inspiring teachers here in Lansing. #LansingComeUp!

Permissions and Challenges

Something that’s been rumbling around in my brain the last couple of days after attending a training  and a recent update in privacy policy from Code.org – what responsibility do software and “web 2.0” companies have to schools and students in regard to student information and privacy?

There are literally thousands of websites and resources for students to create digital products, share their knowledge in different ways, or interact with the world at large. However, common among so many of them is the requirement of creating an account, which asks for some kind of information for students. Presumably, many of these companies keep this information to email students, market to them, sell their emails to other companies, etc. I know many websites have their privacy policies and terms of conditions labeled on their websites, but they often have a requirement for students to be 13 or older to use their sites.

Working with many K-6 teachers, it is often a big challenge to find good (free, or relatively cheap) sites, that do what teachers want, and is appropriate for younger learners. This got me thinking – what responsibilities do technology education companies have to the people they are claiming to serve?

I know this isn’t a black or white issue and there are probably a lot of things I’ve left out or haven’t fully unpacked, but I’m interested to hear your thoughts. What say you?

 

It’s a Big Job…

The nights are getting longer, temperatures are dropping a bit, the sun is coming up a tad later every morning, pens and notebooks are on super sale in the store. Summer is winding down and it’s about time for school to start again. While people are always somewhat reluctant to head back to work after a vacation, most teachers I know are ready to get back in their classrooms after a couple of months away. They miss the energy of a new school year, their students, the creativity and collaboration of lesson planning and learning from students.

This year, I am also getting excited as I am transitioning into a new role. For the past two years I have supported the Magnet Program in Lansing. These five schools focused on STEM, STEAM, and Global Studies/Spanish Immersion. Through that role, I built relationships with some wonderful people and helped to share the power of technology in creating meaningful and relevant learning opportunities for students. Now, as that program is winding down, I have moved into a new role where I am supporting the entire district’s technology integration efforts.

While it is a big job – one of me and 27 schools – I am excited for the opportunity to continue to push students and teachers to do new and innovative things with the assistance of technology. But, it is going to be a challenge to support so many people with only so many hours in the day. This year I am trying something new – a booking tool that syncs with my Google calendar. Hopefully this will eliminate a lot of the back and forth emailing that sometimes happens when people want to set something up. I anticipate there being a bit of a learning curve as the most common way to connect with someone is to send them an email. I am hopeful, though, that after a couple gentle reminders, most people will look to the booking site first rather than email.

I put together a little flyer to showcase who I am, what my role is, what I can do, and how to reach me. This will be posted on our Technology Integration website as well as shared with the people in Central Office and all the building principals. In a district our size, it’s impossible to know everyone, so this was the best way I could think of to get my name out there. Let me know what you think!

foxford university presents

School Year Goals

One of the best parts of working in the education field is the opportunity to start fresh each school year. Similar to how lots of people set New Year’s Resolutions on January 1st, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about what my goals for this school year are.

Rather than come up with a list of three or four “things” I want to implement in schools or projects to complete, I have decided to focus instead on something that is both small and large. Last year, I heard George Couros speak at ISTE, and one of things he said really stuck out to me: “What if every teacher tweeted one thing a day they did in their classroom […] and took five minutes a day to read each other’s tweets? What impact would that have on school culture?” You can read more about Building Culture from George here. 

Today’s educational environment – in Michigan especially – is challenging and demoralizing. Threatened with closure, almost 100 schools throughout the state are waiting to learn their fate. The state’s largest public school district (Detroit Public Schools) have students and teachers in buildings with mold growing on the walls, floors, and ceilings. It’s a mess, and it can be really hard to stay positive and work throughout the school year to continually try to innovate and come up with ways to engage students. It is challenging when you’re in the thick of it, to remember all those little moments that get buried in the daily minutiae of teaching.

So, this year, my goal is to tweet out one thing each day that I did or saw in my classroom observation. As the Technology Integrationist for the entire district – all 25 schools – I am sure I will have a lot of things to share! I’m going to share to the hashtag #LansingComeUp. As part of the mission to bring positivity and hope to this area, students brainstormed this hashtag as a way to show people that great things are happening in our schools and we are coming up. I invite you to join me; let’s make this year the best one yet!

ISTE 2016

In less than a week, I will be headed to Denver – along with about 16,000 other educators from around the world – to engage in four days of connecting, learning, sharing, and growing through panels, poster sessions, interactive lectures, hands-on workshops, and informal conversations. I cannot wait! Last year was my first ISTE experience in Philadelphia and it was everything I imagined it would be – and so much more!

After attending the conference, I left Philly on fire for improving my practice as an Technology Integration Specialist. While I gathered a lot of practical resources and slideshows, the most valuable things I left ISTE with were the connections I made with others throughout the world. Growing my PLN has been an ongoing task that has been incredibly rewarding.

This year, I vowed to connect more as a leader and contributor to the ed tech world rather than just a consumer of resources. I have been an active member of a grassroots organization here in Michigan known as the METS group. We are Michigan Education Technology Specialists throughout the state who come together in various capacities – face to face meet ups, virtual rallies, and a vibrant Google+ community – to support one another through purposeful and meaningful technology integration. While I felt like I contributed here and there, I was utilizing the METS group more as a consumer. In order to start being a leader and challenging myself to take my profession to the next level required moving a bit out of my comfort zone. So this year I have stepped up to be part of the leadership “team” and will be working with a few others to plan and coordinate the Spring Rally and meet up. So far it’s been great to feel like I’m contributing in a more meaningful way to an organization that I really value and respect.

Along those same lines, I have gotten so much out of being a member of ISTE. The resources and discussion forums have really helped to push my thinking and to provide some support and reassurance that I’m not the only one who doesn’t have this all figured out! To that end, I wanted to continue to grow professionally, and so I volunteered to moderate the ISTE Ed Tech Coaches Twitter chat. It was a really fun experience and helped me to build my PLN.

This year, I am going to be working with some really smart and inspiring people to build the ISTE Technology Coordinators PLN back up and help it to be a functional and vibrant place for folks like me. I will be serving as Social Media Outreach Coordinator and one of my first goals is to support the group in their panel presentation at ISTE next week. It’s going to be awesome; I’m pumped! If you’re attending ISTE, we’d love to have you at our session: The Changing Role of the Chief Technology Officer. It’s on Monday, June 27th at 2:30pm in the Mile High Ballroom 1D. If you can’t join us in person, I will be Tweeting out questions and ideas using #ISTE2016. Feel free to follow me on Twitter (@AllisonKEDU) and participate from wherever you are in the world.

How Do You Get That Lonely?

My blog title comes from a heartbreaking song called “How Do You Get That Lonely” by country singer Blaine Larson. The song tells the story of a young man who committed suicide. He asks over and over, “How do you get that lonely and no body knows?” This song lyric has been echoing in my head for the last couple of weeks as I heard about the death of one of my former students. His name was Alec and he was 17 years old. 

Alec was a bright, sweet, caring, and thoughtful young man when I had him as a 7th grade student. He was one of the 140 students I taught my first year of teaching. That group of kids will always have a special place in my heart. I’m certain those students taught me more my first year of teaching than I taught them. I learned patience, how to see the potential and good in each student, how to forge relationships with them, learn about their interest, how to engage students in different ways, how to challenge them. I also learned what exhaustion felt like and how hard it was to give your all – day in and day out – and still feel like it was never enough.

Perhaps even more heartbreaking about Alec’s death is that it happened in the midst of so much happiness in the school year. Students are graduating, making plans for college or a career, reflecting on their high school years. There is so much hope and optimism; a sense of the entire world at their feet. Tinged with all these celebratory moments is a profound sense of loss.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 2.52.48 PM

Alec was a much different person as a high school student than he was when I had him as a 7th grader. He grew up – figuratively and literally. Reading through the posts from his classmates and family, it is clear that at his core, Alec was the same bright, caring, kind, and thoughtful young man. My heart breaks for his family.