Some days as a teacher you may use technology in almost all components of your classes, then other days not even touch it. When is too much? When is not enough? In my mind, why are we even asking these questions? If we focus on what is important, then those questions become irrelevant.
In my role as an education technology coach, my role is to support teachers in integrating technology into the classroom. Many would think I would advocate for getting more technology into the classroom but more doesn't mean better.
I always chuckle when I have a teacher that comes to asking for an opinion on an activity that they want to use technology with and I suggest a non-technology approach. To me, using technology should only be done when it makes sense, when it enhances the learning experience for our students and is authentic. We shouldn't force the use of technology in our classes just because we have it.
There are definitely many benefits of being able to use technology in the classroom - access to information, connecting with others, supporting individual needs, motivation, etc. But the most important aspect of teaching should always remain the teaching and learning for student growth.
When I was a homeroom classroom teacher, I always loved assigning a final project with no limit on how it was presented. In doing so, it allowed the students to express themselves using the tools and resources they felt comfortable with. The final products were of higher quality and more diverse. Whether it was a bulletin board, a dramatic presentation, an online presentation of slides, video, art piece, or handwritten essay, the important thing was that the student felt they had ownership in how they chose to demonstrate their learning journey.
If we stop asking when is too much and not enough use of technology and start asking does it make sense to use technology for this learning experience, the technology integration will be more meaningful. In doing so, we are then able to provide our students with just another set of skills to add to their toolkit that they can draw upon when it is most appropriate.
Technology Timeline Reflection
I was born in the late 80s and began school in the early 90s, thus I entered into the Internet Era pretty much from the beginning. For almost as long as I can remember we had a computer at our home. Although, as a child, I was not allowed on it as often as I may have liked and was usually restricted to about 30 minutes a day until it became necessary to have word processed assignments in high school. Primarily I used the computer at home as a means of entertainment to play simple computer games. As time moved on to the late 90s and early 00s, I began to use our home desktop computer to communicate with my friends via MSN and other social media means. This allowed the computer to be a true source of interaction and communication amongst those most important in my life.
In terms of technology in my schooling, we didn't have desktop computers in my class when I began elementary school. However, we did have a computer lab. As a class, we had a computer class once every other week. I still remember learning about putting a floppy disk into a computer and how you could save files to the disk.
As I moved into upper elementary, I transferred to a different school. This school had desktop computers (2-3 per class) in the classrooms. This allowed us to publish our work through word processing programs. It was an expectation that our assignments were completed in this way for most things. As I had the computer at home, it became helpful in ensuring my schoolwork was properly completed.
In high school, again we only had a computer or two in some of the classes. However, we did have a library with computers we were allowed to use for our work when we had time. We also had computer classes. In Grade 9, all students were required to take an introduction to computers and technology course where we learnt about spreadsheets, the way computers worked and its parts, simple graphic design and proper typing. While I actually hated this course with a passion, it did prove to provide me with the foundations of technology that I would need in order to be successful as I moved on in my career and education. I was truly a child that grew up in the internet era using technology for communication, entertainment, education and more.
In university, I received my first laptop. This became my lifeline to success. I took all of my university notes in Word documents, accessed the school's online library for journal articles and used the Blackboard Learning System to communicate with professors and gather weekly class notes. All of my assignments were required to be published online and submitted through Turnitin for academic integrity. University was also my first exposure to things like DC++ (online sharing and downloading amongst university students). The ethics behind these became something that was an interest to me.
I chose a university for my education degree that had a focus on technology. We learnt about using things such as Interactive Whiteboards, clickers and a variety of presentation tools. At the time, it often seemed as though the technology was the way to teach and not necessarily a tool or resource just like everything else in your classroom. I think this was something I really began to understand better in my 2nd year of teaching when I had my own 1-to-1 laptop class.
My first year of full-time teaching was teaching Grade 1 in Beijing at an international bilingual school. I was shocked when I arrived in little to no technology, only 1 computer lab for the entire school and no computers in my own classroom. After training at a university that valued technology in education, I had ended up in a place quite the opposite.
Luckily, I moved on after 1 year to an international school in Singapore where I taught Grade 4 with 1-to-1 laptops. It was a huge adjustment and I had to learn quickly all the applications and how to best teach them to my students. We are a Google Apps For Education school and we use our laptops on a daily basis. They are a resource that can be picked up and used or may just sit there for a few lessons untouched. We really emphasise the skills that will help our students be successful in the 21st century rather just how to do something. We also use a lot of mobile technologies including iPods and iPads when necessary. The students have e-portfolios that they work on throughout the year and regularly share them with their parents.
Next year I am moving into an education technology coach position. I am excited to help teachers utilize the technology in the classroom as it changes and evolves. I know I will have to really support them with best practice and do a lot of research and professional development for the teachers so they don't feel burdened or overwhelmed with the technology that is ever-changing. While I may not have been a part of all four eras of digital technologies, I look forward to what's to come and the next edtech challenge.
So today I was greeted by one of my dear students at about 8:45am as I was wandering out to the playground. I simply smiled and said good morning and asked how he was doing today.
"Ms. Mac, this is the worst start to Monday morning ever...again! Last week it was a bad start to the morning before I got to school and today is too."
My response to the student, "Well I certainly hope we can change that before our Monday time together is over. We did last week once we got into class. Don't you remember we did our inquiry investigations and place value rap? What will make it better today?"
As he rubbed his head and thought very intensely about his answer he responded, "Ya... you're right. We had fun that day. But today is going to be different I can feel it. I don't know what will make it better. Well... you're going to say no. I know you're going to say no if I say this. It's not going to happen."
Curious of what I was 'so sure to say no to' was as I have basically jumped on board every idea a student has suggested this year (something I'm trying to do more of - letting the students guide the learning), I said, " Give it a try - what would make your day better?"
I took a second and thought to myself for a second and said, "Yes!"
I'm pretty sure my student just looked at me in disbelief. He had asked for free time and I had agreed to it. It was clear it was not a common thing for him. "We will make sure you have a designated time for free time if that's what will make your day better."
To be honest, I had the best Monday morning of the year with my students. Maybe it was coming off the EdTech Team Singapore Summit conference this weekend or maybe it was me just savouring every moment with my kids but to me, it was a great morning too.
First thing, I ditched my chair and we just sat in a circle talking. It was a different vibe being on the same level as them as we discussed our weekends in connection to our learning from the past week. Last year I would always ask my kids about their weekends and hear all kinds of wild tales but this year by just changing the question slightly, I feel my students are enhancing the connections they make from in class learning to everyday experience.
Then I literally gathered every book from our classroom and put them in the middle of our circle (with some help from the students of course). I received a few looks of being a bit crazy as I completely disassembled our class library.
"We need to figure out a better way to sort the books. I was going off what we used last year but I think you all could find a better system that works for you."
I have never seen kids so excited to sort books! I turned my back for a second to grab my camera and by the time I turned back, each child had a pile of books trying to figure out which one went together. I saw students creating lists of categories on the board, scratching out ones that could be combined and renaming others. Students began questioning which category a book would fall into - it was non-fiction but could go into science and habitats - which was better? Or why a book would fall under poetry if it was written as a picture book with a storyline. The discussions were amazing, the teamwork and collaboration was so evident and me... I was standing on the sidelines. I kind of just stood there watching for a few minutes before I jumped back into action and started to join in the fun asking questions to challenge their thinking. Don't get me wrong, there were a few kiddos that would wander into another mind space and need to be redirected back with specific jobs they could achieve but for the most part they were running themselves. A successful class library was created. Is it the way I would sort them? Not completely but that doesn't matter. The fact they were able to do that together was most important. And of course when I asked what they thought of their new library, "It's much better our way Ms. Mac" was all I needed to hear for a chuckle.
Our next challenge - how to get the books out of the classroom and into homes. We decided as a class by brainstorming and combining our ideas on how we would make our book sign out procedures most effective. Each student created a page in a book for their individual sign in/out log but then we also had a wish list page so students could wish to receive books others already had out. Seemed simple enough but let's see how this works in practice.
Then the good stuff, presents! Over the summer a friend and I had created some book bags for the back of chairs. Students are going to use these to store up to 5 books they want to read at any one time. This will give them no excuse when it's time to read. My kids were so excited by their presents.
" Did you really make them just for us?" they questioned as their little eyes looked up at me.
My favourite email of my day (one from a student doing their writing homework for the week) said,
"Today was really fun. I really like to read. I have one question did you make the present you gave us? I really like the idea because I'm a bit lazy so I don't need to walk to get a book now." Laughter again - my kids crack me up constantly.
Now that little boy who had 'the worst Monday morning start...again" was doing some independent reading and I said to him he was free to do whatever he wanted until break (about 10 minutes) as I had promised that time. To my shock, he just shook his head.
"Actually Ms Mac, I think I'd just like to keep reading."
"You sure? This can be your free time and you really can do anything."
"Ms. Mac, I was hoping when I woke up we would get to read today, so I just want to do this."
Speechless. It's incredible how often my students do that to me these days. By the end of the day, I had done nothing different in my classroom for this one student as he chose to do what we had already decided to do. But yet, he thanked me as he ran off at night. Sometimes it's not the academics that make the difference it's your attitudes towards the students. Showing the slightest bit of compassion towards them can make a bad day turn upsidedown.
I can't wait until next Monday morning at 8:45am...wondering what my next worst start to a Monday morning challenge will look like next.
I'm not a Primary, Middle or High School Teacher. I'm not a homeroom teacher, but also not a single subject teacher. I attend planning meetings, staff meetings but yet teach no specific classes to call my own. I am an EdTech Coach.
I never expected to be in a role such as this (though enjoying every second of it). It has been a whirlwind of excitement, challenges and fun the first month back in action. But after a day of professional development dedicated to inquiry in the primary classroom, it does get me thinking in a way I haven't before and I'm stumped.
I've sat all day in a workshop with ideas filling my mind of things I could do slightly differently with students in my classroom, how I could try different strategies to make my lessons more inquiry-based. Then it dawned on me... I don't exactly have a class of my own to try things out on like I have in the past.
I've always come back from professional development excited to test my ideas on my guinea pig students. I'd jump in Monday morning with new tricks, strategies and projects to try. My students would work through things alongside me and figure out how to make them work in our given environment. Usually, my students would build on my ideas and make them better than my original ones and off we went flying.
Now I've got ideas. But no class of my own to try them out on. It's a lot easier to try an idea on a large scale in your own class and be okay with whatever direction it takes (even if it is not the most favourable and you have to find a way to redirect it). It is a lot riskier to do the same thing in someone else's class when at the end of the day someone else is accountable for documenting the student's growth and process.
Professional development has to change for me now. How can I take my learning and use it to support the teachers in their classroom and planning? How can I take my learning and use it to change the way I facilitate professional development? How do I still use these ideas that I develop at professional development sessions and still be able to try them in a classroom that is not my own? Change is good and sometimes it just takes time to wrap your head around how to best go about new situations. It's not that it's not possible - just thinking about how to best make the connections from learning to application in different avenues.
September 05th, 2015
As I read the article by Hume (2009), I thought about how I have my own students reflect on their work. I agree with Humes that a more structured format with guidelines is often needed in order for reflection to have depth. This makes me think of my Year 5 class and their e-portfolios. For their e-portfolios, each student needs to choose a number of pieces (I ask them to choose a minimum of 8) to include in their e-portfolios for each unit of inquiry.
Similarly to Hume, when I first began teaching Year 5, I just had students reflect and I was getting very surface level reflections such as “I chose it because I did well and I had fun.” After the first unit, we talked about making our answers like big juicy hamburgers rather than skinny grilled cheese sandwiches in order to get some meat into our work and show our thinking. It was amazing to see how the visual comparison of the sandwiches really helped the students as well as the discussion of questions that should be answered. We created a sample reflection example together as a class for an activity we had done as a class as an exemplar as well. For every piece they reflected on, they would have to answer the following questions:
- What was the piece of work you chose?
- What were you trying to achieve/learn?
- What did you learn?
- Why did you choose to include it? (challenge, growth, best work, etc)
- What transdisciplinary skills did you develop/use?
- What attitudes did you demonstrate and how?
- What learner profile attributes did you demonstrate and how? (We are a PYP international baccalaureate school (IB)
- Can you connect this learning to something else from the past? How will this help you moving forward?
The other thing that also motivated students about their reflections was when they knew their reflections were going to be read. In the beginning, it was just me (their teacher) reading their reflections but I also spent a fair bit of time commenting back to them. My goal was to help to extend their thinking by asking at least one question back to them to make them think about what they had learnt. From there we started to get the parents involved in the reflection process. At the end of every 6-week transdisciplinary unit, the students were required to share their e-portfolio with their parents and the parents were required to comment on a minimum of 5 pieces. This opened the dialogue at home about what was happening at school and often would lead to more conversations and inquiry about the unit itself. The students always wanted to show their parents quality work so it helped them maintain a higher standard knowing their parents would see their work whether it was finished or not. Lastly, we started to share the e-portfolios with peers. This was a more challenging task as not only did you have to have students reflect on their work but you were asking students to reflect on the reflection and work of someone else. This was also a skill that had to be modelled through examples and repetition. By creating a diverse authentic audience, the student placed more pride in reflecting more thoughtfully. From there, it was all about feedback. When students showed me their reflections, I would ask if their reflection was a juicy hamburger or grilled cheese? If it was a grilled cheese, they knew they needed to spend some more time on it. My students were allocated time in class to do the reflections at least once a week plus often when they finished a task they would add it directly to their e-portfolio. This allowed them the ability to succeed as suggested in Humes article.
One of the things I appreciated about the journal article by Hume is that she was essentially doing what she had asked of her students. She was reflecting on her learning and thus providing everyone who reads the article an exemplar of a reflective journal entry. I believe it is important for teachers to model what we are expecting our students to do as teachers. About a year ago, I began blogging online and reflecting on some of my teaching practice. When I began having conversations about reflection with my students in my second year of teaching Year 5, it had more meaning for me as well. Seeing as I was doing frequent reflections, I could talk about my own experiences of reflecting, the challenges I would face and why it was something I chose to do on my own accord. I even showed my students a blog post or two giving them examples of when they would use their reflective skills outside of the classroom. By giving reflecting a ‘real world’ setting, it helped many of the students continue to push their reflections further. It was evident Hume had reflected regularly throughout the process and changed her thinking and action plan accordingly to best fit the needs of her students - a sign of a good teacher.
Hume, A. (2009). Promoting higher levels of reflective writing in student journals. Higher Education Research &Amp; Development, 28(3), 247–260. http://doi.org/10.1080/07294360902839859
How Quickly We Forget...
How quickly we forget when we get our degrees, diplomas and certificates what it really feels likes to be a student.
How quickly we forget that time management is always a challenge as a student as you balance homework, life and other responsibilities and sometimes have an all-nighter to finish whatever is due the next day.
How quickly we forget what it feels like on that first day of school, unsure of what's ahead with excitement, nerves and a little fear all wrapped into one.
How quickly we forget what's it like to have to take notes, review, and apply what you have learnt.
Even when you become a teacher and you are helping your students build the skills they need to be successful you often forget what it is like to be the one who is learning.... until you find your way back to being a student.
As I begin my masters, I realize how long I've really been out of the academic world. Learning at the graduate level is so different but so much the same as learning with my Year 5 students. It is not necessarily about the content but the skills you use to help you to be successful. It is not about the grade you receive but the challenges you overcome as you work through it. It is not about the outcomes but rather the choices you've made along the way. It's not about the perfect score but rather what you learnt from the mistakes along the way.
Most importantly, you learn a lot more if you have fun along the way.
Asking the Kids For Advice
We have had a lot of success in my classroom with students constructing their own learning by creating online courses, doing each other's courses, assessing each other through the courses and also assessing themselves. Giving the students this much ownership in their own learning was really empowering for them and allowed them to explore their understanding of the topics in ways that made the most sense to them.
We were wrapping up the online courses one day and the students were completing their self-reflection. A few students had already finished and were working on some independent inquiries of their own off in one corner of the room. As sauntered over to see what they were doing, which then became about a half hour discussion with us on the floor and more students joining as they finished to brainstorm ideas for our next unit about buildings and structures.
All it takes is a simple question. What would you like to do?
From there, we started to brainstorm different ideas for how we might build, hands-on activities and online programmes. I had one student who had been learning SketchUp quite a bit at home in his personal time and offers to lead some lessons about how to use it. By the following day, I had a full Google presentation sent to me with the lessons he had prepared.
My students even created what they thought would be a good summative task. They wanted to have to build a structure or building given a specific region with certain conditions they would have to adapt for. As they built, they wanted the opportunity to show their thinking and document the process. Finally, they wanted to share their building and provide a rationale for each of the components of their structure. This was essentially what I was planning on having them do themselves at the end of the unit but one thing changed that I wouldn’t have been able to give them - Student Ownership.
The students were empowered to create a summative that was their own, something they wanted to do. They are more likely to be engaged in this assessment and produce quality work because it was something they created. What I have learnt this year is that when I allow my students to guide our classroom, they always lead me down the path that will extend their learning most.
The Educator Three Way Conference
One thing I wanted to really focus on doing this year was reflecting on my work more and documenting the process. The last few weeks, unfortunately, that hasn't been the case. It's not that I haven't thought about blogging and writing it down. In fact, I've actually created a list of blogs I wanted to write. But quite frankly it's just been a little bit crazy - but in a good way.
With co-organising our school fair, completing multiple applications, creating presentations for conferences, going to conferences, report writing, starting new projects with my students and trying to actually teach my students, writing sort of just feel to the side.
So it's time to start making time again. We make our students document and reflect on their learning through their e-portfolios, journals, self-assessments and peer assessments. We focus on the learning journey -- the process over product at times. It is more important about how you get there, the obstacles you overcome and the skills you develop that defines you as a learner. And yet as teachers, sometimes we forget the power of reflection it has on our own teaching and learning. Reflecting on this blog has made me reevaluate a lot of what I have done this year. It has made me question how I do things and how I could go about improving what I have done. I make myself look at the same problem from a new angle. It's been a way to actual acknowledge how far my students have grown but even more so, me. By documenting my thinking, it forces me to actually think critically about my work. It's been a way to showcase successes and action plan for growth. I acknowledge the strengths my students bring to the classroom to make it what it is, while also seeing how far I still have to grow as a teacher. It's still
So as I think about sitting down tomorrow to do parent-teacher-student conferences at school, I can't help to think by this is my 3-way conference as an educator. It is me as a student who is learning, changing, growing each day. It is me as a teacher who is creating resources, sharing ideas and reflecting on teaching in the classroom. Finally, the third member of my conference is my education community who allows me to share, provides feedback, support and suggestions just as a parent would. And when the end of the day comes, I know I can be proud of my students and their accomplishments, continue to push myself further and know that the support and inspiration of others never too far away.
Documenting one class' approach to creating online courses for students by students...
Things had been going well in the research phase of our online courses with the kids really getting into taking notes and using lots of good sources of information. Today we began working on putting the content online and today was the first day I felt we were going nowhere. In an hour and a half of working on it, I began to doubt this idea of students creating their own online course. I doubted my kids but in reality, I was doubting myself.
With all that my students had done this year in terms of student voice, I thought this was the next step and when I wasn't seeing their research translate onto their sites today, I didn't think it was going to work. I thought this wasn't the right approach and my students might not even be fully understanding the content. The question of 'Do I just abandon this project?' kept playing over and over and over in my head. It was heartbreaking to think this idea might not be working the way 'I' want it to.
Before I headed off to my dodgeball CCA today, I had a brief conversation with my teammate who followed up with an email full of support and suggestions of how I could reroute if I had to. Still then, I wasn't sure to jump ship or stay on course and plough ahead.
It had been a frustrating afternoon, to say the least. But when I sat down at my computer tonight to look through a bit of the student's work, something kind of changed. I read through a few of my students' weekly emails to me. Every single email mentioned the project and how much fun they were having. They were thrilled to be building a site and working as a team. Every slide on the weekly reflection presentation to parents had a comment about how excited they were about the project or that they wanted to do more of it or how much they were learning or how much fun they were having.
Maybe it's not quite going the way I had expected. Maybe it won't really work out in the end. Maybe I can change it up a bit and figure out a slightly different approach. But does it matter if they don't learn every single fact about ecosystems in the next 4 weeks? Maybe not. Today I had students searching for images that had permission to be reused and modified instead of just any pictures. I had students helping students and trying new strategies for presenting their work. I had students wanting to find out information about things that interested them within a broader topic and paraphrasing notes. Those are skills that will last beyond the unit and end of the day.
When it comes down to it, it's not all about the content, maybe all that really matters is that my students are excited to be there and they are having fun.
Making Teams That Work
Making groups isn't easy as a teacher. You try to balance the boy/girl ratio, abilities, special needs, interests, and everything else that might affect the group dynamic. You want your students to be successful when working as a team rather than spending more time about who's going to do which job.
Our class previously had discussions about the needs for diverse teams as part of our design thinking cycle during our inventions unit. Basically what it came down to is 'your best friend isn't necessarily your best teammate'. We talked a lot about how we need to have groups with different abilities, talents and most importantly different perspectives. Different perspectives were important so that each teammate could look at the challenge from a different view and give unique insight to the team, which would be in turn push the thinking more within the group more. In terms of making groups, I usually allow my students to create their own as long as it's diverse and is a group that can be productive, which usually works out as my students enjoy that freedom to choose.
This time I decided to have a slightly different approach to the team building process. I outlined 8 jobs that that thought might be useful in the group throughout the project. Each job had some expectations.
1. Leader - Overall leader of the group but not the 'boss'. Makes sure group is moving forward. Communicates challenges to the teacher.
2. Encourager - Stays positive. Encourages others to participate, share and work as a team.
3. Materials Minder - Gather materials as needed.
4. Time Keeper - Use the timer to help the group be aware of time. Provide the team 5-minute warnings, etc. when the time is coming to an end.
5. Organiser - Helps to organise team documents and items.
6. Techspert - Provides tech support and guidance to those in need.
7. Task Minder - Makes sure everyone is on task and focused.
8. Planner - Helps to lead the group in what's next for the group.
After I shared the different tasks and we discussed each one, I had students rank themselves on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being an area of growth and 5 being a major glow. Based on their glows and grows, it was easy to see students strengths and areas of development. This was very important to self-identify in order for making a successful team. I asked students to star the roles they had identified themselves with a 4 or 5.
We discussed that we all have areas of growth and strengths. It is important to surround ourselves with people who are stronger than us in our areas of growth and still working on things we are strong with. This will allow us to learn from each other.
The next task was for students to find a group of 4 that was diverse. The students self-identified as a 4 or 5 in a range of the areas in order to make their group. At first, I wasn't sure the students would really buy into this and just choose their friends but once we began, they were really looking at each others' lists and saying things like 'I'm sorry we are too much the same to work with each other' and 'We aren't alike so we should be in a group'. The groups worked out really well for the most part. 3 of the 4 groups are quite all around strong and diverse. The 4th group is a generally lower ability and will just receive a bit more teacher support in the end.
I wanted the team to bond a bit so I gave them some tasks - 1. Create a team name, divide the job and make a team chant or handshake. This was simply done as a way to watch the children interact with each other but primarily to build collaboration, communication and a sense of a cohesive team.
We've been working in the teams for a few days now and I haven't had any issues with any groups in terms of teamwork. Actually, I've had the opposite - many of the groups are more productive than the students when they work individually. In addition, my students are taking their roles quite seriously and I always have 4 timers in front of me within seconds of being set off to work to synchronise our timers. It will be interesting to see if these groups continue to grow in productivity as our time on the project goes on.