Don’t You Forget about Us

We’ve completed another #tiegrad term and grown even closer as a cohort of connected educators. We were lucky enough to be learning with Alec Couros this term and he brought with him an outstanding collection of guests. He concluded this term with a touching reconnection to the big ideas of connecting, sharing, learning and relationships. He reminded us that it is not about the tools, but instead about learning. However, we must always be mindful of the influence of our tools.

My big takeaways from this course are:

  • Be a part of the conversation. Hearing Dean Shareski speak to US brought the point emphatically home: there is a moral imperative to share our learning and teaching. You don’t need to judge yourself too harshly and censor yourself before you begin, you can grow and find your voice and your people.
  • Ask questions and reach out.
  • It is way more fun to work together. Get into the global staff room and have a coffee together. We do that in #tiegrad – we organize our own coffee chats and morning get-togethers. We pair up, group up, and work together well.
  • Identity matters. We need to consider our own online identity and help our students develop an identity for themselves.

Areas of strength for me as a connected educator are connecting behind the scenes, joining in on Twitter chats, collaborating and working with others, and contributing on backchannels. Most of my areas of weakness center around my insecurities about sharing my voice and opinion. I’m hesitant to disagree, to rock the “global” boat, and to share my simple ideas. I still hesitate to post every blog or tweet, I have piles of drafts on both sites. Sharing my blog publicly causes me anxiety, because I feel a little safer to be myself, have fun and be a little ridiculous here – believing that no one will read much past the first paragraph… right???

Two goals as I go forward are:

  1. Dean Shareski’s challenge: “Can I find your best work online?” You can find my students’ best work online. They proudly tweet from our class Twitter account and their individual blogs. I share my work and learning, but I don’t think that my best stuff is online yet. Sometimes I haven’t realized that there is value in my work until it gets a response on Twitter! I need to be a little more transparent, or at least celebrate some of my efforts in the classroom. There are things that I am proud of, and it might be worthwhile to share them out.
  2. Rethink my metaphor, a challenge by Alec Couros. I have always seen myself as an amplifier of some sort. I’ve called myself a megaphone, a soapbox, etc, with the vision of being a platform of some sort to raise my students’ voices/works/ideas/creations/energies/etc and help them to find their audience and people.

Inspired by Alec’s sweet goodbye “Don’t forget about me… I will always be your co-learner/collaborator” – sticking the Simple Minds lyrics in most of our minds… I’d like to end with:

We found out that each one of us is a learner, a fitbit all-star, a ukulele rockstar, and a tweeter, a blogger, and part of a family that will extend beyond our #tiegrad years together. We were glad to have you join us, don’t forget us!

Sincerely yours, the #tiegrad cohort (your co-learners, collaborators and co-conspirators)

(oh, we should remix this one for our cohort! Challenge extended…)

 

 

The Backchannel – my EdTech Fave

Our #tiegrad cohort shared out some tech tools last week during class. More importantly than the tools being shared were the conversations about how and why particular tools were chosen. I enjoyed hearing about great ideas grounded in strong pedagogy and purpose.

Some tools discussed included: Explain Everything (see tutorials created by Victoria Olson here), Padlet, Desmos, FreshGrade, and Wolfram Alpha.

I wasn’t sure which tools would be chosen by my other cohort members, so I prepared a list of my favourite resources. We quickly ran out of time, so I am taking this opportunity to share out my experiences with my favourite EdTech tool here.

For several years I have been experimenting with a variety of Backchannel tools to find the best resource for my students. My purpose in providing a backchannel in my classroom is to offer more opportunities for students to contribute their ideas, questions, insights and ponderings. A backchannel increases the potential for more participation. Backchannels allow for real time collaboration, even while a lesson unfolds.

I observed a massive increase in student participation in my lessons when I kept the backchannels open throughout the day. I “heard” from students who had not volunteered to speak in class previously – they would insightfully discuss topics through text, offer different ways to explain things, and answer questions posed in real time during lessons. Not every student is comfortable speaking in front of a crowd!

A few of the backchannel tools I have tried include:

  • Padlet: An online sticky note board – it allows you to upload videos, images links comments, almost anything. Works on every platform. It will also provide you with a quick QR code for your board – which is helpful if you project the “wall” and people can walk by and scan the QR to join.
  • Baiboard: an iOS app where you can create a private or public shared space. One feature that I loved about this app is the ability to create multiple “pages” to work on. For several lessons, I created prompts on a series of pages, and the students could reply to the ones that held meaning for them. Organizing the collaborative dialogue on multiple pages kept the conversations more synchronously aligned. This app would be amazing if you were able to open it up to other devices without requiring downloading an app.
  • Voicethread: a great tool for student conversation. You can use images and videos to organize and prompt deeper conversations.
  • A little dabbling with some of the tools listed by EdTech and Mobile Learning.
I post a quick QR code on several "Say Something" mini posters around my room for quick and easy access to our Backchannel for the week.

I post a quick QR code on several “Say Something” mini posters around my room for quick and easy access to our Backchannel for the week.

My absolute favourite backchannel tool is TodaysMeet. This web-based tool allows for hosting a conversation (like a group text) where you can create a “room” that can be open for up to a month. The chat or texting format is easily recognizable by our students. The reason that TodaysMeet has become my favourite backchannel tool is because the teacher presence feels light. Although I create the room and I am “present” and monitoring the discussion, I observe my students genuinely interacting WITH and FOR each other – not for me. When a student raises their hand to speak in class, quite often they are awaiting some form of feedback  (even in a discussion): a nod from the teacher, approval of their ideas, or praise. In classroom discussions, I notice that many students direct their input directly to me – even if they are replying to the last student speaker, their eyes go to me, or they wait for me to “call on” who gets to comment next. An effective backchannel works for the students, it becomes their own space. Sometimes the conversations would extend far beyond the classroom walls and hours.

Three years ago I asked my students to reflect on how texting to a backchannel in class helped them. Here are some of their thoughts:

texting let us stay in contact throughout the lesson. Even though she was teaching us, we could write a comment and people would see it. Not: ‘we ran out of time, so we can’t do all of the questions and comments’

Instead of raising my hand all of the time or calling out, it helped me because I could easily write what I wanted to write and it would get sent and other people could see what I had to say and Mrs. James could see what I had to say

it let me express more of what I wanted to say, to say more of what I think

Grade 6 reflections on how texting to a backchannel can be used in class.

Grade 6 reflections on how texting to a backchannel can be used in class.

Grade 6 reflections on using backchannels for participation in class.

Grade 6 reflections on using backchannels for participation in class.

Using a backchannel has allowed me to formatively assess in real time. I am given an opportunity to see leadership from students who may not otherwise stand out. It opens a window into a collaborative and reflective learning environment that is usually hidden from view.

It takes time to find the right backchannel tool, and what works with one group of students may not work with the next group. It is important to find a platform that fits in with your class’s community and culture.

In Awe of John Harris

Thank you Keith Rispin for organizing such an inspiring event

this week! Keith brought us together to learn from the incredible John Harris, a retired SD 35 educator about creating simulations and games with our learners.

The projects shared were astonishing! As John clicked from published site to published site, I would assume that the contents were “professionally” crafted. The simulations were engaging, student-focused and the learning was explicit. Students in grades 5 – 8 created them all! But, the most profound thing that I noticed as I listened and observed, was John’s focus on the learning and the opportunities – not the technology. I asked what was used to make some of these simulations, and the response came quickly from both Lorrie and John – Flash. But, as quickly as it was mentioned, we moved on. It was the least important detail!

I LOVED that. So often, my Professional Development as of late has centered around learning or teaching to the tool or app. We “train” or “orient” our students in computer labs or on devices. Yet, this gifted teacher knew that if I was genuinely interested in learning this tool, I could Google for more information if I chose. But, he also knew that I probably would not be training my students in Flash – the most authentic learning experience I could offer my students would be to present a real-world problem and suggest a tool that might help in student designs – maybe Flash. Our learners pick up these tools faster than we can teach them, they are more experimental and scientific in their discovery of how to make the tool work for them, and they are braver and more creative in their use of the tools we share with them. This was a great reminder to teach what is most important – the students, not the technology!

John Harris emphasized the importance of being a good generalist. He tells us that no teacher knows more than all of the students. Teachers must be astute analyzers of student potential, and help slot students into areas that they will be successful. He recommends that we leverage the power of parent knowledge and get them to help develop a component of a project. The skills that John suggests that teachers develop are:

  • Project development
  • Learn ways to divide project tasks among kids
  • Create incentives for students to learn the tools themselves
  • Draw on community resources

John describes 21st Century Learning as self-learning: the ability to define what you need to learn and engaging in learning by using various online tools.

Many of the projects that John shared with us were design challenges that were shared publically. This reminded me of Clive Thompson’s ideas about Public Thinking, where people post questions to crowd source information. I was thinking that some of the students could easily patent their ROV designs!

For two examples John shared with us, please check out:

Salmonids in Troubled Water: http://www2.sd35.bc.ca/uconnect/salmon/OpeningPage.html

Journey to the Cariboo Gold Rush:

http://www2.sd35.bc.ca/uconnect/goldrush/index.html

John’s students competed in a competition with some designs. He has had several winning teams of students over the years!

This session was very inspiring. I was excited by the ideas John shared, and how enthusiastic he is for student learning. Thank you Keith, John and Lorrie for your time, ideas, and energy.

 

 

 

Research Focus #2

Our Masters cohort #tiegrad has been asked to nail down a research focus for our Research project. This has been keeping me up at night, working in circles! I have a rough idea of WHAT I want to research, and why, but determining the actual problem has been a bit of an existential crisis. Does my research interest area actually have a problem to solve, or is it only a perceived problem by me?

In my desperation to move forward (this blog post was due in October), I turned to my recent readings. Our Creswell text has been described as “Masters Writing for Dummies”, and I needed specific help, so I re-read the section about “Research Problems”. Success and joy ensued. I don’t have a specific problem statement yet, but I have a process. As I tell my students, the process is often more valuable than the product. (Yes, I know that I must eventually find a product, but patience is a virtue… I’m just getting started here!!!)

Creswell suggests a fairly simple strategy for identifying your research problem. He clarifies that a research problem can be an educational issue, controversy, or concern that affects teachers, administration, or policy makers. He provides four questions to answer to help researchers identify their focus.

I began by drafting a quick web about my general thoughts about my overarching topic: BYOD – Bring Your Own Device. I included every type of issue or problem that I could identify as a possible problem, controversy, or issue for teachers, administration or policy-makers. I began with things that were obvious to me as I explored my own experiences launching BYOD in my own classroom last year, and then branched out in more general terms. I still kept a focus on the initial steps of BYOD: looking at the first users of BYOD in a middle school, or the beginning steps of launching BYOD.

After broadly drafting possible “problems”, I turned to Creswell’s four questions to answer for finding a research problem. Please understand that this is a think-on-paper, and does not contain “research-friendly” language. I did not censor my thinking, and some ideas are too vague, too specific, biased, or unclear. I look forward to your comments and suggestions in supporting me to find my way through this process.

1. What is the specific problem/issue/controversy that I need to address?

  • a need for clear strategies or support for teachers who are implementing BYOD in their classrooms
  • a need for guidance in the first steps in launching BYOD
  • a need for mentoring or the sharing of stories from schools who have successfully created a culture of student use of personal devices for learning
  • a lack of consistency in how technology is used by students for learning
  • teacher/parent/administrator fear around student use of personal devices in classroom settings
  • gaps in communication between parents/teachers/administration/IT departments around the use of personal technology in schools
  • determining the rationale for student use of devices for learning
  • a need to move from AUP (Acceptable Use Policies) and BYOD policies to a single, clear, culturally embedded plan for the use of technology as a learning tool (like paper and pens)

2. Why is this problem important?

  • curating stories or resources to support the successful launch of BYOD will provide guidance, support, clarity and suggestions for classrooms/schools/districts who are taking initial steps in BYOD
  • alleviating fear may support teachers in trialling BYOD in their practice
  • alleviating fear may allow administration to establish a protocol for supporting students in using their own devices
  • wifi has become a reality in our schools, creating a culture of digitally literate citizens should be a priority
  • the devices are already travelling with the students to class, leveraging them for learning seems like a natural progression
  • there is pressure from Middle Grades students to allow the use of their own devices
  • we need to connect people with the wealth of resources for BYOD learning environments
  • creating a digitally engaged culture can be an overwhelming task

3. How will my study add to what we already know about this problem?

  • examining the shared characteristics of schools who have successfully launched BYOD, finding and sharing the common elements
  • collecting resources for initial steps in BYOD
  • finding common language, lessons, and steps for welcoming student device use
  • analyzing the characteristics of successful school cultures actively using  BYOD
  • determine examples of good pedagogy involving personal device
  • examples of frameworks for launching and continuing to support student use of devices
  • providing other groups with a voice on this topic: have we heard enough from parents and students?

4. Who will benefit from what I learn about this problem?

  • teachers
  • administration
  • policy-makers
  • parents
  • students
  • school/parent/district/student Technology Committees

Distilling the central issue around BYOD must include the following words and ideas: culture, successful implementation, support or strategies, and possibly rationale. I am still playing with how to word my research problem. But, a rough draft might be: There is a need for an authentic, adaptive plan for supporting the use of personal technology by our learning community.

Thoughts?

References:

Creswell, J. W. (2012). Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research. Boston: Pearson.

 

Reflective Teaching – Day 13

Te@chThought‘s Day 13 Challenge is: “Name the top edtech tools that you use on a consistent basis in the classroom, and rank them in terms of their perceived (by you) effectiveness.

I love educational technology! It was difficult to rank by effectiveness, because in reality the use changes based on student preferences and needs. My list is somewhat in order, but I’ve shared my thoughts related to each tool.

  1. Data projector: mine is always on. It is used in connection with a SMARTBoard, AppleTV, a huge variety of dongles, a hardwired “teacher” computer, etc. It allows students to quickly see what others are seeing. It makes sharing easy. I think that this suite of technology (projector, SMARTBoard, AppleTV, VGA dongles, speedy computers, and good quality speakers) are an essential minimum in a classroom.
  2. Student devices (BYOD): this has its challenges, but is still so new to me that I am enjoying the possibilities. Having students choose their own device means that they are using something that they have selected. They have personalized it. And most importantly, it travels with them. BYOD helps to break down the walls between home and school learning. The challenge is the variety of devices. You cannot become partial to particular apps!
  3. A single classroom (ideally 5-10) iPad(s): having an iPad dedicated to your own students is ideal! We had a single iPad that was only for our class use. Actually, it was intended as a “teacher” iPad, but I prefer to use my personal iPad. This iPad has our class Twitter account open, class blogs open, and a variety of other commonly used apps available. This iPad became the chosen tool for creating projects, for filming our antics, for a quick “Google”, and trying new apps before deciding to add them to personal devices. Having a class iPad was helpful for when students left their own devices at home or when we had issues with depleted batteries. I would really like to see about 10 dedicated devices in each classroom.
  4. Class set of iPads: I had this for a few months. It was great! It gave a lot of control to the teacher. It was easy to set up the iPads and extract what students were creating. We have strict Freedom of Information Protection of Privacy laws in British Columbia. The issue with a class set of iPads is equitable distribution. They now have to be shared throughout the school, which means you can not count on having them available when something comes up, document and project management becomes a bigger challenge, and the iPads can be returned in a variety of conditions!

Thinking about the edtech that I’ve enjoyed over the years makes me wonder. . . What’s next?