Give Teachers Time to Discover and Integrate Technology in the Classroom

 

Our school has embraced the integration of technology as a key component to enhance the learning experience. We went from 120 Chromebooks to over 1600 Chromebooks in about one year and when you include our computer labs, we are at a 1:3 device to student ratio. While this shift in instructional resources has been promising one of the greatest needs of our teachers has been the ever-limited resource, time. Despite ongoing support and cohort meetings, teachers need and want the time to discover and integrate technology in the classroom.

Here is the video that set the tone for the day:

With the generous support of our administration, we recently had two release days for our teachers who have a class set of Chromebooks. This professional development opportunity was exactly what teachers needed. Teachers spent the day thinking about “What does technology make possible?” and creating a “playground” experience where we looked at platforms from the student and teacher perspective, the possibilities Google Cardboard creates, and ultimately, thought about how we can integrate technology in our lessons/units that will be transformative based on the SAMR model.

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It is important to have experts throughout the staff.
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Teachers using Google Cardboard

Some reflections from the day:

“Today was very helpful. It did not feel overwhelming and, in fact, it was inspiring because I can see all of these new possibilities for my classroom.”

“Wow, I learned so much today.”

“This is exactly what I needed. Having the opportunity to work with my colleagues and share what we are doing helps me see how I can do this in my classroom.”

Takeaways from these Release Days:

  1. We all need time to press pause, slow down and explore possibilities without having to worry about our giant “To-do” lists.
  2. By giving teachers time to discover and integrate technology in the classroom you help to create capacity with these teachers. I am a part-time EdTech Coordinator for my site and I am the only one in this position. As much as I want to support all my teachers, logistically, it can be a challenge. That is why it is important to have “Experts” throughout the staff who can help support their colleagues in their departments or near their classroom. Like all things in education, it takes a village.
  3. Teachers are learners and sometimes we forget that. We get caught up in the “business” of working in education and forget about the art of teaching. If we are going to expect all teachers to be innovative, engaging, and current in their work we need to give them the time to refine their practice. Professional development is one of the first things to go or remain limited in order to save money but, it is a crucial aspect for improving as a practitioner.

Share your experience with professional development or ideas for future trainings in the comments below!

Why Can’t Teachers be Leaders?

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“We have administrators, teachers, and teachers who think they are administrators.”

I heard a colleague say this and it made me think about how, in our education system, we have many people who believe that there is a clear difference between what teachers and administrators are able to do on a school campus. There are many in our profession who believe that the influence a teacher has (or should have) is only within the four walls of a classroom and the administrator is supposed to make all the decisions that impact the entire school. Yes, the administrator has the authority to make certain decisions and hold others accountable but authority doesn’t make a leader. Leaders are influencers at any level who are creating change to improve education and are able to get people to follow them. So I ask, why can’t teachers be leaders?

Too often, I hear education professionals automatically bestow the title of “Leader” on a principal or assistant principal. Have they shown leadership? Are they a visionary? Are they working with a team to create the change that is needed so that all students are successful? Are teachers and other staff implementing new practices and taking risks because they were mandated or because they, too, believe in the value of the task? We tend to believe authority and leadership are synonyms and yet, they are vastly different. Teachers do not have the same authority as administrators but can be as much, if not more, of a leader. Teachers have the ability to be visionaries; to work with teams to create the change needed so that all students are successful; and to get others to implement new practices and take risks because they help others see the value of the task. Teachers have the ability to be school leaders and we should welcome it. We should also welcome administrators as lead teachers but that is a post for another day.

I think, when teachers react negatively to the idea that a school leader may be a teacher and not an administrator, it stems from a misunderstanding of where the education world is going. Our world is changing faster than we can keep track of and the needs of our students are becoming more and more diverse. The antiquated model of principal as manager and teacher as autonomous ruler of the classroom does not work in the 21st Century. Our schools must become more democratic and we NEED teacher leaders to implement and support the education initiatives that will help all our students to be successful. We need amazing teachers to become site leaders, to share their best practices, to bring new ideas to the table and to re-energize the system. Leadership is a collaborative idea and is fluid. There may be times when you are the leader and others follow and times when you take the back seat and let your colleague lead. This is the foundation of a strong team and we should want to promote, foster, and value the leadership skills of all educators. If we expect students to be leaders, shouldn’t we expect the same of ourselves?

Turn Your Classroom into a Game!

 

Game Based Learning and Gamification are ever increasing buzzwords in the education world. It’s important to note that they are not synonyms and reflect different forms of pedagogy. Game Based Learning is using a game for students to experience content in a fun, interactive way. For example, using Kahoot! to review for an assessment creates a fun, interactive and competitive experience for students to review material; but, it’s still a review. Gamification is the act of creating a classroom experience that uses gaming structures to immerse students in an ongoing learning experience.  The purpose behind both of these systems is to help motivate students to strive for their best. A major outcome of Gamification is the change in philosophy that students should work towards mastery and as they improve they earn more points, level up and their level reflects their current ability.

I have incorporated both Game Based Learning and Gamification (mainly Gamification) for the last four years and believe the classroom experience it creates is how we should be thinking about education. With Gamification, you are creating a gaming experience for your students to experience your class by incorporating gaming structuring into the learning experience. These structures include avatars, leaderboards, ongoing challenges and quests, referring to points as XP (experience points), opportunities for Award XP (extra points – extra credit), and ultimately some sort of story that helps students understand why they are “playing.”

Here is how I gamified my AP United States History (APUSH) Class:

The Story:

Avatars and the Leaderboard:

What makes Gamification great is the reliance on student choice. One of the simplest but important ways students personalize this experience is by creating their avatar. This is their “code name” or “player name” that represents them and no one else knows who they are. Students always get creative with this and it helps give us some insight into what they like. You can go digital and use different platforms that allow students to also create a visual Avatar. Platforms like Edmodo are great with this.

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The leaderboard is where students see their level as well as how they are doing in the game compared to the other players. I also had level names connect to the content in to inspire students to be aware of these terms.

Challenges and Quests:

This is essentially the typical assignments in your class. You do not need to completely change what you have done in the past but try to incorporate them into the story. Why are they writing the essay? Should the assignment by individual or can they work as a team to accomplish the quest? One of my favorite things to do is to create special challenges that are time-sensitive. Whenever I would travel, I would find historical locations and create a quick “Where Am I?” video. I would post these videos on Friday afternoon and students had until Sunday evening to answer correctly for 1 Award XP. Be creative and have fun with these!

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Remember, Gamification is about creating a gaming experience for students and a big part of this is language. In my class, students earn experience points (XP) as well as earn extra points (Award XP) for bonus tasks. We don’t use the term points because in our game you earn XP. The biggest change, as well as mindset shift, is how students earn XP. In a traditional grading system, students start with 100% and their grade slowly lowers as more assignments are added and the overall average keeps changing. This is not how games work. In a game, you start with 0 XP and as you successfully accomplish tasks you earn more XP and increase your level. This means that on day one, all my students start with a 0% (an F grade), until they start earning XP. This is a huge shock for students at first, but quickly they start to realize that in this system, we only focus on improvement and growth. No matter how poorly a student does on an assignment, since they are earning some points, their grade will increase. No longer do they see a lowered grade due to less mastery than expected; they simply did not raise their level as much as they could have if they mastered the tasked better. The key is to continually remind students AND parents about the philosophy behind this system.

The best part about Gamification is that you get to be creative and have fun! If this seems overwhelming, start small with game based activities and then work up to incorporating these ideas. You will see more motivated and engaged students as well as a renewed energy in your own teaching.

 

Share your thoughts and classroom experiences in the comments below!

Staff Meetings Should Be Differentiated Too!

 

Individuality

Occasionally, I have the opportunity to go to a conference and every time I am reminded why I like them. Conferences allow you to personalize your professional development by providing lots of choice. As educators, we are taught/reminded/told of the importance of meeting the needs of all our learners (advanced, struggling, language learners, unmotivated, etc.) and one of the best ways to do this is to differentiate our lessons. We all know the “cookie-cutter,” “one size fits all” lesson design is not effective at reaching all student nor is it effective at helping students master the 4C’s. Conferences, differentiate to their “students” (the participants) and provide lots of options, each session, because they know it is the best way to make the conference as meaningful as possible for everyone. School sites, however, struggle with this idea.

Why is it that we believe in differentiation when it comes to students but when we hold staff meetings and other PD we resort to “one size fits all?” Somehow, we believe that the professional learning and growth of adults is different than it is for children? I would argue that all educators have experienced, at least once, going to a meeting where they either mastered the task in the first five minutes, left still unsure of what they were supposed to do, or felt the hour was very productive and learned a lot. Our students have the same reaction when they experience a “one size fits all” lesson because it can’t reach everyone. Our staff meetings and PD should be differentiated too!

Here are some ways that we can differentiate staff meetings/PD:

  1. Let’s start to give options for educators. Provide the resources for all the sessions but hold two or more topics during the meeting time and let participants choose which is more pertinent to them.
  2. Have teachers run staff meetings. Just like the value we see with students teaching students, why not have teachers teaching teachers.
  3. Send out a “pre-assessment” of what will be covered at the meeting. If the educator “mastered” the task, either have the next step for them at the meeting or let them use that meeting time for something else they need to work on.
  4. Ask for feedback! Let your participants help guide the development of the PD from which they are supposed to benefit. While there are lots of things to help make us better educators, a glimpse into what participants believe they need will help make the PD more purposeful.
  5. Always strive for good teaching. Staff meetings and PD are like class lessons, model effective teaching strategies during these meetings. If it not something we should see happen in a classroom it also doesn’t belong in the staff meeting.

All educators want to get better at their craft and they know that professional development is a great resource. Let’s make those mandatory meetings and trainings not feel mandatory. Taking a spin from Dave Burgess’ quote from Teach Like a Pirate: if staff meetings were optional, would you be speaking to an empty room?