There are very few moments in life when you know you are a part of greatness. I recently returned from a trip to the Youth Education & Technology Integration (Y.E.T.I.) conference and let me tell you, this was true greatness manifest in a conference. The event itself is kind of like burning man for educational technology (only with out all the fire and naked people). To keep mass-media and the twitteratti on their toes, event organizers actually keep the location secret until mere days before the event. Both the speakers and attendees are selected completely at random using a complex algorithm of Twitter followers multiplied by latest eBook ISBN number downloaded. I was lucky enough to be picked as both an attendee and panelist for this year’s event. An while I signed an agreement not to share what I saw (they have a Vegas-like motto of “what happens at YETI doesn’t get tweeted”) I can’t help myself. This event is too powerful not to share with others. So here goes my recap, I’ll leave it posted as long as I can:
This year’s event took place at the gorgeous [omitted] over a mild, partly cloudy weekend. Due to the natural terrain and the landscape of the area, no rooms were needed. Many of the natural grottoes acted as small meeting rooms and the larger caves served as auditoriums. The acoustics were incredible and because of the location being near the equator, cell carriers signals were amplified along the walls giving attendees incredible 5G WiFi connections.
Speakers & Sessions
One of the most incredible parts of this event are the absolutely ridiculous variety of speakers and educators they have on hand. I attended a session that was an actual a hologram of Bill Gates speaking to Jaime Escalante. Some sessions lasted only for only a few minutes and others, like Bill Nye’s lengthy monologue, lasted several hours.
There were no start or stop times for sessions too which was a little disconcerting at first. Sessions were declared over when an organizer or attendee elected to bang a giant ceremonial gong. To announce the beginning of a new session, a giant alphorn (you know, like the ones from those Ricola commercials?) would blow signifying a new session and new gathering of folks.
Another thing that sets this conference apart are the sponsors. With the terrain being what it was at YETI, sponsors got creative. Most of their “booths” were actually giant floating platforms, controlled by drones. I was excited to see that both Google and Apple were working in partnership with Facebook as sponsors for the event, even handing out free “Privacy Jackets” (a jacket that apparently blocks all outward internet traffic and data tracking from your devices).
I was asked to be on a panel discussing the legitimacy behind this new wearable idea called a “thoughtband.” The concept is simple. Wearing a piece of technology on their foreheads like a Bill Walton headband, students’ thoughts are displayed in scrolling LED fashion. Before we were even able to get into the discussion about data-mining or mind-mining for that matter, someone (who looked like a famous politician) got up and banged the gong, thus ending our session. I wish I knew what he was thinking…
Nothing is normal at YETI, including the keynote. This year’s closing keynote session started at midnight and lasted until the sun began to rise. The closing keynote was delivered by noted scholar and thespian Jon Lovitz. His message of prosperity, educational equality and the need for more 80’s rap music in education rang true with the crowd of thousands. Following his talk, he asked the crowd to initiate in an awkward flash-mob edu-rave of sorts. With the 80’s band Baltimora playing their one-hit wonder “Tarzan Boy” in the background, the attendees went into a sort of strange crowd-surfing/internet-surfing mosh pit of sorts. Culminating in one of the strangest multi-tasking activities I’ve ever witnessed as attendees danced and texted on their smartphones, responding digitally to YETI’s essential question for 2015: Will the wearable flip-flop change the foot of education?
Alas, all good things must come to an end, and unfortunately, my violation of one of YETI’s 7 tenets of attendance (though shalt not video-record) caused my immediate removal before the end of the event. Organizers wiped the video off my phone, but I was able to sneak back over a hill and capture about 11 seconds of the closing coronation where they named one attendee the Patron Saint of YETI15.
While I may risk prosecution or worse yet, not be invited back, I’m making this video public in the hopes that the rest of the world will have a chance to experience just a little taste of what I got to experience. Enjoy:
Happy April 1st everybody.
We’ve all heard about some great new change in education. Some innovation sweeping the area schools whether it be a new way to teach or a new type of ed tech tool. Innovation is an annoying pest. It infects organizations and makes people uneasy because it’s usually accompanied by a disease called “change.”
Many of the things we try to do in our district are innovative. We’ve had 1:1 iPads for nearly 4 years. We’ve tried to shift pedagogy to more of a student-centered and immersive authentic approach. We have even started to pilot flexible furniture and customized learning spaces. However, with each new approach, we have experienced some opposition from those seeking to maintain the status quo.
“I went to school without technology or fancy furniture and I made it out just fine.”
That’s a common one I’ve heard. Or this one:
“All this stuff costs money and support, so why are we doing it?”
It’s true, innovation is a pesky agitator to the status quo and it does come at a cost. In education, it’s even more of a pest because the one thing almost everyone in our country has in common is that we all have the same stored image (and hence vision) of what education is and how to play the game of school.
Innovation turns that image on its head.
Rather than continuing to fight this contingency, I’ve decided to take the opposite approach in this post. What follows are the best ways to “exterminate” the pest that is innovation.
Step 1 – Rule with Fear
One of the best ways to really stop innovation in its tracks is applying high doses of fear. H.P. Lovecraft says that the greatest fear in all of mankind is the fear of the unknown. Innovation as a definition is in fact the introduction of something new and in a sense, a journey into the unknown. If you find innovation infiltrating the walls of your school, be sure to point out the fact that no one knows if this will work. A “F.U.D. campaign” is a popular pesticide to use for those that fear change. It can root out the innovation quickly by making school decision-makers hesitate. Adding some uncertainty and doubt by mentioning that “no one else is doing it so it probably won’t work” will also help. After all, to truly be innovative, it has to be against the norm.
Perhaps innovation has already started to infect some of your staff and you are past the fear stage. It’s hard to be creative and innovative with a short leash. Start to give those creative types more rules and increase menial tasks to really deter the spreading of innovation. By applying steady pressure via administrative policies and peppering them with busy work, you’ll be sure to extinguish the light of innovation. Within months you’ll notice that the innovator has become a shell of himself/herself. They now work the exact hours they are supposed to, dutifully laboring at their desks and mumbling about something regarding TPS reports.
Step 3- Don’t Provide Support
Should fear and micromanagement not work, make sure you don’t provide the innovation any support. Professional learning and support are fertilizers needed to help innovation grow. Should an innovation like a new technology tool make its way on your campus, rest assured that by cutting support, it surely won’t spread (and certainly won’t be integrated into learning).
Step 4 – Don’t Allow Sharing
What’s the quickest way to spread a disease? By sharing of course! One of the most annoying side effects of a district infected with innovation is how much they like to share. “Look at this cool genius hour thing we are doing” or “My kids love formative assessment and here’s why” are some of the common things you might here in these districts. Social media is a breeding ground for innovation. If you are trying to root this disease out of your schools, I’d start with blocking all social media.
Step 5 – Cut Corners
Let’s say that you might start to believe that this whole “internet thing” isn’t going away and having some technology in the classroom might not be a bad thing. (Careful! You are starting to sound like an innovator!) What’s the best way to concede this fact without letting innovation spread? Just institute one of those Bring Your Own Device programs! EUREKA!
A BYOD program is a great way to save money. You can tell people on the outside that you have technology in your schools but you don’t have to pay a dime to purchase or support it. Genius! And since you already stopped providing professional training (step #3) and aren’t allowing any best practices to be shared (step #4), this will surely just be a nuisance in the classroom. Teachers will become so frustrated they’ll welcome the change back to “traditional” teaching and learning.
Step 6 – Focus on the Negative
If you’ve tried all the above 5 steps and innovation continues to creep into your school, it’s time to get ugly. As much as schools try and champion the concept of celebrating failure (another pesky innovative concept) at this point in the game you need to break out the heavy artillery. Begrudgingly, it’s time to use that new-fangled thing called the internet to seek out all the negative information (and mis-information) you can.
If you can find another district dealing with this infection of innovation out there you can probably find something negative about it. Some good things to search for are articles about screen time or negative test scores or best of all, some kid getting “hurt” because of the new innovation. Be sure to add your own mixture of negative press with Step #1 and you should be able to rid your school of the innovation as well as any one else possibly infected with it.
You’ve done it! The innovation has finally been successful exterminated! Now you and your kids can go back to their “regular” classroom lives.
No more new teaching styles. Just straight up good old fashioned lecturing for hours on end.
No more fancy new technology. Students can break out their notebooks or better yet, chalk slates to keep track of what they need to learn.
No more new-fangled movable or flexible furniture. Kids should be able to sit still for 8 hours and focus on the front of the room. Next thing you know they’ll want better food to eat in the cafeteria!
No more talk about 21st century or “future-ready” skills. The best skills are the original three R’s – Reading, Writing, and ‘rithmetic. After all, its not like you can grade people on collaboration or creative problem-solving?
No more talk of change. Education needs to be a stable, un-changing institution of American culture. That’s what made us great in the 1950’s and that is what is going to make us great in the future.
So sharpen up those number 2 pencils and let’s move forward! Wait…that’s too progressive.
On second thought…let’s just stay right where we are and never move forward.
Having just returned from my annual trek 6 miles down the road to the TCEA conference, I noticed something about the participants of that event and the one held the previous week in the same location (TASA Mid-Winter). The TASA event had one MAJOR difference….suits.
And I mean a LOT of suits.
It’s an event focused on school leaders and things school leaders like (apparently wearing suits is one of those things). While the attendees at that event seem to be fairly one-dimensional, an event like TCEA brings all kids of people from all different walks of life. Teachers, librarians, administrators, tech people, all co-mingling around the concept of technology integration in schools. These people are far from one-dimensional and they rarely wear suits. That said, as we are a society that likes to categorize people, I found myself starting to do the same this past week.
Let me start out by saying that I have been EVERY one of the people on this list. I know that’s kind of like me saying “with all due respect” right before I insult you, but it’s true. That said, I present to you the 8 types of people that attend ed tech conferences:
#1 – The Mind Blower
I find the phrase “mind blowing” overused a bit in our field. I think there are a lot of great ideas out there and if someone is inspired by one, I think that’s a huge win. That said, can someone’s mind truly be blown at every session they attend. In fact, just trolling the #TCEA15 and searching for the term “Mind Blown” brings up a couple of dozen tweets on the topic. Quotes like “Google Slides are blowing my mind right now” or “Come to booth 807 to have your mind blown” seem to be common. I don’t want to diminish the excitement of attendees and I’d be honored to in fact blow their minds, but really? I mean look at this crazy tweet –
#2 – The Internet Shopper (A.K.A. Pinterest Junkie)
As I sit quietly in my sit and get session taking down notes, I’m distracted by the heavy internet shopping of the lady to my left. Without being too obvious, I glance over to take a look at the cheetah-patterned lamp shade she’s debating on buying. What does this have to do with Ed Tech? Well…at least she’s using her device for something right? We’ve all been in sessions that are just not that compelling and I’ll admit to my mind wandering toward a twitter stream to see if there is a better session taking place. But I usually don’t find myself searching Pinterest to find new ways to cover my ottoman or a creative way to make valentine’s day cards that will make all the other kindergarten parents jealous. Now….that said….if a particular sporting event or zombie show was on…it might be a different story.
#3 – The Exhausted/Overwhelmed Person That Needs More Caffeine
It’s 8:57am on the first day of the conference and this person is already overwhelmed with the amount of knowledge being thrown at them. Add to that the fact that it’s been 13 minutes since their last double-expresso upside-down caramel latte and it’s a wonder they can function at all. I find myself becoming this person somewhere between 3:00 and 3:15 generally, so I understand the feeling. Much like my #student4aday Challenge, there is just so much you can cram into your brain attending back-to-back sessions and hope to retain some of it. As for caffeine, well, think of it as oxygen at events like this.
#4 – The Session Hopper
Forget internet shopping or being overwhelmed, this person just can’t stand to be in a session from more than about 9 minutes. Call it FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) or just someone who likes to optimize their seat time, but I see people bouncing in and out of sessions pretty much regularly (Shameful admission – I did this twice this past week). I can’t really blame people for doing this though. After looking over the session titles, it’s hard to really glean how good a session or presenter will be when it’s called “Top Google Tools” or “The iPad Classroom”. It would be great if someone invented some sort of rating system for presenters or content….hmmmmm.
#5 – The “Can’t Leave Work Behind” Person
I’m trying to listen and learn from this presenter but I can’t seem to get away from my email. The world isn’t going to stop if you don’t read those emails for the next hour, but your learning will. With the multitude of devices and “notifistractions” we encounter, it’s hard to focus on learning when you are putting out little fires each day. Do yourself a favor and try leaving all your devices behind one day to see what happens. You might be amazed that the sun still comes up the next day.
#6 – The After-Event Social Butterfly
Ok. I’ll admit it. This was (and sometimes still is) me. For some, it’s the offering of free food and drinks. For others, it’s an opportunity to let loose away from the office. Either way, the larger the event the more corporate-sponsored after-hour gatherings take place. Being a major extrovert and social butterfly myself, I can’t blame these people for wanting to let loose or connect with others. Learning can happen in many different forms and arenas. Some of the connections I’ve made at social events have really helped me as an educator. That said, it’s hard to get up and learn at an 8:00am session when you just got in a couple of hours earlier. My (unasked for) advice? Choose one night to have fun with colleagues and friends, but don’t over do it. Afterall…you never know what will get posted on social media…(see image to the right)
#7 – The Serial Social Media Poster
Again, I can’t point fingers without pointing them at myself on this one. There’s a fine line between “over-sharing” and sharing though. I draw it somewhere in between – “Just had some bad indigestion from that food trailer burger across the street #burp” and “I just had my mind blown while typing this tweet.” (see #1)
#8 – The Cyberstalker/Twilebrity
In my history of Ed Tech conferences I’ve been on both sides of this (although stalking is a bit of a strong term). I remember vividly sitting in the lobby of BLC ’09 with my wife and then one child as I saw the likes of David Jakes, Alan November, and Howie Diblasi gathering. My wife could tell I was excited but I didn’t know what to do. My go to move when spotting an actual celebrity is pointing at them and shouting their first and last name (Matt Damon!!) but as I that might come across the wrong way, I decided instead to send my toddler in as a method of introduction. I still find myself star-struck from time to time, but now I’m starting to receive that same kind of treatment (which is very humbling). Tom Whitby wrote a great post about this a couple of years ago and I find a lot of his message really hits home. You never know who you might influence or who might influence you in this world, but in the end, remember we are all just regular people.
#9 – The Exhibit Floor Swag Hoarder
Everyone loves a free T-shirt, especially me. But is it really necessary to have every single pen and piece of candy offered in the vendor hall? One year when I was still in the classroom I once spent two days gathering as much free stuff as I could to take back to my kids. Last year we even ran a contest during TCEA where we gave a major prize to the attendee that gathering the most swag. The winner picked up more than 600 different items! At some point there will be a intervention type show on TLC for these folks, but until then I’ll happily listen to your 15-minute sales pitch in order to win that USB Aroma2Go oil diffuser!
As stated at the outset of this post, I can honestly say I have been each of these attendees to Ed Tech Conferences in the past. I reflect on them more for my own amusement and they aren’t intended to offend, but rather provoke thought. Are there some that I left off the list? If so, please comment below.
After reading these, I’m sure you might feel a little bit overwhelmed, but I’m really just hoping you’ll leave this post feeling like your mind was blown.
For the past three years I’ve made an attempt at predicting what the future might hold for the Educational world, usually around the area of technology. The truth is, anyone can predict fairly obvious things (like Google will be the number 1 search engine), so what I attempt to do here is make some daring predictions that may or may not come true (like Alta Vista will make a comeback! Ok…maybe not that daring). Here’s a look at my 2013 and 2014 predictions which I also review every year to see how I did. Some of my predictions that have gone right include my 2013 predictions that a non-Apple devices will rise up to challenge iPads in education (see Chromebooks) and my 2014 that a new form of social media will crop up with teens (see YikYak or Whisper).
And so, I present to you, my 2015 bold predictions that are sure to go wrong this year.
Classrooms will become automated
I’m not talking about the learning in the classrooms becoming automated, this is more about the low-hanging fruit in our schools. Things like attendance, daily quizzes, etc can be done so much more efficiently with technology however they still require an element of human interaction (and teacher time). I can see a future where a student walks into a classroom and the room “knows” he/she is there, thus eliminating the need for attendance (and saving hundreds of instructional minutes a year). While this may seem big brother-ish and far fetched, I’m working with a company called Signal 360 that works on something called proximity marketing using uBeacon technology. It wouldn’t be that far-fetched to see this one come true.
Pearson will lose its testing contract in Texas
With over 50% of the UK-based company’s income coming from the state of Texas and it’s500 million dollar contract, the people at Pearson could be sweating it this year as their contract comes up for renewal in the Lone Star state. It’s no secret that Pearson is now under investigation with the FBI for it’s back-room dealing done during the L.A. iPad fiasco. Add to that a recent turbulent legislative session around standardized testing (finally!) and you start to see that Pearson could be in for a surprise this year when the contract comes up for renewal. Unfortunately (or fortunately if you are a Pearson-supporter) there are not really any other companies out there that can swoop in and grab that contract, making this prediction probably more asinine than bold. But here’s hoping….
Wearables will take over the world…and then regress
Between the Apple Watch (debuting in the next couple of months) and this gadget known as the “Ring” unveiled today at CES 2015, we’ve become smitten with wearable technology and the internet of things. I predict we’ll reach critical mass by mid-July, at which point someone will have vision problems from their Google Glasses (ala Naven Johnson’s OptiGrab invention) or get in a car accident trying to get driving directions from their watch thus resulting in the creation of the “People Against Wearables” (P.A.W.) activist group.
A human battery level app will be invented
Realizing this is counter to the above prediction, wouldn’t it be great if you could see how much energy you had left by checking an app? (or better yet a projection on your arm via something like this) “Sorry Bob, I’d like to work on that project with you but I’m only at 14% and I need to recharge.” I’m hoping with all the wearable tech out there and the power of the internet, there will soon be a way to check this. Think about how much more productive you could be if you knew this data? Or better yet, what about if we knew this data about our students? The next step would be to invent a “Student Engagement Level” app. Now that would be something.
This year’s iPadpalooza APPmazing Race will bend the mind
Last year we premiered the APPmazing Race at our annual global event. This year, we’re stepping it up a notch as teams will compete on a series of challenges throughout the 3-day learning festival. At least one of the challenges we are working with in R&D is going to be pretty mind-stretching for teams participating. I can’t wait to see what they come up with! (come join the spectacle this year by registering here)
3D Printers will become common classroom (& household) items
Again, thinking bold here, but with the rapid price drop from $10,000 to closer to the $1000 range for a 3D printer, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to think we could see these in everyone’s classroom (and house) at some point in the near future. Did you break that part on your washing machine or pencil sharpener? Just download the instructions and print the replacement part!
Someone will complete the 21 things every 21st century educator should do
Based on my blog post from the fall on this subject, I’ve heard a few people try and do some of the items on the list. It’s not meant to be a challenge, it’s more to inspire thinking and ways to integrate everyday technology that kids use into learning, however it would be cool if someone actually did all the items on the list (and then blogged about it.) I’m working on a book version of this post too with Sean Junkins (see final prediction), so hopefully this will continue to grow and it would great to have an example of someone actually doing this to credit in the book.
Drones will make their way into education
Forget all this chatter about Amazon and military use of drones, when will they make their way into education? I’ve seen these given away at educational technology conferences, but I’ve yet to see any actual good application of drones in terms of learning. I can see science really getting a boost from having access to this technology right away. Imagine the old “egg drop” experiment recorded from an aerial view of a drone? Or how about athletics and band using a different view of their formations?
Someone will complete the Billy Madison #Student4aday Challenge…maybe me?
In December I took the #student4aday challenge and became a 10th grader for day. It was enlightening in many ways but over the winter break I started to reflect on how well do we really know our students in all grades K-12? A single day as a 10th grader is a start, but I’m thinking we need to dig deeper and expand the grade-levels of the challenge. I would love for someone to complete what I’m calling “The Billy Madison #student4aday Challenge” based on the cult-classic movie staring Adam Sandler. In the movie, Billy has to go through all grade levels from K-12 to get his diploma. We should do the same thing! Rather than being passive about this, I’m going to challenge myself to be a student in every grade level at some point in the next year and challenge other administrators to do the same. As the principal in the movie states, “Mr. Madison, that was be one of the most insanely idiotic things I’ve ever heard…” although my last prediction may be even more insane.
Carl Hooker will FINALLY publish a book
This has been on my radar for the past couple of years. As I hear more and more people tell me “you should write a book!” I’m starting to believe it (I know…that’s a scary thought). Even if my mom is the only one who buys it, I’m still hoping to publish something this year. I’ve got collaborations in the works on a couple of books and I’m working on a couple of my own ideas too…just need to find the time.
Some of these predictions I have direct control over and others I’ll be watching from a far (or on twitter) to see if they happen. At any rate, I get the feeling that 2015 will be another progressive year of change in the classroom when it comes to technology. And while some of these predictions may not come to fruition, I’m just happy to be a part of this change.
Happy new year everyone!
How does staffing affect technology integration and support? That was the question I sent out to districts across the state of Texas and twitter. I asked those districts to fill out a survey and self-evaluate how well they support technology (Technology Services) and how well they integrate technology in the classroom and curriculum (Instructional Technology). I also asked how many of those districts were involved in some level of 1:1 device program in their districts. (here’s a link to that original survey)
What follows are the results of that survey followed by an infographic that summarizes the findings:
Participating districts data:
There were 28 districts participating in the survey, primarily from Texas. Of those the largest had a student enrollment of 45,000 and the smallest had just 362 students. 12 of the 28 districts surveyed (43%) had a 1:1 program on one or more of their campuses. There was a combined student enrollment of 256,000 students with over 210,000 devices being supported.
Who filled out the survey:
The majority of those responding to the survey were either technology directors, CTOs, or instructional technology coordinators. I recognize there can be a level of bias when it comes to evaluating your own level of support or integration, but I found these answers to be extremely realistic and the outliers tended to cancel each other out. In fact, taking that bias inflation out of the results actually make the findings even more impactful in some ways.
In general, districts fund two technology support technicians for every one of their instructional technology specialists. As the survey data revealed, this has a direct impact on how well they are supporting technology (most felt they did a strong job of supporting technology) to how well they are integrating it (most felt they did a weak or adequate job of integration).
A majority of districts (69%) surveyed felt they had adequate to excellent level of support for technology. By contrast, only 41% of districts felt they were integrating technology at least adequately with only one stating they were doing an excellent job integrating technology.
Those districts that scored the highest on integration of technology into classroom and curriculum had either one full-time staff member on a campus dedicated to that role or a full-time staff member that shared multiple campuses. Those with only one full-time district person to support the entire district or no person dedicated to this role scored the lowest.
Almost all (96%) stated that turnaround time on a technology work order was expected to be 5 days or less.
Only 28% of districts surveyed felt that they had “Strong” or “Exceptional” professional development around the area of technology integration on their campuses. Those campuses that rated high in professional development also had more staff members dedicated to integration of technology.
More people equals better support and integration of technology. While that seems like a no-brainer, digging into the data revealed the a level of disparity between “support” and “integration” in these districts. The ratio of technicians (1 per 999 students) vs that of instructional technology specialists (1 per 1910 students) seems to be the highest contributing factor to this. If the technology doesn’t work, then you can’t integrate it. That seems to be the mantra districts are following with these staffing ratios (we follow a similar ratio at Eanes). However, if districts truly want to utilize these tools for learning, it would appear the next step is figuring out a way to fund that professional support person to help integrate the technology, whether it be at one campus (ideally) or at multiple campuses.
Thank you to all the districts that participated in this survey. I’ve conducted a similar internal survey with our own staff and would love another district to do the same so we can compare internal data. If you are interested, comment below and I’ll send you the link.
Here’s the infographic:
I’ve been blessed to experience amazing professional development from around the world. I’ve had incredible, powerful conversations with people in my PLN via social media that help me learn and grow. All that said, yesterday’s #Student4aDay Challenge was the most eye-opening and possibly most life-altering experience for me as an administrator in a public school. What follows is my reflection on the day and some major “Aha’s” that I hope will guide both the future of professional development for our teachers but also the lives of our students. For those of you that want a play-by-play recap of the day, check out the hashtag #Student4aDay on twitter.
About the challenge:
I blogged out my predictions and a little bit of the background for this challenge in this post, but the gist is I wanted to “be” a 10th grade student for a day. My main goal was to see what student life is like in this 1:1 mobile world at a highly successful place like Westlake High School. I was also curious about how they interacted with the teacher and each other, the desks they had to sit in, how they used technology, and generally, what their day felt like.
I “borrowed” this schedule from one particular student who agreed to let me shadow her. However, because we had a pre-scheduled site visit, I needed to do take both 4th and 5th period off. It worked out well since World History had a sub and were going to just watch a video. I also had a AP US History teacher request I visit her class at 7th period instead of going to choir. Since I was feeling under the weather and my singing voice was not up to snuff, I took advantage of the opportunity to see her Humanities course in action.
I made 5 predictions (or hypotheses) about how the day would go. Here’s how they turned out:
1. Kids will be on their phones between classes – SOMEWHAT TRUE – There were a few kids texting or listening to music or even talking on their phones (rarely), but for the most part, kids were talking to each other. They were having conversations about a certain class, a movie, a game, or what they were doing after school. I assume some talked about relationships too, but they tended to quiet down when I got close.
2. My lack of a healthy singing voice will hurt me in choir – FALSE – Since I swapped out Choir for US History, this one never came to pass.
3. The desks will hurt my back- TRUE – I suffer from mild back issues, but sitting in these torture contraptions was getting to be down right painful by the end of the day. I found myself fidgeting in them, turning to the side, slouching over, and generally just constantly shifting from one “cheek” to the other.
4. Technology use will be a mixed bag – TRUE – In the English class it was extremely hands on, with the teacher using Nearpod to engage student questions about Catcher in the Rye and even have us draw what we thought Holden Caulfield looked like. Of course, the two computer lab courses heavily used technology as well. Most classes used the projector at a minimum, however one class, Geometry, had a long term sub and so he was relegated to only using the dry erase board. No technology (except for calculators) were allowed out in that class.
5. My “real job” will affect my job as a student – I did miss 5th period for a meeting and during US History I was asked to help trouble-shoot with a Nearpod issue. I tried to claim I was just a regular high school kid, but the class cleverly remarked that most kids could help troubleshoot technology, so I should too. Well-played…..
Class I was best at:
Interactive Media – of course! The class was at the end of a Photoshop project designing a an advertising poster for the college of their choice to recruit students. I observed several students working collaboratively on their posters (and some procrastinating). I came up with my Matthew McConaughey -University of Texas concept (pictured left) and nearly finished it within the 50 minute class period. One of the quotes of the day came when a fellow-student called out another student for procrastinating to which she responded with “I’m not a ne’er-do-well!”
Class I was worst at:
Chemistry – This was a mixture of style and content. I’ve always been a big fan of science and when I think about my favorite high school teachers, science usually comes to mind because it’s so hands-on. However, this particular class on this day was a review class, so it was very direct-teach over concepts I haven’t had to remember since…frankly….the last time I was in high school chemistry. (Quick! What’s Avogadro’s number?) The students had been over this more recently, but my memory was shaky. So much so that I failed the 2-question quiz over a couple of simple molecular concepts. :(
Outcomes (or “AHAs”):
I could probably write a blog post on each class I was in and the overall student life. However, I’m going to try and summarize what I discovered during this day in four major “AHA” moments.
AHA #1 – The schedule is overwhelming
From the amount of time you have (50 minutes) in class to the amount of time you have in passing period (6 minutes), the day flew by without much time for deep thought or reflection. I realize that giving teenagers too much transition could spell trouble, but I barely had a second to digest what I had learned before abruptly moving to the next subject. And in the classes (like English and US History) where we were starting to have a good, deep discussion on a topic, we were interrupted by the bell. I can really see the benefits of having some sort of hybrid block-schedule after a day like today. In the end, I was completely exhausted at the end of the day and, strangely enough, just wanted to go home and play video games.
AHA #2 – The technology may have changed, but the kids haven’t
Sure they were on their phones during passing periods and occasionally they’d listen to music when done with an assignment, but for the most part, the kids were kids. Typical teenagers with angst and hopes and dreams (channeling my inner-Caulfield here). In the chemistry class, there were one or two students that tended to answer every question, while the rest of us (including me) blankly stared at the board. In between classes I even got into a spirited conversation with a 16-year old about how good the latest Tell Tale Walking Dead game is. The girls giggled and the boys sighed at times, but in general, the kids were respectful and attentive no matter what the subject. (save for a couple of girls I noticed texting under their desks during Geometry). One kid did try to use his camera on his phone to take a picture of notes on the board to which another kid called him lazy. His response was priceless – “That’s not being lazy, it’s being efficient.”
AHA #3 – How much of this content will be relevant in later life?
I can understand that taking courses like Geometry and Chemistry and Business Infrastructure Management give you the ground work for some basic life skills. However, I can honestly say I’ve NEVER used Avogadro’s number (6.02×1023 for those of you dying to know) in my real life. In fact the last time I used it was 24 years ago when I was a sophomore taking Chemistry. Why do we feel compelled to still teach the “4 core” subject areas every year in high school? Is it because this is what we’ve always done? I can see it being useful to those with a real interest in Chemistry or Calculus or Poetry but why force it on every student?
AHA #4 – It’s still really all about the teacher (and their style)
I’ve written in the past that technology is the “Great Amplifier” when it comes to teaching. It can make a good teacher great and a bad teacher terrible. In the classes I felt most engaged were the ones where technology was “invisible” in a sense and the focus was on the content and the discussion. I can tell you almost verbatim things I learned about Thomas Nast political cartoons based on the student discussion but I can barely remember what mathematical equation I was told in Geometry. The biggest difference in those classes was both the style in which the teacher facilitated discussion but also the physical configuration of the classroom. Desks in rows tends to imply that it’s all about focusing on the teacher (always exceptions to this too, as I discovered in the tremendously engaging English class). Desks with the ability to turn or face each other made the center of the room the focus, a place where ideas could be shared and discussed without judgment.
All in all, I have learned a lot from this day, much of which I hope to apply and help steer changes in the classrooms and schools for kids in the coming years to make it more about student-centered, personalized learning. It’s been an eye-opening experience that I hope others in my district (and in other districts) will attempt. I even reached out to some law-makers on Twitter to invite them in to do the same. It was both a humbling and frustrating experience that I was honored to be able to attempt and it will live with me forever.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go home and play some video games.
Editor’s note: Tracie Simetal took on the #student4aday challenge as well and live-blogged her results on this Google Doc. Kudos to Tracie and any other administrators willing to take this on!
Update: The Austin American-Statemen ran a report on this experiment and posted it here: http://www.statesman.com/news/news/local/administrator-spends-eye-opening-day-as-student/nkHWG/
Tomorrow I will become a high school student. Now I know that some of you that know me well could probably make the case that I’ve always been a high school student at heart, but tomorrow it really happens. No this isn’t some sort of weird Billy Madison-esque thing where I have to go back to school to get my diploma, it’s actually part of an experiment.
Inspired by both Grant Wiggin’s post and our own Kacy Mitchell’s challenge to be a middle school student for a day, I’ve decided to place myself right in the middle of Westlake high school for a day. But before I embark on this challenge, I thought it might be a good idea to reveal why I’m doing this and make a few predictions.
Why Become a Student For a Day?
As an administrator, I’m faced with making decisions about major items on a daily basic. I spend time in meetings discussing and planning those decisions. I spend time speaking to parents about the rationale behind those decisions. And I train staff on the impact those decisions will make in their classrooms. However, the one group I feel I don’t have a strong enough grasp on is the most important group of all…the students. It’s my hope that by becoming a student for a day I can a small glimpse into what their daily academic life looks like. How do they use technology? How well do they interact in class with the teacher and with each other? How prevalent (and often) is their use social media throughout the day? How uncomfortable are those desks they have to sit in?
These are just a few questions that I’ll be focusing on as I go through my day. My schedule will follow that of
a typical sophomore which encompasses the following subjects:
1 – English
2 – Chemistry 1
3 – Interactive Media
4 – Lunch
5 – World History
6 – Geometry
7 – Choir
8 – Business Information Management
I’ve already contacted all the teachers of those courses to let them know I’ll be doing this challenge to learn more about the kids and that it won’t be a teacher observation. I’ve also asked them for any relevant homework that I’ll need to be prepared for when I show up (I was a little stressed to discover I need to re-read Catcher in the Rye all the way through chapter 17). That said, in being a student for the day, I thought it would be fund to make a few predictions of what I’ll discover. Here are 5 that I’ll be looking for:
1. Kids will always be on their phones between classes – I hear that this is always the case so I wonder what it is they are doing. Is it just texting or are their selfies taking place all over? Will I be late to class if I participate?
2. My lack of a healthy singing voice will hurt me in choir – I’ll blame the fact that I’m recovering from a cold, but I’m going to guess I’ll make a lousy choir student. Hoping no one records this class and posts it on YouTube.
3. The desks will hurt my back – I have an ergonomically correct chair in my office for lower lumbar support and a standing table for when I need to stand and type. That won’t be an option tomorrow.
4. Technology use will be a mixed bag – While this schedule lends itself to some high end technology use (I’ll be in a couple of computer labs), I’m curious to see how much the iPad plays a role throughout the day. Although, the English teacher already emailed me to tell me it’s a completely paperless assignment in his class which makes my heart warm.
5. My “real job” will affect my job as a student – This might be the one prediction that will definitely come true. I’ll have access to my email and I’ll know be the “tech guy” in the classroom that can fix any technical problem. Hopefully I’ll be treated like a regular student, but just like Reality TV, that’s not a real possibility.
While I’m going to do my best to be a focused student in the class, I’ll also be live-tweeting the day via the hashtag #Student4aDay. I hope to use this hashtag to help me reflect on the day later but also as a way for those of you on “the Twitter” or Instagram to follow along.
Lastly, while I know I’ll gain a lot of valuable information by doing this, it’s my hope that other leaders will follow suit and do the same. Like I said before, we make decisions all the time that affect kids. I think it would be a great idea for every administrator and teacher to try the #Student4aDay challenge and see the world from a different perspective. If you do decide to do this, make sure you reflect about it in public and then share with the world. We can all learn from each other!