Author Archives: MrHooker
As students fill the hallways of our schools on their first day back, there is a major change afoot for those kids under the age of 13. Students in the pre-teen realm have always had less options when it came to personalization and use of certain websites/social media. While some of those rules still apply when it comes to the web, Apple’s new system of allowing districts to issue Apple IDs for those students under the age of 13 (with parental consent) means that the days of every elementary students having the same standardized iPad are in the past. Combining that with the new deployment system and (in our case) an MDM like Casper, and we are finally starting to see some of the real powerful potential of the 1:1 iPad platform. While I know there will be some glitches (there always are in technology), I’m looking forward to the improvements listed here this year for our K-6 students.
For the past 2 years, our elementary students have been living in the 1:1 world when it comes to devices, but haven’t really gotten the full-fledged personalized experience of their older counter-parts when it comes to apps. Because we couldn’t have individual Apple IDs on each iPad, we used Apple Configurator to provision “images” to sets of iPads at every grade level. This was a painfully arduous process that entailed having a Support Tech go classroom to classroom with a Macbook and provision the images to each iPad. With the amount of time and man-power it took to accomplish this, we basically had time for one app-refresh cycle every year. Besides the inefficiency of this model, we also had several times when iPads would get “hung up” during app refresh and have to be completely wiped, losing important student work that hadn’t been backed up. Now that every student will have an Apple ID, we can “push” apps out to students over the air (OTA). If a classroom wants an app, they contact our MDM campus manager who loads the app and pushes it out to the class overnight. If it’s a free app, the kids can even download it themselves!
Since we basically had two groups (K-2 and 3-5), that meant front-loading the images with pretty much every app we would think to use for the school year. The resulting images were somewhat heavy (taking up over 6GB of the 16GB space) and many were unnecessary depending on your grade. Here’s our example list of apps for elementary last year. You could have 3rd graders looking at 5th grade apps that they didn’t even need. While we’ve really focused on productive apps vs. consumptive ones, we at least knew that all kids would have the tools they needed to create a finished product. Now that we can now push apps over the air, that means starting with a much leaner set of core apps to start (nearly all “productive” apps) and adding those content or grade-level based consumptive apps as needed. One drawback of not having a set image on them is that iPads are essentially naked to begin the year until the students have their Apple IDs set up. Enter the always clever Janet Couvillion. She’s an Ed Tech at one of our elementary campuses and she created this tremendous Thinglink about all things you can do on an iPad with only basic apps:
We utilize eBackpack as our web-based and app-based content distribution system. However, we’ve also found some successes using iTunesU at the upper grades when it comes to quickly creating courses for students. Now that our students under the age of 13 have Apple IDs, we can have them enroll in a class course at the beginning of the year that a teacher can use to push out content as it becomes relevant. We can also provision specific iBooks or class sets of iBooks to students based on their Apple IDs, something not possible in the past.
Time to Focus
Another potential bonus of all of this is the new Casper Focus feature we had a kindergarten teacher test for us last year. With all iPads in this new system and each student with an Apple ID, a teacher can now “control” or “lock-down” all the iPads in his/her class into a specific app. While I’m not a big fan of the lock-down control model when it comes to teaching and learning, I do know there is a time and place when this might need to happen from time to time. With state and national testing moving to an online platform, we’ll need to have this ability going forward. This year we’ll be pilot testing the ACT Aspire test on iPads for students in grades 4-9 and we’ll also be piloting using a Desmos Calculator app during our 8th Grade Algebra State assessment. None of this would be possible without this new system in place without individually going to each iPad and enabling Guided Access.
In order to make this system work, we have to really rely on parent support. They have to go through the online consent and Apple ID creation process for us to be able to utilize all the advantages listed above. As a parent, the advantages to this program versus making your own Apple ID are many (here’s a Parent Guide from Apple). They’ll be able see what apps their students are purchasing. With their students being in the Under 13 program they’ll have less advertisements and data mining to worry about. As a parent of a new kindergarten student, I was excited to not only set up her Apple ID because we can now mirror the apps she’s getting at school and put them on our devices at home to help with her learning. I’ve always been a believer in the concept of a village raising the child and in our ever-increasing online world, the lines between home and school are no longer clearly defined. This process gives us as a district another opportunity to communicate about the education of their child, which can in the end only be a good thing.
To help introduce parents to this process I made this somewhat silly 3.5 minute video (below) along with some instructions for them on their end.
The future is bright and no longer just for those born before 2001!
I’ve received lots of great feedback on my SAMR Swimming Pool analogy (Taking a Dip in the SAMR Swimming Pool). This was an idea originated by Greg Garner’s take on Dr. Ruben Puentedura’s often referred to “SAMR ladder” and then “remixed” if you will by me. Well…it’s time for another remix because after reading that original post I realized something.
I got it wrong.
I focused on the teacher’s role in the pool the entire time and didn’t think about the students as much. So I’ve decided to take another stab at this and was motivated by my recent trip up to Minnesota for iPadpaloozaMN. They asked me to make my SAMR Swimming pool analogy into an entire 50-minute keynote! Talk about pressure! So, here goes. A remix on the SAMR swimming pool with all new analogies and concepts.
The Baby Pool (Substitution)
While parts of the original analogy still apply, it’s not just about what the teacher is doing with technology. Sure , you still need to test water when it comes to tech. Some teachers feel the temperature and decide it’s too cold to enter. Let’s say you feel the pool is comfortable and safe to enter. You step into the pool and your 25 students enter the pool with you. All the sudden you notice something, you are happy that it’s only so deep. Because it never goes below 1 1/2 feet deep, the kids can safely walk and splash around with the tools. They don’t need log-ins or email addresses. You can control where they go and if any of them are acting up or playing rough, you can just kick them out of the pool (take away their device). A baby pool is fun for really young kids (ages 5 and under) however, older students will quickly get bored in here and want to stretch the boundaries a little. The same thing happens when you take out a device that has access to the entire world and then limit it to just note-taking or e-reading.
The Shallow End (Augmentation)
After some time wading in the baby pool with technology, you feel like you can handle having all your students enter the main pool. They start out around the steps and work their way into waste-deep or even chest-deep water. You give them some freedom to go online (but only to certain sites) and you let them use a couple of different apps to help show they understand the learning objective. Kids can start to be a little more creative here. They can now do headstands under water. They can make a powerpoint presentation. They can play games like water volleyball. They can take a quiz on Socrative. You get the idea.
However, as the water is a little deeper, there is also a little more risk. Someone may fall and drown. You quickly realize that the boundary into the deep end of technology is only a little rope with some buoys on it. But, rather than stop and go back to the baby pool with the kids, you decide to let them stretch their wings. Kids can of pretty much any age range that can swim a little (3yo-18yo) can interact in this part of the pool with some monitoring. You notice they enjoy it much more as there is more to do and you enjoy it more because you know that if someone falls down, they can still stand up safely and breathe. Maybe they don’t need to go to the deep end….
Pool breaks (No technology)
Just like the pool, you need breaks from technology or your fingers will get pruny. Every so often you need to take 10 minutes or so to just get out, walk around, eat a snack and reapply sun-screen. Don’t forget that no matter how great all this tech-integration is, we all need breaks from it from time to time. Some of the best brain breaks are just 5-10 minutes of playing charades or doing a silly dance. While they may fight to get back into the pool, plan these into your technology integrated lessons. The students may not notice it at first, but these breaks spur creativity and interaction essential especially when going into the deep end.
The Deep End (Modification)
Eventually, you realize you have now spent quite a bit of time talking about boundaries and rules with your kids. They are all now very efficient at swimming with technology and are aware of the risks that are out there. You decide it’s ok to send them past the rope with a mission or project in mind without many restrictions except the basic pool rules. As a teacher you realize it’s no longer feasible to be in the pool with the kids as that would be incredibly exhausting trying to tell each of them what to do (sage on the stage) so you elect to go into the lifeguard’s chair and keep an eye on things as well as offer motivation (guide on the side).
You begin to notice some things very different about this part of the pool. Kids can now swim all the way to the 12-foot bottom and touch. They can hold their breath for 2 minutes without much struggle. They can focus on an assignment much longer even with all the access they now have. They start to invent games like sharks and minnows. They start to create Explain Everything examples of how they understand an objective. They start to get in and out of the pool and dive in off the side (as it’s now deep enough). They quickly transition from paper to device back to paper when needed. As kids need to be pretty efficient swimmers, you wouldn’t want any too young (6 or less) in this part of the pool without a floatie. As a lifeguard, you need to make sure they don’t drown and occasionally might need to blow the whistle when they’ve been in the pool too long, but overall the kids are really enjoying the rigor and fun that comes in this part of the pool.
The High Dive (Redefinition)
Kids can not only swim completely independently now, they are also starting to do things you didn’t even imagine when you entered the pool.
They can stay under water for 20 or 30 minutes at a time without batting an eye.
The pool no longer has a bottom.
They see the high dive and quickly decide to go off of it. They begin to design gravity-defying dives that involve their friends doing
coordinated back flips. Not only that, they show their teacher how they collaborated and achieved the dive but also how it identifies mastery in their learning.
The students have now become the lifeguards and invent the rules they feel are appropriate for all the swimmers. Your role is that of a swimming or dive coach as well as pool owner. (mentor in the center) You want to make sure the water is clean and the internet is filtered appropriately. You set some limits as too how long kids can swim in the pool before a break but the kids enforce it. Your pool is now one of the most popular places in the city and kids are building their own crazy slides, games, and zip lines that make it an enriching and engaging place to be.
None of this was possible when you first stepped foot in that baby pool, but without those initial steps you could have never gotten here. Without letting the kids have some level of autonomy with technology, they would have never gotten to the point where they felt they had some ownership in their learning. Just remember, now that they can jump off that high dive, it doesn’t mean this is where they always have to be. Some days the baby pool is all they can handle. Other days, maybe it’s the shallow end.
No matter where they are around your pool you can rest easy in the work you have done to get them at this point.
Now go let them swim.
Having just wrapped up a successful iPadpalooza and seeing all the chatter around ISTE 2014 online, I wondered: what makes a memorable and meaningful conference experience?
At iPadpalooza, we had 98.4% of people tell us they would come back to our event next year. Rather than being happy about that number, I focused on what the 1.6% didn’t like. Was the live music too loud? Were the speakers or presentations not what the attendee expected?
I used to be guilty of attending conferences and passively waiting for information or presentations to amaze me. I’d leave disappointed and wonder what attending these conferences would mean for me in the future. However, all of that changed when I started taking a more proactive approach to my conference experience. Here are a few steps to help anyone attending either their 1st or 50th event.
Prior to the Event
Laying a good foundation of prep work prior to attending a conference on the scale of ISTE or the variety of something like iPadpalooza can make huge a difference.
1. Find Some People to Follow - This doesn’t mean cyber-stalk or physically tail someone during the event. Rather, look at the big name speakers or presenters and start to follow their work on social media. This will give you a flavor of their presentation-style and may indicate what kind of content they might offer during their sessions.
2. Identify sessions ahead of time – Looking at the program guide for the first time at the registration booth puts you at a disadvantage. Most events (especially Ed Tech ones) post their session titles and descriptions well in advance. Take that opportunity to do some early research on topics that interest you and areas that you want to improve upon professionally. Additionally as popular sessions can fill up quickly, always have a back-up plan.
3. Plan on giving yourself time between sessions – George Couros blogged about a conference in Australia that left 30 minutes in between sessions. While that’s a great way to have time in your schedule, most events only allow for 15 minutes or so. When planning out your days, be sure to leave a couple of longer breaks throughout the day. This extra time will allow you to reflect on a session or connect with colleagues and maybe actually have a professional lunch that is longer than 30 minutes.
During The Event
4. Don’t sit in sessions you don’t want to be in – EdCamps have mastered this strategy by the “voting with your feet” way that they run their events. If you are “stuck” in a 2-hour workshop on the theory of how Disney’s Frozen can be applied to advanced Physics, you either didn’t research the workshop well enough or the description was completely off (First clue – it was called “Let it Go: Why Liquid Nitrogen is the Bomb”) Don’t be afraid to walk out to your back-up session. If that one is full, find a quiet place where you can observe and follow the conference hashtag. At least that way you might pick up on some great things shared at other sessions.
5. Meet somebody new and connect – The easy way to do this is to have some virtual introductions via social media before-hand and then approach them when you see them in person (assuming their social media avatar looks like them). The more challenging, and sometimes more interesting way to do this, would be to find an attendee sitting by themselves and just introduce yourself. You never know how their story may help inspire you in the long run and vice-versa.
6. Capture your thoughts and reflect daily – I like to blog about the things that I have learned at conferences. This isn’t so much to share with others as it is for me to identify the things that I found valuable in my learning each day. Not a blogger? Use a tool like Storify to capture bits and pieces of a hashtag and make your own recap with others’ social media posts.
After The Event
7. Go back and share what you learned – As teachers, we know that our students learn by doing. Therefore, take what you learned and teach someone else. The blog that I mentioned in step #6 is a great way to share what you learned. For the slightly more daring, ask to have some time at an upcoming faculty meeting to give your 5-minute Ignite-type talk about highlights of your learning to the whole staff.
8. Follow-up with attendees and presenters online – Now that you’ve made some connections with new people from the event, be sure to send a message in the weeks afterwards to strengthen that connection.
9. Blackmail yourself – Learning new and inspiring ideas at an event can be great momentum going into the beginning of the school year. However, often weeks or months pass before you even get the motivation to apply something you’ve learned and by then you are too tired with the day-to-day of school life. Rather than blow it off, blackmail yourself. Outwardly tell colleagues (online or in person) that you are going to try a new concept that you learned. Then, set a time when you are actually going to try it and publicize this as well. I like to send myself an email in the future using futureme.org or the like. Setting up that email immediately after the event ends and can immediately reignite you months later.
These steps or tips are not fool-proof, and they do require a bit of heavy lifting on the part of the normally passive conference attendee. But, if you apply some – or all of these steps – you’ll find yourself not only enjoying conferences more but also sharing that joy with other colleagues and students down the road.
This year at iPadpalooza we were looking to do something a little different with all that “transition” time in between sessions. Often times, when you attend a conference, you find yourself in complete session-mode. You rush from session to session, never taking time to reflect, interact or collaborate with others at the event.
And so, the APPMazing Race was born. When the team at iPadpalooza started brainstorming ideas, the thought of some sort of app-based Olympics was being passed around. Last year, we did an Aurasma scavenger hunt to get people interacting with their space. It was a great time-filler but was purely for individuals. Inventing a challenge based on teamwork would make the actual event even more meaningful was the hope. We ended up with 47-teams of 3 to 4 players signing up for the race by the end of the opening keynote. At midnight of the first day, they received their instructions of what they had to accomplish in the next 36 hours.
1. CREATE – A logo and team name for your team
2. LISTEN – Create a 15-20 second audio podcast that summarizes your favorite session. (background music/sound effects for a bonus point)
3. CONNECT – One team member must make a new friend from somewhere else (not on their team) and ﬁnd 3 things they have in common. Create a Thinglink to represent your new friend and the 3 things you have in common. (Bonus point for ﬁnding someone from a different state or country)
4. SNEAK – A team member photo-bombs an Eanes iVenger (hint: they will be wearing red crew shirts on Wednesday) Clariﬁcation: A proper photo bomb is when someone sneaks into a photo from behind.
5. CAPTURE – Take 5 selﬁes with vendors and post to Instagram with hashtag #iplza14 and your team name. Capture all 5 for ﬁnal submission video. 1 point per selﬁe.
6. EAT – Create a Canva poster based on your favorite food item from the food trucks.
7. DRAW – Using a drawing app, create your best caricature of another team member.
8. CHALLENGE – Create and post a Vine of a team member asking a presenter a question. (please don’t interrupt a session just for this – that could result in a deduction)
9. OUTREACH – Connect with someone over FaceTime who is not at the event and show them around. Take a screenshot that displays evidence you are here.
10.SHARE – Upload and share your final video submission somewhere visible on the web. Your final video must be no longer than 2 minutes.
We also had two scheduled challenges from 3:30-4:30 in the main room of iPadpalooza on Day 2 where the teams had to complete these -
1. DRIVE – Control a Sphero through an obstacle course. 5 attempts per team. Bonus points to the top 3 teams that take the shortest time to complete the challenge.
2. SMASH – Create an Appsmash LIVE during the day 2 closing activity. Theme of the smash will be given at 3:30. You must smash as many apps as you have team members +1 (so a team of 4 must smash 5 apps).
Bonus points we possible for teams with evidence of the top tweets and creativity of final video submission. While we could have just made it a checklist of items and drawn names out of a hat, we decided instead to judge their final submissions. Rather than fact check every item, the 2-minute video was the proof teams had to submit to at noon prior to the closing.
We had an amazing 18 teams complete the challenge and many were made up of people from completely different districts. In retrospect I would have loved to given every finishing team an award, but we ended up just awarding the top three prizes. Here is what the winning video submission looked like from Team “FargoFromDownUnder Appletes”
While there are always areas to improve, this race was successful in bringing colleagues together (either from the same district or even different countries) to engage and collaborate with an event rather than just being an passive participant. We look forward to even more teams competing next year and know now that the bar has been raised!
Official APPMazing Race Rules & Challenges 2014 PDF
Planning a wedding is tough. As a (somewhat) retired wedding DJ, I have seen all the good and the bad of a wedding. From a bride’s father refusing to walk his daughter down the isle to a drunken uncle “mic-bombing” the reception, it’s a celebration of life while coupled with an undercurrent of stress.
Now take that and multiple it by 37, lose your voice and you have my experience at this year’s iPadpalooza. It was all the fun mixed with all the stress. Only instead of obstinate fathers we had some amazingly inventive teams of teachers in our first ever APPmazing race. We had our own drunken mic-bombing uncle close out the show (only without the drunk part) in the ever-entertaining and inspiring Kevin Honeycutt. All of this and my voice never fully made its way back from a weekend cold which made things madly frustrating at times for me.
This was our third year of the ‘palooz and we tried to continue to make it not only a happening event but also one where learning was fun and at the center of everything. Last year’s keynote of Sir Ken Robinson was very much the highlight of the 2013 event. While it’s great to have one-of-a-kind keynote speakers, making this event different than others is the experience around it. From the food trucks to the live music to the wide variety of speakers from all over the world (including our new friends Janelle and Terry from Australia!), making the experience innovative is always the toughest challenge to event organizers.
Like any other innovation or invention, we got some parts right and we failed on some others. Regardless, the feedback from attendees has been OVERWHELMINGLY positive with more than 98% saying they would return next year, which speaks volumes to the success of this year’s event. Here are some highlights from both my perspective and from those of that sent in feedback.
New additions this year:
APP-mazing Race -
Whenever I attend an event or conference, there are times where I feel like I could and should be a little more active in my learning. The APPmazing Race was born out of the idea that we have a lot of “minutia” that we could be utilizing. (such a great idea I hear Pearson used it at ISTE a week later). I also feel like at times we don’t make a point of getting to know others and instead just talk to those in our inner-circle or Twitter PLN. The APPMazing Race was a chance for 3-4 person teams to complete a series of challenges in a 36-hour period starting at Midnight on the first night. While we may have shot a little far on our series of app-based challenges, we did have 18 teams complete the race which far exceeded our initial expectations. In the end it was a couple of Minnesotans joining forces with two Aussies to create the winning team “FargoFromDownUnder Appletes” each of whom when home with an HD iPad Mini and a great story to share. Blog coming soon with more details on how we did this.
Youth Film Festival -
Without a doubt, the youth film festival film screening at Alamo Drafthouse on the second night of iPadpalooza was my personal favorite moment from event, and not just because I was able to take my wife and oldest daughter along with me. Keeping with last year’s theme of creativity, we decided to join forces with Pflugerville ISD film guru Humberto Perez to create our first every youth film festival. Much like the APPmazing race, the film festival wasn’t without it’s set of challenges, but in the end, we got to witness first-hand the joy of film-making from the minds of children of all ages. The teams had only a few rules – create a 2-4 minute film using only an iOS device, make it have something to do with this year’s theme “UP” and put a balloon in it as a prop. The final results were magical and the winning team “Up, Up, and Away” was also the team that traveled the farthest (coming to us all the way from Illinois). We can’t wait until next year’s event where we’re sure we’ll see the bar raised even higher after this year.
iLead Academy -
Leadership in any type of mobile-device initiative is vital to its success. While iPadpalooza offers many learning opportunities for leaders, it’s still teacher-focused at its heart. We created the iLead Academy as an opportunity to get like-minded leaders in the same room hoping to make change happen on their campuses. We mixed in a variety of world-renown speakers, expert panels and activities focused around the 4C’s. Having an opportunity the hear from so many inspiring leaders, much like the kids from the film festival, really reminded me of what this is all about.
Expert Lounge & Human Library -
With all of these great speakers and variety of expertise in one place, it would be a shame not to at least have 5-10 minutes with them in 1:1 conversation. For those buffer times in the schedule, we created a “human library” where you could check out an expert in a field and sit down and have a conversation to help with your growth and learning. We hope to expand and advertise this much more next year as feedback from those that attended these times was extremely positive.
One of the goals of iPadpalooza is to really focus attention on the attendees and make their experience an enjoyable one so that learning can happen more freely. Sometimes we get it right. Sometimes we get it wrong. Here are a couple of areas we’ll focus on improving next year:
I tried a “staggered” schedule much like that of a movie theater instead of the standard 60-minute session/15-minute break approach. The idea was to leave some wider gaps in between sessions and to cut back on traffic flow. Based on attendee feedback, this was either loved or hated. Add to that the limitations of our Sched app and there were times people got up and walked out of a session because they didn’t know another was starting a few minutes later. We also tried an evening keynote on the night before the event with the thinking that many people would be in town anyway for the next day. Sadly, many people missed this because they didn’t schedule to come in until the first full day. Next year, we’ll look at keeping some of those wide gaps but possibly syncing up more of the session starting times, we’ll move the keynotes back to the daytime and improve (or likely change) the scheduling app.
With a couple of last minute cancellations, our music this year was a mix of good and bad. At one point I even came out of retirement to spin the 1’s and 2’s as a morning DJ. While we had an eclectic mix of music, next year we’ll look to keep that flavor but possible have it either in a different area or possible turn the sound down on the amps so people can enjoy conversation and music at the same time.
Food Trucks -
Having an event with “personalized eating” when it comes to food trailers is still very much part of the fun experience of this learning festival and very much an attendee favorite.
Session diversity -
This year we had sessions from “I fear I’m becoming a Tree-hugging Hippie” to “Guilty Pleasures…Apps You Just Can’t Delete.” There were presenters from all over the U.S. and beyond bringing their own unique perspectives to learning with mobile devices. We had a little something for every attendee out there and can bet that we’ll increase on that diversity next year. We’ll be adding both a “Poster-Session” option for presenters and possibly a 15-minute “TED-style” option for talks in short bursts in a certain area of the event.
Sugata Mitra and Kevin Honeycutt provided the perfect bookend speakers for this year’s event. Both spoke about the ideas behind global outreach and also brought us back to core of why we are here…kids. Like Sir Ken last year, they’ll be tough acts to follow, but we already have some interesting leads already in the works!
Sneak Peak toward 2015
While I won’t spill all the goods on next year’s event, I’ve already alluded to the fact we’ll see some different types of session offerings, a change in our keynote structure, and improvements on the APPmazing Race and Youth Film Festival. We’ll also likely keep our old faves of live music and food trucks in place. I know that not every innovative and “weird” idea will work next year. Like a wedding, there will be all sorts of magical moments happening throughout the event (only hopefully without the tears). What I can guarantee people walking “down the isle” of iPadpalooza will experience something they can’t get anywhere else…and learn a thing or two along the way.
Come to Austin June 23-25, 2015 and say “I do”.
Here’s a word-cloud of all the 1-word answers attendees used to describe this year’s event:
Here are some other blogs and articles about the event from local news and attendees:
iPad Convention Trains Teachers from Around the World - Austin American-Statesman
Top 10 Things I Learned at iPadpalooza – Summer Len Diamond
Inspired by iPadpalooza Visual Notetaking - Wes Fryer
iPadpalooza 2014 Highlights - Mathy Cathy
This “off-season” in the Texas legislature brings about a chance for both House and Senate members to gather information and intel for the upcoming session in 2015. On the House side, Public Education committee members are gathering information to review, repeal, and possibly replace the current method of administering teacher evaluations. That was the not-so-hidden agenda presented to me a couple of weeks ago when I was asked to give testimony on innovative teaching and learning from the viewpoint of a 1:1 school.
Now, I’ve done all manner of public speaking in my life from being a keynote speaker to dressing up like a zombie, I really enjoy engaging a crowd. I don’t get nervous or stage fright like I probably should in those situations. Testifying was definitely an exception to that rule. While I was extremely honored and grateful to have the opportunity to speak, I was nervous beyond belief. Not only did I have a whole set of verbiage to learn (“Mr. Chairman, members of the the committee, etc) but I was also on a 10-minute time limit. Those of you that know me know that I can speak fast so my goal was to cram about 20 minutes worth of content into those 10 minutes without being completely incomprehensible.
Adding to those nerves was the actual physical set-up of the room. I don’t know how many of you have had to give testimony or speak at a Board meeting, but that set-up can be intimidating. I was sitting at table with 3 other witnesses looking up toward a wall of tables that greatly mimicked “The Wall” from Game of Thrones in my mind. This gave the committee members a distinct strategic advantage in terms of having the higher ground and vantage point to any argument.
I had all sorts of crazy ideas for my testimony as a way to stand-out (Zombie costume or take over their iPads somehow came to mind first) . However, in the end, I felt it most important to speak clearly on our 1:1, the changes we’ve seen in learning and teaching, and the fact that professional learning is so valuable with these changes. Here’s a link to the entire testimony (I’m in the first hour and a half or so).
I did decide to auto-tweet my testimony since my notes were written on keynote slides (I had been advised to avoid “reading” my testimony). While I got no response from the panel at the auto-tweet remark, I did actually get Rep. Donna Howard (D) to tweet at me which I took as an early win.
— Donna Howard (@DonnaHowardTX) May 14, 2014
As for the testimony itself, I was fast but seemed to get the story of my district across. I was extremely thankful to see a friendly face, our Superintendent Dr. Nola Wellman, walk in minutes before I took the stand. Once I started speaking a strange calm washed over me. I realized as they moved to the next panelist, that this was a great opportunity to speak my mind about what’s been bothering me about the way the state handles public education. If you don’t want to watch the entire testimony, here’s a few of the points I tried to make:
The Autopsy that is standardized testing
I actually got quoted by the local NPR affiliate for this one, when asked about whether or not state standardized tests should count towards a teachers evaluation, I cautioned the committee that course of action is “dangerous.” My rational being, you are judging that teacher using one metric that is essential an autopsy of what they learned, not only that year from that teacher, but the teacher prior to that and prior to that and so on. This isn’t a new idea among many of us, but thought it was a good opportunity to get that out in the open.
When Rep. Harold Dutton mentioned in his cross testimony of Andrew Kim about whether or not project-based learning worked for “bottom kids” I started stewing. Our culture is so ingrained with the idea of ranking individuals that we now use nomenclature that demeans those struggling students right out of the gate by calling them “bottom kids.” I went on a mini-rant about how we as society need stop the competitive nature of state-testing in our world as it really benefits no one. (note: Rep. Dutton would later go on to apologize for using that phrase)
Evaluating in Isolation
Near the end of our time on the panel, Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock took the opportunity to ask us our opinion on how teachers should be evaluated. There was unanimous agreement among the panel that the focus should shift from the “Dog & Pony” show of teacher-led lectures to encompass more of a 360 view of the classroom and what are the kids doing. As an appraiser you should be not only ask kids what they are learning but also ask them to demonstrate their learning. My main beef with traditional teacher evaluations is the idea that we all should teach in silos (an idea that’s made even worse when you throw in performance-based pay). There are no metrics out there that truly measure teamwork, but having items on a evaluation that encourage collaboration among peers would be valuable to break from the approach of teaching in isolation.
Parents evaluating teachers?
One of the more interesting questions was the final one – Should parents be able to evaluate teachers? This question prompted my “mic drop” (although it was more of a “mic shove” if you watch the video)
When asked the question, here was my response:
“I have no problem at all with parents evaluating teachers….as long as teachers can evaluate parents.” (mic shove)
This whole experience was very eye-opening for me and it has raised some extra questions in my mind that I’d love for some of my fellow bloggers or followers to reply to. Please comment below to one or all of these questions:
1. If you had 10 minutes to present in front of Congress, what would you talk about and why?
2. If you could remake teacher evaluations, what would you do differently?
3. Have you ever had a time in your life when you were given the opportunity to say something, but didn’t?
I’d be curious to hear your responses and invite you to help add to my testimony.
I promise not only that I’ll listen, but that I won’t be staring down at you from a tall desk.
Since the beginning of time, man has always had an innate sense of alertness. In our primitive self, that alertness was used to make us aware of dangers around us. Imagine it – you are hunting and gathering food when all the sudden, you happen upon a pond with fresh water. You bend over to quench your thirst or possibly fill a jug with water for your family, when all of the sudden you hear a twig…
You turn and look for what blood-crazed beast might be approaching you. It turns out to be a smaller creature…like a squirrel (Look! Squirrel!). Following your expience with the varmint, you travel cautiously back to your cave having survived certain death. When you arrive home to your wife and kids you discover that you left your jug full of water behind. “What were you thinking?” she might ask (although back then it might be more like a series of grunts). Your response would be simply “Ah dunno” (which in modern times still sounds like a series of grunts).
The truth is, you were distracted. Your brain refocused attention and energy toward survival and alertness. In that moment, you forgot the water jug and simply returned home. To set this more in modern times, have you ever gone into a room to look for something and then something else caught your eye or someone asked you a question at which point you forget why you are in the room? You might even travel back into the original room to sort of mentally “retrace” your steps and try and figure out why you were going into a certain room.
I know I’ve probably paid hundreds of dollars in wasted electricity staring into the refrigerator pondering why I went there in the first place. By our very nature, we are victims of distraction. Distraction causes our brain to alter their original course of action whenever a new stimulus is produced. Some of us have become quite acute at managing this and claim to be multitaskers (a theory that is seemingly debunked weekly). Others have figured out ways to block out distraction when working on a task.
Enter the era of smartphones and notification alerts. All the sudden, something as small and innocent as a beep or tweet causes us to lose focus on our task at hand. I’m calling this “Notifistraction” (No-tis-fah-strac-shun) Disease, or the mash up of notifications and the distraction they cause. Despite our best efforts to focus our brains still revert back to the stone age twig-snapping event whenever our devices alert us about something.
And that’s only part of it. A local cyber-psychologist here in Austin, Dr. Mike Brooks, says that we are becoming addicted to our alert notifications. He states that we get small endorphin rushes to our brain whenever we get an alert notifying us that someone has connected with us. This can be either mentioning us in a tweet, tagging us in a photo, or commenting on our YouTube video for example. That connection creates endorphins which is subconsciously associated to the sound or sight of a notification alert.
Think of this rat in B.F. Skinner’s famous rat experiment on Operant Conditioning as a simple example of this conditioning.
A more modern example might be the feeling one gets when walking through a casino and listening to the slot machine make all sorts of bells and whistles to claim we have won something. That same primitive level of satisfaction combined with our inability to control perfect focus when distracted make Notifistraction Disease another sign that the Digital Zombie Apocalypse is upon us.
Like everything else I’ve written in this series, I have had some level of personal challenges to overcome when it comes to notifistractions. Recently, I was honored to receive a new Pebble watch as a going away present from my TEC-SIG presidency. Just like any new gizmo, I love the watch. I can see my running times on it, can bring up the weather, and can even be notified when my washing machine is done with my clothes. It uses the smartphone as sort of a “main frame” and just relays alerts to the watch. Now I have notifistractions literally tethered to my body!
Now, as with Digital Yawns, the good news is there are some homeopathic cures out there for those of us suffering from Notifistraction Disease. Here are some tools I’ve deployed personally to help me get through a project or just simply enjoy time with my kids and family without my attention being drawn else where. It’s already come in handy when we went on a recent family trip and I noticed that the airport had mis-tagged our car seats which would have sent them to a totally different city. If my nose had been buried in my phone, I wouldn’t have caught that slip-up.
1. Turn Off Notification Alerts -
I have turned off all audio alerts except for text messages and phone calls. While this might not seem like much of a sacrifice, at one point I was getting Foursquare alerts about how good of mileage Greg Garner made on a recent run. Do I really need to know that? (he’s fast by the way) My next step is turning off that little alert icon that appears on my apps as I don’t need to see the 999 unread email messages I might have.
2. Don’t Respond to Everything Right Away –
I try not to respond or read alerts or social media while sitting in the car. Notice I didn’t say “while driving”. This is still a bit of a challenge, because, just like the Skinner rat, I sometimes want to know what someone is sending me. Of course, with the new watch, I can see the alert on my wrist and just choose not to respond, but that’s still a distraction.
3. Employ the “Pomodoro Technique” -
When working on a project, I employ the “Pomodoro Technique“. I have to give props to Lisa Johnson for sending this my way, but it’s a simple technique used to maintain focus throughout a project. Here’s how it works. You write down a goal or project that you need to work on. Then you basically turn off all notifications, shut down email, turn off your phone, etc for a period of 25 minutes. When the 25 minutes is up, you can take a break for 5 minutes to check email, social media, your clothes in the washing machine, etc but then you have to get back to work on the task for another 25 minute period. I even employed this technique while writing this post!
Let’s face it, we’ve been distracted creatures for thousands of years, but it’s time we started managing those distractions and not letting them rule our lives. Do we really need to know when our washing machine is done? The next time you suffer from Notifistraction Disease, ask yourself, is it really important that I get this alert on my phone? You might find yourself being distracted by more pleasant things like nature and birds and…..squirrels!
Now….what was I saying?
Note: This post is the third installment of a 5-part series on digital zombies, re-animated, if you will, from my SXSW presentation on Surviving the Digital Zombie Apocalypse.