It’s cold and dreary outside. There’s the smell of snow or musty wetness attached to all your students as they come in from the weather. The dreaded “indoor recess” phrase is on everyone’s minds but what is a teacher to do? How many episodes of Koo Koo Kangaroo can kids dance to on GoNoodle? I mean, what’s the limit?
Worry not! Below are a collection of fun, engaging, and interactive ideas to get your students moving, grooving and learning in a different way. Many of the examples below are meant for classrooms that might only have access to a few devices and around the idea of mixing both hands-on with digital interaction.
Create an “Amazon Box” Village
The days that follow Black Friday and Cyber Monday can only mean one thing….TONS of boxes from the company with the little smile on it. As our houses fill up with these boxes filled with holiday joy, why not take advantage of all this material as a teacher? On Monday after Thanksgiving break, send a message home to parents to send in those boxes! (As a parent with an office full of these, I’m happy to comply)
Drawing inspiration from the Caine’s Arcade documentary, have students bring in a handful of boxes of varying sizes in order to design a small village. Each student will design a place of business and tie in components of financial literacy. Then, using markers, construction paper, glue and scissors, they’ll design their building facade and discuss its placement with the village commissioner (a student elected by the class). Students can write advertisements for the local village newspaper advertising their goods and services (tying in language arts) and even make commercials that can be tagged on the buildings using FlipGrid’s new Augmented Reality tool.
As the winter break approaches, slide the desks to the side of the classroom and layout your village for all to enjoy! Students can even record “flyover” tours of their village like those found in Apple Maps or even design their own mini-virtual realty tours using panoramic photos in Google’s Tour Creator.
Make a Virtual Realty Holiday Scene
It is important for students to understand that the holidays are much more than just Christmas or Hanukkah. Why not have students research the many different cultural celebrations of the holidays and then use a tool like Panoform.com to have them draw out a virtual scene?
As a teacher, this is a great mix of both analog and digital tools as you print out the grids from Panoform and discuss how items will need to be laid out to go from a 2D worksheet to a 3D virtual world. Students place important items from their holiday celebration throughout the grid then upload it to any device via the web to enjoy the new virtual world.
When everyone is finished, take a virtual gallery walk of each scene and have students explain the items they place in their virtual holiday celebration.
Use Brain Breaks to Open Up Creativity and SEL Skills
Most of the sessions I do at schools or conferences involve a WIDE variety of brain breaks. While movement in general is a good thing for awaking the brain (especially on a dreary day of no recess), many of these brain breaks also stimulate thinking while enhancing 21st Century skills like collaboration and communication. Here’s just a few of my faves that are good for any age or classroom and only take a few minutes which is great for waking the winter mind!
My favorite way for finding random partners is to play a song while students walk around shaking as many hands as possible. (You can also do fist bumps or high fives) As soon as the music stops, whoever they shook hands with last is their partner. I try and do this between or before each brain break activity. Think musical chairs, only without the chairs.
Thinking on the Fly
In pairs students are given one minute to generate a list of as many items that fit within a certain category. One catch – they must alternate responses. The teacher can either put the category up on the board or on the screen and to add to the fun/pressure, have a large timer somewhere that the kids can see it. Categories can range from “Things Found In Winter” to “Holiday Movies” to something more aligned with curricular topics like “character types found in a fantasy novel” or “settings found in books”. For those teachers that teach world languages, have students create their lists in the language they are learning!
I was inspired by Jimmy Fallon’s Three-Word Stories and have been using it as a brain break in many of my workshops. The idea is that you and a partner take turns telling a story using 3 words at a time, but here’s the catch, one of you has to get the other to say a particular secret word. I usually have the partners face each other with one of them with a back to screen where I flash the secret word on screen for a few seconds. Feel free to tie the “secret word” into any themes or units you might be reviewing and sit back and watch the hilarity ensue!
Starting in pairs, students make up the shapes or objects you assign them. After a few rounds, have the pairs match up with another pair to make a group of four. You can then have the groups recreate scenes from famous stories, make up math problems, or recreate historical events. Then have the groups of four merge with another group to form a group of 8. Larger groups, mean larger objects. Have them recreate the water cycle or Stone Henge, the choice is ultimately yours. Just be sure to emphasize and applaud the creativity as students think outside the box when creating their objects.
If you want to see some more brain break ideas, check out my giant Google spreadsheet of ideas here for free!
Have a Game Show!
Nothing like a little competition to raise the heat in the classroom. There are a wide variety of quiz gaming tools out there (Quizziz, Kahoot, Quizlet Live) but in this iteration, you put kids into teams of 3 or 4. If you have time, you can design your own Jeopardy! like game show using Powerpoint, Google Slides or Keynote, but to save time, I would recommend using a Flippity.net’s game show template. (Note: be sure to publish to the back-end spreadsheet to the web to make sure it works)
Then, students use mini dry erase boards or clipboards or a device to post their answers. The key here is making sure students are discussing their answers before posting them. Award bonus points as you see fit for groups falling behind or pick a random question as the “Double Jeopardy” questions for more points. This is a great way to review a unit and adds some competition and collaboration into the classroom.
Make the Classroom Into an Escape Room
One of the best activities for really getting kids to discuss feelings/frustrations is having them work collaboratively on solving clues using something like BreakOutEDU. Last year, when I got to substitute for my daughter’s 4th grade class, we busted out a few BreakOut kits for the kids to experience for the first time. Don’t have the means to purchase these? Check out the bevy of Digital BreakOuts available online for classrooms that have access to a few devices. While only half the groups succeeded in the particular challenge, what was amazing to me was the inability for some of the kids to persevere when faced with adversity and pressure. Some gave up and some argued with their teammates constantly.
This may not sound like a joyous time as a teacher, I found that the time we spent on discussion after the 45-minute BreakOut to be the most valuable. How can we do a better job listening to each other? How do we overcome adversity as a group and support each other?
In this day and age of social media discourse, disagreement and vitriol, spending a few moments to have an outward discussion around this would go a long way to handling arguments in the future while also promoting a sense of community in the classroom.
I hope some of the above ideas are useful in not only helping you survive the gap between Thanksgiving and winter break, but also as ways to enhance learning in your classrooms. Happy Holidays everyone!
It wasn’t the dried blood pouring from their ears or the vampire-like teeth they seemed to all be sporting. Being a teacher for 20-plus years, she had become accustomed to kids not following along with the school rules banning any type of costumes or “Halloween attire” from the school. Having fought (and lost) many a battle with parents, she had given up hope in some ways that the kids (or better yet, their parents) would actually honor any type of school rule.
No, what was different was that they all seemed to be actually sitting quietly waiting for some direction.
She dreaded this day.
From her first day as a teacher in 2020, to the present year 2041, she always hated dealing with typical rowdy behaviors from her 3rd/4th grade mixed class on October 31. It became a huge pain to try to keep them engaged in any type of lesson. She tried to have them create their own virtual haunted houses and even used augmented reality to zombify their “Facetagram” profiles. Nothing seemed to work.
They were obedient kids, but their boredom tolerance was almost non-existent. She felt as if she had to always entertain them and on Halloween, when they had visions of ‘safe-for-school’ candy dancing in their heads, she knew it would be particularly difficult to keep them engaged in any task.
So, this year, she decided to try something different. Something that would TRULY scare them.
“Class, today we are going to take a surprise field trip,” Ms. Shannon said.
“What? Where? Today? Our parents didn’t get a note, how can we do this?” the students questioned.
“Will it be a virtual field trip?” some pondered as the teacher liked to integrate virtual reality into her lessons regularly.
“No, it will be an ACTUAL field trip,” the teacher responded.
Following some moans and groans, the students slowing rose from their flexible furniture and ambled in zombie-like fashion past the interactive wallpaper at the front of the class (which was currently displaying a misty cemetery setting with headstones that had each of their names).
“Should we take our tablets?” one student asked.
“No, for this you will only need your eyes, your feet, and a snack,” replied the teacher.
As the self-driving bus landed in front of the school, the students filed in with a murmur. There was a mixture of excitement and fear. Usually all field trips had to be approved by parents, and most of these students had never gone anywhere without their parents careful planning. From pre-planned “play dates” when they were 3 and 4 years old, to the cavalcade of TaeKwonDo lessons, Oboe Practice, and Drone Racing League meets, they had all lived extremely scheduled and pre-approved lives.
After a quick flight out of the city, the bus came to rest in the middle of a forest.
“Alright class, everyone out!” the teacher exclaimed.
The students noticed her demeanor had shifted from grumpy to cheerful, which put them all at ease, albeit she seemed to be overly cheerful.
“Students, today you are going to be a part of something you have never experienced. In a few moments, I’m going to leave you alone here in these woods.”
The students shifted uncomfortably in their self-lacing shoes. Some began to look nervously to each of their classmates as if to say, “Do you think this is real?”
“Somewhere, there is a note giving you directions that you’ll have to uncover, but until then, good luck.”
And with that she stepped onto the bus which quickly flew up into low-hanging grey clouds and disappeared.
For what seemed like a lifetime, the students stood still, mouths agape.
“How could she leave us here?” one boy with an interactive t-shirt displaying a 38-year old dancing Billie Ellish commented.
“She’ll be back. I’m sure of it,” a girl with three pig-tails reassured.
After a few minutes, when they realized she wouldn’t be coming back, many of the students began to gather in small groups trying to decide what to do next. One group elected to stay right where they were until their parents came and got them. Another group started to cry and scream from the stress. A third group immediately began looking for the note the teacher had mentioned.
One of the girls in the third group, Sheri, had been a part of “the Scouts” as they had now been named. (Boy and Girl Scouts had been merged in 2036) Sheri had some knowledge of survival skills and immediately took up a leadership position in the group.
“Listen, we can’t wait here for someone to come get us. This is a challenge that we must overcome together. Our teacher is always talking about how we need to collaborate more, think critically, and problem-solve. I think this is a test to see if we can do that,” she stated.
“There are 20 of us here. If we work together, I’m sure we can find the note the teacher mentioned and get out of here.”
“LOOK!!” one of the boys shouted. “There’s an old cabin over there!”
The students gathered closely together as the dilapidated cabin seemed to leer at them behind spider webs and dead vines climbing along the sides of its walls.
“What are you crazy?!? Go into that place? NO WAY” one of the kids commented.
Sheri reassured them,”You don’t really think our teacher would leave us out here with something dangerous? She’d get in so much trouble from our parents. I think this is all an elaborate trick.”
As the words escaped her mouth though, Sheri began to wonder. She had noticed a change lately with Ms. Shannon. She seemed to be getting more and more pail as the year wore on. Her hair, normally perfectly placed, had become disheveled. She seemed stressed. And not just the normal stress that teaching 60 hours a week for a small paycheck had brought upon her life. No, this was different.
Secretly, Sheri thought that Ms. Shannon had finally cracked.
As the students huddled together and slowly approached the cabin, a deep fear had crept into all of their brains. They had never done anything without first checking for consent from an adult. A large group of kids decided to stay in the very spot where they had been left by the bus, opting to collect their snacks in a pile and await for their parents or the teacher to come back for them.
The smaller group, led by Sheri, progressed into the cabin. Inside, it was musty. There were strange all-in-one desk looking torture devices set in rows in the room. An old interactive whiteboard from yesteryear hung tilted off one of the walls. What was this place?
One boy named Leo chimed in, “This almost looks like a learning studio. I think they used to call it a ‘classroom’.”
Other students nodded. There were old, sun-bleached bulletin boards on the walls and alphabet letters strung up across the top of the wall (although four letters E,H,L, and P were missing).
At the front of the room was an extremely large desk. The students had never seen a desk of this size. One of them commented, “It almost looks like it could be a teacher’s desk, but teachers don’t have desks anymore so I’m confused.”
On the middle of the desk laid a single sheet of paper.
Sheri, with hands shaking, picked up the note.
You have all lived very scheduled lives. You have amazing skills when it comes to using technology, however, none of you have ever learned how to think or entertain yourselves. So today, I’m going to challenge you.
The note continued:
You have no directions. You can do whatever you want. There are no devices to help guide you out of these woods. You are miles from any resources or Wifi. There is only one way out.
Once you have figured out how to think for yourself, you will be freed from the forest.
A loud SCREAM came from the cabin. The group of kids outside sprawled and ran in all directions.
I wish this tale had a happy ending, but it doesn’t.
The students would never leave those woods.
And to this day, if you ever hover near the old school house planted in the middle of woods, you might hear their confused cries for help and direction as they sadly never figured out how to think for themselves.
Anyone who knows me, knows I always have a soundtrack for different parts of my life. Friends and colleagues have shared with me that certain songs speak to them at certain parts of their lives. For me, the song currently speaking to me for this part of my life is the Talking Heads Once in a Lifetime. As a new school year kicks off, I find myself in a strange place. For the first time in 21 years, I’m not running around trying to help classrooms get set up with their technology, updating iPads, training new teachers, or helping with district-wide professional learning.
And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?
About 15 months ago I was wandering around New Orleans and stumbled into a local coffee shop. They had a bookshelf full of books with “Free- take one” labeled on each cover. My eyes were drawn immediately to the cover and title of this particular book:
The title caught my attention because that’s exactly the title we used when we launched our 1:1 program in 2011. Our LEAP program stood for “Learning and Engaging through Access and Personalization”, and while it was centered around 1:1 iPads, what made it successful was the learning. Seeing the subtitle for this book did intrigue me, but when I got home from the trip, I set it on my bookshelf in my personal office and didn’t read it….for almost a year.
Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down…
Flash forward to this past spring. As I’ve told many a friend and colleague in person, there are always signs out there for us to see, and sometimes, they have to be banging you across the head to notice them. With some changes coming to both vision and structure in my now former district and increasing requests for my speaking and consulting side-work, I knew a decision was imminent.
While sitting at home over spring break, I began to discuss the possibility of leaving the 9-to-5 (more like 8-6) work as a district administrator to head into the freelance market of the “Gig Economy.” I discussed this with the one person in my life that has steered me right more than wrong, the mother of my kids….my wife.
“Sometimes, you just need to move on. If you don’t do this, you’ll regret it,” she said.
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife…
That all sounds well and good. After all, I’m the type of person that likes to push people to take risks, yet now, for some reason, I was waffling. Tons of questions swirled around my brain including:
Am I ready to leave 21 years of education behind?
How will I continue to be relevant?
What about private health care? (this one still scares me)
How will this effect my kids who are going to school in the district I work?
I’ve received a monthly pay check since I was 16-years old. How will my family handle the uncertainty of consultant and speaking work?
All of these questions and fears started to creep into my mind.
And you may ask yourself – Am I right? Am I wrong?
To be honest, I still don’t have answers for many of those questions, but in the weeks that have followed, answers have begun to seek me out. Below are some of the main items I weighed before making this decision to take the LEAP:
I think I spent a total of 85 days at my house this past year. From the main work and the travel of the side work, my days and evenings are pretty
well tapped. Late night board meetings, random travel changes, and staying up late to work on a project all took time away from my family. While I know travel will increase some in this new role, I’m excited with the opportunity to spend more time with my kids, my wife, and my parents who live near us. That kind of time is precious and you can’t put a price on it. Too often, we become a slave to daily grind and carry that work home with us. The benefit of time with family was the number one motivator for me to make the decision to leave full-time district work.
Time isn’t holding up, time is after us
I never want to turn into one of those talking heads on stage that hasn’t stepped foot in an actual school in decades. I’ve had the good fortune recently to be hired on as a part-time consultant in a couple of amazing school districts. Having these consulting opportunities in place allow me to both be a part of district decisions and model learning in the classroom with actual students. I always find my energy from the kids, so having these in my back pocket to maintain relevance helped with my ultimate decision.
And you may ask yourself, how do I work this?
Other Creative Opportunities
I’ve built up a very supportive and inspiring network of friends, colleagues, and companies over the years in my role at the district. Many have asked me about collaborating on different ideas and concepts but I simply haven’t had the time. My hope now is that I can devote some energy into those collaborations and seek out some creative opportunities that might have not happened while juggling all the work. In fact, some plans and collaborations are already in the works! In the coming weeks and months, you should start seeing the result of these as I try to impact the larger scope of education across the country.
I’m soft-launching my site this week: CarlHooker.com. If you’d like to seek out my services as a consultant, speaker, MC, event organizer or creative collaborator, go there. I’m excited for the opportunity to connect and collaborate with even more educators across the world now!
Letting the days go by…
I feel like there are 5 things that garner the majority of our attention: Family, spouse, work, friends, and self. These things change in order based on the time of year or whatever your current relationships look like. As this blog is all about me being honest, I’ll tell you that the last item on the list has really suffered lately. As my attention focused on the other 4 items, I spent little to no attention to self-care. That inattention has caused increased stress, blood pressure, weight gain, and insomnia. It’s hard to be productive as a father, husband, or employee with my own mind and body falling apart. While I’ll now have different stresses to manage, I feel like I’ll have extra time to manage those with healthier eating habits and exercise, which ironically should help the other four areas that need my attention.
Same as it ever was, same as it ever was, once in a lifetime, water flowing underground
After my last day at “work”, I found myself behind the wheel of a large automobile as my family and I embarked on a 3-week RV expedition across the eastern United States. Having that gap and family time really confirmed my belief that this could all be possible and might just all work out. The journey ahead won’t necessarily be better or worse, it’ll just be different. I’ll miss many of the great students and teachers that I got to work with in my previous role, but also look forward to the many more teachers and students I’ll have the opportunity to work with in the future.
As a reader of my blogs and someone who’s made it this far on this post, I hope you’ll continue to come along with me on this #NextChapter of my journey and that our paths may cross in the future.
After all, you may ask yourself, where does that highway go to?
“All good things must come to an end.”
Who said that? Do they really have to end? Does it always have to be the good things that end?
I’ve spent the past 21 years of my life in public education and the past 13 at this amazing district known as the Eanes Independent School District. During my time here, I’ve had three incredible children enter the world and the schools here. I’ve made connections and friendships with families, the community, legislators, business leaders and beyond.
To say it’s been an incredible journey is a gross understatement. While I am somewhat torn emotionally at the fact that this will be my final year at Eanes ISD, I’m also excited for what the next chapter in my life will bring and where this ride will take me. As I often do, lately I have been reflecting on my time here and all that WE accomplished. Without a doubt, the highlight of my career has been working with the incredible teachers in this district. You inspire me, make me laugh, make me grow, and push my beliefs. We’ve shared thoughts, ideas, tears, and struggles.
To the teachers of Eanes ISD, I cannot thank you enough for all that you’ve given me and my family. So, before I go, I wanted to write you this love letter.
Have confidence in yourself. You have one of the hardest jobs on the planet, helping young humans learn. Know that this is EXTREMELY hard, but you pull it off with ease. Continue to have confidence in yourself and it will translate into even better experiences for you, your students and those around you.
Do the right thing, even when it’s hard. It’s much easier to just do the bare minimum or to not try something new. When I started in my current role here in 2010, integrating technology meant something COMPLETELY different than it does today. That said, the mindset around technology, while ripe with challenges, shouldn’t change our mission. The mission is NOT to raise kids, but to raise ADULTS ready for the world in front of them. Sometimes that means struggling with new things or trying a new idea that may fail, but remember to keep your confidence and your chin up through those times of struggle.
Change is inevitable and constant. When I started in this district, I always had a 3-year plan. Every 3 years I’d change schools or jobs. It took me 13 years to enact on my 3-year plan, largely due to the amazing community here. I changed my belief that I needed to constantly be changing jobs. My new goal was to see all three of my kids graduate from Westlake High School.
But now, that plan has also changed.
There will be many people that come in and out of your life here. There will be new standards to teach. New rules and policies to follow. And yes, technology will change (in fact, quite rapidly). You can either fear the change or embrace it. That sounds easy enough to do, “embrace change”. However I’m going to challenge you to also think about and question change when it happens. Understanding the “why” behind something is an important step in owning whatever the change is.
Have an opinion and don’t be afraid to express it. In fact, you are obligated to express it. We can’t continue to grow as a society or district or organization if everyone nods their head and moves on. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind. A couple of years ago we started a “League of Innovators” with this purpose. These teachers applied to be a part of group with the ultimate goal of improving the district as a whole, not just around technology. I cherish my time with those in the league and the impact they had on our program. Please continue to express your opinion, even when it’s scary.
Whenever possible, be transparent. Trust is built around communication and transparency. Be open to letting others come into your classroom and growing from their feedback. Expect the same transparency from your leaders, as it will also help them and the school grow as a result of having open conversations.
The struggle is real, but move past it. We all have things that we bring to work with us. From personal issues to family health, stress and struggle are a part of all of our lives. It’s how we handle it that makes the difference, not only to ourselves, but our students. We are humans teaching humans. We are in this for the outcome, not the income. Don’t let your bad days get the better of you and don’t let your best days go to your head. Try your best to keep your #EnergyForward.
There will be days when you feel like you are on an island. You close your door with a single goal of teaching the kids in the room in front of you. Never forget how amazing it is to help kids learn, but also never forget that even if you feel alone, you are not. Lean on your colleagues. Lean on your friends. Lean on your family. After all, learning is better when played as a team sport.
Know there’s a bigger picture and it’s not just about making people comfortable. With transparency and openness comes discomfort. Humans are built to avoid conflict. Since the early days of life, if we sense danger, we either fight it or flee from it. This evolutionary trait will not change overnight, but we can try and overcome it to engage in meaningful discourse. We can’t progress as a society if we spend all of our time either being compliant or having well thought out arguments typed on a Facebook thread. Disagreement and discomfort can be a good thing if it takes us all to a better place.
Don’t be stifled by fear. There will be times when you are afraid to try something new. While there are always consequences for actions, that doesn’t mean you should be afraid to try something. Fear can be suffocating to innovation and creativity. Take well-thought out risks that help improve learning and engagement for your students. Mistakes may happen, but modeling how you learn from those mistakes makes a lasting impression on the students in your classroom.
Creativity is born out of struggle. There will always be some roadblocks on the path to success. Time. Money. Resources. Restrictive filters. When embarking on a new idea or project with your kids, embrace the failures and learn from them. Don’t give up. Roadblocks are there to slow you down, not stop you.
You are a rockstar. You are the front line. Students will graduate. Families move out. Administrators will come and go. Change happens. Roadblocks will try to slow you down. You have to be the one to set an example for your students. You have to show them how to struggle and how to persevere. You have to put a smile on your face when an angry parent misunderstands what their 6-year-old told them you said. You have to grin and bear it when a new policy or directive from the state is passed into your classroom. These things are not easy. But you didn’t get into this profession for easy. You go into this profession to make a difference.
Know that you have made a tremendous difference on one individual and his family. I thank you all for making these last 13 years amongst the best in my life. I will miss the day-to-day friendships. I will miss the philosophical debates. I will miss a teacher running up to me inspired with a crazy idea to improve learning in their class and then helping them achieve it. I will miss leading professional learning for you in a multitude of forms (online, workshops, LearnFestATX, etc). Most regrettably, I’ll miss being able to work alongside you.
As I head into the my next chapter as a full-time consultant and speaker, know that I carry with me the collective passion and knowledge of the incredible teachers I’ve worked with during my time here. I don’t know where this next chapter of my life we ultimately take me, but, because of your support, I do know this….it will KICK ASS.
With love from your colleague,
On a recent OnEducation Podcast episode (embedded at the bottom of this post), the hosts Mike and Glen got into a debate about what exactly is the “right” model of support when it comes to technology integration in schools? As they called out my name in particular, I felt it best to write this post in response.
Make no bones about it…Technology is a gift with a tail. It’s predicted that schools will spend $19 Billion dollars on technology in schools. This can range from a variety of devices, apps, software and various “STEM” tools but not necessarily servers, wires, and all that stuff in the closet. Despite this large amount of money invested in technology, the amount of money to support and integrate these tools dwarfs the amount spent on the hardware and software. I’d also wager that a majority of that “support” money is primarily for personnel needed to repair and keep the technology running, not to integrate it into learning.
I’ve been integrating technology in some form or fashion during my entire 20 years in education. A few years ago I wrote this post about how funding support in both I.T. and instruction can affect the level of integration. From that research as well as my work with districts around the country, I’ve seen a wide variety of models when it comes to support. With most models, the two largest determining factors are budget and vision. What follows are the various models I’ve seen employed by districts around the country. Each model is followed by a letter grade that is completely subjective, because, hey, this is for education right?
The “Tech Support Only” Model
In this model, staff and funding for support go solely towards keeping everything up and running. That means at a bare minimum, the technology will work. Will it be integrated thoughtfully? That depends largely on the teacher and the goals and expectation of the principal. I would say a majority of districts and schools across the country use this model.
While it’s great that the technology can turn on and off, there’s really no way to know if it’s making a difference educationally without some intense expectations, strategies and vision from leadership.
The “Pay and Pray” Model
No tech support. No Instructional support. Just spend the money on devices and see what happens. Whenever you read research about how technology in schools doesn’t really help, it largely comes from schools that employ either the previous model or this one. Often times you’ll hear phrases like “well, some tech is better than no tech” but in terms of this model, you could almost make the case that this could be worse for students (not to mention the tax payers funding the bill).
No support at all is not an advisable model.
The “Vanguard Teacher” Stipend Model
When I started as a classroom teacher, this was the widely used model I saw for technology integration. The way it works is you have I.T. staff to make sure the technology is running and you add some stipend or an extra amount to a group of teachers or a single “rock star” teacher to help with the integration on campus.
While the district saves money by not paying for a full-time staff member to support integration, this model puts a lot of pressure on the Vanguard Teacher to not only do their full-time teaching duties, but also support staff on a variety of issues. As someone who lived this role for several years, eventually the vanguard teacher also gets roped into helping with printer issues, projector issues, and everything in between.
The Ed Tech Consultant Model
This model seems to be on the rise as many districts that can’t support a full-time staff member. Having a consultant who’s an expert in technology integration can help build vision, support the Vanguard Teachers and converse with IT staff can be a huge benefit at a fraction of the cost of a full-time administrator.
This model works best when school and district leadership are on board and match the vision for technology integration with campus-wide expectations. Also, having those Vanguard Teachers or to work with gives insight and boots on the ground so to speak. As someone who consults with schools and districts from time-to-time, I’ve seen first-hand the benefits of this model when done right.
The Full-Time Coordinator/Director Model
While far from ubiquitous, many districts districts land on this model of support by hiring a full-time administrator to help guide the integration of technology in schools. On top of helping with the vision and expectations, this person (also the role I’m currently in) works with all teachers, the community, leadership, and IT to makes sure all stakeholders are on the same page. While it does cost a district a little more, having a full time person coordinating the integration of technology came make a huge difference in learning and usage, especially when compared with the “Tech support only” models.
Grade = A-
The only reason this wouldn’t grade out higher depends on two factors – the amount of campuses to support and how they work with the I.T. Department. If an Instructional Technology Director has too many campuses to support, their impact is minimized as they can really only take a shotgun approach to integration. If they have an over-bearing or controlling IT department, it limits the amount of progress they can accomplish.
The 1:1 Coaching Model
This model involves putting a highly qualified, instructionally-focused staff member on each campus to support the integration of technology. Some schools have used current staff (instructional coaches or library media specialists) to sort of “hack” this model as it does cost the most money of all the models listed above. Others may not be able to have a person on each campus but have a centralized team. Both of those methods are helpful with integration and would grade out highly. However, having a dedicated ITS or EdTech on each campus to coach, co-teach, and lead innovation with technology on campuses can be EXTREMELY powerful. When coupled with well-communicated expectations from campus leadership and vision from the district, I’ve yet to ever see a more beneficial model of integrating technology into the classroom.
Grade = A+
Note: I may be a little biased as this is the model my district currently employs. That said, as someone who has been in the “Director” role for the past 8 years, I can tell you maintaining the A+ Coaching model isn’t necessarily easy. Whenever budget cuts come, as they often do in public education, it’s often the first position to come under the knife which can cause disruption and uncertainness to those in the position. Also, it’s important to coordinate these positions across the district to guarantee some level of fidelity or else risk the role being used differently from campus to campus.
You can get various levels of technology integration depending on the vision, goals and budget of a district. I’ve lived through 3 different iterations of our “Ed Tech” position in my tenure and am now going through another “evolution” of sorts. As we’ve had a high level of support for years, we are evolving the position from someone who supports the integration of technology to someone who supports high quality teaching and learning with technology as an embedded part of that.
While it seems subtle, it does change the ideology around support. Removing the word “technology” or “digital learning” from a title implies that this person supports all learning, which is a good thing. That also implies that they don’t exist solely to repair printer issues or help a principal make a newsletter.
Regardless of roles, position titles, and support, without a well-communicated vision and expectation, technology usage will continue to be only substitutive in nature with the exception of a few outliers. If you have a moment, give the OnEducation Podcast below a listen. They start to get into the debate around the coaching and support models right around the 27 minute mark. Drop a comment below too if you have feedback on the models I’ve shared or maybe some I’ve left off.
You spend a lot of money to attend a conference for professional learning. You get flights lined up, hotel, transportation, etc. Then you go to the event. You spend the first hour trying to find the registration desk. You wait in line for a half-hour to get your badge. Then you plop down on the floor and start looking over the schedule guide to see what sessions you’ll attend.
There’s so many choices, it’s almost overwhelming. It’s like walking into Costco without a shopping list. You go in wanting one thing, and you come out owning a 3-lb lobster claw that you didn’t know you needed. Once you do decide on a session, you stand in line for 15 minutes hoping to get in. Others are over capacity and you can’t get in, which causes you to speed walk 1.2 miles down the convention hall only to walk in late to a session and find the dreaded seat in the very middle of everyone.
After several hours of this, you are ready for an early happy hour. You see people laughing and having fun, but you’re not sure what they are laughing about and if they are in fact having fun. At about 2pm, you find a local watering hole with fellow attendees trying to hide their badge of shame around their necks as you are all clearly failures.
Or are you?
I would argue that you are not the failure, but instead that the conference event failed you. In its desire to pack the house with thousands of people, the large conference has lost focus on what’s most important: the attendee experience. Sure there are amazing speakers from all over and great content, but the UX (user experience) is severely lacking. Why go stand in line for a movie you might not want to watch?
On day 2, you wake up with a headache both from the early happy hour and the brain fog that comes from being overwhelmed. You go to the keynote, hoping for some inspiration. However, you are now “cattled” in and out of a 5000-seat arena where you end up skipping sitting down because you forgot to charge your laptop. So, you find a spot on the floor next to one of the 4 plugs in the 30,000 sq. ft. room. The keynote speaker is good (they usually are, to be fair) but now what? Do you engage in conversation with someone? Do you rush out the door before the closing remarks in the hopes of not being a part of the herd?
All of these above scenarios have been part of my experiences attending large conferences in the past. I feel like I spend much of my time being shepherded around or looking for the next session, but rarely walk away with my money’s worth in terms of knowledge and experiences. In fact, the best learning usually happens in conversations and dialogues with colleagues or things posted on the conference hashtag.
With all this in mind, in 2012, we created an event called iPadpalooza. We didn’t want to call it an “iConference” because we really wanted it to be something quite different. We wanted it to be a learning festival. A place to experience something different as an attendee. A place where the things that matter the most, the interactions, discussions, and collaboration are the focal point of the event.
Flash forward to present day.
Taking all past experiences, both good and bad, when it comes to professional learning, we are attempting something, well…different. The event formerly known as iPadpalooza is now LearnFestATX (after all, it’s about the learning, not a device). Last year, rather than just changing the name and moving on, we decided to beta test some new concepts in professional learning with a much smaller audience. Following that beta test, we discovered what worked and what didn’t. Taking just the parts that worked and adding in some of our own magic, we have created what we feel will be an event from the future, for the future.
Our motto this year is “Ready Learner One” along with a retro video game theme (sometimes the past can best prepare us for the future, right?). Many of the things we are trying are still top-secret, but here’s just a few highlights of things you could experience as an attendee this summer:
Three Different Perspectives to Learning:
As someone attending, you’ll experience learning in three different ways. The first way is the most traditional in terms of learning as part of a large group (during opening and closing events) or a medium-sized group (during interactive and make-n-take sessions). The second way is learning as part of a collaborative team either with our Teacher Shark Tank or the APPmazing Race. The third way is learning as an individual by reflecting in our Mindfulness Lounge, participating in our digital petting zoo, lunchtime interactions, or attempting to win our massive easter egg hunt (details revealed at event).
While the traditional conference puts featured speakers in certain rooms and only for certain times, we want our featured speakers to be much more part of the event. They should be learners too. As an attendee, you should have multiple opportunities to interact with them as well. Sure, there will be some scheduled sessions, but now with our new Mindfulness Lounge and Expert’s Lounge, you’ll have opportunities to sit, relax and reflect with some of the top educational experts around. Our featured speakers will also be playing multiple roles in some of the experiences that are taking place, from Impractical EdTechsters to the Ed Tech Family Feud to a Poetry Slam, you’ll see these folks in roles that stretch their thinking and yours.
A Different Kind of Keynote:
I can’t give away too much here, but for those that attended our beta-test last year with the “Silent Disco” presentation style, we’ll be doing that on a much larger scale during our opening session on June 12. Also, we’ll be bringing back our “What’s HOT in Ed Tech” challenge for the closing ceremonies. Let’s just say it involves some new ways to “spice” up a talk to a large crowd. We’re also super-pumped to have Manoush Zomorodi as our day 2 Keynote speaker. These large groups events will have tons of audience engagement as well as boat-loads of door prizes.
Dive Deeper Before the Madness:
While the main LearnFestATX runs on June 12th & 13th, we will also be having our 3-hour deep dive PreFest LearnShops on June 11th. No more fighting for a spot or a seat. Just buy your ticket, select your sessions, and you are guaranteed a seat.
In summary, I’ve always been of the belief that learning is an active sport. Sometimes that’s a team sport, sometimes it’s an individual sport. But the bottom line is, you get out of it what you put into it. This is true of either a traditional conference or our event. The biggest difference is, at our event, you don’t have to try to seek out those learning opportunities. At our event, they seek you out.
I hope that you’ll join us this summer at LearnFestATX. We do believe that learning as a team can be powerful too, so we offer great group discounts if you want to come hang out with colleagues or meet new ones. With our event, you have the ultimate level of voice & choice. Something we want our students to have as well, so why not model it in a professional learning environment?
Come see what all the fuss is about this summer in Austin:
Hint for those of you that read all the way to the bottom of this page. Try and reach out to a featured speaker to get a 20% off discount!
Editor’s note: LearnFestATX was recently listed as one of EdSurge’s top Ed Tech events to attend in 2019!
It’s that time of year when we like to make resolutions, change part of our diet, and set out with some goals for our personal and professional selves. For me, this time of year marks an annual tradition of making some bold predictions that I think might come true in the coming year. Last year was by far my most successful year of predictions coming true (or mostly true), so with my new found (false) confidence, I’ve decided to really step it up this year with my prognostications.
I realize that some of this may seem far-reaching, but hey, I said “BOLD” right? Also, in looking back at some of my previous years, I noticed that my time frame may have been off by a year or two, but they still came true….eventually. (For the record, I don’t count those as accurate predictions) These predictions are a mix of technology, education, and some fun. Part of what makes this interesting is your feedback, so please drop your bold predictions in the comments below the post. Even if it’s crazy!
Virtual Reality takes fright…er….flight in the classroom
This past holiday, my lovely wife surprised me with an Oculus GO VR headset. This all-in-one headset doesn’t require a computer or a phone to use and within a few minutes of use, I immediately become both motion sick and mesmerized with possibilities in Education. Even though the graphics aren’t quite there yet, just the experience of riding on a virtual roller coaster or even looking out the window of a 97-story building immediately immerse you in the world. Imagine what that could look like in a classroom? I know that Google Expeditions and Nearpod 360 Cities do some of this, but the world I’m envisioning has interactions with the students. Imaging taking part in the American Revolution or being able to be a member in the audience during Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro“? Or better yet….why not put yourself in the shoes of the actual conductor? With the now lower cost of these all-in-one devices and the mobility (no more lugging around a huge desktop) I can see a near future where Interactive VR plays a role in the learning experiences of our kids.
The Universal Translator will make learning a foreign language obsolete
This past couple of years, Google and other companies have really tried to capitalize on the idea of having a Universal Translator (think Ohura from Star Trek). The current versions of this are still fairly clunky, but I can see a not so distant future where learning a foreign language might not be that important. This doesn’t mean that all those LOTE (Languages Other Than English) teachers will be out of a job though. With an effective universal translator, knowing the culture and customs of foreign lands will become even more important should you accidentally say or gesture the wrong thing.
Alexa will accidentally burn down someone’s house
Ok, so this one is a little morbid, but is it really that far-fetched? I wrote this post last year about When Smart Homes Attack about how my kids almost froze and starved to death because I changed the wireless router on a snow day. There are a TON of smart home devices coming out of CES this week (including this awesome SMART block of wood) and with the “Internet of Things” taking over homes across the country, there are some inherent dangers. Like imagine someone asking Alexa to play Turn up the Heat by Justin Bieber only to have it accidentally fire up the fireplace or stove? I see a future Black Mirror episode or crime novel in our future where someone hacks the smart home to kill its inhabitants. (Ok…this is getting way too dark now)
Netflix will launch an EDU Version of its service
I’ve been pitching this to higher-ups at Netflix for the past couple of years, but all my emails and tweets go without a response. It seems to me that this is an opportunity for Netflix to expand its service to the educational market. My daughters already have their own customized channels full of educational content like Bill Nye and Magic School Bus. Netflix even offers one-time educational screening permission for certain programs and movies. We don’t want an educational environment where kids are just mindlessly consuming content, so this would have to be done with some fidelity, but I think there could be a potential use case where the teacher acts as the moderator of customized content for each student under a EDU subscription. Instead of binge watching…there would be binge learning!
Restaurants will post non-device zones similar to non-smoking areas
It seems that more and more we are facing an internal conflict of too much screen time (remember the smart wood I mentioned earlier?). Associated with us being glued to our screens is the feeling that we are doing too much “nocializing” (going out with friends only to be on your phone the entire time) rather than actual interaction. Don’t believe me? Walk through the airport sometime and see how many strangers are interacting with each other. Our district just went through a lengthly process evaluating our own use of technology in the classroom. The major concerns around screen time in schools is a valid one especially when you couple it with the heavy use of screens at home with kids after school. One of the major outcomes of our research was that we need to really educate and promote the purposeful use of technology in and out of schools. This isn’t just a school problem, it’s a social one. I predict that this year, in response to this, we will see restaurants begin to set up non-device zones for those that choose to not have their devices out. The only exception will be for people using their phone to read this post. (Ha!)
Someone will write a blog/paper using only predictive text
Imagine the world of the future and we can have access to our new home app using a mobile device? (that was all written with predictive text…scary isn’t it?) Surely someone will use predictive text to send a love letter, submit a college paper or even write out their wedding vows (see next prediction). Felix Jacomino actually crowd-sourced his predictive text poem a couple of years ago for his Ed Tech Poetry Slam. Here’s an example of a comedian who has re-written the Avengers script using predictive texts using an online tool called botnik. This could be a terribly lame prediction (begin predictive text) but it would also make the best way to play with some friends. Um….okay?
A couple will get married over Facetime
A couple of years ago I became an ordained online minister in order to be the officiant at my buddy Chris Parker’s wedding. It seems to me, that if for $50 and an online application I can become ordained, then surely some couple out there can be married without being physically in the same location. In doing some quick internet digging, it appears that getting married over the internet is still not legal. However, my guess is that with modern laws being updated all the time and with the hustle and bustle of our modern lifestyles, someone will get married via video chat. Some questions I would have around this would be: Do they have to put it online so there are witnesses? Can the officiant be virutal as well or can they be married by a virtual assistant (A.I.)? How do you kiss the bride? I can hear it now: “Do you have the Ring (camera)?”
There will be a FortniteEDU for schools
Remember when people laughed at the thought of Minecraft ever making its way to the classroom? A Microsoft buy-out later, MinecraftEDU has made it into our schools. Imagine a Battle Royale where you have to solve math problems to get weapons or complete a simile to get a shield potion? Doesn’t seem that far-fetched now does it? If anyone can make this happen, my money would be on Mike Washburn who has already done some work in this space. He was the first educator I can recall showing and presenting the educational values of Minecraft way back when. C’mon Mike! Make it happen!
A SMART toilet will save someone’s life
Yes, these are a thing. It seems hard to imagine, but considering there is now something called “Poo Purri”, it doesn’t seem that far fetched. In fact, Kohler just announced their high-end smart toilets complete with mood lighting and built in speakers. While that’s cool, futurist Michio Kaku predicts in this video that smart toilets have the potential to detect a finite amount of cancer cells before it grows into a tumor. How incredible would that be? Also, I’m posting this because I have some guilt from an earlier prediction claiming that a smart home would kills someone (there’s always a balance, right?) These toilets will have an impact in schools and public sector jobs too as they will have the ability to detect drugs/alcohol in student-athletes or politicians, which could get real interesting…
LearnFestATX will again break the rules when it comes to a conference
Last year, as we transitioned from iPadpalooza to LearnFestATX we went into “beta” mode to test out some new concepts to engage adult learners. Admittedly, not all of them were great. However, a few of the ideas were HUGE successes that we plan to feature along with other unique engagement mechanisms this June. From silent disco keynotes to the “What’s HOT in Ed Tech” challenge, this summer’s event in Austin will hit you on all fronts. This year’s theme is “Ready Learner One” with a play on classic video games from our past. So if you’re ready to Dig Dug deeper, be sure to register now as this is should to be a Knock Out! (FYI – we are also accepting calls for proposals until Feb. 8 – accepted presenters can be part of the fun for FREE)
Robotics enter mainstream curriculum
Largely due to costs and complex programming, robotics has remained an after-school program or secondary elective. However, with new models of robotics like Sphero and Trashbots hitting the market at an affordable price AND coming with easy-to-use curriculum integration tools, this will be the year that robot goes from a “fun Friday” activity to mainstream. I may be cheating a bit on this one as Fred Benitez recently shared some science teachers at our middle school doing that very thing with Sphero and Anatomy:
THIS will be the year my children’s book series actually gets published
Third time is a charm right? I’ve had this false prediction on this post for the last two years and I think it’s time to make it happen. I even bought a website for it this past weekend so it better become a reality even if no one buys it. 🙂
There you have it. Twelve different bold predictions (a record for this post) on things I believe will happen during 2019. Like I stated at the beginning, I would love your thoughts on crazy, bold ideas that could happen in our near future as well. Comment below and thanks for reading!
Happy New Year everyone!