Category Archives: Leadership

Technology Fear Therapy for Parents and Schools

Just in time for the Halloween season comes this post inspired by Wes Fryer (@wfryer). A few months ago I noticed a change on Wes’ Twitter profile to now include the job title of “Technology Fear Therapist”. See below:

Notice the title change by Wes…subtle

Annually, I travel to all the booster club meetings and church groups around my district giving talks around technology, social media, and our kids. His title change, while arguably un-subtle, struck a chord with me when it comes to those in my role in a school district. I’d say this same role applies to the teacher that uses technology meaningfully in their classroom or the parent that uses it as a tool in their homes.

We have entered an age of extremism in some ways. Everything is good or everything is bad. It’s either black or white, there is no grey area. Technology, being fairly new on the scene, has seen the brunt of this extremism as you can scan articles, blog posts, Facebook rants, tweets, and even commercials like this one here that are intended to subtly shame people for having their phones out. Parents and schools are feeling judged, whether justified or not, about their usage of technology and that of their kids. What’s interesting is, I don’t see the same level of judgment when it comes to a kid that reads too much or a kid that paints too much. However, once that kid reads or creates on a screen, judgment ensues.

This reminds me of an H.P. Lovecraft quote that I use quite often is:

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”

This fear of the unknown has affected how we approach technology usage with our kids and could debilitate the future wellness of our kids. As with anything in life, balance is what we should be trying to achieve. Being fearful of technology or social media or banning it all together doesn’t help with that balance.  My hope in this article and the accompanying talks is to empower parents and schools to work with kids on this balance. To do so, we need to first look at what is creating or increasing the fear and then determine how do we turn that around so that we can embrace the changes around us.

A Disclaimer on “Research”

Know this, research can be used negatively or positively to persuade an audience. Part of the extremism I mentioned above around technology is usually accompanied by a line that looks something like this: “More and more research is showing that [insert tech term here] is bad for kids.”  Let’s unpack that for a moment. The first part of that sentence isn’t fact-based at all, it’s an opinion to the person writing it that they perceive an increase in research towards one direction or another. The truth is, there is more research out there (which happens over time naturally), but it’s in both directions and sides of the argument (again, remember the extremism).

I recently had an enlightening discussion with a colleague (Dr. Holly Moore) around research and how it’s viewed and used. Essentially, saying the words “there is research out there” supporting a side to an argument doesn’t really make it so (obviously). However, linking to research in the form of scholarly research articles that have been vetted at a university or medical level can be powerful. Links to a New York Times post or a blog post don’t qualify as actually vetted research, those are just the opinions of the writer, meant to persuade readers or increase readership.

Let’s look at the following example that was recently shared with me: A Dark Consensus on Screens and Kids. The title gives me pause immediately as it implies there is some sort of national agreement on what follows. Then take a look at the tag-line “I am convinced the devil lives in our phones” – that’s a major red flag and should add some level of skepticism about what is to follow unless….it supports your own narrative. Looking over the article, it’s riddled with anecdotes and stories from a handful of people. Another red flag – This article includes ZERO links to actual research. At the end, there are some links about some big name Silicon Valley people that made choices around their own kids and technology usage.  Note that the attribution to Mark Zuckerberg isn’t actually Mark, it’s an associate at his former company. There is a link to Melinda Gates where she actually talks about working to balance tech with her kids and even the Steve Jobs article where he talks about he limited technology use at home. That’s a much different story than “consensus of Silicon Valley figure heads is that screens are bad.” But you can see why the title is so attractive and why for some, it helps support their narrative.

It reminds me of a post I wrote earlier this year – EVERYONE Who Reads This Blog Becomes Smarter, Study Shows – as a way to lure in readership. Even in the cases of research that is not just an opinion piece like the NYTimes article above, you have to look at who is sponsoring the research as it may be used to push an agenda in one direction or the other.  The larger concern as a community is that people read these articles and consider them to be absolute truth. This only expands the technology fear and is exacerbated by the following two effects.

The Echo Chamber Effect

We are creating our own echo chambers around all sorts of topics (especially politics at the moment). Whether it be on Facebook or chatting with other parents at our kid’s soccer game, our conversations influence our actions and reactions. However, our conversational circles are extremely closed and lack, in many cases, a diversity of thought or opinion. We tend to surround ourselves with like-minded people that share our morals and beliefs. This also means when someone from our trusted circle brings forth an example or blog post that supports our beliefs, we believe to be a hard fact even if it isn’t. This “Echo Chamber Effect” leads to an increase of the next Technology Fear Factor…

The Anecdotal Evidence Multiplier

Someone saw someone once do something inappropriate with technology. Someone heard from a friend that a kid was having behavioral problems due to screen time. Someone shared an article like the NYTimes one posted above that is really just a series of anecdotes, but cause for concern. This story or situation is shared and re-shared in the trusted circle which therefore causes the human mind to feel it must be widespread when in fact, it’s a single situation shared multiple times. This isn’t unique to technology by the way, but lately it seems that tech is the largest passenger on the Anecdotal Express.  Whenever I hear of someone struggling with their kids and technology, I try to remember there are two sides to every story and there are multiple other factors that might be having an affect on the child (family environment, sleep, diet, expectations, etc.) before I take it in as fact.

Hearing a story, even from someone in your trusted circle, doesn’t mean it’s 100% fact. The culmination of many of the above effects is evidenced by this recent findings from an Australian company called Reachout. (somewhat similar to our CommonSenseMedia here in the states)  One of the lead findings is that 45% of parents worry about social media usage with their teens more so than the 25% who worry about drug, tobacco and alcohol usage with teens.  Technology has now become more dangerous in these parents’ minds than things that actually do physical damage to the body. That’s not to say there isn’t the possibility of emotional and psychological damage due to social media (more on that in a minute), but that we are more worried about the unknown of social media versus the known vices we all grew up around prior to adult life.

Social Media

As you can tell by the above data, social media can seem like a scary place for some. Despite all of its perceived ills, there are some positives as well. According to a Pew Internet Study (May 2018), the feelings of teens when it comes to social media is pretty mixed. While 24% feel that social media negatively impacts their lives, 31% feel it adds some benefit. The rest fall in the middle of either indifference or no impact.

So whether we like it or not, it does have an effect on kids’ lives. As educators, we need to work with students on this impact and teach them how to balance its effect so that positive number is increased (or at least lower the negative one). As parents, we need to have open and ongoing discussions with our own kids around situations that arise on social media, just like real life.

Our district has spent the last two years investing heavily in curriculum and resources around social emotional learning. Technology and social media are intrinsically tied to this initiative. That said, there are some very intriguing resources available to the general public around the topics of social media, mindfulness, and tech-life balance (scroll to the bottom for these resources).

Screen Time

The debate around screen time has been happening since the 1950’s and the invention of the television. It’s not a new argument, but as we have seen an increase in screens entering our lives, there has also been an increase on research around their effect on our eyes and minds. The American Academy of Pediatrics  has put out guidelines around screen time for the last several decades and recently updated some of their recommendations. Schools around the country are faced with a conundrum when it comes to screen time and kids, so keeping the recommendations of the AAP in mind are key when issuing school work on screens. In my parent talks, I reference the following graphic to show that screen time can fall into four quadrants and even within each quadrant is a continuum based on the media being used or consumed.

Screen time can fall into these four quadrants

As a parent, teacher or school district, it’s important to discern how the screens are being used inside the classroom (a place that schools can control) and inside the home (a place where parents can control).  Keeping on the same page as a community around this topic will strengthen the connections being made and help students learn balance and self-management as they age out of our programs.

Trends

A large amount of energy has been spent around the research and effects of social media and screen time and with good reason. These two topics even deserve their own sections in this post (above), so I think it’s important to note that these are two of the top issues weighing on the minds of parents. That said, sometimes I try to think and predict what’s next? A few trends I see globally that will have an effect on our kids are:

The Internet of Things (IoT): When we increase technology access, we increase the chances for something to happen (whether it be good or bad).  On the smart home front, I had my own parenting flop recently when I gave all three of my daughter’s an Amazon Echo Dot in their room and then FAILED to set up any type of restrictions right away. While they didn’t get into anything too bad (turns out the Chordette’s song Lollipop has an alternate version by Lil’ Wayne), they were able to freely purchase anything they liked. “Alexa, send me some puppies” and “Echo, send me a pet from the Amazon” were a couple of requests which resulted in the strange delivery below appearing on my doorstep a few days later.

Stuffed animal puppies and a boa constrictor from Amazon! (Turns out my parents were behind this prank)

While the prank above did illicit a fair share of laughs around the Hooker household, it did make me pause and think. As parents in this world of the “Internet of Things”, we have to consider that anything with connectivity has potential benefit and detriment depending on the action of the user. Again, it’s all about the balance.

(for a quick laugh tied to this topic, see my post on “When Smart Homes Attack“)

Augmented and Virtual Reality: The increasing use of augmented and virtual realities in the everyday world will have a tremendous effect on the future of our kids. They’ll be able to pull up their phones or put on some glasses and instantly see shopping deals, directions, and traffic patterns to avoid. Doctors can already use augmented reality tools to locate veins and virtual reality is allowing doctors to train and practice delicate medical procedures.

We can already immerse ourselves in virtual parts of our world and even other worlds (read Earnest Cline’s Ready Player One to see the possibility of this). Just like with smart devices and the internet of things, the increase of technology also means that we’ll need to make sure we increase attention on keeping our tech-infused life balanced. While I see some tremendous benefit to these technologies, I also worry about over-use and misuse of these tools if left unchecked.

The Ever-Changing Role of the Parent

So what does all this mean for the role of parents? As a dad of three little girls, I am both excited and exhausted to think about what the future holds for them when it comes to technology. I know my role as a parent (just as the role of educator) is to help maintain and model what good digital wellness looks like. All three of my girls are different in many ways, but I see this a lot when it comes to their behavior and attitude around screen time (specifically the passive-entertainment based screen time from the graphic above). We have struggled with our middle child around this, but like anything else when it comes to parenting, consistency and communication are the key. We’ve spent a great deal of energy in helping her learn self-management. As the AAP puts it, we need to become media mentors for our kids.

This is NOT easy. The easier solution would be to not have any of our kids deal with technology at all, which is justified by anecdotes and fear-learning stories. Just make it a complete no-tech zone at home, problem solved right? This may be the easier solution in the short-term, but it’s not a long-term way to teach and raise our kids around these tools that will be with them the rest of their lives. Our role as parents and as educators is teaching them the right balance.

After all, we’re raising adults, not children, right?

Tools and Resources for Parents and Schools

This is in no way a comprehensive list, but a good start when it comes to tools and discussion points with parents and school communities around a balanced approach technology usage.

Common Sense Media I’ve mentioned this in this post and several past posts. A great FREE resource for parents when it comes to apps, social media, movies, etc.

Note To Self Podcast – Manoush Zamarodi is an amazing podcast host who brings in people from a variety of industries to discuss how we keep life balanced in this every changing world.

TechHappyLifeA site created by Dr. Mike Brooks (a local Austinite) on tools and tips for balancing a “tech happy” life. I’ve also had the pleasure of watching Dr. Brooks speak and would say he’s a great person to consider brining in to your next parent group meeting. He’s even put out a book recently titled Tech Generation: Raising Balanced Kids in a Hyper-Connected World.

Dr. Devorah Heitner – I’ve become familiar with Devorah’s over the years and have seen her present at SXSW here in Austin. I also interviewed her for my own book series around this. He book ScreenWise is a tremendous resource for any parent and I see now that she’s even offering up a Phonewise Boot Camp for parents!

Center for Mindfulness & Human Potential – The Education Initiative out of UC-Santa Barbara has some potential for helping high school students when it comes to actual strategies and training around digital wellness and life-balance. Dr. Michael Mrazek and his team of researchers are discovering new ways to help schools with this and with the help of the Department of Education, hope to be reaching at least a million high school students yearly from now until 2025.

Right-Click: Parenting Your Teenager in a Digital Media World – This book came highly recommended to me from colleague Brianna Hodges and has many easy to digest scenarios and tools for parents of teens and pre-teens.

Kerry GallagherKerry is another colleague that I’ve come to know over the years when researching digital wellness. She is a practitioner (she’s an AP at a school in the Northeast) and a tremendous speaker on a variety of topics but especially in the world of digital connection and our youth.

Mobile Learning Mindset: A Parent’s Guide to Supporting Digital Age Learners(shameless plug alert) A 10-chapter book I wrote around this topic along with tools and scenarios for parents to consider.  Got to pay the bills some way!

 

Need a Team-Building Icebreaker? Try Team Trivia!

Whenever I get the opportunity to work with a team of educators for a day, I’m always excited for what the day will bring. Being an attendee at many a workshop as well, I know that there is a sense of dread when it comes to “icebreakers”. I’ve got a few up my sleeve that seem to always be a big hit, but lately I’ve been looking for something different.

If you know anything about me, I usually look for inspiration outside of education.  As some of you witnessed with the Silent Disco Presenting at last year’s LearnFestATX (coming back in 2019 too!), that idea was “derived” from a silent disco dance event at ACLFest here in Austin. This summer, my family and I got to go on a trip of lifetime and traveled on a 14-day Alaskan cruise. We enjoyed the sights, the scenery, and especially all the fun and interactive activities on board the ship. I befriended the cruise director (a former educator and owner of my dream job) and spoke with him about all the ways he tries to engage his audience. He shared a bunch of different games and interactive activities that would be easily applicable to a classroom or professional development setting. Games like “Majority Rules” where the right answer isn’t as important as picking the answer of the majority introduces some hilarious responses and creative thinking.

One event that my family and I repeatedly tried to compete in was the Team Trivia competitions. Some were music based, some were general, but all of them were fun, in large part because of the engaging MC and the collaborative thinking of our team.  I started to wonder if this might be a good way to have a team of diverse thinkers work together and quickly get to know each other rather than the traditional icebreaker.

Last week, I was lucky enough to have two opportunities to try out my theory.  I knew I was going to meet with a dynamic team of educators in Illinois and later in the week was playing co-host to my own teams’ beginning of the year retreat. What a perfect opportunity for some team-building while also breaking the ice!  What follows is a step-by-step run down of the activity with some takeaways if you would like to try this for your team, school, classroom or family!

The Set-up

As I didn’t want this to be solely random trivia, it had to include some information about the group. Things like “What is your greatest fear?” and “Would you rather be a little late or WAY early?” were some of the questions I sent out in advance in this “Pre-flection” survey. (Here’s a sample) While much of the data was easily captured into graphs to use, some of the open-ended questions take quite a bit of data digging to suss out which are the top responses.

I also created the following trivia answer sheet (Link to Team Trivia PDF).  I know you could also do this digitally, but as the purpose of this was more team-building and collaboration, teams were instructed to “use your noodle, not your google.”

Finally, for the trivia portion, I printed a couple of different cards or “life-lines”.  One was a “Text a friend” card and the other was a “Google” card. Teams were instructed that they could use these cards one time and for one question only. If they didn’t use the card, they received a bonus half-point for each card. It was interesting to watch teams use strategy around when or if to use a lifeline card.

Also, just for fun, I created a playlist that included the songs they chose when answering the “my go-to karaoke song is…” on the Pre-flection survey and had their songs playing as they entered the room.

Create your team

For this challenge, I didn’t want teams to just be people you know or members of your campus. In fact, in some ways, this would put your team at a disadvantage if you knew everyone on your team really well. As the last sections were about the group and their answers, it actually is better if you have a more diverse group so that you can poll your team on what they answered. I awarded bonus points for creative team names (and told them to cater to the judge as it was all subjective 🙂

The Trivia Section

There are tons of websites that have trivia out there, so don’t rack your brain coming up with questions. I looked at pop-culture, technology, current events, and school related trivia as my go-to questions. I also tried to pull in some “local” trivia for some of the questions (about the town, school district). For the audio clue questions I included song samples from their Pre-flection Survey for “go to karaoke song choice” and they could earn a point each for listing artist, song title, and year it was released.

Finally, while you could totally do this verbally, I liked having the visual of the question on a screen so I built all my slides in Keynote. This is helpful in large spaces where they might not be able to hear you and it reinforces the idea that we understand and remember much more if we hear AND see it.  I then copied  all my questions slides and repeated the questions at the end of the deck with answer slides in between when we got to the scoring part.

The “Survey Says…” Section

This is a “Family Feud” like section where the team is trying to pick out what they think the number one answer is of the group.

Team Trivia in action! Pic courtesy @ASharpTeacher

I awarded 5 points for the top choice and down to 1 point for the 5th choice. A word of caution here, when building your Pre-flection survey, shoot for one-word answers as it makes tabulating top responses easier to find. Some fun questions here are “What’s your number 1 place to visit on your bucket list?” or “What was your favorite cereal as a kid?”

Remember, it’s not about what you answer, it’s about what you think the group’s top answer will be.

The 50/50 Section

These questions were based on a series of “would you rather” questions at the end of their Pre-flection survey. Questions like “Would you rather lose your hearing or your vision?” or “Would you rather go on a cruise with a spouse or your friends?” were some fun ones and prompted quite a bit of laughter and discussion. Again, don’t re-invent the wheel here. I found this list and many others on the inter-webs to pull these questions from.  For the teams, they had a two-part answer on their scoring sheet. First they had to decide what the majority of the people in the room chose, then they had to guess a percentage for how many chose that as their answer. (i.e. “Lose Hearing…90%) When we get to the scoring section, I awarded points for those that got it right AND got within 5 percentage points in either direction.

Scoring Round

After all the trivia was completed, I awarded bonus points for those that didn’t use their lifelines and for team name.  I then randomly distributed the answer sheets to other groups to do the scoring round. Note that competitive teams can really hung up on some answers. For the most part, if it was close to the original answer, I would allow it (this is supposed to be fun people).

This part should be super engaging. Ask the audience to shout out what you think the answer is and reveal the answers on the screen with some suspense. It’s always amazing to me how competitive teams can get and how disappointed they are when they get an answer wrong.

Summary

All in all, these team trivia contests were a hit at both events. It allowed the teams to get to know each other in a competitive and collaborative format. It took about 6-8 hours to do all the set-up (creating the google form, the answer form, gathering the data, creating the slide deck) and the actual event took an hour.  Now that I’ve done this a couple of times, I can re-use my slide deck and just change some of the questions based on the group so set-up won’t be as labor intensive.  Also, I’ve shared the Pre-flection survey and answer sheet in this blog, so feel free to borrow and remix it yourself. Would love to hear from you if you try it with your team. Tag me on twitter @mrhooker or comment on this post!

21 Things Every 21st Century Educator Should Try This Year (2018 Version)

In 2014 I wrote what would be my most popular blog post ever. Little did I know what impact (both positive and negative) this post would have in the educational world. Part of the popularity of the post was due to the Sean Junkins created infographic that accompanied the post. For the most part, people tended to look at the infographic and pass judgement on whether or not these were things that teachers “should” do in the classroom without reading the blog at all. All that to say – Congratulations! If you are reading this post it means that you have taken the time to click on a link before just looking at the infographic.

Seeing that the world and education has changed (especially in the areas of technology, privacy, etc), I thought it might be a good time to rewrite the post before the start of the 2018 school year. Before I do that, a few disclaimers:

  1. I know that this is an ambitious list. We need ambition to move the needle in public education.
  2. While I love my friends in other countries, I’m not as familiar with their laws, so for the purpose of this post, put on your U.S. hat.
  3. Yes, technology costs money. Money that we are sorely lacking in public education. That said, I’ve tried to differentiate some items on this list require little to no money, just a growth mindset.
  4. The purpose of this list is not to shame teachers into trying EVERYTHING on the list. My hope is that it will generate one or two ideas for a teacher to try this year.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on to my 2018 version of “21 Things That Every Educator Should Try in the 21st Century”. A handful of these are carry overs from the 2014, but the majority are not. Many of the updates come from trends I’ve seen not only in education but also in the workplace like these Top 10 Skills Needed for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (from the World Economic Forum). Oh, and of course, check out the accompanying infographic as well…just be sure to read the full post before passing judgement. 🙂

1. Post a question of the week on your class blog

One of the best ways to engage student (and family) interaction with your classroom is to have a class blog.  While these are becoming more common, I like the trend of having a weekly student “guest author” write up the ideas and learning objectives discussed in class.  This is also a good place to discuss appropriate commenting behavior on blogs and websites.

2. Have a class twitter or Instagram account to post about the day’s learning

Just like a blog only smaller.  One of my Ed Techs (Ashley Pampe) actually created a “Social Media” team on her elementary campus. She vets and reviews all their images and blog entries before posting, but it’s an effective way for students to learn appropriate posting behaviors before they dive into the middle school world of social media. Ask parents to follow the account so they can also get a little insight into the happenings of the school day.

3. Create an infographic to help review and understand information

Infographics have become a part of everyday society. People are looking for information quickly and visually. Creating an infographic to review content is a powerful way to help those students that are visual learners. Taking this one step further – have students create an infographic as a way to convey their information on a subject. There are many free online tools out there to help with this but my favorite is Keynote (now with built in icons – it’s what I used to make the infographic for this post)

4. Debate a topic virtually and face to face

Lately the internet and social media have become a stomping ground for people to share their opinions, often in ways that they wouldn’t in a face to face conversation. We need to have students understand this medium as well as how to have an educated argument in person. Creating an environment where cordial discourse is encouraged and modeled, will help our youth as they enter what appears to be an increasingly tumultuous online future.

5. Go paperless for a week

Let me define paperless here as “no worksheets”.  I do thinking taking notes in a journal or Sketch-noting are valuable for learning, but for this I’m thinking more of the daily minutia. The idea behind this challenge is see if you can figure out ways to make things more digital.  Maybe instead of a newsletter you print and send home, you write a blog or send a MailChimp?  Or instead of asking kids to write and peer-edit each other’s papers, you ask them to share a Google doc?   If your students don’t have devices, then challenge yourself to try this personally for a month…it’s much harder than you think.

6. Have a “No Tech Day” to reflect on our use of technology

Technology and devices have become engrained in much of what we do on a daily basis. The notifications, alerts, constant connection can do some harm if not properly balanced. For this challenge, have a day without technology. Then, have your students reflect on the experience the following day. What areas did they find a struggle? What did they notice about their daily routine?

7. Bring Artificial Intelligence (AI) into the Classroom

Many teachers already do this with the use of Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. These “digital assistants” are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to A.I. and are becoming more prevalent in the homes around our country. Some questions to ask your students might include – What impact will these devices have when it comes to future learning? How might hey help us in the future?

8. Fly a Drone (and discuss it’s impact on society)

Not all of us have access to drones, so flying one in your classroom or outside on the school grounds may not be feasible (or legal in some cases). However, there are several examples out there now showing us how drones can help us and how they can hurt us. One thing is for certain, these are not going away anytime soon. With that said, a question for students is, what impact do drones have on our privacy rights and what legislation exists out there today around drones?

9. Facetime with an expert

With so many resources and experts available, it only makes sense to bring in someone from “the real world”. This not only creates interest in the topic, it adds an air of authenticity.  Use Google Hangouts, Facetime, Zoom or Skype to reach out to a content expert to share their thoughts around a particular subject or topic. If you can, record it and post it to your class site or embed it on your blog to generate discussion at home.

10. Produce a class Audio podcast

Have students create a podcast highlighting classroom activities, projects or students.  To get it to the web quickly, post it to Soundcloud or use a tool like SoundTrap.  For the more advanced user, use a podcasting site like Podbean.com and actually get the podcast posted to iTunes.  That way mom and dad can listen to the weekly recap while going on their evening walk or driving to work.

11.  Take a Virtual Field Trip

Want to check out Machu Picchu? Maybe visit Mars? Why not take your class on a virtual field trip? The increase in ways to see virtual worlds via tools like Google cardboard and Nearpod VR, have helped bring this access to schools without the high-end cost usually associated with VR.

12. Create a classroom full of student entrepreneurs

What better ways to encourage teamwork, collaboration and global thinking that to introduce students to entrepreneurism to solve real-world problems? This past year, one of our middle schools did just that by wiping away the bell schedule and spending time with student teams identifying issues with the school and proposals for how to fix them. Expanding this to local, state or national level help introduce students to the design thinking and project-based learning to solve actual issues.

13. Design and deliver a presentation

This may seem like something every teacher can already do, so I’ll say that this challenge is more about working with students on the art and science of an effective presenting. Being able to communicate a point or idea effectively is becoming more and more of a lost art. The “3-legged” stool approach to balancing a presentation (content, slide design, delivery) can be an invaluable skill for all students going forward in life. While I prefer the use of Keynote, there are many effect tools out there that students can access to create and present from. One word of advice…take it easy on the bullet points.

14. Identify fake news and internet bots

With the current political climate and the increasing use of bots to sway public opinion, we need to help students identify what is real and what is not online. This goes far beyond “fake news”.  It can be something as simple as understanding the angle of a post based on its title to identifying real people versus robots on twitter. The good news (or bad news) is that there seems to be an example of this happening every day in real time.

15. Establish a space for student voice

Student voice (and choice…coming up later) is something that classrooms of the 20th century really struggled with. A teacher may ask for feedback or an answer to a classroom, calling on those with the courage to raise their hands. What if some truly incredible ideas were out there but students were too shy to share? Using tools like FlipGrid (free for educators now), you can ask for each student to give feedback to a question or even submit an online poetry slam around a scientific fact.

16. Practice mindfulness in your classroom

There is a lot of hype around mindfulness in schools, some of which is true some of which is not (see #14).  While the impact of mindfulness on test scores may still be open to debate, there is value taking a pause and reflecting on the now. Technology can hinder some of that, but short of banning all tech (see #6), we need discover life balance in this new “instant-on” world. Give your students 1-2 minutes to stop, breathe, reflect, and simply “be present” every day. You may find it helps their learning as well as behavior on those dreaded rainy days or test-taking days.

17. Utilize robotics to tell a story

The fourth industrial revolution will definitely feature more and more robots in our world. Use of robotics in the classroom is currently relegated to specialized elective classes or maybe a Friday afternoon of free time in a maker space (see #19). The common misconception around these tools are that they are too pricey and one-dimensional for regular classroom use. By using low-cost robotic technology systems like Trashbots, schools can now have a wide array of materials for building robots and better yet, using them in a variety of subjects other than math and science. Why not program your robot to re-enact a moment in history? Or maybe have it tell a story?

18. Augment reality in an old textbook

As witness by the Walmart raiding of Merge Cubes, Augmented Reality (AR) is becoming a new way to engage learners. However, buying a bunch of these may not be possible for every teacher. Luckily, on the back shelves of classrooms and libraries exist rows and rows of old textbooks, some of which are still in regular use. By using an augmented reality tool like HP Reveal (formerly Aurasma), you can breathe fresh life into those old textbook pages. Take a graph and make it interactive or hover over an image to reveal a more in-depth video on the subject. While AR may seem like “flashy” technology, coupling its use with existing materials can be a cost-effective way to increase engagement and deeper learning.

19. Build a maker-space for hands-on learning

A maker space is not a new thing. It used to be called “shop class” when I was in school. However, unlike its 20th century relative, maker spaces today can be built into the classroom environment. They allow room for exploration, design, and iteration. And here’s the best part for schools struggling with funding – they can be almost free and require little to no technology. A trip to the local hardware store can yield some donated materials as a trip up to the attic to dig out those old childhood legos. Much like practicing mindfulness (#16), having hands-on learning activities can increase retention and help encourage creativity.

20. Become an activist for a worthy cause.

If the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge can teach us anything, it’s that sometimes a little creativity is all you need to awareness to a cause. Whether it’s helping a country in need or finding a cure for a disease, our new connected society can be a powerful thing when galvanized for good. Participating in a global project (see #12) gives students perspective on their own lives while helping others with their life challenges.

21. Let your students drive the learning

While you could do all of these challenges by yourself, the real power comes in letting students own a piece of it.  They have the curiosity and the digital acumen, it’s the teacher’s job to give them instructional focus and empowerment.  We live in wonderfully connected times.  Despite all of technology’s perceived misgivings and the apocalyptic fears that we are losing ourselves as a society, why not use some of this power for good?

Just know that as a teacher in the 21st century you ultimately hold the key to unleash this creative beast.  So try something on the list this year that may force you a bit out of your comfort zone because there is no better way to learn than trying.

Just be sure to share your successes and struggles when you are finished as learning in isolation helps no one.

 

 

The Marriage Between IT & Curriculum

Relationships are always a work in progress. Kayne and Kim. Will and Jada. Beyonce and Jay-Z. Carl and Renee. The list goes on and on.  Some couples make it, others end in divorce. While every couple has its own unique circumstances and situation, there are some common tips to make their marriage more successful.

Over the last few years, more and more, I feel like a marriage counselor when it comes to the couple known as “IT & Curriculum.” This relationship is a tricky one, because there is no way to opt out. While my district has what I would call a very healthy relationship between the two, it wasn’t always that way. And when I go out and speak with other districts, there seems to be some common problems that arise between curriculum and IT.

Last week at #TLTechLive event in Boston, I had the honor of being the opening keynote to address this topic head on. And while I won’t recap the entire presentation, I found some interesting insights over the course of our one hour “counseling session” that I thought I would share here.

Presenting the vows of Ed Tech

The Vows

Like any marriage, there need to be a set of agreed upon vows or standards. During my session last week, I donned some preacher robes (actually a graduation gown) to deliver the vows between IT and Curriculum. Here’s an abbreviated version:

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate this thing called….Learning.

Curriculum – Do you solemnly swear to check interoperability standards before purchasing an application?

IT – Do you solemnly swear to being open to new ideas, as long as it furthers the learning of our kids?

….in sickness and health, through printer errors and slow wifi, until death or the end of public education do us part….may I have the ringtone?”

As I recited the vows on stage, I realized that wedding vows sound an awful lot like Acceptable Use Policies.

Patient #1 – Dealing with Insecurity

With all the new applications or online textbooks being purchased almost daily it seems, our schools have many points of vulnerability when it comes to data. The IT side of the relationship wants to be open to these new programs and applications, but also is concerned about security and data privacy.

While there is no magic bullet answer to this relationship issue, many districts and states are moving toward a standard agreement when it comes to the use of student data. In fact, in Massachusetts, there is a Student Privacy Alliance which connects districts across the state to leverage the collective power in getting companies to agree to their student data privacy agreement.

With all the recent news with the Zuckerberg testimony to Congress and the subsequent avalanche of companies changing their terms of service when it comes to user data, this issue in the relationship between IT and Curriculum could soon be going away, allowing the happy couple to finally go on the honeymoon they’ve always wanted.

On stage with one of my ‘patients’ @MatthewXJoseph

Patient #2 – Spicing things up…in the classroom

If you’ve ever been a teacher and attended some state-wide or national ed tech conference, there is almost always some app or tool that you learn about that you want to try. However, when you get back home, IT says “no” before you even attempt to pilot it with your students.

The truth is, there is more than just IT that needs to vet new tools. I’ve seen many an app out there that is really just students mindlessly tapping on screens and not vetting in any type of research. In our district we have a workflow for requesting new apps for students (the app store isn’t on their iPads) as well as our League of Innovators – a group of early adopters that are willing to try and test new software or hardware. What mechanisms does your district have in place for trying new applications or tools? Is there a process for piloting new ideas?

These questions can sting an unstable relationship as it gives IT the impression that you are happy with what they are offering and your eye is starting to wander. However, a stable relationship has an open dialogue and a process for getting new ideas, if effective, into the hands of students.

Patient #3 – Feeling out of sync

After the honeymoon phase, typically a couple decides to purchase their first house. In the case of IT & Curriculum that could be in the form of a Learning Management System (LMS) or perhaps a large online textbook adoption. This new purchase has many needs and requires the attention of both sides of the relationship.

For IT, there is nothing more frustrating than finding out that Curriculum has purchased a new adoption that either doesn’t work on the district’s existing devices OR requires a lot of heavy lifting to get student data into the system. The good news is, there are more and more platforms moving to a Single-Sign On (SSO) approach and with the One Roster standard from IMS Global becoming more widely adopted, the issues of data uploads via .csv files may soon go away.

Patient #4 – Worried about our kids

@SimplySuzy – final patient of the day

At some point in a relationship, kids enter the picture. With IT & Curriculum, they are there on day one. The focus of both ‘parents’ in this marriage should ultimately be the students. Many times, districts purchase expensive software or applications in the hopes of enhancing student learning.  But how do we know if that’s actually happening? How do we measure the effectiveness of the programs we are using?

For me, it means pulling up usage statistics of over 40 applications or online resources. This process can take more than a week and the data comes in a variety of formats which is rarely longitudinal in terms of usage. Again, the good news here is that there are now tools in development to help with this efficacy of use and ultimately, learning. One company I’ve been advising with over the past year that does this very thing is CatchOn. Their motto is simple – “Simplify the evaluation of Ed Tech usage.”

Once you have the data you need at the touch of your finger, the next challenge becomes those hard conversations in the relationship around budget. Maybe curriculum is spending too much or IT is too much of a penny-pincher, whatever the case, once you have the usage data you can make better decisions for your “family” around whether to cut a program or keep it and provide more professional learning around it.

How do we save this marriage?

Through all of the issues between this couple, the keys to an effective relationship sound eerily similar to that of an actual marriage:

  1. Better communication
  2. Empathy and understanding of both sides
  3. Being open to new ideas
  4. Working together, not separate

And ultimately…we need to stay together…for the kids.

Editor’s note: Looking to learn more? Check out my book Mobile Learning Mindset: The IT Professional’s Guide to Implementation which includes an entire chapter dedicated to the marriage between IT and Curriculum.

Trashbots: How Some Students Are Helping Educate the World in Robotics

Trashbot Co-founders Sidharth and Rohit Srinivasan with Paul Austin

I am lucky enough to work with amazing students every day in my district. That said, every now and then, some of them really stand out as change-makers in the world. This post is about a pair of brothers and their inspiration approach to educating the world in the realm of robotics using a low-cost way that “up-cycles” existing everyday materials to build their creations. Please enjoy and share the information below so we can help these guys make their dream come true!

I first met Rohit and his brother Sidharth a couple of years ago after they won the Student Start-up Competition at SXSWedu. They are both Westlake High School students and, for the past several years, taken their love of robotics and combined it with an altruistic desire to help educate youth all over the world in a low-cost way. My first impression was that these boys seem wise well beyond their years and I had to keep reminding myself I was speaking to teenagers, not adults.

For more information about their company, I asked co-founder Rohit Srinivasan to give me an overview on his company’s philosophy and mission:

Trashbots is a low-cost robotics kit with an artistic twist. Our vision has developed from multiple years of teaching STEM in the US,  Mexico, Congo and India where its founders have taught 1000+ students ranging from 1st grade to 12th grade. We observed kids need better problem-solving and creativity skills. STEM kits have been seen as a solution, but have limited impact because they require major infrastructure, and are expensive.

Right away, I love the way he his tackling a problem that isn’t unique to just schools in the U.S., but around the world. Here’s how he’s doing that in an affordable way:

To tackle this problem, we founded Trashbots. The company’s platform we have created is distinctive – first, it maximizes creativity by allowing kids to use commonly found materials such as popsicle sticks and straws. Second, it’s less than $100 and one-tenth the total cost of ownership of alternatives because it also requires minimal infrastructure – no active electricity or Internet, just a Bluetooth-compatible device. Third it is scalable – the same platform can serve curriculum needs of kids from K through 12th grade by facilitating from basic building through mechatronics, 3D-printing exploration and programming with Python / Javascript.

A student in Peru program’s her first Trashbot.

Did I mention these are students? They have been doing this for many years on a volunteer basis mainly using their vacation time to travel to India and help teach kids in orphanages learn how to create and program robots.  And by the looks of things, they are just getting started…

Since its founding, Trashbots has spent the last 18 months developing the platform and seen strong validation from students, teachers and education administrators. We have taught 1000+ kids across Peru (at the invitation of Education Ministry), Indian orphanages, Mexican colonias, and in schools in the US in urban and rural settings.  We have conducted teacher workshops at TCEA, ISTE, and SXSWedu. Solely from word-of-mouth marketing we have pre-orders for 750 kits from 60 schools in 5 continents. In recognition of this traction, we were honored to be selected as a top 10 2017 Edtech startup by the Global Edtech Startup Association, named one of top 15 innovators reshaping Texas by Texas Monthly, and featured in the Statesman, Austin Inno and Silicon Hills News.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a lot of student ideas and pitches in our student entrepreneur course at Westlake. This is different. These young men came up with this on their own several years ago and have been growing with a grass-roots style of marketing and engaging leaders from all over the world.  Their company is driven by three tenets:

 

  • Build differentiated products in terms of affordability and ability to enhance problem solving and creativity
  • Be community minded by embracing openness and enable makers to submit creative designs on our website and open CAD designs of key building blocks for self-serve and printing by our users.
  • Support all 1.3 billion kids, particularly in under-provided communities to have better access to our platform. We intend to donate kits and enable our more fortunate users to sponsor kits for students in such communities.

As they are tackling this global challenge in non-traditional ways, it’s appropriate that they are securing funding via crowd-sourcing. They are kicking off a campaign on Indiegogo to officially capture the interest in their platform.

Here’s where you come in. The way crowd-sourcing works, the more people they can get “interested” via email, the more likely they will get featured on Indiegogo and get funding. Do me a favor and sign-up (for free) to support these kids and their very impactful dream of providing all students with access to learning robotics and coding.

Please visit their Indiegogo pre-launch page at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/trashbots-low-cost-stem-with-an-artistic-twist/coming_soon or their website at www.trashbots.org.  And if you could, share this article with other educators and colleagues that you know would support the great work they are doing (and tweet them at @trashbotsorg!)

From the minds of youth….comes our future. Show them some love my fellow educators!

My Attempt at Retreat 2.0

I’ve been in education for almost 20 years and some of the campuses I’ve worked for have made attempts to do a “retreat” as a way of team-building and goal-setting. When it comes to retreats run by public education, we are a bit limited in scope. As we are funded by tax payers, we can’t take our employees on a boat cruise to Hawaii or a weekend in Vegas. Private companies have been hosting get-away retreats for years as a way of celebrating past successes and setting goals and benchmarks for the future. In general, the anatomy of a retreat is made up of the following items:
  • An off-site location
  • Some sort of team-building activity
  • Some time dedicated to goal-setting

While I am , I have never attempted to host a retreat.  Sure, we’ve gathered at my house for happy hour or gone out to lunch together, but generally, these are social gatherings (which are necessary from time to time).  We’ve also done quite a bit of revamping of our meeting structure to make it more retreat-like (more on that later), but still not technically a retreat. With the pressure mounting on what would be our first ever retreat, I felt that we needed a mixture of the following:

  • Inspiration
  • Appreciating our differences
  • Problem-solving in collaborative teams
  • Opening up avenues of communication between the team
  • Identifying passion projects

Adding those elements into the previous anatomy of a retreat, I had a mission. And since I do my best thinking with others, I brought in a couple of team members, Tim Yenca (@mryenca) and Jennifer Flood (@floodedu) to help build some of the structures of the retreat.

Location

Finding places to meet around Austin isn’t a problem.  Finding FREE places to meet that also cultivate creativity is an issue. So rather than just meeting at a local coffee shop, I contacted Joshua Baer (@joshuabaer), head honcho at Capital Factory – the epicenter of entrepreneurs and start-up companies in the city.  Josh was kind enough to set us up in the “Willie Room” on the 16th floor of Capital Factory (located in the Omni downtown).  What I love about this space is not only the breathtaking views, but also the openness of the space and proximity to other start-up companies working in the same space. that we have access to for free.  With our base location set-up, it was time to build the agenda.

Ed Techs gathering in the Willie Room at Capital Factory (Can you see Willie in the background?)

Team-Building Activity #1 – Guess Who

During the retreat, we working on getting to know each other better. The first thing I sent the group was a pre-survey that asked them a few basic questions.  Some of these were for future activities, but for the retreat specifically, I asked the team to identify the following:
  • What is your greatest fear?
  • What app do you love?
  • What was your childhood nickname?
  • Where is your dream place to visit?

Using this information, I printed out cards that read “FEAR” or “PLACE TO VISIT” with their answers on the back. We used this to play a pictionary-meets-charades version of the Guess Who? game. Splitting the group into two teams, each team member took turns either acting or drawing out the answer on the back of the card. The team had 1-minute to guess the answer and if they got it right, they got bonus points for identifying the correct Ed Tech who said the particular item.  While there were a lot of cherished moments during this activity, one of my faves was rookie Ed Tech Chris Hanson (@tejashanson) doing a flip to demonstrate the app FlipGrid in charade form.

This game could have gone on for a couple of hours, but after a few rounds and my “Who’s line is it anyway?” type scoring, we ended in a tie and then went through the remaining cards to guess who said what. This activity was a great way to start out the retreat and it really highlighted the unique-ness of each of us, including our strengths and weaknesses and ways in which we can support each other. Finding out that Ed Tech Debbie Smith (@dsmitheisd) had a fear of small spaces made it particularly interesting for an upcoming challenge where we all crammed into an elevator together.

Goal-setting (Individual & Team)

This team is composed of visionary thinkers and ideators with a wide variety of expertise. While it’s important that we create and share some common team goals, I wanted to use some time during the retreat for the team to reflect on individual goals as well. I set up this next portion to help the team answer the following questions:

  • What is something that you want to learn this year?
  • What are goals for your campus?
  • How do you know when you are achieving these goals successfully?
  • What is your BHAG or Passion Project for the future? (could be more than a year out)

We then gathered in teams (elementary and secondary) to discuss our individual goals and using district goals to guide the creation of one or two team goals for us this year. I think that third question above is one that I often struggle with. I love creating goals and ideas, but going back and checking on their success (or failure) is often a missed step.  I’m hoping these goals guide each of us individually and as a team, and that at next year’s retreat, we can check in and see how successful we were in accomplishing them.

VIP Tour & VR Room Experience

Another benefit of hosting the meeting in Capital Factory (besides the free food and beverages) was the VIP tour that we got of the complex for one of our breaks. One stop on the tour was the Virtual Reality Room. We each got to participate in a wide variety of games and simulations. I was immediately blown away with how far these VR simulations have come in recent years. In talking with the resident VR resident (who went by the name “Justin”), it was clear to see the educational impact a VR environment could provide to students and their learning experiences. One thing that was even more compelling was the idea that students could create and program their own worlds, which is certainly an area we want to investigate bringing into our schools in the future.

iVenger Fred & Chris (background) experiment with VR as Han Solo watches on frozen with anticipation

Creating Avenues for Collaboration

I’ve been experimenting on ideas to get our team to cross-collaborate more often. One of the benefits to having campus-based Ed Techs is that we are able to have a lot of just-in-time learning opportunities for staff on campuses. However, this does create more silos when it comes to the team sharing and collaborating on ideas. To battle this isolationism, I’m testing out something new that I call the “Ed Tech ShareCase“.  The concept is that one Ed Tech is the campus Lead and two other Ed Techs collaborate with them as assistants so to speak.  They collaborate on a project or professional learning experience for the campus and then go there to help deliver it.  My initial goal is for the team to do this a couple of times throughout the year in an effort to build cross-collaboration. Then, during our monthly meetings, Ed Techs will not share their own work, but instead the work of others that they are supporting.  

Going on an Adventure!

With some goal-setting and team-building under our belts, and a much needed lunch break, we set out for our next challenge. Using the EventZee app that we’ve used at past iPadpalooza events for photo-hunts, I created a city-wide scavenger hunt for the team to complete. My goal for this part of the retreat was not just getting everyone up and moving around our fabulous city, but also getting breaking up the teams into groups that don’t get to collaborate often. A couple of days before this challenge, I actually walked the course myself as I wanted the hunt to end in a specific final location. (see below). I perched myself on top of a tall parking garage structure to see the teams walking towards various clues throughout the city and sent them occasional alerts when their time was running out. I love the scavenger hunt concept for the competitiveness and collaborative problem-solving aspects. Plus the walking makes for a great “after lunch” activity.

Ed Techs Tanna Fiske, Lisa Johnson, and Rich Lombardo caught wandering down a random alley during the Scavenger Hunt

Escape!

The final stop during our retreat was the Escape Game Austin. Having never been a part of an escape room experience I didn’t know what to expect, but this ending event really brought our team together and as a great way to wrap up the retreat. The rooms/games you can choose from vary in size (4 to 12 people) are complex and really encourage collaboration, communication and problem-solving. The particular room we chose was called “Playground” and actually involved several elements from a school (ironically enough). Once I heard about escape rooms, I’ve always wanted to do one with this team.  I brag to anyone that listens to me about how clever and collaborative our team is and how we would escape without an issue despite the 11%-15% success rate of most teams.
I’m happy to share we escaped with 10+ minutes to spare!

The iVengers Escape!

Summary 

The retreat was a major success in accomplishing the goals we set forth at the beginning. While there were a couple of activities we didn’t have time to accomplish, it did a great job of getting us all on the same page and also gave us much fodder to harass each other for the rest of the year.  If you are planning a retreat, think about the experience and what you hope your team to gain out of it. And what ever you do, don’t just make it a meeting only longer. Otherwise, you may have your team trying to escape!

It’s Time for a New Core Curriculum

Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies. For decades, these subjects have been the staple of the modern American educational system. The creative arts and physical education have also been played somewhat of a secondary role in that system. While all of these subject areas play a role in the development of our youth, they are based on career needs of the mid-20th century. According to this Pew Research study on Changes in the American Workplace, there has been an exponential demand on the social and analytical skills.

However, in our schools, we still teach the same “four core” areas and then fill in the rest with other subjects ranging from World Languages to Robotics. What’s interesting is, those original core 4 were considered the staple in preparing students for a 1950’s factory model work force. In this Sir Ken Robinson animated video, he talks about how our schools are designed for the assembly line.  One only needs to look at the following graphic of companies that no longer exist to see that the American economy has shifted rapidly since the early 1970’s.

Compare the above with the graphic below which shows companies that didn’t exist in the early 1970’s that are now on Forbes top 200 list.

While there are some mainstays in terms of travel, service and retail companies, there is a huge growth in technology based companies. Now taking these new companies into account, let’s focus on the skills they desire for their future employee and see where schools stack up.  This graphic by Tracy Clark (@tracyclark08) has been one that I’ve shared for many years.  It’s sort of a “Soft Skills Bingo” chart of things that employers in those Fortune 500 companies look for when hiring.

I don’t see any of the “core four” subjects listed on that chart.  While you could definitely argue that communication plays a role in language arts and critical thinking plays a role in math and science, I start to wonder why we are trying to “fit” these soft skills into our 1950’s core?

What would a modern core curriculum look like? And probably even more importantly, how would we transition from the current curriculum to a more updated model?

Let’s break apart both of these questions so I can attempt an answer.

Future Ready Curriculum –

If we were starting the American school system from scratch today, knowing what skills our students will need, we could change the subjects and not base them on what big-time publishers want us to focus on with our students.  Building on some of the great work from FutureReady.org, the ISTE NETS for Students and keeping in mind those most desired future job skills from above, I would propose the development of the following 7 courses for every student:

Collaborative Outreach – A way for students to both serve the communities around them, but also work in teams, plan projects, and practice empathy.

Entrepreneurialism  – Thinking “outside-the-box” but in a class form. Many of the ideas from this class could work hand-in-hand with the other courses listed here. Again, working in teams, students create solutions or products with the goal of developing the entrepreneurial spirit.

Communication & Design – Oral and written communication still play a major role in our current system, and by all accounts they will in the future. However, what about visual communication? What about making a visually pleasing presentation to pitch a product or reflect on an outreach opportunity? This course would encompass those skills.

Creative Expression – Having outlets to express yourself creatively and time for passion projects is huge in the workplaces of Google and Apple. The same should be true for schools. This course could be all about an app you are designing or a sculpture you are trying to complete (either by hand or by 3D printing).

Critical Problem-Solving – Much of the curriculum from math and science would fall into this course, although elements would be sprinkled in the other courses (like economics in the entrepreneurial course and science in the Environmental Mindfulness & Outreach courses)

Investigative Thinking – This course takes many of the research skills taught in social studies and applies it with a twist. How can looking back and investigating history help predict future outcomes? Traditional statistics would play a role in this course too.

Environmental Mindfulness – We need to allow time for students to be outside and/or active during the traditional class day. We also need to allow time for students to reflect on what they have learned and set goals for their future. This course takes some of traditional P.E. and mixes in meditation and deeper thinking exercises as well.

Transition to the Future

Creating these courses is the easy part. The hard part would be transitioning our current core areas into the above. It will take me an entire new blog post to outline that plan for this transition, as it involves some heavy change in mindset (by both educators and community). In the meantime, here’s where I feel parts of our current courses would fit in the above new curriculum:

Mathematics – Critical Problem-Solving, Entrepreneurialism, Investigative Thinking

Language Arts – Communication & Design, Investigative Thinking, Creative Expression

Science – Critical Problem-Solving, Environmental Mindfulness, Collaborative Outreach

Social Studies – Investigative Thinking, Communication & Design, Collaborative Outreach

World Languages – Collaborative Outreach, Communication & Design

Fine and Performing Arts – Creative Expression

Physical Education – Environmental Mindfulness

Career and Technology – Entrepreneurialism, Collaborative Outreach, Creative Expression, Communication & Design

If we really want to prepare kids for what’s next, whether that be in a high-tech career or the service industry, we need to transition our curriculum into areas that will help them be more successful in a highly automated future. I feel like the new core curriculum I am proposing does that while at the same time folding in some of the ‘classic’ curriculum models of our educational fore-fathers.

What did I miss? Chime in on the comments below.

 

10 Demands For Professional Learning – A Ransom Letter

Dear administrators, 

Listen carefully! We are a group of individuals that represent a large faction of educators. While we respect the way you have run the training methods of your organization in the past, it is time for a change. As such, we are holding your teachers’ learning hostage. Their learning is safe and unharmed at this time, however, if you would like to release their learning, you must meet our list of demands when it comes to how you provide training for adults. Failure to meet these demands will result in the wide-spread lack of professional growth and lack of improvement in pedagogical practice by your staff. 

 

 

 

It doesn’t hurt to spend a little energy and effort promoting professional learning and getting teachers excited for it. Come up with a theme and make it feel like an exclusive “members-only” type event. While some of them may come because they “have to”, it helps start the training off with excitement and energy. One example would be to send out a video or graphic that highlights the training in a fun way. Here’s one that takes a “Point Break” theme to make learning about High Quality Assessments just a tad more exciting:

 

 

 

Building on the buzz and excitement from your promotion, take some time to create an atmosphere for your training event. This can be as simple as having some appropriately-themed music to adding some simple decorations around the tables. When someone walks into your room, they should be excited about being there, not dreading it. Know that many educators are entering your room with the expectation that this will just be another 6 hours of “sit n’ get”, which is why it’s important to create that exciting first impression when they walk in. Have fun activity for them that involves more than just making a name card like “tweet what your first job ever was” or “find a picture of what super hero best represents you”. This will give you as the trainer an opportunity to connect with the attendees as well as give you some material that you can use later.

 

 

 

Research shows that hunger affects the brain and cognitive development. While we know funding is always tight and food is the first thing to get cut, this is a list of demands. If you want your staff to learn, make sure they are not hungry. This doesn’t mean you have to provide a 5-course meal, it can be as simple as a basket of chocolate or some protein-heavy snack mix. Having protein in your diet not only creates better avenues for neurotransmitters to help with learning and retention, it increases happiness according to this study.

 

 

 

And this doesn’t mean have 10 minutes set aside for walking around and adding notes to those giant sticky chart papers on the walls. Take a moment and put yourself in the shoes of the attendee. Would you attend your own professional learning? “Fun” can sometimes be a negative word when it comes to learning and it shouldn’t be. Making learning fun, even for adults, will not only increase engagement in the learning, it will keep them coming back for more.

 

 

 

Having periods of movements or “brain breaks” throughout your training not only provide some much needed breaks from what is being input into the brain, research shows that movement facilitates brain plasticity (essentially the science of having the brain learn something new). Doing a brief improv activity or having your attendees move and stretch increases oxygen flow to the brain as well as this plasticity. A side-effect of doing a group improv activity is that it creates an environment of trust and risk-taking as well as collegiality between staff that might not normally be working along side one another.

 

 

 

How many times have we heard that adults shouldn’t lecture children all day? Do we think that what’s best with pedagogy wouldn’t also apply to what’s best with andragogy? Who’s doing the work and talking during professional learning? If it’s more the instructor than then the attendees, you need to rethink how you are engaging your adult learners. When outlining your day for professional learning,  try and employ somewhat of a “chunk n’ chew” method to the day. Break the day up into 20-30 minute segments that involving both introduction of a new skill, but also time for attendees to try it out and discuss ideas for application.

 

 

 

Taking into account the demands for engagement, movement, and making things more student-led, you must create opportunities for staff to collaborate on an idea or solve a problem. Providing time for collaboration in your professional learning allows opportunities for staff to discuss best practices around a topic or share strategies around a particular pedagogical problem.

Taking time for collaborative conversation at a recent training

 

 

 

Learning new things and skills takes a lot of cognitive ability. Having a training where all you do is show a series of new tools or tricks can be overwhelming to the brain and makes it nearly impossible to internalize all of it. As mentioned in demand #6, creating “chunk n’ chew” learning opportunities throughout the training will give staff an opportunity to try out the new skill as well as plan for application. Taking time to plan for application of the skill when it is learned, has a greater chance to translate into actual practice in the classroom.

 

 

 

We try to differentiate for learners in our classrooms, why not do the same for staff? Every single person comes into a training session with a different set of prior skills, knowledge, and preferred learning methods. When planning your professional learning, you need to allow opportunities for both the struggling learners and the high-flyers to be successful. This can be as simple as sharing your outline for the day ahead of time on Google docs or a website so that some can go at their own pace, while others can revisit a newly learned strategy.

 

 

 

Our final demand is that you provide some time for staff to reflect on what they have learned.   When planning the professional learning experience for your staff, make sure there is time to reflect throughout the day. This doesn’t mean just spend the last 5 minutes reflecting on something they learned that day, but rather actual pockets of time throughout the day where they can reflect in the medium of their choosing. After all, educational reformer John Dewey once said, “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”

We feel our list of demands are not unreasonable. Please secure these demands prior to your next professional learning event or your teachers’ learning will suffer the consequences. 

Sincerely,

The E.B.P.L. (Educators for Better Professional Learning)

#SXSWedu 2017 Manifesto

screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-5-02-39-pmI’ve attended every SXSWedu since the beginning. As it’s located in Austin, it’s a great opportunity to learn and share with leaders from around the world right in my backyard. This year, we are sending quite a bit of staff to stretch their thinking and grow as professionals.  As usual, Ron Reed and the crew at SXSWedu put together a dynamite line-up that doesn’t disappoint. One thing I created to help guide staff is create a “manifesto” of sorts for those that are either going for the first time or are just needing help not being overwhelmed by all the great sessions in their lineup.

If you are a first-time or veteran SXSW-er, hopefully some of these tips will help you as you make your way towards Austin next week.

If you are with a group, create a Slack channel

Attending a large conference with a group can be engaging but you also can run into serious FOMO (Fear of missing out) on sessions you don’t attend. I invited all of our staff attending to our own district Slack channel. Slack is a great way to share resources and communicate in a group format that won’t crowd your inbox during an event like this. I consider it kind of like a group text on steroids. We will still encourage staff to follow along at the #SXSWedu hashtag, but using a private group Slack can be powerful when reflecting and sharing after the event is over.

Parking can be tricky…and Uber is gone

The days of free parking in downtown Austin are over (unless you are comfortable walking a long distance). That said, most of the parking around downtown is reasonably priced ($10-$15 bucks), but I’d encourage you to car pool if possible. Here’s a map of downtown parking for some ideas of where to find parking. Also, as Uber and Lyft pulled out of Austin since the last SXSWedu, you’ll want to use an alternate ride-share company like Fare or Ride Austin to get around down town. If that doesn’t work, there are always a bunch of pedi-cabs!

Registration

Registration is located on the Northeast corner of the convention center (Exhibit hall 5). You should have been sent a badge via email from sxsw@sxsw.com that has your Quickcode to scan when you get there. You can also link your account with the social.sxswedu.com account to upload your picture ahead of time if you don’t want them to take it when you get there.

You can pick up your badge starting at 4 PM on Sunday (advisable if you want to avoid longer lines on Monday).

Food

Lunch places are always changing year to year so check Yelp for some good options. Prices do vary and “rush hour” is generally between 11:30-1:00. Some newer places downtown include Cafe Blue and one of the BEST pizza food trailers down Rainey street behind Craft Pride called Via313 (Detroit-style pizza). One of my favorite burger joints continues to be Casino El Camino on 6th street. Of course, if you are looking for BBQ and don’t want to wait too long in line at IronWorks, I’d highly recommend LaBarbecue (order the rib, it’s pricey, but worth EVERY penny!).

Events

SXSWedu has several events that happen in the evening. There are multiple movie screenings happening throughout the week. One of note is a screening of the movie “Hidden Figures” on Monday from 7-9pm at the Stateside Theater (with a Q&A panel with @RafranzDavis and others to follow).  Another event that I am personally involved in is the CatchOn Launch Party on Tuesday at 7:30pm-11pm at Cedar Street Courtyard. It’s a start-up company I’ve been advising on and we have all sorts of fun stuff planned for that evening including a little live band karaoke! Your SXSWedu badge will get you into all of these events.

Scheduling Quirks

SXSWedu doesn’t follow traditional conference schedules (1 hour sessions repeating throughout). There are variety of sessions from 15-minute talks, to Think tanks, to meet-ups, to Future 20s, to longer workshops. Be sure to create a log-in before arriving and ‘star’ the sessions you are interested in but also note the start and end times as many overlap.  Also, note that with the exception of keynotes, most of the sessions Monday through Wednesday run from 11am-6pm and on Thursday they are from 9:30am-2pm with a closing party to follow. (you can sleep in!)

Sessions that intrigue me

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My interactive panel session at SXSWedu

I’m super pumped to see Tim Ferriss keynote on Wednesday at 9:30am. I’ve been a fan of his podcast and books for the last couple of years and I’m excited to hear what he has to say about learning and mastery. Sessions that focus on design thinking, student empowerment, and artificial intelligence tend to draw my interest this year. I’m also all-in on the Breakout EDU concept and I’m excited to see good friend and super-engaging speaker Adam Bellow at this year’s event. This year, not only am I attending, but I’m also moderating an interactive panel called “#AppOverkill: Going Beyond the Buzzwords”.  I’m excited to hear from the panel of experts we have assembled and we are also going to be doing some different activities to engage audience in the conversation. Come be a part of the conversation and fun at Tuesday at 11am!

Takeaways and Reflections

Attending an event like this can be incredibly rewarding and energizing to those of us in education. However, it’s important that those that attend also bring back and share their learning with others on campus.

Here is a list of questions to keep in the back of your mind as you attend sessions and look for things to bring back. (Thanks to Lisa Johnson @TechChef4U for curating this!)

  1. What are the top sessions/topics that you liked?
  2. What are the top sessions/topics that you would like to take back to your campus to impact change?
  3. What are the top sessions/topics that challenged your beliefs?
  4. Who was someone you connected with that impacted you?
  5. Who are the top people that engaged you?
  6. What are the top resources you found most impactful?
  7. What are the top pieces of research or studies you feel are most impactful for our students and/or teachers?
  8. How will I share my new discoveries from this event with my staff?

While there are many other questions you are thinking about than the ones above, keeping these in the back of your mind while attending SXSWedu allows you time to reflect when it’s all over and also think about ways to share your new discoveries with others when you return.

Happy learning!

 

Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road

Do you ever have that moment where there is something you have to do, but you don’t want to do it?  Maybe it’s just a menial task like putting away laundry or doing the dishes. In your job it may be something like entering grades or uploading data via .csv files. Those moments happen throughout life unless you are lucky enough to have a butler and not have to work.

But what about those times when there is something you have to do that troubles you because you know it pushes you out of your comfort zone?

Now I’ll stop here and say that the phrase “have to do” would really be more apropos if replaced with “should do.” It’s those uncomfortable moments when you have an opportunity to do something that has some potential benefit, but because it pushes your comfort zone a bit, you decide not to do it. You end up circling back later usually with some regret, expressing how you should have done whatever it was. You end up “should-ing” yourself out of doing things. (Great video here detailing this concept)

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I got to travel to Australia to present and MC the amazing iPadpaloozaGC event taking place there. We decided to make a mini-vacation out of it as I was taking time off to travel anyway and go up a few days early. After traveling 26 hours, we landed in Gold Coast with really only 2 and 1/2 days to explore, the 1/2 day being the Sunday we landed.

My wife had done some research and discovered a place called “O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat” which had a great viewing platform that over-looked the rainforest. The only problem was, it was too far for an Uber ride so we had to rent a car.  Now, as you may know, in Australia they drive on the left side of the road with the car seat in the right side of the car. We decided rental was the way to go and as we landed I noticed something strange….I was nervous.

I say strange, because nervousness is not usually a trait I possess. Even before public speaking, you can often find me laughing and dancing off-stage (probably as a way to combat the onset of nervousness mind you). My hands were clammy, my stomach began to ache, and I began to imagine that scene in European Vacation where Chevy Chase is running into everyone in the parking lot as he learns to drive.

I began to frantically look at the cost of an Uber ride. It would be about $300 round-trip, but that cost might be worth it if for no other reason than to overcome the anxiety I was now experiencing. Without really thinking though, we walked up to rental counter to “hire a car” as they say it down under. And so, despite being exhausted and jetlagged, I found myself behind the right side of a car driving on the wrong side of the road.  We were off.

We picked up our friends, Scott and Lisa on the way up to O’Reilly’s to share in the horror/experience of me learning to drive all over again at the age of 41. Of course, being a male, I had to hide my fear, but anyone looking at my knuckles on the steering wheel would have noticed they were stark white. As we traveled up the mountain the road began to get narrower and narrower. Eventually, it turned into a one-lane, two-way road that didn’t have any guard rails and a deadly cliff on one side. Here’s a little time-lapse of what that looked like from the passenger seat on the left side:

 

Needless to say, I was now completely terrified. Every time a car was traveling down the road, I would have to pull off onto a non-existent shoulder with the car teetering on the edge. My wife would dig her nails into my leg as she had a bird’s eye view on what would be our eventual demise. At some point on the drive (which lasted about 45 minutes), I began to have a sense of euphoria overtake me. Had we died and I didn’t notice? Was this what adrenaline junkies refer to as an adrenaline high?

This euphoria I was experiencing was from learning something new. That change and discomfort I was feeling went hand in hand with learning something new. Now, I know this isn’t a break-through in science as many blogs and articles have discussed how you can grow through discomfort, but this experience was extremely visceral for me.  I started thinking about my own career and the education of our students.  I started thinking about our teachers who we ask to take out of their comfort zones at times with the integration of technology.

As if perfectly timed, the next week I was back in the states (now re-learning how to drive on the right side of the road) and preparing for our first ever iLeap Academy for internal staff. iLeap Academy is an immersive learning expedition of sorts. Tim Yenca (@mryenca) and I train teachers over several days on effective and meaningful ways to integrate technology. We also visit many of our classrooms and let the teachers take on the role of the observer to see 1:1 in action.

This academy isn’t for the tech savvy teachers. It’s for the teachers that have sound pedagogy and content knowledge that are just looking for a way to improve their practice with the integration of technology. Over the course of four days, 36 brave teachers sat down in their seats and prepared to drive down the wrong side of the road and get out of their comfort zone.

They were introduced to boundary-pushing concepts, forced to competitively collaborate in a series of challenges and an Appmazing Race, and even had to endure some of my most difficult brain break challenges on top of learning new tools and ways to integrate them. Like my drive up to O’Reilly’s, I could sense that many in the crowd had some fears or discomfort to some of the concepts and ideas being discussed, but decided to take the ride anyway.

When the week ended, Tim and I went back to review some of the comments from the exit survey. We have done iLeap Academies for other districts, (next one is November 8-10, register here!)  but never our own staff. We were both floored by the responses:

Wonderful experience, I feel I am walking away as if I went through a technology boot camp and going to try some of these things next week. Very excited to try all of this in the classroom and can’t wait to see my kids reactions to some of the ideas!

It was excellent, I would recommend it to every teacher I know!

I really enjoyed the opportunity to come and learn about technology even in my 33rd year in education.

One teacher, who was in his 30th year of education, even took the time to write our superintendent to tell him that this was the best professional learning experience of his career. Many of the teachers in side conversations expressed initial hesitation for attending and being a part of this. It was a couple of days out of their classroom which means sub plans, playing catch-up, etc. and it also meant learning about some new ideas. But after the experience and stretching them out of their comfort zone, they went forward with confidence and ready to take a risk.

As Tim and I visited campuses the following day, we saw many of our “iLeapers” proudly wearing their iLeap shirts and more importantly, putting into practice immediately some of the things they had learned.

That sense of euphoria from learning something new can come in many different ways. It comes from trying new things and getting out of your comfort zone. It comes from sharing an experience with friends or colleagues as you travel down a narrow road. It comes from not “should-ing” on yourself and being brave. While the peril that exists on the other side of our choice may not always be a deadly cliff, taking a risk or changing a mindset is still an extremely uncomfortable thing for our brains to do.

I applaud all those teachers out there that continue to try and improve their craft.

So take a chance and drive on the wrong side of the road every so often when it comes to your teaching craft. The pay-off for student learning can be spectacular. Much like the view from the top of a rainforest.

"View from the top" of O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat

“View from the top” of O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat – We made it!