Thursday, March 13, 2014

Edtech: Just a Tool in the Classroom

 I am a co-host of a show called Learning RedesignED on the EdReach Network (@EdReachUs), and honestly, until about a week ago, I had not consistently listened to another podcast on this amazing network in more than a year. I have been listening to the EdReach Network podcasts each morning on my way to work. A great way to use the time wisely! I arrive at work, feeling relaxed and like I had spent a little time doing something for myself.

In a week and a half, I have learned so much about what other passionate educators think about education from how important a crisis plan is for a school (Mission Monday), to the cool new features of Google Play for Education (Google Educast).
The one thing that idea that keeps rattling around in my head is that the term "Edtech"needs to be changed to just plain education. Technology is present in all of our lives and in all other businesses. People in other industries don't have a choice to use technology. It is built into their work. Why is it so different for teachers?

Never do we give teachers classes on how to use a pen or a desk or an overhead. We don't attend conferences around the other "tools" we use in the classroom. Technology in school is here to stay! We need to use technology in our classrooms to make our instruction more relevant, to vary our presentation method, to allow students to be creative, to allow students to connect outside the classroom walls, and because it is part of their lives already!

If I was to ask how many people didn't use technology today to a group of teachers even, I will wager that no one would raise their hand! Technology makes our lives easier to manage. It will do the same for our classrooms. So, stop talking about "technology in the classroom" and start talking about ideas that work to get students to be creative, to collaborate and to be critical thinkers.

Oh, and I recommend listening to the EdReach Network on your way to work! It is like a little shot of good news each morning. Get inspired to change or rethink a strategy or try something new.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Students Involved with Technology Conference 2014

On February 22nd, all across Illinois, students were sharing and learning at an amazing Saturday event called The Students Involved with Technology Conference, sponsored by State Farm. There are several locations around Illinois where kids gather. We helped organize the North Campus of the conference in Buffalo Grove, IL. I was lucky enough to hear of this event two years ago from my colleague Amy Lamberti (@amylamberti). Since, I have been singing its praises to my friends, their kids, my educator friends, really, to anyone who would listen.

The day is magical because third through twelfth graders spend the day learning from each other and creating together. The students prepare presentations on technology related topics that they are passionate about, then present to each other in a conference breakout session style. There are also SIT Sponsored presentations on creating movies with green screens, Maker Space exploration, a Minecraft Challenge room, a SIT Logo room, and a Mystery Challenge room. Each of these rooms are places where students can create something collaboratively using some form of creativity.

Carrying their "Tech Bags" 
The magic really happens when you see kids, passionately sharing their expertise to each other. They shared about being Tech Gurus in their schools, how to make great movies using iMovie, how to create apps, how to use iTunesU to learn, building a great YouTube Channel and all kinds of other topics. They were not forced to present. They wanted to share their passion at the conference. They wanted to do the work. It was amazing to see 3rd graders present to a packed room with such confidence. The energy and excitement just filled me right up!

My 10 son and his 9 year old cousin presented during SIT 2013 for the first time. I don't think they could have had more fun. They presented on how to create great movies using an app called Splice (iPhone app). Watching my two little tech geeks captivate a room for kids and adults for 30 minutes got me their 4th grade teachers even know that they are presenting at a conference? Do they know they have a YouTube channel (OPLAYSMINECRAFT) with all kinds of followers? Do they know that they love to share what they are passionate about? Probably not. Why not?

The SIT Conference has a special place in my heart because it is a day where kids who are really into tech can gather, share and learn. Be free to be who they are. Connect, get feedback and share their skills with people who are really interested in their passion too. Don't we all want to be heard? Validated?

Creating his winning entry in Minecaft Challenge.
In a previous post (Diorama to Minecraft: A Shift in Audience), I encouraged my son to use Minecraft instead of creating another diorama for school. His teacher was impressed, and mildly annoyed that I changed her learning product, but nothing has changed in his classroom. Minecraft is not just a game kids are obsessed about. It is a creativity tool that could easily be brought into school. If we can harness that excitement for creation and technology and connecting with others inside the walls of our schools, kids would be running into school, not home.

I guess the bigger question is, why are creation tools that kids are into at home so far removed from what they do in school? Shouldn't we be embracing that passion
for movie making in school somehow? Shouldn't my nephew be able to use those skills to share his learning?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Are You Connecting? Better get on that!

I have just spent the weekend resting and reconnecting with my family after 4 days at the Illinois Computing Educators Conference 2014: Connect to Learn #ICE14. Each year, I come away swimming in ideas, connections and exhaustion!

 How To Speak "The Twitter" presentationThis year, for the first time, I presented a half day workshop with two of my amazing colleagues, Jenna Hacker @jennahacker and Carrie Baughcum @heck_awesome on "How to Speak the Twitter". It was such a rewarding experience! The workshop had interested educators who knew the power of Twitter, but needed help managing the noise and understanding how to get into the conversation flow.

Every time I even think about presenting I feel like I really need to step out of my comfort zone.
Sometimes I wonder who wants to hear from me? Or, what do I have to offer when there are so many amazing educator speakers out there who are so much more respected than I. After this weekend of reflection, I have come to the conclusion that I connect with people each time I present. The teachers I help, then become part of my PLN, and I then get to learn from them in turn. Also, as innovators it is imperative to share what we are doing. If we are to move education in the direction we know it needs to go, then the people who are changing their pedagogy have a responsibility to share what they know.

Those who know me think of me as chatty, gregarious and outspoken. But, the truth is, I sometimes have trouble picking up the phone to call for pizza. The thought of speaking to a crowd of people I don't know, makes me feel paralyzed. Then, once I get going, take the first leap into the session, I get this feeling of confidence, almost like a high.

I would encourage any one of you to reach out, present, share and connect with other teachers. If I can do it, so can you! I feel strongly enough about connecting with others to venture to say out loud (well in a blog style out loud) if you are not connecting with other teachers at conferences or on social media, then you are going to become obsolete. The idea that you already know everything because you have been a teacher for a long time is wrong! We need to change our thinking. Gone are the days of copying what you did last year for this year. When you connect with other educators, your eyes become open to the shift in education from worksheets, to project based learning. Real world connections for kids. Students want to share what they know outside the walls of their schools. They want to connect with experts, to share their dreams for the world. A poster board project just can't do that! Getting connected changed my professional life. It can do the same for you!

If you are thinking about becoming connected through Twitter, check out our How To Speak The Twitter Presentation, or our Thinglink. It is a great place to start!