All Things Reconsidered

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Archive for the tag “reflection”

It Wasn’t a Train Wreck– And other Surprises….

Before I left for school on April 26, I took a moment to tweet:

Truly, at that moment I had no idea what the day would bring.  It was the first time my teammates and I had ever tried to organize an all school event like this.  For the past three weeks, the eighth grade teachers at my school had been working with the students to learn about digital citizenship so the kids could become “experts” in one of seven areas of digital citizenship and teach the younger students (6th and 7th graders) what they had discovered.

The 6th and 7th graders day would be broken up into three parts; 1/3 of the time with the eighth graders, 1/3 of the day with a guest speaker from the Illinois States Attorney’s Office, and 1/3 of the time synthesizing the information they had reviewed in order to make artifacts that would be shared with the parents coming that night.  Additionally, any digital products would be shared on our district’s Kids Connect website to share with students around the district and the world.

For the two weeks before “Digital Citizenship Day” I was sweating it out.  In  the hall I would hear concerns  from 8th grade teachers that the kids were not “taking it seriously”.  Teachers worried  that there was not enough time in the computer labs to find information. We knew this was a possibility before we began, so we had created preprinted articles for each of the “expert groups”. As we got closer, some 6th and 7th grade teachers felt like they were losing instructional time with their students and were unsure of the expectations for the “synthesis” piece.  And then…the phrase train wreck floated through my head (and perhaps through the hallways).

But, the day (and few days before it), proved to be full of surprises.  Some of the surprises were good, some bad, but all of them eye-opening.

Surprise #1—An authentic product is important.

I list this as a surprise, but it really wasn’t .  I knew it.  I saw it in other blog posts, I listened to colleagues talk about their successes, I’d seen it on other projects I’ve done this year, but as the teachers were telling me the kids were “not taking it seriously”, and they really weren’t “getting anything done”, I began to doubt myself.  And sweat.

But there was a real turnaround when they began working on their product.  I should mention, that due to issues with scheduling and availability of some of the tools, not all of the products utilized technology.  In fact, I’d say about 80% of the products were done on Tri-fold board.  Yes, I said tri-fold boards.  But, who cares?  The goal was to provide information to an authentic audience,  if the only tool available is a trifold board, then so be it!   In any case, when the kids had to work in groups, to discuss what was important to share, and to synthesis the information for others, something lit up in them. There was a buzz in the room.  The LMC hummed and kids moved around, it had energy.

Surprise #2— Audience is important– AKA “Kids don’t want to look ‘dumb’ “

Again no surprise to me, but maybe an eye opener to some of the teachers.  Often we tell the students to “imagine” who the audience would be, but when there is really is a classmate or teacher standing in front of them, it’s a whole new ballgame.  Fourteen hours before the presentations were to begin, a teacher told me that there was no way that the kids would be ready .  When he saw the kids presenting and answering questions from the audience, he told me that it was because they didn’t want to look dumb.  I guess  I would say that the kids had pride and wanted to show what they had learn.  There was a real purpose behind what they had been studying, and when they saw an outlet, they rose to the challenge.

Surprise #3—They can do it!!

So, when “Game Day” came,  I was pretty nervous.  As I fell asleep the night before the vision I had going through my head was of 60 students in each classroom gossiping, poking each other, and being generally unproductive. The train wreck phrase was running through my ears and I was apprehensive to say the least.  So, as my teammate made the announcement for students to move to their first location.  I held my breath.  I slowly opened the door to one of the classrooms and found students doing exactly was the “textbook” says they should have been doing. There were questions being asked and answered.  Although the teachers were in the room, the students really didn’t need any prompting.  To be honest, we did provide them with a note sheet that probably helped guide their questions, and I think it helped keep them on track.  But, in all of the classrooms I walked in that day, I did not see more than a handful of  audience members/ presenters disengaged.

Also, the 6/7th graders created some pretty amazing projects.  The students’ “synthesis” time was only designed to be 40 minutes (although some of the teachers chose to give more time).  But, during that short amount of time the students were able to create various projects (in their native language) such as podcasts,  Videos, and word clouds.  They were all simple, but even those simple projects allowed the students to create a real product that would be seen and used by others in the district.

Surprise #4—Where there’s a will there’s a way.

Our school has two computer labs (60 computers).  We had over 200 eighth grade students participating in the project. One obstacle we faced during the project was that there wasn’t enough technology to go around.  And then, the funniest thing happened.  Teachers made it work.  Emails started getting sent around to other teachers to see if devices could be shared.  Teachers “gave up” their computers for a day or a series of days so students could use it for this project.  They made it happen. They didn’t just say “well there’s not enough technology, so forget it.”  They found a way (sometimes with my help and sometimes not) to find a solution.  It made my heart happy!

Surprise #5-  Don’t read your own press

 The day had day had ended on a very high note.  Many of the teachers and administrators in the school were impressed with the project and the students’ work.  We were patting ourselves on the back.
And then I sent out evaluations to the teachers.  I only got a few back, most were very positive and supportive but one in particular surprised me. The teacher shared that some of the teachers felt the project was thrown upon them and thrown together.  To be honest, my first instinct was to be hurt. “Thrown together???” I thought?  It sure didn’t feel thrown together to me.  But then I realized that this was the best feedback I could get.  It really didn’t matter what I thought. The teachers were the ones in the trenches and it was this constructive feedback I needed to help the project improve for the year to come.
I still feel that it was an amazing day.  I believe the teachers, students, and school community as a whole grew because of it. But, there is always a way to improve.  I will definitely use this feedback (as well as the other teachers’ comments) to insure that we can “tweek” the project and make it even better. I am proud of my teammates and myself as well as all the teachers at our school who came together, took a chance, and created a great day!
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We are not failing

I am writing this on a snowy Friday night after attending “A Mid-Winter Night” family party at the school I work at. That in itself might not be so strange, but let me tell you a little bit about my school. The school is approximately 70% Hispanic, 62% low income, and 33% LEP. We have a variety of issues in our school, both good and bad, and…oh yeah – our school has been labeled by the state of Illinois as “failing”.

So, now lets flash back to what I saw in this “failing school” tonight at the family party at my middle school. Yes, I said family party and middle school in the same sentence. Tonight, after a long week of work (and last night’s conferences) I joined approximately 15 teachers and administrators who volunteered their time to be part of this party. I walked into a room full of music in English and Spanish. I saw carnival games led by “peer leaders”, a diverse group of students who volunteered to work at the party on a Friday night. I watched parents who spoke different languages dance together next to their teenage children. We danced to YMCA and the Macarena. We ate pizza, tacos and nachos. I saw a “Special Education” student stand on stage and act as DJ after setting up the AV equipment. I saw PTO moms and dads working together to make a fun night. It was an inspiring, uplifting night. And, as the night ended, staff, students and parents waved goodbye while teachers called their reminder to students to students about the Saturday AM enrichment program.

Does our school have issues we need to address? Yes. Are we a failure? Absolutely not.

Disclaimer, ISTE11

Disclaimer:  This metaphor is not meant to belittle any little children.
            You know how sometimes you’ll read about kids who go away to a camp with  other kids who have the same issues, ya know like all the diabetic kids go away together, or the inner city kids, and they go away to just feel normal, or to realize that there are other kids just like them?  Well that’s how I felt while at ISTE this week.  During the school year, I spend so much of my time trying to influence change, or trying to cause shift, that sometimes I feel like the odd man out.  Like, I’m fighting against the current, gotta keep on keeping on.  But this week, I felt like I was moving with the current, like I could just relax and see where the current would bring me.  Like I could talk to people like me.  And it was a blast!
            Actually, that’s not completely true.  The truth is that while I was there I felt humbled.  During my first digital storytelling session I walked in so proud of the project that I had done with my students and local senior citizens, but left in awe of the Cybersmart Africa project that was presented at the Digital Storytelling SIG.  I thought that the Digital PLN stuff that we presented at our poster session was pretty neat, but it couldn’t compare with Alan November’s reminders that we need to keep the global perspective in mind and see things from multiple points of view.

But the funny thing is, as interesting as the concurrent sessions were, that’s not where I think I grew the most.  I grew while at the Google party and chatting while someone lent me an Iphone charger.  I grew while standing in line for coffee and talking to the Australian participant who responded that yes, he had come to the US for the first time, “just for this”.  I learned while eating lunch with my JHU colleagues (and now friends) while we discussed what our schools are doing and how similar and different they are.   I even learned about how much to be silly with planking. (especially after finishing your poster session).

And I learned so much about  the power of humanity and  social networking when I had random talks with my roommate who let me share her room even though we had only met once in person and randomly through twitter a few times this year.  The conversations we had about teaching, learning, and leading, were some of the best of the week.  And she even found me chocolate and a bag from the vendors.   Truly, it was the connections and the conversations that helped me to learn and grow the most

            I went to Philadelphia by myself, but once I got there I realized I wasn’t alone.  There were others who could “planked” around ISTE, loved Phish as much as technology, and really like me are discouraged at the status quo but excited about the potential future of education.  Thanks to everyone who inspired me, humored me, and engaged me.  Can’t wait to do it again! 

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