Thursday, April 14, 2016

The 100 Acre Wood of Educational Technology

Integrating technology is a process. It's full of ups and downs that make it hard to see the forest for the trees. Educators, particularly classroom teachers, experience a range of emotions depending on their comfort with new technology, among other change.

integrating technology education

Reflecting on my process of making technology choices over the last few years got me thinking about a way to tell the story. In the spirit of my appreciation for elementary teachers, I chose the characters from Winnie the Pooh.

I got the idea from a casual mention about how the characters were correlated to different mental health disorders. I couldn't remember who told me, but I snooped around and found the analysis. My attention was grabbed, so here it goes.

Piglet: Anxiety

People experience anxiety in different ways and over a variety of circumstances. It could be that the user is not good at trouble shooting or navigating unfamiliar applications. My anxiety was about the time spent learning the tools as opposed to learning the content. 

Students with anxiety have benefited from the options digital learning tools have provided me in support of them. My favorite example is the time I found a girl on the verge of tears because I assigned a vocabulary quiz. I told her that she could sign into Quizlet, practice the card deck, take the quiz as many times as necessary, and that I would consider it done. She was so excited to tell me the next morning that she had passed the quiz. Most importantly, her classroom performance went up because her anxiety went down.

This girl's story is not an anomaly.

Tigger: ADHD

I remember the fever. It was bad. My honey moon with edtech took me from tool to tool in awe of what they could do for our class. But that's all that ever happened.

At some point I had to decide what I was using and to be sure it would take us to the place we wanted to be by the end of the semester. That's when I chose my core apps and only used the others in the periphery of the course.

At some point, I was doing what tiggers do best – bounce trees. Who has time for climbing? Luckily, I realized that constantly shifting attention to different tools meant never really doing anything of substance with any of them.

We found the best support from Google Apps, Verso App, Remind, Poll Everywhere, and Today's Meet. Once in a while we'd try other things, like Hstry, but this focus helped keep us from bouncing trees.

Winnie the Pooh: Addiction

Even with a focus on my core technologies, I'm always looking for the honey. I can't get enough of the things that happen when a tool allows kids to learn more in the alotted time than if we had stuck to paper and pencils. 

One of my favorite tools is Today's Meet. It's great for collective notes while students read selections from the text. We also use it to share current events stories. Sure, we could use Google Classroom or a Doc, but the 140 character limit provides structure that we all crave. You should see the creativity and growth that explodes from a character limit. (The power of character limits reminds me of how much my students gain from writing history haiku.)

At least my addiction is at a manageable stage in which I'm mostly making sure that I am ready for the best honey of all – the amazing things students do. It used to be the ah-ha moments. Now it's the suggestions from students and the engagement that happens when the class is working toward a common goal. 

Okay, a little weird, but give me a break. It's the 100 Acre Wood.

Rabbit: OCD

Checking your phone for no reason – other than to check your phone? What? No texts or likes? 

This stuff will drive you crazy, especially if you are not mindful of the diminishing return on the dopamine shot you get from each social media engagement that says, "People like you!"

I check my social media three times a day and non-work email once. I've had to limit my habit because it leads to empty feelings and rituals that maintain the obsession.

We use Twitter for current events. I post links to lists in the "About" page on Google Classroom, and we access it for discussions about what happened on this day in history, for example. These choices to use social media in our classroom has helped me better situate its role in my life. 

Eeyore: Depression

At some point, I got tired of spending so much time teaching kids how to use technology that they weren't using in other classrooms. I wondered if it was worth it and withdrew a bit from integrating so much into the lessons.

It was hard to match the overly romanced narrative of technology in the classroom that I had read about online. This was especially hard without proper training or vision from leadership.

After a few weeks of resetting the classroom routines, I realized that I didn't have much student input. They told me what they thought from time to time, but I had never asked them directly. I had never asked them a series of questions to understand what they wanted and what they were experiencing using new technology.

It was so simple. I made a Google Form and was soon back to what motivates me in the first place: student voice. 

This reminds of a post I did last year on surveying students about technology.

Owl: Superiority Complex

Climbing out of the blues and surveying my students for their point of view gave me enough direction to get back on the mountain from which I was shouting. 

Some colleagues thought I was crazy, but I thought I had the answer and nobody could tell me otherwise. I'm glad, however, that I listened to the concerns of my colleagues. 

It wasn't long before I realized that using technology that connects my students to each other and the world was the better way to teach and learn. It was the process, however, that taught me that I had a lot to learn to do it well.

To document my process, I started this blog. The superiority, in this case, is not my posts. It's the body of knowledge that my posts relate to. It's making a contribution that starts conversations and nudges education in a direction that better supports learners. 

Christopher Robin: ?

In the Disney adaptations, Christopher Robin is not in a great deal of the scenes. He seems fairly solid and perhaps brighter than the average child his age.

My move Massachusetts is the strongest correlation to Christopher Robin because technology integration briefly became secondary. I had to learn a new school, a new set of professional expectations, and three new curricula.

Ideally, I want to be the author. Narrator. The omniscient who can tell the story flawlessly because the possibilities and characters (students) are so well known that not much is out of control. Luckily, when control escapes the writer of my technology integration story, I have this blog to refer.

Thanks for reading.