Thursday, December 17, 2015

Foster Children's Curiosity

               When my husband and I were expecting our first child, we did what most expectant new parents do: we talked about what we thought our new baby would look and be like. My husband asked me what one quality was the most important to me for our child to have. Smart? Athletic? Funny? Resourceful? (We never mentioned "healthy" because that was the unspoken given.) As a teacher, I actually had a very strong opinion about this question and my answer surprised him. CURIOSITY. No question about it. I wanted my child to be curious; everything else just wasn't as important.
                 Of course this answer came back to haunt me the most with our second child who has always been a challenge to us because of his insatiable curiosity. As a baby, he got into everything and as a toddler, he asked a million questions. When I get frustrated with him, my husband jokes, "I thought you wanted a curious child."
                 As the holiday season rapidly approaches, I have been searching for gift options for my two curious children, and I have been thinking about the options out there that foster creativity and curiosity. These types of gifts are easier to find than ever with the amazing "Maker" movement and the rise of crafting that has been fueled by DIY television shows, YouTube channels, and Pinterest. The aisles at Michaels and Hobby Lobby offer many great gift options for children to create purposeful and fun projects. The display tables at Barnes and Noble boast an array of Makerspace circuit boards and inventor kits. As a new digital learning specialist, my educator focus has changed now to a more edtech perspective and my children are both going to be getting some interesting tech gifts this year that I will enjoy watching them explore and create with over the break.
                 What I want for own children, I also want for the students in my district. I want to give them opportunities to create and to explore and to make things. I want for them to use technology to find information to be able to do the projects they are curious about. I want for them to be curious and want to interact and collaborate on projects that teach them relevant life-skills and prepare them to be trend-setting, risk-taking pioneers.
                  The best gift we can give our children is something that enables or encourages them to create or question. Helping our children find answers to their questions through play and life-experiences will best prepare them for the digital, global future that awaits them. While I am enjoying my own children over the break, I will also be thinking about how I can better support this type of hands-on, curiosity-driven, project based learning for the students of my district. I also want to help more teachers design learning experiences that are tied to the standards but that also inspire the curiosity of students. Sparking the curiosity of a child can translate into a love of life-long learning, and I can't imagine a better gift than that.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Life-long Learning

                     The past two weeks found me doing different things on my campuses, and some of those things involved brand new learning for me as a fledgling digital learning specialist. There are many things that I love about this job, but one of the top on the list has to be that I am learning so much every day. As a classroom teacher of eleven years, I was constantly learning new and better ways to teach writing, but it was all building and expanding on knowledge that I already had. The learning that I am doing now is fresh information for me and there is so much for me to learn that I am still in "consume" mode trying to create a foundation to grow from in all of the many different facets of educational technology and best practices in digital learning. So, my book wishlist looks very, very different this holiday season.

         On one of my middle school campuses, I had the opportunity to do my first co-teaching of a technology lesson. The vast majority of my work so far has been training teachers one-on-one, in their PLCs, or in large group campus sessions. So, when a team of ELA teachers came to me months ago as they were planning their upcoming research project, I suggested a digital option for their product and then offered to come teach that component of the lesson. The latest district digital learning newsletter hit their in-boxes, and a different digital option caught their eye so we decided to try it with their students. The last two weeks, I went into their rooms and co-taught the digital piece of the lesson to their students with them. I absolutely loved getting to interact with the students and to tweak the lesson delivery each class period to make it clearer and better each time. The product and lesson were new for all of us, but I thoroughly enjoyed working beside these two wonderful teachers as we all tried to provide a relevant and engaging digital learning experience that also showcased the students' learning. I am looking forward to doing more of this with more teachers in the spring semester.

                On both of my middle school campuses, I was asked by administrators and different teachers to take video of specific lessons and create short videos for professional development purposes as well as campus faculty meeting review. I have dabbled in iMovie, but I have never done anything that involved splicing and cutting multiple video clips into a cohesive iMovie product. During the course of this last week, I made four separate videos for my campuses and became much more comfortable with the simple editing functions in iMovie. Our department is going on a field trip to the Apple Store tomorrow, and we are all going to be trained in iMovie by the Apple folks, and this couldn't come at a better time for me. I have the fundamentals down, but I need to be able to do the more sophisticated functions. I also know that I'm probably going to need to move to another product like Adobe Premier soon, but this is a convenient and user-friendly introductory video option for me right now, and it is also something that most teachers have on their district-provided Project Innovate iPads.

                  My professional learning is happening at an exponential rate right now, but it also has a different component to it that changes everything. Before I had this position, I learned what I needed for myself, so that I could be the best writing teacher I could be for my students. Now, I am learning everything that I can so that I can help other teachers be the best teacher they can be for their students. This changes my perspective and adds a sense of urgency to my personal professional development because it affects the professional development of others. In other words, I feel like the better I am at my job, the better they will be at theirs. I respect and admire the hard-working, innovating teachers of our district, and I feel very fortunate to have the responsibility and opportunity to provide support for digital learning in all its many forms.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Goldilocks Conundrum

image courtesy of
The well-known miscreant from fairy tales who kept looking for that "just right" option- Goldilocks-comes to mind when I'm designing my "micro-trainings" for teachers and campuses. I discussed this conundrum with my digital learning teammate Jeff this past week, and I am still pondering the best approach. 

From a "voice and choice" perspective, I want to give teachers numerous options for their objective. This leads me to build very busy, multi-link smores that basically have everything including the kitchen sink in them. My rationale has been that teachers want one-stop shopping and I'm going to pull together everything they possibly might ever need for that topic into the training. In Goldilocks' world, I am concerned that this is the "too much" scenario.

My friend Jeff described how he likes to pick one thing to focus on when he talks with teachers, so that the focus is on that one tool or concept and there is less possibility of overwhelming anyone and more possibility that they will be confident enough to try that one new thing. I love watching Jeff work with teachers because he is a natural teacher who inspires confidence in his adult learners with his scaffolding and delivery choices. 

So, though I might have once considered his approach to be the "too little" Goldilocks scenario, I am going to try and mesh it with my approach to hopefully...eventually reach that "just right" ratio: a few choice options and one simple how-to resource to support. This means that I will have to create even more micro-trainings since I will be dividing things into smaller more palatable bites for my teachers, but I hope to blend choice with confidence-building to foster tech learning environments for teachers that are "just right."