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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Digital Tools to Mobilize a Community to a Goal

Today, as I was looking over the scope and sequence that ISTE has put out as plausible technology integration standards to support the ISTE student standards I found myself stuck on one standard and feeling the weight of the pros and cons stacking up equally on both sides of my brain as I wrestled with this idea: "Use digital tools such as blogs, websites and social media to crowdsource, crowdfund and mobilize a community toward a goal."

On one side I immediately swiped it under the doormat when the words "crowdsource" and "crowdfund" appeared. Why is this a skill that a graduate of our school must need to know? When I see those words I think of begging to support a cause for funds. And then the rumination began. I asked myself these questions:

  • Why is the standard there?
  • If we don't do it are we creating a disadvantage to our students?
  • Is this about exposure? integration? or even more...stewardship?
  • Are we just called to teach students how to navigate the internet or are we called to teach them how to add value to it as well?
  • As I forward think, is the internet always about taking or are we to give as well? Every click we make is monitored by an algorithm that learns us. How can I use that for good?
These questions led me to think about my own life. Do I crowdsource? Have I ever sought to crowdfund for a greater goal? YES on both accounts. I use social media to share the things I've learned via blogs to help others, I've asked people to join me at educational events like Edcamp Gig City and CoffeeEDU, I've asked people to support me in my JDRF walks to find a cure for type 1 diabetes, and more recently I've reached out to an entire city to help me find my lost dog. I've done this using social media, blogging, and various websites. 

I realized I am the epitome of this statement but the question that continues to ruminate in my head...should it be a REQUIRED skill? I don't like the terms "crowdsource" or "crowdfund" but I think there is value in the meaning of the statement. As I look at my job as an instructional technologist I see this as a way to use technology for a greater good. It definitely doesn't have to be to the extent I utilize it but if at my christian school it is a goal to graduate stewards of this world then technology and the internet can't just be seen as something to consume but also something to make better through our usage. The words "value added" come to mind. According to the dictionary value added means:

  1. 1.
    the amount by which the value of an article is increased at each stage of its production, exclusive of initial costs.
  1. 1.
    (of goods) having features added to a basic line or model for which the buyer is prepared to pay extra.

Are we as educators truly teaching our students to add value to the digital world if we don't embrace mediums to do this? Even more, in a christian school setting aren't we called to it? Maybe I'm digging too deep and creating comparisons that only work in my head. But if all we do is take, learn, discern, and lurk are we becoming true stewards? As a steward we are responsible "for taking care of something, to arrange and keep in order in a way that glorifies God." Does this just mean personal intake? In our world that values collaboration and growing together I believe it means not just becoming fat babies off all the information on the internet but also exercising our right and responsibility to add to that environment as well.

I do struggle with the wording of the statement because I don't think crowdfunding is a particular skill that every student needs to know but I look at two instances in my life where crowdsourcing made a huge difference to me.

  • In 2010 after a very hurtful attack through the use of social media on myself and my donut business, a friend and educator, Jennifer Rimback, created a community support page for me on Facebook that helped me through a terrible week in my life due to poor digital citizenship skills of the masses in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
  • Just this year after losing my dog for a week, she was returned back to us due to a bombarding of social media and websites being shared over 500 times by people I did and didn't know. 

These were life changers. Is this a skill that should be taught is the question that keeps running in my mind?  Is this just something people should do if they want to but not be expected? I'll be honest, until today I thought so but as I have thought and rethought on this today and reflected on how much negativity we see on the internet, my mind has changed. Perhaps it is time to model appropriate and value-added internet opportunities to bring it to the forefront in today's world. Should it be crowdsourced? I don't know...but I do believe the power of the internet can be seen better through this choice. To experience the positive benefits of crowdsourcing exposure is a beautiful thing, take it from someone that has also received the opposite because of a donut named "Obama." 

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Power of Caring Educators

I'll be honest, it's easy to become jaded in education. New initiatives, students that don't seem to care, parents that question everything you do, not being respected in your's easy to allow the stresses of day to day make you forget what made you want to go into education to begin with.

But then there are educators that are different. Ones that both value the relationships with their students and see the challenges of everyday as purposeful. I've seen many of those teachers over the years but in the last couple of weeks I have experienced two educators that truly challenge me to be more like them, to look at being an educator as missional.

As my role has changed over the last few years and I spend less time in contact with students I have less chance to be relational with them. But because of the two people I am about to share with you I want to make sure I am not overlooking those opportunities to be a caring educator.

The first person I want to share about I have never even met in person. Principal Todd Jackson of Sequoyah High School in Soddy Daisy, Tennessee has a heart for students. He leads a school that gives a student a "hands on" education. Many of these students haven't succeeded in the traditional academic setting for a variety of reasons but they can leave Sequoyah equipped to either go straight into a career or further their education. While I have never met Mr. Jackson, I have seen his heart for students. Last Saturday, my nephew Tanner graduated from Sequoyah High School. As Mr. Jackson stood up to speak to those graduates he was obviously overwhelmed with emotion in that moment. He couldn't hide it. As one person yelled from the audience while he was trying to hold back his emotions before continuing on in his speech, "that's a man who cares!" It was evident in that moment but it was also evident to me because this man had been investing in Tanner regularly. He had invited him to his farm and had Tanner work with him, hand in hand. He made a difference in Tanner's life. Tanner left for basic training on Monday and Mr. Jackson played a huge role in getting Tanner to that place. He is an educator that values the importance of relationships.

Secondly, is a teacher that retired from Chattanooga Christian School and someone I had the honor of working with for many years. Not only was she a co-worker, she was a teacher and tutor to my oldest child. Mrs. Pat Wilson was always a relational third grade teacher. Teaching was more than an 8-3 job to her. She would attend baseball games, recitals, and special events of her students often throughout the year. She always invited the students to her house for a party each year. She saw teaching as being in a covenant with the children she taught. She valued them in and out of the classroom. Last night, my youngest daughter got home from her senior trip to find a stack of graduation congratulation cards on the counter. In that stack was a sweet note from Pat Wilson encouraging Kendall for her future and congratulating her for her progress. What makes this unique? Pat wasn't even Kendall's third grade teacher. But she was Tanner's. And she has already asked for his address to send him a message while he is in the Army. This is what relational education looks like- even from a retired teacher.

I want to be more like these two people. I am a very passionate instructional technologist and I want all students to feel like a success in their educational endeavors. I do believe educational technology has the ability to help teachers better meet individual student needs. But the truth of the matter is, no matter how automated and effective edtech becomes there is NOTHING that will replace the power of caring educators. So to all of you that model this daily, thank you. For those of you that know there is room for improvement, like myself, take up the challenge with me. I am thankful for educators like these two that show me how I can better myself in an area where I hadn't even realized I was lacking.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Future of Education...and the role edtech will play

Sometimes I feel like I know things other people just don't get. I know that sounds vain, but this has nothing to do with my intelligence and more to do with what I do for a living. I'm an instructional technologist and anyone in my position worth a grain of salt has to be aware of what is down the pike...and I know, or at least I have an inkling. And I'll admit it both excites me and scares me.

Yesterday morning before heading to the Tennessee STEM Innovation Summit that I am currently attending, I sat in on a meeting where we announced to our middle school that we were going to pilot the LMS Canvas for next year. Let me just say that they are a great group of educators that have a strong sense of adaptability that is amazing. I believe it has a lot to do with the fact they are teaching middle schoolers that want to be treated like children one minute and adults the next!

One of the questions that was asked was "Why not Google Classroom?" and quite honestly for some of our teachers I do believe it would be the best solution for what they are currently doing. But here is the part where I feel like I am "in the know." Education is not going to remain in it's current state. The digital revolution is happening. Integrating technology will no longer look like presenting with a visual that might even be locked down on all the 1:1 devices. Digital revolution means meeting individual student needs with more feedback.

The last few years of tech integration have been messy. That is definitely no lie. The tool has been there and edtech company's have raced to create platforms to meet classroom needs. Some have done it well and some resoundingly have not. School's have adopted, adapted, trashed, and rethought the process of education over and over again. At our school we have looked in the framework of what is antiquated, what is classic and should be kept, and what contemporary way can we do education better?

I believe we are going to see major changes in formative assessments and I believe that schools will have to adapt to them because they will be game changers. This morning I saw this:

Zoomi, a performance optimization data analytics company, and Canvas by Instructure today announced a partnership that integrates Zoomi's powerful predictive and prescriptive analytic tools with Instructure's innovative and award-winning learning platform. This new relationship will empower educators to greatly enhance learning and increase student achievement and proficiency.
Central to the partnership is the analysis of behavior patterns, based on Zoomi's existing algorithms and analytics, that can predict learning outcomes with greater accuracy and adapt pathways.  These insights paired with Canvas, an adaptable and customizable state-of-the-art LMS for K-12 schools and higher education institutions, will provide students with personalized learning programs that can immediately impact achievement gaps. Zoomi's analysis of cognitive, motivational and behavioral data allows real-time, automated, AI-based personalization of content for a truly individualized learning experience.
"Learning institutions choose Canvas for its flexibility and ease of use. And now with the addition of Zoomi analytics, content developers and educators will be able to tailor learning to the preferences of each student," said Caroline Brant, Director of Client Success at Zoomi.  "By providing content based on the specific strengths and needs of individual students, educators are able to maximize student comprehension and engagement."
"The partnership with Zoomi allows us to provide our customers with deeper, actionable insights into student performance," said Melissa Loble, Vice President of Partnerships and Platform at Instructure. "This enhancement to Canvas will provide the online learning community with new ways to improve teaching and learning."
As schools, we must decide what disciplines this will impact in our classrooms. We must decide how far will we allow AI (artificial intelligence) into the educational setting and more importantly into our world. Boundaries need to be placed by our culture to make sure it is morally and ethically used but that being said, the next step in logic branching questions is an exciting time. 
I love that education is working towards personalization so that we can meet all students' needs. This is the future of education. To what extent remains to be seen. Technology will always be a tool but it also has the ability to be a medium of learning itself. How are educational institutions going to leverage this in a way that benefits the relational aspect of education that is key to creating lifelong learners? 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Power of the Senior Walk

It's happening at schools all over the place this time of year. It's the senior walk...or at our school the "senior run." I have seen multiple ways this plays out- with cap and gown or without- the power of the Senior Walk is obvious if you are observing it.

This tradition started at our school as a prank in the high school. Seniors would band together on their last day and run through the hallways  (sometimes causing destruction). The run had been banned but lately it has been embraced. Three years ago when my oldest daughter was a senior I asked our Upper School Student Life Director, Karen Smoak, if the "lifers" - those students that had been at CCS for all 13 years- could come in their cap and gown and visit our kindergarteners. They did and those kids were in "wow" mode. And as only Karen can do, she took the senior run and that idea to the next level.
Our seniors have "community day" as one of the last days on campus before exams. This is a day where they just hang out together playing games, relaxing, talking, and having a picnic. At the end of the day they participate in the senior walk/run. It starts in the lower school where all the students come into the hallway and celebrate these students and then goes through the middle school and ends out the front door of the high school.

I happen to have been in the lower school this year as the students did their walk and saw the excitement and starry-eyes of those elementary students as they watched these students take their walk with smiles, tears, hugs, and pride. For some of us teachers, we have had the honor of teaching those students and watching them grow at our preK-12 school. The students then went on to the middle school where the pace picked up a bit and then on to the high school for the SENIOR RUN, a little bit of chaos with principal Forrest Walker leading the way through the entire experience.
Looking at these photos show you the value that's placed on these seniors. Their accomplishments are being valued by our entire student body. But it's not only about the seniors. It's about those underclassmen as well. These students are seeing the importance our school places on finishing high school. These students now have something else to look forward to. Many of these students have never attended a high school graduation but they will always remember watching older students that they have seen play sports, work in their classrooms, join them in all school pep rallies, and perform in various artistic endeavors at school being honored. It's a chance for our institution to grow a sense of expectancy within the hearts of our students- from the very youngest to those just a few months away from being seniors themselves- there is a sense of belonging. I love this tradition and how it has evolved from something the high school administration dreaded into something that instills both a sense of hope and longing for the other students and pride for our seniors. Watch out world, these seniors graduate on Saturday and they are ready to make a difference!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Educational "Air Time"

Over the last couple of weeks I have really started looking more deeply at the way technology can enhance different learning theories and instructional practice. I realize that has made me hypersensitive to critiquing teachers and teaching styles in a way that I don't want to be. Needless to say, I'm trying to look at methods from a non-marginalizing approach and make the assumption that every teacher is trying their best to meet the needs of their classroom goals and individual students.

That being said I am currently feeling a little overwhelmed with some things that have played out lately regarding academic roles. Believe it or not I was a quiet high school student that rarely would have added value to group discussions unless I was point blank called on because of my shyness. (I are wondering where that girl is and wanting her to come back occasionally). I mostly made A's and B's as a self-motivated student in above-average ability grouped classes. I was a listener and got what I needed to make the grade but I did not really enjoy high school. High school did not feel relational to me for the most part.

As I have been looking at teaching methods I find myself wondering what are we doing to pull out students like myself. I know there are strategies for pulling in the outliers but do we use them? Is there a reason our students feel like outliers? Is it a perceived intelligence issue? Language issue? Apathy issue? Shyness issue? You have to know who your students are to fill the needs. And of course for me, I'm wondering if digital discussion boards in an LMS might be a solution to give the "quietest student a voice" a quote about technology I often requote from Jerry Blumengarten.

On top of all this I helped lead Edcamp Gig City this past Saturday and when I'm looking at the feedback I can't help but think...even teachers don't truly understand how to best engage in group discussions. The overwhelming majority of the feedback from the 125+ attendees of  Chattanooga's 4th annual educational unconference was positive but the complaints all had to do with people taking up too much "air time," being dogmatic about their views, leading instead of facilitating, and griping about their world instead of speaking about disadvantages with hopes to find a solution by sharing. If educators themselves aren't good at this, that worries me a bit. When someone feels marginalized they shut down. That is the worst thing to happen in education. What skills can we use to prevent this from happening without seeming condemning and causing the opposite person to feel marginalized? And of course, as an instructional technologist I am digging and wondering how can educational technology best support the socratic method, small group instruction, lecture classrooms to best meet the needs of all students, or can it? What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Semantics in the School House

Possibilities for instruction are changing in education faster than ever before. As I have said before, how we define what words mean can seem both passive and aggressive to many teachers in the same room. The connotative meaning of "technology integration" can have varying degrees of expectation associated with it from the eyes of all stakeholders- teachers, administrators, school boards, students and parents. What one teacher sees as "enough" someone else might say "it doesn't even scratch the surface." When one teacher might say "I'm equipping them with future ready skills," someone else might say "they have too much screen time in that class setting." Who is right? Is someone wrong? Or are we nit picking the semantics?

How does a school move beyond the semantics/connotations of individual ideas of what "best practice" looks like to an acceptable use profile that all stakeholders can wrap their heads around? Lately, we have been working on just that at our school. I find myself looking at sentences word by word for interpretation purposes and I'm wondering if like the Louis Armstrong song "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off," I'm digressing on tomato versus tomahto.

I do believe frameworks are important as a guide to get everyone on the same page. I also believe there is value in breaking frameworks down into smaller bite size pieces, making it easier for people to see the goals. And to be honest, the more I dig deeper into these ideas the more I realize mindset of what technology can do in a classroom has to be recognized and considered first. Articles like this one in Edtech Magazine and research like this by OECD makes me mindful of how important it is to define the tomato and tomahto as well as to teach student's balanced use inside and outside the classroom.

Balance doesn't need to happen just in the classroom regarding screen time but also personal usage. We are in a society today where people are applauded for their passion or ridiculed for it depending on what society deems as appropriate. An athlete that becomes drive to train all the time and breaks records is applauded but someone that collects things to the same level of passion is called a hoarder. Helping students navigate balance goes beyond the idea of technology, it is a shift in what we should be teaching in general. Many of the things in regards to technology are like that. Looking at this deeper lately I am seeing the ubiquitous nature of technology and how it overlaps so much of our world. Getting more people involved in the semantics seems both worthy and needed. I don't begin to think I have a lockdown on all the moving pieces.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Finishing Strong by Taking Chances?

I'll be honest, when I was asked to blog on the topic "Testing is over...What now?" I jumped on the chance to be a part of this series because it's a group of amazing educators and I love to blog. Unlike the rest of them, testing seems to have less impact on my private school than at their public schools. There is no tie to funding and there is less stress on our teachers based on test results. While we do not do the state testing, we do have students take the NWEA test. I've sat in an office where an administrator has looked at test results by standard and realized "our students haven't gotten to that yet." There is an understanding in our school that we are going to teach to the end of the year. Managing that is probably a little bit easier to do with a preK-12 school of 1200 than some of these larger districts my friends are in.

Regardless, there still seems like there is burnout in the air and a sense of finality approaching. So what are things we can do to use this time to finish strong? You'll often hear me talking about risk taking and creating a culture where it is safe to fail for both students and teachers. The important thing is you fail forward. In other words, when you try something but it doesn't work you don't say "oh well, that was a disaster!" but "that didn't work, what can I do to value the concept forward and learn from what went wrong and make it better?" That's failing forward. What a great time to take those chances! I challenge you to look for something to try that might make these last days less monotonous. The nice thing is you have some great guinea pigs ready for you, you've trained them all year long! 

I want to share five things you might try in your classroom in these last weeks to take a chance on creating something valuable for the future (yours, your current students, and even your future students):
  1. Genius Hour or 20% Time...This is a creation of the Google Company themselves. They allow their employees 20% of their work week to learn about things that they are passionate about. What if you allowed your students some of this type of time with your watch care and guidance? It doesn't have to be chaos. Have students create Project Plans and collaborate to make them better. Then have students create project logs after every time they work on the project. Also, if you want it to be more structured, have it support a certain unit you have studied. Flexibility within boundaries but allowing students voice and choice.
  2.  Google Classroom...If you are a district that has been using the Google Suite apps in the classroom  for a while you are probably already leveraging Docs, Slides, Drive, Forms, and Sheets. Now is a good time to try Google Classrooms to see it's efficiencies! My friend Matt Miller from #ditchthattextbook created this blog post that is helpful in both understanding what it will and will not do, as well as giving you some ideas on how to implement it. You aren't a Google school? What LMS does your district/school/coworker use? Create a lesson using that to try it out. 
  3. Coding...I'm a firm believer that coding can support any curriculum due to the fact that it naturally teaches sequencing, coding gives access to technology, gives students a life skill, and coding teaches thinking. This blog by Vicki Davis gives you some great ideas for creating coding opportunities in your classroom no matter what you teach and what grade level you teach it in. Don't have access to technology? Make sure you look at the unplugged options at
  4. VLOG...Not all students are good writers but all students have things to share. A VLOG is the video equivalent of a BLOG (weB LOG). Allow your students to VLOG about some topic - you choose it or let them. Start somewhere simple like by using Seesaw Learning Journal. If you aren't already using it, it allows you to give your student a new platform as well. The free version will meet your needs just fine! (Make sure you follow Christopher King's VLOG on day three of this series (tomorrow) to see what a VLOG can do!
  5. Edcamp Style Learning...I am a huge fan of the unconference model of professional development that the Edcamp model brought to education. This will be year four of my involvement with Edcamp Gigcity in Chattanooga, Tennessee. But what if we gave students sticky notes and asked them what they would like to learn about? What if we created stations in our classroom that would allow them to learn from each other about those topics? It might not could be as wide open depending on the age you teach but I do believe it could be structured edcamp even for the youngest of students. 
These are just a few ideas that I think teachers could toy with here at year end. These do not take a lot of prep time or learning time on your part but have the potential for adding either depth or efficiencies for your classroom's future. And lets be honest, there are so many reruns of Lion King we want to sit through. Take these ideas or create your own but FINISH STRONG! Want to learn more on this topic? Make sure you look over yesterday's post by Mick Shuran that can be found at and as I mentioned earlier, tomorrow's VLOG by Christopher King can be found at

Monday: Mick Shuran

Friday, April 28, 2017

Looking Ahead

I love when I'm given the opportunity to work with great educators to collaborate for greater good. What an honor and a privilege to be part of next week's 5-part series from four other bloggers that I greatly admire! You don't want to miss this next week as we each share ideas on how to be both strategic and intentional with finishing out the school year even though testing is over.

It's the time of year where we educators are weary! We hope that our blog posts next week will inspire you to look at this time as an opportunity. Make sure you bookmark these blogs and get ready to be blown away. Not only do I think these are some amazing men but they represent the great state of Tennessee so well!

  • Monday: My friend Mick Shuran, principal of West Middle School in Tullahoma, Tennessee will share his thoughts at I love the passion and excitement that Mick brings in any education discussion he is in!

  • Tuesday: Straight out of Chattanooga, Tennessee I will be sharing some things that I think might be worthy of trying during this time when there is safety in failing but with a mindset of "failing forward"

  • Wednesday: Christopher King, a fellow instructional technologist, who is also from Tullahoma City Schools system shakes up the stage in true "introduction of new tech tools fashion" with a VLOG (that's a video based blog) that can be found at

  • Thursday: Moving around the state a bit more, Jacob Dunn is a Social Studies chair from McMinnville, Tennessee and brings such great value from the classroom perspective. He evens the rest of us out because he is truly in the trenches. His blog can be found at

  • Friday: Thomas Fuhrman is an innovative, deep thinking principal at Jere Whitson Elementary School in Cookeville, Tennessee and I can guarantee he will end our week of posts with nuggets of wisdom! His blog can be found at

Get ready to for a week of intentional helps to end the school year strong and teach until the end! 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Student-Centered Education?

Buzz words run up my spine when they are thrown around. I'm not saying I don't see value in the concepts but there always seems to be cyclical educational buzz words that become in vogue for a while and then go out of style. Because of this, these words all come with connotations to each of us and what I have found is we don't always respond or think the same way because of our own interpretations. Student-centered can be one of those words. To some this means a Montessori approach to education where teachers "encourage independence, freedom within limits, and a sense of order." (, for others can mean just being mindful that the purpose of education is not about the education itself but about the student. Of course there are varying ideas in between. I do believe in the value of school systems having their own meaningful language so that everyone is on the same page.

That being said, I've had a few things happen in the last couple of days that make me really think about what I think Student-Centered should mean. As a huge fan of personalized learning, I believe that plays a big part in what I think the education process should be. Creating opportunities to meet the individual student's needs instead of the class as a whole is the future of education through the leveraging of technology. But student-centered is something much more basic to me than that. When decisions are being made in the context of impacting our students directly, I believe it should always be run through a screen of "is this product/person/pedagogy/plan good for the student?" Sometimes in today's world we see decisions made that make it easier on the institution or teacher. When ideas are put forth it is the natural instinct for us to ask "how does this impact me and the way I teach?" I know I struggle with not going there first when dealing with change. I also know I have made choices that actually have been harder for me as an educator because it was what I thought was what was best for the students. Student-centered also means growing that child through opportunities that might make a process harder in the long run for me as an educator. For instance, allowing voice and choice in how they share their learning, or creating opportunities for students to represent the voice of their peers in strategic meetings regarding school policies. Student-centered for me also means asking a kid, "how could I have made that lesson better?" and valuing their feedback.

This really hit home big to me today when I found out my oldest daughter was sitting in one of her final exams that she had stayed up late to study for and the professor tapped her on the shoulder and said "you have an A, you don't have to take this exam." Happily, Jessica jumped up and left the test but she texted me and said "I wish he would have told me I didn't have to take it sooner, but it was a nice surprise!" I asked her why she didn't know and she said he hadn't posted all the assignments before the exam so she wasn't 100% sure where she stood. Quite honestly I was ticked. This is a kid that is taking a full load in college and working 30+ hours a week as a manager in our family donut shop. How student-centered was the fact that she had to study for the exam, then show up, and be in process of taking the exam before knowing she didn't have to take the test?

Everyday we teach students that are being molded into their future adult selves. Allowing them some autonomy, creating visions with them, guiding through mentorship, and teaching them how to become lifelong learners without us there is imperative because they are constantly bombarded in a world that doesn't value anyone very well. I think it is key for us to always be asking ourselves if the decisions we are making today by procrastinating, having a fixed mindset, or having our own agenda are truly what is best for the student. Students are the reason we chose to go into education. As a brilliant coworker Matt Monahan said, "teaching is a great way to value people over things." My prayer is that I am ever mindful of that statement.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Curation of Information: Harnessing the Beast of Ubiquitous Information

I have this crazy little habit that helps empower me every day for the educational tasks at hand. For the past two years I've taken part in the #OneWord movement and this year my word was "brave." As part of this year's word, everyday I have chosen some phrase and photo to put on Instagram to embolden myself for the day to be educationally brave to make a difference for students. Each phrase has #brave2017 in the comments. Some days I run across quotes that resonate with me, some days I write what is in my head, and some days I make a real effort to Google a theme or "educational quotes" and find something for the day.

A quote that I have seen over and over on multiple occasion is the one in the image above: "The best teachers are those that show you where to look but don't tell you what to see." It is attributed to Alexandra K. Trenfor. Out of curiosity one day I decided to see who exactly this person was because I felt this little nugget of wisdom was so powerful. Imagine my surprise when not only I could not find anything about the person but found that other people had been on the same search. There is a bit of irony not lost on me that educators on a regular basis repost this quote and put it on educational websites and it can't really even be checked for authenticity. I mean, when I posted it I continued to attribute it to Alexandra K. Trenfor but I don't really know if that's right or not.

That left me thinking about the overwhelming need for curation of information in today's world. When we want to quote a website, oftentimes it is downright impossible to find the correct citing unless one uses an online bibliography that searches it from the URL and sometimes even then we come up empty handed.

Today as I was sick in bed I found myself digging around the internet looking for information on some topics I've been pondering and I came across this video that was uploaded in 2007. It's titled "The Machine is Us/ing Us." It speaks into the fact that WE are the creators of the web by the things we post on a regular basis, like this blog for instance. I am putting information out to a worldwide audience that might sway someone towards or away from a certain way of thinking about education. The "machine" is us but at the same time the machine is using my information, thoughts, and clicks to develop itself further. It's both alarming and intriguing to think of the power every John Q. Public has in the world today.
That being said, how do we as educators guide students to make ethical choices in what they claim as their own information? How do we guide them to best discern what is good information? How do we help them critically think about what they read and to turn information into knowledge? Especially when we ourselves are struggling with it as well. We are bombarded by fake news, wikipedia, and find ourselves searching for discernment but I'll be honest some days I still don't know what is real or not (especially in regards to politics lately). We are being manipulated by our clicks as to what "real" is to us and yet we also have access to great information that allows us to learn anything we want to at the typing of a few key words. While we struggle with the shotgun method of information that comes at us regularly we must learn alongside our students how to best manage this resource. I don't want to be seen as a machine but I do want to know that I am adding value to the machine. I want my students to experience that as well. The ubiquity of technology cannot be ignored but it can be used for good.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Fact Checking Students

A few days ago I had a conversation with a fellow educator who is also a mother and said her son told her that there are 3-4 students in his grade that always "fact check" what the teachers tell them in class. Apparently when a teacher says something as "truth" when teaching these students use their devices to see what they can find on the subject. In some cases they have found information that doesn't support what has been said in the classroom.

I was quite intrigued by this as well as a little put off. My first thoughts were:

  • I wonder why they feel the need to fact check what they are being taught?
  • It feels a little disrespectful of the teacher's authority to be fact checked.
  • What does this teach me about today's connected student?
  • How can this be leveraged in the classroom for good?
For a couple of years now I've toyed with the idea of putting an Amazon Echo or Google Home in classrooms just to help teachers get beyond the "googleable questions" in order to be able to focus more on the critical thinking level of DOK/Bloom's Taxonomy. If it were my class it would layout something like this..."If I ask you, as a class, something that can be Googled to get a certain answer, stop me and let's ask Alexa." I think it could lead to more engagement of conversations, as well as discerning when to use technology for information versus when to use your deeper cognitive skills for the task at hand. 

I would never force a teacher to do this and so I'm still toying with the idea of "are these students being disrespectful?" or should we applaud their desire to be researchers? Obviously there are a lot of moving parts in this discussion like a) would this be considered an off task behavior at the time by the teacher? b) what is the purpose of their research? To prove a teacher wrong or to feel more confident? 

More importantly I wonder how I would take it in the middle of a discussion if a student questioned my authority by saying "Actually Mrs. Davis, this website says that really..." Beyond a shadow of a doubt I would hope that could become a teachable moment regarding both digital citizenship and research. 

Should we embrace this behavior and have students feel comfortable in questioning? What are your thoughts on "fact checking" students? Should this make us rethink the way we are currently teaching if students have information at hand all the time anyway? Does this have the ability to make a teacher feel irrelevant or change their role?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

When Fifth Graders Make Websites For Fun

Today our lower school principal sent me a text that said "Some fifth graders have something they want to show you." I was intrigued but also a little nervous. After I made it to the office I was given a slip of paper with a web address on it: There are times in your life you are just so proud and blown away by students and in this case I had absolutely NOTHING to do with this. Five of our students created a website to host comic strips they have created in their free time. I was so impressed that I interviewed two of the students (Aiden and Brody) this afternoon on what they had done:

Being a preK-12th grade school, we are currently working to create a profile for the technology skills we want a graduate to have. This endeavor that these students took on that wasn't even part of their curriculum is a prime example that we are no longer teaching the same type of students we have in the past! These students used classical art skills and creative writing skills and turned them into a contemporary format. 

When I look at the major headings of technology skills we are wanting a graduate to have I look at the why, how, and what these 5 fifth graders have created and I can't help but want to put a check mark by everything. And lets not loose sight of the fact that this was all because they wanted to! If you listen to their video you see we not only have innovators but also potential entrepreneurs on our hands. To see today's young students using technology creatively as positive digital stewards in a globally reachable world makes my heart happy. I helped them think about some digital safety measures they might want to take and they have already made those changes. Why? Because it's what they WANT to do with their free time. 

Read the following goals we are currently working on for technology integration student standards (that have been adapted from the ISTE Student Standards) and see what you think these students have accomplished:

CCS Technology Integration Standards for Students
1. Empowered Learner
As truth seekers students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning modalities.

2. Digital Stewards
Students recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and God honoring.

3. Knowledge Constructor
Students critically curate with responsibility and discernment a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.

4. Innovative Designer
Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.

5. Computational Thinker
Students develop and employ strategies for understanding and solving problems in ways that leverage the power of technological methods to develop and test solutions with integrity.

6. Creative Communicator
Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals.

7. Global Collaborator
Students use digital tools to broaden their perspectives and enrich their learning by collaborating with others and working effectively as Christ-centered critical thinkers.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Nitty Gritty of Technology Integration

Lately our school has been in a discussion of what technology integration should really look like. Some hard discussions have happened but progress is being made to better identify how technology can both support the learning in the classroom and prepare the students for their future. One of the things I keep hearing over and over in discussions is "I just don't know where to start." As an instructional technologist, this is where I feel my support comes in. Helping people find good resources and consider ideas for integration. The following slide presentation came about because I truly want to help others at our school to find ways to integrate technology in their classroom that allows them more efficiencies as well as empower our students to know how to use the tools of technology for learning endeavors:

               Technology Integration by Subject Matter

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Lessons Worth Remembering

What makes a lesson worth remembering? It's been a VERY LONG TIME since I was in a k12 school as a student but I have been spending time trying to remember actual learning lessons. I'll be honest, there are very few "lessons" themselves I remember anymore and what I have come away with is that in order for me to truly remember a lesson one of the following had to happen:

  • I had an ongoing relationship with the teacher. I remember lessons and/or teachable moments with teachers that knew me as a person- my biology teacher that I babysat for, my history teacher who was my friend's dad, my psychology teacher that I also was a teacher's aide for and we talked about life during that time, and my business education teacher that I went to church with. 
  • The lesson was not the norm. It was kinesthetic, hands-on, not "sit and get." I remember learning how to do a Rubic's cube in 7th grade math class. I remember dissecting a frog in biology. I remember my geography teacher pretending our desks were planes and we would look out different windows to learn where different countries were in relation to each other. 
  • It was a non-traditional way of showing my learning. I remember researching/creating my science fair project for 7th and 8th grade that was on the topic of the value of holistic herbal remedies. I remember creating an emergency first aid/wilderness box in 6th grade before a week of outdoor learning at Rock Eagle. I remember being asked to sing something to see if I could reach a certain octave to try out for a solo.
  • It caused an emotional response of pride or embarrassment. In 5th grade I remember my art work being chosen as a basis for the mural going down the hallway in my elementary school and I got to be pulled out of class to help paint it. I remember being chosen in 12th grade to take Accounting 2 even though it wasn't a class being offered and it would be me doing it on my own during a typing class that the business ed teacher was teaching. I remember being chosen to be on the 9th grade yearbook team. I remember taking 12th grade dual enrollment english and my professor recognizing an open letter assignment I had written and him reading it to the entire class because it was well written in his eyes, but I also remember that same professor leading a discussion on the wife of Bath in the Canterbury Tales and discussing the importance of her gap-toothed reference and me being mortified because I had a gap between my two front teeth. 
  • The class had good whole group dialogue. If a culture of safety in sharing existed, I remember those discussions. I remember the value of hearing the thoughts of my school mates. I remember sharing my own thoughts on subjects and believe it or not, I was shy. It took a LOT for me to add to conversations. 
  • If more than one of the above happened in a classroom I am more likely to have even more memories. For instance, I can remember word for word lessons in classes where I felt a connection to the teacher and felt empowered by the way the classroom dynamics were.
So what does this mean? As we are planning forward in creating both scope and sequence and lessons for next year, I find myself thinking on the value of recognizing positive achievements in my students, creating opportunities for learning that allow them to use different modalities of instruction, being intentional in knowing the students I'm working with and their likes/dislikes even if it is just about the lesson at hand, and creating a culture where students feel safe to be transparent in their learning- where failing is a learning opportunity and collaboration is safe. I don't remember ever having the opportunity to participate in project based learning or solving real world problems. I wonder what that would have done to my processing? 

And then I find myself asking...Should all lessons be memorable? Is there value in the mundane? What would students say? Can there be too much engagement sometimes? and finally...How do we define the process of "what makes a good lesson?" What role does technology play in all this today?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

When Students Leverage Social Media to Plan Events

The ISTE Standards for Students are goals that have been vetted through thousands of educators to set measurable outcomes that have been decided would best prepare today's k-12 student for the use of technology in their future lives. There are 7 different broad concepts that are then broken down into subcategories. Standard #6 is listed below:

6. Creative Communicator
Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals. Students:

  • choose the appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creation or communication.
  • create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.
  • communicate complex ideas clearly and effectively by creating or using a variety of digital objects such as visualizations, models or simulations.
  • publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for their intended audiences. 

    This week I had the privilege of seeing this standard in action. The AP and Advanced Art students in our high school were tasked by their instructors with advertising the opening reception for their Spring Art Collection at a local art gallery in Chattanooga. Early in the week I started seeing this graphic show up on Facebook. Then I was asked to join a page with more information. Later in the week I saw Snapchat stories about the event, I saw Instagram stories and posts about it. There was Twitter talk about it as well. 

    These students creatively used the medium of social media to communicate with the people in their lives. They shared, reshared, and creatively talked about the evening using the Internet. Creating the graphic of actual work in the collection was a teaser. The objective was to get people to come to opening night and boy did it work! When I walked into AVA Art Gallery it was packed. It wasn't just the family members of these students present but the room was full of schoolmates of all interest groups. Athletes, scholars, teachers, grandparents, siblings, cousins, boyfriends, strangers, dramatic artists were all there to support this night and these students. Goal achieved. It was a great way to see students using social media as good digital citizens to share their learning in productive ways. 

    Sunday, April 2, 2017

    The crowd, the community, the connection

    The Crowd. As parents and educators we talk a lot about hanging with the wrong crowd. How many times have I said "Well if Jim jumped off a bridge would you do it too?" in a moment of frustration when students aren't making good choices? Usually when we think of going along with the crowd we think of negativity but this week I have been truly smacked in the face with seeing students from the positive side of following the crowd. 

    The Community. We, as humans, are all part of communities. For our students a community could be the school itself, their friend groups, their interests, their families. Most of us are in several different communities and our level of interaction within them varies based on our desires to be in association with others. 

    The Connection. This past week was one of the busiest weeks I remember in a long time. I had various "big things" all come to a conclusion this week. First of all 6 fifth grade girls that have been working on a "Play to Learn" Playground STEM design attended the awards ceremony. At the ceremony we also learned that two of our high school girls had joined the high school competition to design a future school/learning space. Both teams came away with wins and the older girls pretty much ruled the competition they were in.
     As I drove home that evening I couldn't help but reflect on the fact that both groups spent a lot of time thinking about their designs from an empathetic heart. Our fifth grade girls designed a playground that would include people of all ages and abilities. Our high school girls imagined a repurposing of a warehouse our school has to bring private and public school students together to learn authentically while tapping into local community resources for learning opportunities. Our school is surrounded by a low income area and these girls had a desire to create cutting edge spaces not just for themselves and our school but they were also mission minded in their goals. I was blown away with the underlying empathy that just naturally flowed from both groups.  

    On Thursday, I spent the day preparing for Chattanooga's first ever social event to support the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation...One Night for JDRF. As we planned all week for this event we realized we needed some volunteers to help it go smoothly. After contacting our community service director in our high school (Karen happens to be a Type 1 diabetic too), she found some girls to volunteer. There was nothing glorious about their jobs that night. They picked up garbage off tables and they walked back and forth endlessly to the silent auction table to help with the closing of the auction.
    Another sweet girl took photos all night for us. They didn't have to do this. There was no gain for them except that they either have Type 1 diabetes or they are best friends with someone with Type 1. These girls were mission minded, empathetic souls that wanted to make a difference and support their friends. 

    Saturday night the AP and Honors Art Students from our high school had an opening night of their spring collection of artwork that took place at a local art studio. These students took on the publicizing of this event (which is a whole other blog post) and the room was packed when I walked in. What I found amazingly wonderful was it wasn't just family there supporting their artistic family members, it was athletes supporting their artistic friends (just like those artists do when they attend sporting events.) Their was a sense of community in that crowded gallery that made my heart swell with pride. Our students have a great sense of supporting within their community. All week long I kept thinking, I'm so glad my own children have been part of this crowd! 

    We hear a lot these days about the soft skills that will be needed for the future workforce. Those skills include but aren't limited to collaboration, communication, initiative, and social skills. I saw all these and more being modeled in our students this week and I am so thankful and proud of the community of CCS and the students we have. Bravo! 

    Monday, March 27, 2017

    The Value of Googleable Questions?

    In 2006 my oldest daughter was in 4th grade and part of the curriculum was called "Daily Oral Geography." This is a well known geography curriculum that consists of weekly worksheets to teach geography. I remember buying Jessica this huge Atlas that was a bound book. We still have it because it was so nice. She could look up all sorts of maps to answer her questions. We spent a little extra for it but decided with another child 3 years younger, it would be worth it.

    I remember one night Jessica was working on her D.O.G. (Daily Oral Geography) as homework and she came downstairs and asked "Mom, it asks what the 5 oceans of the world are but I see more than 5, can you help me?" I looked at the atlas and saw what she was talking about. At that point in her school life, she didn't have easy accessibility to technology. She didn't own a smartphone or iPad because they were not yet invented. We had a family computer but it wasn't seen as a place to go to help with homework.

    I remember googling "5 oceans of the world" and one of the first hits was the actual worksheet she was doing all filled in by a teacher. I said "wow!" and Jessica looked over my shoulder and said, "YES!" to which I replied, "You can't just copy the answers." And she didn't. She worked hard to get her answers every week. It was a moment to teach good digital citizenship at my house but it also led me to start thinking deeper about what we ask of students. I didn't expect to find the actual worksheet on the internet and I'm sure her teacher didn't either. There is no blame in this statement, just a fact...I saw the world changing.

    This was 2006, 11 years ago. Educational technology was not even a strong game at that point. Out of curiosity I just now googled the same question and in 1.75 seconds I had 1,340,000 results with the first hit being them listed in bold with bullets. What does this mean to education?

    I find myself seeing this from several different angles:

    • Students becoming positive Digital Citizens. If you are a user of technology, you are a digital citizen- a participant of a community with rules and expectations that are constantly evolving. With educational technology comes faster access to information and opinions. In 2006 the ease to get to "facts" using technology was just the tip of the iceberg. Now that educators are seeing the value of students having authentic audiences, we are suggesting to students to create an online presence of their learning. No longer is it just facts that can be googled but also opinions of other students across the world. With the mapping of curriculum (which prevents gaps for students if they leave one district for another) being somewhat the same from district to district the ability to find answers to the assignments placed before students becomes easier and easier. More than ever before it is important for us to set well explained boundaries and expectations for our students. When is it ok to use technology for learning and when is it not? Teaching students the value of the process of learning, not just the end results on a worksheet for a grade is important because when I google "write my paper" I have 212,000,000 hits in .42 seconds. To think our students are not doing things like this is naive at best. Spending time in each class setting digital citizen expectations is crucial to helping students navigate and choose to be students of integrity.
    • Teachers asking intentional questions. More than ever before I think it is imperative that we look at education differently. Access to information is at the fingertips of our students (even in elementary school). When do we, as educators, ask easily Googleable questions? When do we allow technology to answer those questions for our students? How does homework fit into the easy accessibility of answers in today's world? What information is now "worth" memorizing? Who decides what required facts to purge in this day of easy accessibility? How do we make sure students are truly answering from their knowledge bank and not their ability to ask Google good questions? What's the value of worksheets in a world where you can find the answers and fill in the blanks in about 3 minutes? How do we make sure students are learning how to use tools beyond technology? When are shortcuts ok? When are they not? If Google can answer a question, is it a worthy question to be asking our students in preschool? elementary? middle? high? advanced?
    • School Culture changing to adopt more critical thinking goals. Does technology mean we should be rethinking the way we teach? In the past, the teacher was the giver of all knowledge. Now students are both learning and creating in their own way, on their own time. Does this mean we need to be looking beyond the practical and pushing students to critically think about that easily accessible information? Is this why project based learning, cross-curricular integrated units, genius hour, and personalized learning is becoming significantly more popular? Is this why schools are trying to shift away from grades-based learning to competency-based learning? Is there a better way for students to prove their understanding not just their compliance to educational norms?
    I'll be honest, even as an instructional technologist, I find the possibilities for education in the future mind boggling. I want to make sure we are being student centered as we adopt and adapt education. I don't want to throw out the baby with the bath water but I also want to know we aren't accepting antiquated ways of doing things "because we've always done it this way." And so I ask the question again..."what is the value of Googleable questions?" and "What new expectations should we be placing on students?"

    Wednesday, March 15, 2017

    Taking Personalized Learning Personal

    When I think about personalized learning I see two faces- my own girls. One daughter is a junior in college and the other is a senior in high school. They will both be graduates at the school I have been an educator at for the last 13 years. All through their k-12 educational experience they struggled with math. On and off (more on than off) I hired tutors to help them to feel more confident in the math classes they took. With tutors in their life studying for exams became less tearful. I couldn’t help but ask myself “how is the current system of math instruction not working for my girls and other students like them?” “Why do my girls not understand concepts in class?” When I think of personalized learning, I see my girls and what it could have done for them to make them feel like more confident learners.

    As an instructional technologist for my school system I am constantly looking for innovative ways to enhance learning and help teachers become more effective. An opportunity was placed before me that has caused me to become a champion for personalized learning like never before. Three schools across the United States were coming together to look for ways to lower the cost of education through a blended learning math prototype. I was asked to be a part of this pilot as technology support. Our school, in Chattanooga, Tennessee would be a trailblazer.

    It started simply with a below average 5th grade math class. The teacher felt overwhelmed by their lack of progress. We turned it into a blended learning station rotation class with the use of technology to fill gaps. The increase in test scores were phenomenal but what stuck with me was the confidence building I saw. I wanted to baby step into blended learning- this is what transpired:

    In 2015 those three schools came together to prototype blended learning math using the model of a lead teacher and paraprofessionals in the classroom. Each school looked at it a bit differently due to individuality of the schools. For Chattanooga Christian School, our teachers started off in a blended learning station rotation model with modality stations such as teacher instructed, hands on, technology instruction, gaming, inquiry based.
    Screen Shot 2016-11-18 at 3.41.07 PM.pngOur teachers created icons to help students navigate the day for movement in the classroom. They also used a LMS for instructions. It didn’t take long for the educators in the classroom to see they had students that could move forward and some that needed additional time. They decided to allow for personalized learning to take place with some constraints as far as pacing. Those moving ahead were often given opportunities to go deeper and those lagging behind were given calendar dates to get things done by.  It wasn’t an easy year. At the end of the year the lead teacher looked at me and said, “I’ve been teaching for 17 years and I never saw the cracks that my students were falling through. Please don’t make me go back to teaching traditionally again.” It still gives me goosebumps. Especially considering I thought she might quit on me at any moment during the school year! Here are testimonials from 2 students:

    In the 2016-2017 school year we are in year two of the prototype with two school systems still involved and 40 students in the classrooms with one lead teacher and 2 para-professionals. The educators in the room have found a rhythm and other math teachers are questioning positively “what’s happening in that room and how can I be a part of it?” I believe in personalized learning and think that maybe some students might become confident math learners because of the trailblazing these amazing teachers are doing at our school. I believe the culture of being grade driven students is changing to competency driven in this pilot. I believe these students have been given a glimpse at being in charge of their path of learning and seeing it for the process it is. I'm interested to see where the future takes us.