At 5am this morning my wife pushed me out of bed and told me it was time to get moving if I was going to complete my morning run, take our toddler to daycare, and still make it to the James M. Bennett Auditorium (Salisbury, MD) to hear Eric Sheninger speak about being a digital leader. Now you have to understand I have been hatching out my dissertation topic for two years reading hours upon hourss of boring research. I knew I wanted to research technology in the classroom, but much of what I read put me to sleep … until I can across this blog called “A Principal’s Reflection” written by Sheninger. Instantly, I began reading about Personal Learning Networks (PLN) and the power of influence it could have in your classroom.
I came across a hidden treasure which none of my colleagues were using as they were stuck in their symbolic silos and I wanted to do something different because what I was doing was not engaging students to learn. Instead, I was turning them into little robots which could do well on a standardized test, and students could not apply any of the skills I was teaching into real-world applications.
I found all the education and degrees I earned left me not knowing what to do. As a result, I went looking for answers by reading blogs to see what others in the field were doing (in all content areas) because I thought I could adapt others ideas to round out my own teaching style and philosophy. Surprisingly, I find myself constantly reading Sheninger, Jon Harper, Lisa Meade, and Jimmy Casas to name a few.
By latching onto the words and experiences of other educators, my PLN has made me a much better teacher and leader within my building. Often touted as a technology guru (which my PLN reminds me there is always more to learn) in my own school, I always pick up bits and pieces from other educators who can help me refine my craft.
…so back to my original thought of getting out of bed today … to say I was merely looking forward to Sheninger’s presentation would be an understatement. A better comparison might be like a child on Christmas morning.
Students are coming to school with an abundant amount of knowledge and know-how with technology, and it’s being torn away from them. I can recall one moment last year during a silent reading period when my principal came through during an informal walk through and told me, “Mr. Cook that boy there has his cell phone out.”
“You mean that student who refuses to work, but is in love with the book on his Kindle App,” I very subtly responded pointing at the student. “Yes, I’m ecstatic the topic in the book is driving him to read.”
Unfortunately, I was met with continuous confrontation from the principal and fellow staff members because I was allowing cell phones for reading. However, I built a rapport with the student and trusted him as I modeled a few attributes of using the device in my classroom. Slowly, students were opening up with me about what they did online … which was mostly no good … and what was popular among the middle school age group.
Before I knew it, I was Tweeting with kids and field testing different Web 2.0 tools in my classroom (i.e. blogs, wikis, Edmodo, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Google Docs, Windows Movie Maker). Some of the experiences blew up in my face, but each experience I learned how to do something different from it instructionally. Furthermore, I brought devices from home and borrowed from colleagues to make sure every group was interacting via technology when communicating and problem solving.
Unfortunately, my district still does not have bring your own device (BYOD) policy, but I have been digitally resilient about it by modeling it for colleagues. As more students wanted to attend my class in comparison to others, my colleagues are beginning to look at what is going on in my classroom.
As it was shared today with Sheninger, the risk taking equaled great rewards for students.
What the buzz word 21st Century Skills actually means?
I cannot stand a new buzz word in education sometimes because most people do not truly understand what it means. Often the term 21st Century Learner gets tossed out there and some claim its being prepared for the future (which is difficult because we really do not know what the future looks like). However, Sheninger redefined this term into the essential skills students now because “they are wired differently” than the previous generations of students.
Essential of Learning:
- Critical thinking
- Problem Solving
- Media Literacy
- Digital Citizenship
- Global Awareness
If teachers can stop making excuses (i.e. no time, lack technology, lack funding) and focus on what works better for students — rather than what works better for teachers — implementing technology into instructional pedagogy will result in students learning better and increased productivity.
Sheninger shared an anecdote about a stellar kid, his son, making YouTube videos for Minecraft. Many evenings my daughter, who just turned 2 years old, act like a magnet to an iPhone or iPad within an arms reach. She quickly navigates through pair of FisherPrice Apps which go over letters, sounds, and numbers as she proudly shouts repeating “A apple, B ball.” I know my daughter is growing up a digital native, and I see how the devices we allow her to use is assisting in her learning.
You would not believe the excitement when she realized there was a flashlight on the iPhone — let more adventures begin.
Also, here are a list of other topics I want to share with my colleagues this fall (and see come to reality) which Sheninger spoke of today:
- Digital Badges — I did research last year and challenge my colleagues in a badge contest (for instruction). Also, what if I could set up a badge system for students too.
- Charging Stations — I want to offer this to my students in my classroom so we can continue to utilize devices.
- Lego Stations — I admit, I love legos and its creativity affect on students.
- Makerspace — It sounds like a lot of work for our media specialist; however, it seems like an amazing concept for student learning.
- Skype/Google Hangout –With having a young child hours away from her grandmother. Skype has become a norm in my house (even the two year old knows how to Skype grandma independently of her parents) and Google Hangout is one platform I have tested for my own knowledge. In a conversation with our new reading coach, she mentioned some authors which we might use this year who Skype with students — this is a priority come this fall.
- Ed Scape Conference — I love going to PD on my own terms — Ed Scape is one of them. I want to get a group of colleagues to attend this fall — October 18, 2014 at New Milford High School (N.J.).