Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Our 1:1 iPad Learning Showcase

This past week culminated in a student-led "learning showcase." We had a wonderful, authentic audience of parents, grandparents and assorted others who came to find out how the 1:1 iPads are being used for learning in 4th/5th grade.

Our current 4th grade graphic designer created an invitation flyer.

4th and 5th graders, working in groups of three, shared the following apps or groups of apps: 

Word Work Apps (the students chose to show Free Rice and Words With Friends)
Notes and Sketchbook 
Hachtavah (an app used for learning Hebrew spelling)

Using a "speed-geeking" format, each group of student experts had five minutes present to a small audience. After five minutes the audience rotated to another table. The goal was to keep the focus on how the app was used for learning. 

As part of the student's preparation, each group of three was responsible for:
  • a learning flyer explaining how the app is used for learning
  • a "how-to" flyer, showing some basic steps for 
  • using the tool
  • quality examples from the classroom

The Tellegami team created this Tellegami-

Learning Showcase from Andrea Hernandez on Vimeo.

Feedback and Reflection
The feedback on the learning showcase was tremendously positive.
Some comments from teachers who attended:
"Experiencing our students teaching the apps to their parents and to others, like me, made me want to learn more about the subject that they were teaching.  It shows how much they know and how much confidence they have in their skills.  It was so impressive that some of the participants were asking for more. "

"...it was really impressive . The students were well prepared, enthusiastic, respectful and joyful."

Parents loved learning from their children. One grandmother said it was the best "program" she has ever been to at the school and that she is now planning to buy an iPad for her younger grandson. It was requested that we give a repeat performance for other classes and adults.

As for me, I love seeing the students doing this kind of work that feels real and meaningful. I always have super-high expectations, so I always see room for growth and improvement. I felt that we spent a little more energy focused on the apps than on the learning. However, that was not entirely the fault of the students. The adults tended to ask a lot of technical questions which, of course, the students were happy to answer. The students are also still learning to reflect on learning, so that part is a little harder for them.
There were some really wonderful examples of partnership and teamwork with the students, although some worked better than others. Overall, the students shined. Even the shy students seemed comfortable with the format.

Friday, January 10, 2014

...It's Who You Know

There are probably millions of posts that have been written about the power of social networking. In fact, I may have even written one or two myself. I missed the "official" connected educator month, when many people shared appreciation for those upon whose shoulders they stand. But, I'm feeling it now.

I've always been a networked teacher is some small ways. In fact, when I applied for Google Teacher Academy, one of the questions was to describe an obstacle in your professional life and how you overcame it. My answer (below) was about the challenge of a being a natural-born collaborator working in a traditionally isolated profession.

I have been teaching for 20 years. My classroom was never what you would call “traditional.” I have always sought to engage students in meaningful, authentic learning experiences. An obstacle for me, early on in my career, was the feeling that I was the only one. I loved teaching, but I often felt isolated.  I was lucky to find a few educators with whom I could collaborate and share successes and frustrations. I even changed jobs to be able to work with someone of like-mind. Teaching is different now. Technology has opened up a world of opportunities to connect and share with others.  Teachers are no longer limited to working with and learning from the colleagues in their own buildings. I no longer feel isolated or lonely. I thrive on the give and take, the challenge, and the sharing. I was meant to be a connected educator.  

In the years since I started blogging and tweeting, I've come to rely on this network of people, this "PLN" for so many things. Sometimes I ask direct questions and receive or don't receive direct answers. Often, though, it's more of an osmosis-like influence that has kept me moving and growing, that bolsters me when I question myself.

More and more I am coming to believe that education, like parenting, has no "right" answers and maybe only a few ways that are truly wrong (as in harmful to the spirit). We educators are finding our way every day. Every class is different, every student presents unique learning needs and challenges. Our collective obsession with figuring out the one-size-fits-all formula for success is the essence of the problem.
Image Credit

As I have switched professional roles this year, I find that I am constantly reflecting on my own experiences through the lens of the generously-shared reflections of others. There is the big group of educators and within that, there are subgroups with various interests- math people, high school teachers, administrators, etc. I used to be (and still am in many ways) a generalist, hence the "edtechworkshop" brand. Now I find myself really honing in on literacy, and the network does not disappoint.

There are so many amazing teachers who believe what I believe and by writing and sharing, are helping me to better understand and articulate my own philosophy. Because teaching is such an art-form, it is necessary to constantly question and grow. Without connection, learning is not possible.

Standing water quickly becomes a stagnant breeding ground for mosquitoes. I don't wish to be stagnant (and I hate mosquitoes). Connected water is the stuff of life.
I hesitate to name specific people who have influenced and continue to influence me because there are so many. It would be like the puddle trying to name each raindrop that helped it grow. But I do want to say THANK YOU.

  • Thank you to the people who take the time to write and share your thoughts. 
  • A very sincere thank you to the people who read MY thoughts. Even more so, thank you to those who actually connect with my writing and comment on or share it with others. 
  • Thank you to those who are courageously "calling-out" the fear-based practices that have, for way too long, characterized and formed what we call education. 
  • Thank you to those who kindly take the time to answer a specific question I ask in a tweet. 
  • Thank you to those ambitious educators who create experiences from which I and my students benefit (such as the Global Read Aloud). 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Practice Learning Hard Things

In my last post, I wrote about pushing ourselves outside of the comfort zone in order to be better teachers by becoming better learners. I ended that post with:
In the new year, let's resolve to become better teachers by making learning a habit, the kind of learning that stretches us and feels uncomfortable. I believe this is the most important and vital thing you can do to become a better teacher. 
What will you learn?
I thought I would share two small, personal experiences with learning outside my comfort zone in the past year, as well as some reflections on how it impacted me as both learner and teacher.

First, I went to a Dance Trance class. This might not seem like a big deal, but you will have to take my word for it that this type of choreographed dance class is WAY far out of my comfort zone. It was extremely challenging, and, despite wanting to flow with it, I was absolutely awful. It is like I have a disability in this area.

Encouragement Leads to A Feeling of Possibility
I reflect on this experience, thinking about students I teach for whom reading and writing do not come naturally, just as learning choreographed dance moves does not come naturally for me.

What did I need in that situation? What would motivate me to continue to practice? What would help me overcome my difficulty and get better? What could the teacher have done for me?

No amount of critical feedback would have been useful for me at that point. I was trying very hard. What I needed was encouragement. 
The most helpful thing that a teacher could have offered to me would have been to notice and point out what I did right.

Encouragement leads to a feeling of possibility. At the outset, the most important thing for the struggling learner is to be motivated to return to this difficult activity and try again. A beginner is not helped by critical feedback. That comes further down the line. Grading my progress would not have been helpful at all. I already knew I wasn't getting it. What I needed was encouragement and a vision of myself that included possibility that I could actually learn this.

The Power of Practice

The second thing I learned out of my comfort zone in 2013 was to read Torah. I began this process right around the same time as the dance class. I had the same initial feeling of being overwhelmed with both activities. The difference was that with the dance class I only went once, whereas with the Torah reading, I continued to practice, taking it in small chunks and returning to it again and again. Ultimately, I was successful at learning the Torah portion.

What is interesting to me was how my enjoyment of the activity evolved as I began to become more competent. When something is highly challenging for me, I start out with timed practice. I force myself, using a timer, to practice for 5 minutes, then 10 minutes. As I experience the success of learning, that feeling
becomes its own motivation for returning to practice.

I also had a "due date" of my daughter's bat mitzvah by which I had to be prepared to share my Torah reading publicly. I think this helps as well in motivating practice.

Frustration and Struggle
Frustration is part of the learning process. We have to learn to stop fearing and fighting it. By continually pushing ourselves we come to understand what it means to try, to practice, to learn. Doing what is easy does not create the deep satisfaction that comes with true achievement.

Getting in touch with the challenges of learning makes us more compassionate and effective teachers.