Testing 1, 2, 3…

Hello Again!

You have probably forgotten me by now. I have been off learning new tech skills in Austin, then on Spring Break in Tennessee, then out, unexpectedly, on bereavement leave in Louisiana. Needless to say, I am exhausted. I am slowly dragging my feet back to reality and back to work. I know there are many of you who are in my shoes right now: worn out.

BUT! There is good news because it is STAAR testing week. I know what you are thinking: STAAR testing week is NOT good news. Well, I am here to tell you that it is! Use this week to recoup. There is nothing more you can do now. The test is here. So, take time this week to be filled again. What I am offering is something called a Professional Learning Network or PLN. That sounds super fancy for what it actually is: connections to people who inspire you or educate you. A PLN can be simply reading my blog when I send things out, or it could be live Twitter convos using 140 characters or less with integrated hashtags.

So, today I want to recommend one of my people I use for my PLN: Jennifer Gonzalez. She writes a regular blog which provides support, ideas, new tech, and awareness to what is happening in education today. Today’s post is about dealing with slow working students in the classroom. She has gathered resources and strategies to share with us, and now I am sharing with you. Feel free to browse her blog for other interesting topics as well as check out her book: Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School.

Think about what she offers then add your own thoughts below if you’d like to contribute. See you all soon!

A Few Strategies to Help Slow-Working Students


What’s the big deal about technology?


I am out of town this week. My bosses graciously approved my attendance to the SXSWedu conference in Austin. I am surrounded by gurus. Everyone is good (or great) at some skill, aspect, or theory on the state of education and the imperative role of technology to become the transformative source that it has been in so many other areas of society. And, while I am techy, I still turn everything off on a regular basis. I also ask the question, what’s the big deal anyway?

I think about Facebook, and remember that honestly, sometimes Facebook ruins my day. On those days, I hide my account then I delete the app and log out of my computer’s bookmarked page. For days on end, and sometimes only minutes, I power off my phone. I find myself rolling my eyes about my robotic, compulsive check for new texts, so I force a disconnect. Technology annoys  me. Mostly, it annoys me because of who I have become: someone dependent on technology. I often find myself questioning why I need any of it at all. Don’t get me wrong, I love my computer. I did painstaking research on the kind of memory and graphics card I wanted to run the video games I play. But, when it comes down to it, it’s just for fun. It is a toy. I don’t need toys, I only want them. And what’s more, I don’t want to be dependent on them.

This brings me full circle back to the question, what’s the big deal anyway? Can technology really be something substantial in the classroom, something worth using, or is it just another toy for centers? Is it just a way for teachers to disconnect from the students after a long week of testing? And while I have a love-annoyed relationship with my tech, I still come to the same conclusion, it can be a an effect tool to promote real learning but there are conditions.

The conditions truly depend on you, the teacher. If you drop a tool in their lap without considering, planning, and creating an effective use of the tool, we both know it’s useless and just burns time. If we show a student how to do something using technology but never ask them to explore and create with it, then what’s the point? Sure, your admin will love to see students working on the device that they paid for, but we all know what it looks like on the outside doesn’t always reflect what’s on the inside.

So what should we do? Pick one tool. Learn it. Then plan to use it. Once you have integrated it, expand with it. Google search what others out there are doing with it. Go to the teacher’s lounge and talk about it. See what your coworkers think even if they aren’t using the tool yet. The best ideas come from collaborating WITH people, not from creating a safe bubble in your room where you are the center of knowledge, where you are the end- all-be-all of your curriculum. There is a world wide web with ingenious tools waiting for you to be a guide for your students. Teaching students to be dependent on technology  is in all reality teaching them to be dependent on themselves to find answers, to find others, and in the end, to find themselves.

Yesterday Doesn’t Always Work For Today

I have been thinking about why teachers (some not all) have such a resistance to learn something new. It seems so ridiculous that educators refuse to learn just like the students they face everyday. My background is teaching both high school and college English. I know about the students who refuse to help themselves and who flounder in distractions. Is this just our default reaction when we are put in the student seat or is this a way to let off steam by becoming another teacher’s worst nightmare?

I am a compulsive problem solver, so it completely consumes me when I am in a training surrounded by professional teachers who refuse to be open to new ideas. What’s the deal with that? Why are teachers notorious for being stuck in their ways while also living a vocational lifestyle that expects their students to have an open mind? I guess I could throw words around like “irony” and “hypocrisy” but complaining about the problem doesn’t fix the problem.

So, what is the problem?

I think the problem, especially when it comes to learning new technology, is that what worked for yesterday doesn’t always work for today. How we learned as kids, as students, and as humans has always been founded on experience. We have spent a lifetime learning from our poor choices or from others’ poor choices. We have been influenced by teachers teaching the way they were taught. We have been shaped by our parents who have been shaped by their parents who were shaped by their parents. The problem isn’t with our reliance on tradition, but with our reliance on experience. In so many aspects of life and in the classroom, our experience is what supports us, informs us, and ultimately defines us. But, when it comes to technology, this logical approach no longer works. It isn’t just that technology is “new.” It is more about that technology is ever changing. What I learned about social media started with AOL and chatrooms. Now there’s an endless amount of tools to do the same thing: talk to people. Experience plays such a limited role now when learning technology, especially when using it in a classroom that teachers turned students seem to shut down. This isn’t just learning a new skill, it is learning a new mindset.

So, what do we do? I hope that if we change our expectations for how we should learn technology, then maybe we will give ourselves the freedom to fail and to not be an expert, which will in turn allow us to experiment. Experimentation is what is needed in order to take on all that technology is. It is time to accept that you cannot rely on what you already know to learn and integrate technology. You must rely on your willingness to imagine, create, and experiment which for some has not been accessed since they were a student in school.

What now?

So, you have the “device” and you have the go-ahead. What’s next? Your students sometimes have access but not always, and yet somehow you are supposed to integrate technology. How and how often? And what does that even mean, integrate?

I will tell you!

Integrating technology is a process, so it really can’t have a static definition… just like a website. It is always changing since it is always evolving as the technology itself is evolving. In fact, let this blog be symbolic of the process of integration. It too will develop and change as fun tools surface and disappear. Sometimes it will be layered, and sometimes it will be simple and straightforward. Bottom line: whatever it is today is ok because tomorrow it can be totally different or similarly the same. You choose!

So where to start? If you are a super beginner, pick one tool that sounds fun for you and for your students and learn it. Get good at it. Find video tutorials to help you instead of waiting on the helpdesk or your edTech. Then, integrate it however you think it might fit for you. This is just the beginning of innovation, which is the real long term goal of integration. If you are comfortable with the tools you are already using, pick one and look for videos or lessons on the internet that are using that tool. Find other educators out there who may be using the tool differently. Your job is to expand the tool, not just use it!

Here is an example/idea for you:

Kahoot is so hot right now. Kahoot is a trivia style game that allows teachers to make their own quizzes which students can play. The game ranks students by speed and accuracy. After every question, it shows how the group did on each answer choice as well as shows a top 5 for each round. In order to play, the players need a second device be it iPad, tablet, laptop, or smartphone. They just need access to the web. The game questions display through a Promethean Board while the students answer on their device. Super fun! Obviously, there are other details about how to play the game, but it is up to you to discover it when you try it out!

Super Beginners: Learn to use Kahoot! Practice creating quizzes (hint: use quizzes you’ve already made, just transfer them to Kahoot). Get students comfortable with the game so they know how to play. Once they know, they will look forward to a Kahoot lesson!

Already Knowers: So you’ve used Kahoot before? No big deal, eh? Well have you used it for Discussions and Surveys? These are alternatives to the quiz option. Look at how it works by making a sample, then imagine how it might be useful to you and TRY IT! Have you used the public Kahoot quizzes to help you out? Search for topics you are interested in. Find one you want; then edit it to make it exactly what you want!

INNOVATORS: You have already OWNED Kahoot? Well, what else can you do with it? How can you use Kahoot for learning new content instead of for formative assessment? How can you teach vocabulary with it? Does a quiz have to be treated like a quiz? Can you take a grade with it? Have you let students take charge yet? They can make their own accounts you know! It’s free! How COULD students OWN Kahoot as well as you have? Have you asked the students themselves? What do they want to do with it?

Don’t just play Kahoot. Learn with Kahoot.