Tuesday, December 3, 2013

It's funny, isn't it?

It's funny, isn't it? How one moment... one person... one teacher... can change your life?

Life is a series of interactions, of choices, of decisions, of circumstances that build and shape every part of who you are.

20 years ago my parents let me decide whether or not to skip the 2nd grade. A life changing decision left in the hands of a 7 year old.

12 years ago I got to do a job shadow, and if you'd asked me what I'd be as a "grown up," I would have told you I'd be a doctor - a surgeon, to be exact.

11 years ago I took a Chemistry class that ended my dream of becoming a doctor. I left the class feeling like I could never be good enough at any of it to accomplish my dream. Now I wanted to be a lawyer.

9 years ago I headed off to Luther College and discovered Law was maybe not my thing, though I loved history and politics, and changed my life plan to include Social Studies teacher.

8 years ago I restarted my college journey at Iowa State, following the death of my father, only to find that they didn't offer Social Studies certification. Back to Law School!

7 years ago Iowa State changed their minds. Now I can teach!

5 years ago Northeast Hamilton took a chance on an idealistic kid.

1 year ago Prairie Lakes AEA decided to create 4 new tech integration positions.

Here I am. Do I make my decisions and way in this world, or do the decisions of others create the path that is before me?

Who are you? Are you helping others find their way? Are you shaping lives in positive ways?

Ultimately it's a combinations of the positives and negatives and my actions and your actions that brought me to where I am. It could be divine intervention, it could be random chance.

But it's funny, isn't it? How all the pieces come together? It's funny how we find our way in life. Be a positive force. Be a role model. Create. Make. Do. Your actions and inactions don't impact your life alone - you shape and impact and change the world around you with every move you make. Or don't make.

So if everything you do and don't do impacts everything around you, you might as well make it count. Make it matter.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Why my 5 year old has Twitter

My 5 year old son (@AadenLK78) and my 7 year old daughter (@RyleeBK) both have Twitter accounts. I can guarantee, unless you already know the value of being a connected learner, that you probably think I'm crazy right now.

"Who cares what a 5 year old had for breakfast?"

"What does a 7 year old have to share on Twitter?"

"Why would you put your children 'out there'?"

I care.
Rylee cares.
Aaden cares.

My children will grow up in an environment where they are encouraged to have a voice and opinion about the things they are passionate about.

My children will grow up in an environment where they are excited to share their learning and their ideas with the world.

My children will grow up in an environment where they are guided by a responsible adult from an early age through the tangled web of pros and cons of social media.

My children will grow up in an environment where being a good digital citizen is valued.

About a year and a half ago my Street Law students created a video about cyber-bullying. We had in depth conversations about the hurt and pain behind social media, and we shared our stories. We used twitter to ask other people to share their stories, and this is what they came up with:

These stories, along with stories of those like Rebecca Sedwick, are heartbreaking. These stories are why I have chosen to educate my children from an early age.

I would never hand kids a car and say have fun - we spend time as parents teaching them (from a very young age if you live on a farm!), they take courses, and there are guided pathways and exams to teach about responsibility. But I also would never sit a kid in a class about driving for 15 hours, have them pass a test, and declare them qualified to drive. The hands-on practice is an essential part of that. Does it work out perfectly? No, there are still accidents. We live in an imperfect world. Do I always send my text messages to the person I intended? No, because I'm not always paying attention. But my children and I have conversations about appropriate things to share and about talking to strangers in a digital world just like we do about our physical reality. Students get fire safety, tornado drills, and character lessons from PreK on - where is the digital safety/citizenship piece of that conversation?

But while we do have those conversations, the focus is more about the good that they can do. They share their ideas, creations, and experiences. The looks on their faces when they read comments from others about their work, or read tweets written TO them, is priceless. You'd think it's Christmas morning! It's not because it's digital, it's because someone in this great big world has valued their ideas and their opinions! Feeling validated for their work at 5 years old, or 7 years old, has inspired in them a drive to create and share more.

We spend an exorbitant amount of time and energy telling kids no, no, no, and don't, don't, don't. I believe there is a place in which we can teach responsibility and accountability in schools and at home, which is why my children each have a blog (Rylee's and Aaden's) and an account on Twitter. However, there also needs to be an emphasis on the POSITIVE things we can do with social media! If we spent more time empowering kids to create something positive and amazing with their voice instead of trying to block and ban them, we might get somewhere.

My children have voices. They are passionate, creative, inquisitive individuals. They have stories to tell. I have provided them with a public, but guided way to express those qualities and stories.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

But what if my kid can't use an encyclopedia?!

My morning routine started like it normally does, wake up, check Twitter, check Facebook, get kids ready for school... As I was checking Facebook this morning, I came across the following post (Original post was something along the lines of "I hate that the kids are getting iPads") and 42 responses...

These two are my favorite, but let me pick out the best parts for you.

It looks like somebody missed the memo that Encyclopedia Britannica stopped printing encyclopedias after its 2010 volume, citing that it had long since moved toward a business focus on its online educational materials. 

And I know everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but as a parent of 3 awesome kids, I do not wake up in the morning saying, "I hope your life is hard, because mine was, and I made it." I work my butt off to make sure they have the tools they need to be successful. I want them to not only have the amazing experiences I did growing up, but to give them bigger, better, more exciting opportunities. And then I want them to share those experiences with the world.

To quote Scott McLeod, whose video I'm about to share with you, "I want to tell you a different story about youth and technology." 

What about the students in my colleague Erin Olson's classroom who are using *gasp* Twitter to share their voice? Or the students in my own classroom who, when asked to identify what they NEEDED in their education, came up with ideas like technology, internship opportunities, hands-on learning, and personalized learning opportunities. My students, who were able to learn from people across Iowa, Hawaii, Minnesota, Sweden, and South Africa. My children, who travelled through space using their iPads. Kids are doing amazing things, and experiencing life outside of their four classroom walls, and writing, publishing, and creating for a real life audience.

Setting our kids up for failure isn't handing them iPads. Setting our kids up for failure is continuing to educate them in a system that was built for how we lived 100 years ago. We cannot keep preparing students for a world that will not exist by the time they are ready to enter the job market. And it's not just a world that won't exist, but a world that doesn't exist. Even living in rural Iowa, you have to see how even something as basic to us as farming has changed in the last 10 years.

We're not quite here yet, but check out John Deere's vision of the future of farming:

If you are lucky enough to have students in a district where they've been provided with devices that will allow them to produce, publish, create, explore, and contribute to the world around them, get excited! Challenge your students and their teachers to use that technology to do something amazing; to transform their educational experience. But please, please don't underestimate the amazing opportunities being offered to children all across the globe as technology becomes faster, cheaper, and easier to use.

Monday, September 16, 2013

PK-2: We can do it too!

In all the times over the years that I have prepped for a presentation I have never once felt the gut-wrenching sense of urgency and need that I felt while preparing to share this presentation today. I even got a little choked up as I shared during my second session, trying to describe the impact that feedback on a video had had on my son's life. We cannot wait on this any longer.

Think for a minute. How many of you have kids? Or know kids? Or teach kids - that you would go to the ends of the earth to help? To provide a life-changing education? When you think about those kids is there ANYTHING you wouldn’t do to offer them the world? To engage them? To empower them?

Some of the educators in the room today I knew, others I didn't, but what I know about every single one of them, based simply on the profession they chose, is that THEY KNOW that our youngest learners can do amazing things. And what I asked them to do today was spend 45 minutes a journey with me, looking at some ways we can continue to offer these LITTLE kids BIG opportunities.

Me must take our youngest learners and help them find their voice. Express to them early on how much their voice matters. We cannot afford to wait until they are 10, 11, 12 - they are living in a world in which EVERY voice matters. EVERY voice can make a difference. That includes 5 year old voices. Six year old voices.

If you look at Kathy Cassidy's blog you find learners who have an entirely different vocabulary than they did even ten years ago. How amazing is it that these 6 year olds are talking about sharing their learning and connecting with others?

I challenged the educators I spoke with today to take their most phenomenal lessons and look at how they might step it up a notch to empower their students. Or to take a lesson that seemed a little flat and rework it a bit to engage students in a powerful, authentic learning experience.

I can tell you, I have seen first hand how a kids’ face will light up when someone communicates that they have watched or appreciated his work. Here’s an example my son made. We took one of his Kindergarten projects that he was SO excited to share with me. I heard the story over and over and over. So we recorded it. And he shared it with his grandparents. He shared it with his aunts and uncles. We put it on Facebook. But beyond that, we shared it with the world. I could literally see the pride on his face when I showed him the comments on his work.

Primary school teachers have students who are more creative, more trusting, more inquisitive, and more innovative than almost any other learners we will see throughout the course of their school careers. We must harness that power and model how to use their voice in a positive way. I love the idea of taking this group of kids who are so innately driven and fearless and giving them a stage on which to produce and share their creations.

I asked Kathy Cassidy this summer why she uses blogs and twitter with her first grade class. She told me because it creates a more authentic learning experience. The kids focus on writing in a focused 140 characters. They read tweets and comments that are written FOR THEM. How powerful is that? Her kids tweet. They share. They converse. The question. They use hash tags geared toward learning events. Matt Gomez’s kids have a map of all their “twitter friends”.

These teachers are creating authentic learning experiences for their students. They know that their kids have powerful things to say. Your kids have powerful things to say. I want to challenge you to find an audience for your kids. It might be parents right now. You may not be ready to share a blog with the world yet, and that’s okay. But there are a lot of people out there who can help you make those steps.

I know that each and every educator I spoke with today is working hard to do something amazing with his or her students. I know YOU are working hard to do amazing things with your students. And I want you to share it. The educators I met with today shared their successes on a Padlet, and I shared a resource bank that I collected, as well.

Birth to 5 years is the most important developmental period of a person's life. These kids matter. Their voice matters and their ideas are worth sharing. How are you changing your students' lives? How are you helping your students share their voice? I said it once, but it's worth repeating: we cannot afford to wait until these children reach an age that WE think is appropriate to have a voice. We cannot wait to teach them how amazing and powerful their voice truly is. They have thoughts and they have ideas and they have the power to change the world. We must give them the tools, the guidance, and the support to do that.

Change a life. Let your students BE AWESOME. Help them share their awesome.

*Thank you @mattbgomez for letting me share some of his resources, @mrfsfirstgrade and @kathycassidy for Skyping with me and sharing thoughts and resources, @TammyMassman for inspiring me

Friday, September 6, 2013

Oh the places you'll go... with technology

Tonight I went on a journey with my kids. A few weeks ago we spent some time learning and talking about heroes and super heroes. Tonight Rylee asked if we could please learn again like we did for the heroes. Obviously as a parent I couldn't say no, so she chose to do a "lesson" on planets and space. We started while I was making dinner by watching this:

Side note - why don't more people teach like Miss Frizzle? They are hands on, messy, problem-solvers in this classroom! And the kids are excited to come back each day. In this episode she ripped a map in half, took the half they needed, and told them to come find her by figuring it out. The proceeded to give hints along the way until the kids were successful. Sounds like good learning to me!

About the time the show was over, they had finished eating, so we moved on to the book the kids had ordered from their Scholastic book order.

And took some notes about what we had learned.

I then suggested we write a story and make a movie about what they knew about planets. Rylee set to work writing down her thoughts and the story she wanted to share, while Aaden and I "built the set" (including wrapping his football helmet in foil so that it could be an astronaut helmet) and found pictures for our green screen - we even talked about Creative Commons while we searched for pictures that we were allowed to use. 

It was at this point that I learned a lot about my kids. Aaden was happy just to cheese it up and play. I think it's part age (5) and part personality. You'll see what I mean in the video. 

Rylee, on the other hand, can be seen holding up a hand-drawn picture in each of her frames. Between each "take" she would return and check her notes. 

Both kids had a creative process, but they went about it in a very different way. It was interesting for them to watch each other. We talked about how Rylee had created a story board, while Aaden enjoyed doing "improv". Our whole adventure took us somewhere around 2 hours, at which point it was bed time and I spent another hour editing their video. 

Another side note - I am still learning the green screen app AND iMovie, so forgive the imperfections. At least I'm trying. :) Next time we'll get an earlier start and I'll have THEM do the editing in iMovie.

But ultimately, it took about 3 hours to work through this entire process. The kids got to read, watch, act, play, take notes, and now have a video (not a super video, but a video, nonetheless) of themselves in space. What kind of experiences could you offer your kids? Your students? With technology?

Saturday, August 31, 2013

What’s Wrong With “School”

"What's wrong with school? Why don't you get more excited to be here?" I had to ask. I wasn't sure I wanted to know, but I had to ask. Knowing I will be going out and trying to inspire educators to make the world, or at least their world, a better, more engaging, more meaningful place for students, I had to know what we were up against. So I asked some kids: What's wrong with "school"? Their responses are bulleted. 

  • At least 55% of the information I will never use in real life

Now I'm pretty sure this number came out of nowhere, but the point here is that these students felt that MOST of what they were being taught was irrelevant to daily living. We have one of two problems here: 

1. They're right.
2. They aren't being shown how what they're learning IS relevant.

How can you remedy that? Is your content irrelevant? Are you presenting it in the right way?
  • Teachers are mean with no reason - not understanding something is not reason to yell
I don't have an argument here. I think this is pretty meaningful. Haven't you ever been frustrated trying to learn something? My husband tried to teach me to golf. He tries to be really patient, but sometimes I know he gets frustrated. Just because I'm not understanding the correction he's trying to help me make does not mean I'm not trying to make the correction. Come at it in a different way. Have somebody else tell me! Because eventually, you're going to get mad and I'm going to shut down. And that doesn't help anyone.
  • Not enough creativity - I get bored. We get bored doing the same thing every day.
One of the things that has really hit home with me from reading #TLAP this summer is the idea that just because you may not be super passionate about a certain topic, doesn't mean you can't make it exciting. And when you can share excitement and passion and enthusiasm about something, your students are going to want to get in on it.

I'll be honest. I'm guilty of this. I tried not to do it often, but I will admit it did happen. There were some topics that I wanted students to be familiar with but that I just wasn't that excited about. Once in a while that meant we used the chapter in the book - section by section, took some notes, a test at the end, and moved on. It happened less and less the longer I taught, but I'm embarrassed to admit it happened at all. So I want to share a different example, too.

I hated Econ. It was the subject I was least excited to teach to my students. So instead of working through the book like we did the first year I taught, so I ordered Thomas Friedman's "The World Is Flat" and began teaching that. We tied in the Iowa Core in some very different ways than a traditional economics class, but my kids got real-world views of the job market, the type of education they were receiving, where new markets and technologies were taking us, and what that meant to their future. And I was a better teacher because I found a way I could be passionate about the topic.
  • Teaching the same old thing, not updating lessons for modern students
With all of the amazing tools and opportunities available to us via technology I am baffled by the number of people teach just like it was done 30 years ago - or worse, 100 years ago. Start small. Make a commitment to try one new thing this term. I have faith that you can do more, but at least try one.
  • Not allowed to make mistakes without penalty - If I try and fail, I shouldn’t get in trouble
Failure is how we learn! Have you ever had a lesson fall flat? Did you get fired? If you did, that sucks. If you didn't, which I'm guessing is much more likely, remember that and offer your students the same kind of mentoring and suggestions and critiques and scaffolding that you were offered to improve your lessons.
  • We are all individuals - don’t compare me to others
In our world of high stakes testing that's all we do, right? Compare how Iowa did to how Massachusetts did? How Waukee did to how Johnston did? How Bobby did to how Susie did? But when is the last time you learned something exactly the same way and at exactly the same pace as your colleague? Or even your sibling or neighbor? 
  • Be patient!
These are kids, and they are growing up, and they are learning, and most of the time they are doing their best while trying to find their place in the world. Cut them some slack once in a while.
  • Trust us
Remember to give your students opportunities to try. They might fall sometimes, they might miss the mark, and they might even make a poor choice. But when they know that you're trusting them to be great - to do their best and to make good choices, they usually don't want to disappoint you. You get the respect you give.
  • We don’t always like to write papers - we like to create things and do projects!
We all know writing is important. But if we don't give kids the opportunity to create, what will there be to write about? Let them get down and dirty with the content. Let them make their mark on the world - and then let them write about it. But don't just have them write about it, have them publish it; share it; use it; read it - anything to get their voice out into the world about what they've created; learned; mastered.
  • Take the time to develop a relationship with us - encourage us, get to know us
Very few things will take your farther in your efforts with your students than taking the time to get to know them as individuals. And if you can take what you learn about them and turn it into a lesson that inspires them to do something great, you will have created a life-long learner. 

These kids are smart. They had a lot of great advice. Which parts will you listen to? I wish I'd asked this one day 1 in my classroom. Try and use it in yours.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Aaden's Hungry Caterpillar

My children are obsessed with telling and sharing stories using Videolicious. This is the story Aaden told tonight using a "prop" he created in his Kindergarten class. Rylee's turn it tomorrow after she "gathers some things around the house to show". I don't know what she's gathering, but I'll add another one when we get hers done. It's funny how something as simple as creating this 1 minute video gets kids so excited!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Bring on Mammoth!

Check out the review I did of the new Mammoth program over on our "work blog"! I think it has potential. If you haven't signed up yet to reserve your name/get your page started, you can do it here!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I want my kids to...

Go there!

             Have that teacher!

                                  Do that!

Do people say this about your district? Your classroom? Your work?

Do you say this about where your children go to school? The work that they do?

Too often I think the answer is "No" or "Not often enough".

What if your students' did this?

Or if your kids' learning experience was like this?

What do you want your kids to do? How will you make a learning space where kids are excited to pop out of bed in the morning (which is exactly what my son did this morning for his first day of Kindergarten)? Or as the new year starts and kids are excited to come back to school - how will you maintain that enthusiasm and not give them more of the same? How many of your students will be sad to leave in May/June?

Start somewhere. Pick one unit. One lesson. Make it something that people say, "I want my kids to do that!" or even "*I* want to do that!"


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Caine's Arcade: Imagination + Exposure = Endless Possibilities

The other night I was watching TV and came across this amazing story on NBC Nightly News. 

Meet Caine, a little boy from East L.A. Caine spent the summer in his father's auto parts store, and used tape and old cardboard to create his own arcade. A filmmaker came into the store to buy a part, and was so inspired by Caine's creativity that he turned Caine's work into a movie, shared it online, and over the last year Caine's arcade has become a global movement. Caine was invited to be a guest lecturer at USC, has been featured in numerous publications, and inspired a global initiative to foster creativity in children through the "Cardboard Challenge". Caine now has over $250,000 in his college fund stemming from donations by people he inspired. If you needed yet another example of the power of sharing your students' work and allowing them to be makers and creators, here it is!

*Cross Posted

Monday, August 12, 2013

What kind of teacher are you? aka Boom!

Here comes the...

I was watching a mediocre Kevin James movie a couple weeks ago, Here Comes the Boom, about a teacher who becomes an MMA fighter in order to raise money for his school’s music program.

He starts out as this kind of teacher... 

Hiding behind the paper, avoiding the one hand in the room that is raised. He is disengaged, tells his students that outside of the classroom this stuff won’t matter anyway (he’s a Biology teacher... if there was a subject that would matter in the outside world, you’d think this would be it!). Are you this kind of teacher? Just trying to get through the day to the weekend? Hoping that nobody comes into your room to check on you? Living in a silo where you get through your day 45 minutes at a time? How many teachers do you know like this? I hope not very many, if any.

There’s a line in the movie where he says, “But I was teacher of the year” and the principal replies, “that was 10 years ago”. He hadn’t done anything since, was skating by on a reputation from a time when he had been motivated.

But then there is this guy. Kevin James walks down the hall to the snack machine. He hears the band playing and walks into a dilapidated classroom where students are creating something beautiful, despite broken instruments and budget cuts. 

This teacher (Henry Winkler) is doing the best that he can with what he has, but is, at any given moment, on the verge of being ready to give up. He is going to push his students to be amazing for as long as he can, but even he has his breaking point. When the lack of funds, district support, and outside factors (parents and admin not thinking music is important enough) weigh too heavily on one person. This teacher is probably a more common one to see. The one that has been torn down, is running too hard, and would do anything for the students, but is trying to do it all on her own. I bet you know at least one of these teachers. 

Finally, there is this teacher: The NEW and IMPROVED version of Kevin James. This version of Kevin James’ character, through the circumstances of the movie, rededicates himself to his students. He finds his passion and motivation and isn’t going to let anyone keep him down. He’s working with and for the kids, but also with and for his colleagues. He’s creating a community in which the members care about each other. At first his students look at him like this:

Because he’s doing things like this:

and this:

But ultimately, when his community (district) works together, and not just the teachers, but the nurse, and the principal, and the KIDS are invested in the learning, in the education, in the environment, they end up with learning like this:


Where they’re not just getting by. Where one person isn’t hiding in his classroom while the guy down the hall struggles to take on the challenges of education by himself. Where they bring each other up for the sake of the community - the family - they’ve created. I mean hi, this teacher was willing to get his butt kicked in a UFC fight in Vegas so that he could raise the money to save his students’ music program. “Here Comes the Boom” is NOT a top 5 Kevin James movie by any means, but I took more away from it than probably any other movie I’ve seen this summer.

What kind of teacher will you be this fall? What kind of environment will you help create? 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Rylee & Aaden try Videolicious

Here is Rylee's Blog that she wrote today about using Videolicious. The other day I asked her if she would help me do awesome things. Without actually knowing what I meant by that, she agreed. One of the things she was excited to try was making videos. Since I don't have iMovie on my new iPad yet, we   tried out a new app (to me). We struggled to get all her information into one minute, but it was a good learning experience for both of us. She blogged about her experience (briefly) afterward.

She is a perfectionist, so she got upset that we had to keep doing it over and over in order to get her information (from her bottle lamb record book from the county fair) to fit with the slides. She didn't feel comfortable doing it from memory, so I helped her type up a script. She still ended up frustrated with the time limits, though.

However, after her 5 year old brother did it in just a few tries she was up for trying one last time. Aaden also worked with me to type a script and record his, and was really excited to watch it when he was finished. Here's his final product, view Rylee's on her blog (linked above)!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Power of PreK-2

The last week has left me physically and mentally exhausted. After 3 days in Storm Lake for our PLAEA team retreat and 2 days on the other side of the state in Cedar Rapids for iPadU, combined with getting sick, I am pretty much running on fumes. However, that didn't stop me from rolling out of bed and heading over to Kendall Young Library this morning so I could come get some work done in a quiet space.

The discussions, books, and sessions I talked about, analyzed, sorted through, tweeted about, and immersed myself in this week have my head spinning. Sure, anyone's head would be spinning after a week like that, but spinning around one central question: Are we doing enough to utilize the power of young learners in our primary classrooms?

Our youngest learners have yet to be "broken by the system", have not had their curiosity and enthusiasm stifled, and are at an age where they will do or say something every single day that surprises adults - whether it's funny, intellectual, or wise beyond their years. If you have kids or interact with much kids at all you'll know exactly what I'm talking about with that last one.

How can we harness this pure desire to learn and experience the world to help these kids see the true power and impact than can or could have in the world around them? How do we go about assisting them without limiting them with our own biases and preconceived ideas about how the world works?

I'm still pondering. As I said, my head is swimming, but I have some ideas that I'm really excited about. I'm not ready to share them yet, but if you know an educator or individual who is working with young learners to do amazing, authentic work, please leave me some contact info in the comment section. As I continue to work through this I'd like to start curating a list of some of our nation's best and brightest children and individuals who work with them.

I am not an "elementary person" by any means, but these 3 goofballs are helping me realize that the possibilities are limitless, and have challenged me to really think about the kind of education I want my children to have - from top to bottom.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Just get rid of it...

So we were at our team retreat this week in Storm Lake, and Scott (@mcleod) asked us to dream big. What would we do if we could do anything? After some initial fear on my part, not really knowing what "big" was, I decided that I would love to rethink ed tech in teacher prep. What if we get rid of it? Yep. You read that right. Can we get rid of the ed tech specific courses for undergrad?

Think about it. What's the problem? New teachers are graduating with a modeled perception that technology is an add-on - technology is a separate piece that they could think about adding in later. We model in our K-12 classrooms (I hope), so why don't we model in the post-secondary classroom? If we want new teachers to really grasp the idea that technology is something to use to extend teaching and content (not replace it), to offer new opportunities, to create unique and otherwise unavailable experiences, then we need to see that seamless integration into the methods classes, the assessment classes, and the principles classes.

Now I know what you're thinking. Then don't we have to teach the professors how to use these things and to be able to do this in their specific areas? Yep. Probably. But here's a better question. Why aren't professors already doing these things? EVERY kid comes to their class with a laptop, smart phone, tablet, something. Why not get them off of Facebook (yes, I was in college once too) and doing powerful things with technology in ALL their teacher ed classes instead of just the one labeled "Instructional Technology"?

I took classes in special education (where we did everything on paper - how many teachers today do ALL IEPs and interventions using strictly pencil and paper?), methods (where we looked at design in textbooks - the district I taught in wasn't even buying textbooks anymore), assessment (where we learned how to write a proper multiple choice question - the issues I have with that are for a whole different blog post), and more. And then I graduated, got a job, and between my own curiosity, my colleagues, and my Twitter feed, I re-taught myself how to do these things more efficiently, more effectively, and with a much deeper impact on student learning via technology than anything I learned in class.

I don't care how amazing your ed tech course is, teacher prep students aren't being exposed to the true impact of technology in the classroom soon enough or often enough. "Instructional technology" isn't app specific or tool specific - it's a pedagogy in itself (think TPACK here, people), and one that seems to be largely ignored until you get to the appropriately numbered course to address it.

So you've heard my proposal. We don't want reading to be just something done in the English classroom, we do it across the curriculum. We don't have a 1:1 class for students and then ask them to put their devices away for the real content (again, I hope). Let's help future teachers focus on the learning and understand how to use technology to make their best practices and powerful lessons even better. Technology isn't a "quick fix" for education, but you can't fight the idea of "technology as an extra add on" if that's the way it's taught.

*Disclaimer 1: I'm sure there are superb teacher prep programs somewhere that follow models closer to what I'm asking for, so I would love to hear about those.

**Disclaimer 2: I know that my own examples at the end seem to negate my argument - we do have reading specific classes and computer specific classes. So you're thinking, "well, do people argue for getting rid of those in order to promote their implementation in other classes? No, because that would be stupid." You're right. Getting rid of reading class would be stupid. Oh wait... how many general ed high school students take a reading specific class? I'm pretty sure it's integrated into their ELA class. And on the flip side, aren't ALL content teachers offered training in reading strategies or writing strategies (We got CRISS training in my district) to implement those things more effectively in all classes? As far as a computer class, I'd say get rid of that one too, in its current form.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Reflections on "Social Media... and stuff"

So after all that, here's what's left. If you missed my previous posts, you can check out "Social Media.. and stuff" Part 1 and Part 2
  1. Reality

We can debate philosophy and theory of education all you want, but ultimately, when it comes down to it, what everyone wants is a job. As of next fall, if you want to teach in Iowa, it is more likely than not that you will teach in some form of a 1:1 district. The district will have spent a lot of money on those devices, and WILL expect you to use said devices. Particularly for beginning teachers, choosing not to integrate student devices will likely come up in your evaluations.

You have a choice to make. You can choose to be a teacher who uses technology meaningfully, to create experiences and opportunities for your students that extend their learning beyond the traditional classroom... or not. I know I want my kids studying with a teacher who helps them reach heights they never thought possible. 

2. What I learned about myself as a presenter

I’m really struggling with the fact that I cannot directly express these sentiments to the group I talked to. I thought I was addressing how to leverage technology to create new opportunities for learners, and was thrown off my game a bit. There were great questions asked and valid concerns raised, but in hindsight, I either needed to take a moment to gather my thoughts (as I did here) or steer the conversation back to the idea that like it or not, technology is not going away, and I am here to share some positive methods of using it in your future classrooms.

I’m glad I was able to share the resources I prepared via my wiki (yay technology!), but I’m disappointed that I let the learning get derailed for those who were interested in what I had intended to share. While I never want to stifle quality discussion, I should have done a better job of bringing the discussion back to the topic at hand. I wasn’t going to be able to calm their fears in the time allotted and a lot of REALLY GREAT resources didn’t get shared because I tried. I focused on the wrong train car!

As I continue doing this work in my capacity as a tech integration consultant I feel like this was a great opportunity for me to grow and learn as an instructor. I have reflected and will be better next time. Who knows, maybe something I said will resonate with someone when they least expect it!

On an unrelated note, I now know what stellar parallax is (below)!

Social Media... and stuff (2 of 2)

Last week I gave a presentation on “Social Media in Education” to some future classroom teachers. What I prepped was a “Here’s the why”, “Here are some tools”, “Here is how you can use them personally/professionally” and “Here is what you can do with them in the classroom”. I wanted to model some tools along the way like Poll Everywhere, Today’s Meet, and Padlet. We didn’t get very far. The students raised some interesting questions and points (see bulleted points below) that I really needed time to reflect on (see rambling responses below bulleted points). The first part of this post went out on Saturday (7/6).
  • What research is there to support 1:1 teaching? 

There is research available if you look for it (Nick Sauers and Scott McLeod put together a great article on this exact topic!) , but I also have a couple of other thoughts. 

It’s not about the device - 1:1 is about access!

1:1 is what you make it. If you use your device as an overpriced worksheet, it will be as effective as a worksheet. One student voiced her concern about using technology for self-grading multiple choice questions. Her thought was WHY are we still using multiple choice questions as form of assessment when there are much better ways to assess student learning? I understand these things.

But what if you make it something bigger than a worksheet or a self-grading multiple choice quiz?

What if you are using your device as a means to create, connect, collaborate, and be a change agent? What if we are inspiring these qualities and nurturing these abilities in our students? What if we create a blog for a 1st grader to share her thoughts and views? She becomes excited about sharing her work (How many people do you think saw my blog?), she becomes aware of her writing (Did I spell these words right? Can you help me fix my mistakes?), and she becomes a young author who moves from sharing life experiences to creating stories. She gets feedback from teachers online AND in the halls, she works with classmates to develop ideas, and she recognizes that her voice is important. 

Rylee, age 7, sharing her blog

  • What will happen to our jobs if more courses are offered online?

This was the only question that really upset me, and I didn’t see it posted until later when I went back through the TodaysMeet. 

If what you are doing in the classroom can be wholly replicated in an online course, then you aren’t doing your job. At least not well. There is definitely something to be said for quality online and blended learning opportunities, but there is a lot more to school and education than putting content on a page. And the online courses that are TRULY meaningful and successful have a highly effective educator behind them who is available (maybe virtually, but definitely available), practicing sound pedagogy, and supporting the needs of the learners in the course. And that teacher still has a job - it just may not look like the “traditional” teaching job.

Social Media... and stuff (post 1 of 2 - stay tuned!)

Last week I gave a presentation on “Social Media in Education” to some future classroom teachers. What I prepped was a “Here’s the why”, “Here are some tools”, “Here is how you can use them personally/professionally” and “Here is what you can do with them in the classroom”. I wanted to model some tools along the way like Poll Everywhere, Today’s Meet, and Padlet. We didn’t get very far. The students raised some interesting questions and points (see bulleted points below) that I really needed time to reflect on (see rambling responses below bulleted points). 

  • Why is technology being placed above highly effective teaching?

I will never advocate for the use of technology for the sake of using technology. But the MEANINGFUL use of technology in the classroom can offer students opportunities that we previously had never even imagined. 

For example - one student shared that his 9th grade geography class was mostly coloring maps. I shared that my 7th grade geography class used Skype and various presentation tools to connect with a sales manager from India who was living in South Africa and spent time touring sub-Saharan Africa. He talked with us about culture, technology, farming, showed maps for location, pictures of the homes and environments, and shared first-hand experiences with my students who were studying sustainability in agriculture (one of the UN millennium developmental goals) in the region. Without technology, I would never have been able to offer my students an opportunity like this.

Technology is not the end all, be all. If you think it is you are in for a rude awakening. But on the way home I wondered - can you be, or are you, a highly effective teacher if you are not using the BEST resources as they apply to the content? You can’t use technology as the fix-all, but you also can’t avoid it and stay relevant. 

  • Technology is not the silver bullet that makes ineffective teachers more effective.
This one I completely agree with, and I never said it was (which they also agreed with, and added that their regular prof did not address it that way, either). But this is the impression they all seemed to have. If you are getting this message, you are not following the right people. My resources included articles from forward-thinkers like Steve Hargadon, Scott McLeod, and Vicki Davis, to name a few. If you don’t like the way administrators and legislators are pushing technology, then find a way to be a change agent! Be the voice that explains to the public, to the legislators, to your administrators, exactly what effective teaching looks like!

There are movements within the ed tech community to not only offer better training on the front end, in our teacher prep programs, but to find a way to offer it for those mid and late career educators who missed out in teacher prep. If you are not embracing the best tools in your classroom, technology based or otherwise, you will quickly become irrelevant.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

An Open Letter to My Students

Last Sunday our seniors at Northeast Hamilton walked across the stage and received their diplomas. As I watched them give their speeches and receive their awards, a couple of things struck me.

1. After four years at NEH I feel like I will be graduating as well.

2. Mr. Hocking's (@phock66) speech about embracing change applied to more than just the seniors - it's exciting, it's scary, it's inevitable.

Much like I'm sure the seniors felt, I am excited, nervous, sad, scared, anxious, and a whole other range of emotions about leaving in just a couple short weeks. I have eaten lunch with the same people, sat in the same seat, taught the same classes (to an extent - I never did have a year that was exactly the same as the last), and grown up and matured along the way - just like my students.

As I prepare to move on to my next adventure, I can't help but feel like I too am going on to "college". My new "college" is actually Prairie Lakes AEA, but I'm headed into a new environment with a lot more people, the "campus" is a lot more spread out (across NW Iowa), and I'll be making new friends, meeting new people, and growing as a professional under many people that I greatly admire. All while greatly missing the friends and

So in light of my own new journey, I wanted to share my version of a "graduation speech" in an open letter to my NEH students:

To my students, who have taught me so much over the last four years:

It seems that more and more over the last couple of years I find myself explaining to you not just the ideas related to our classroom, but the ideas that are coming out of education. Why we are studying the United Nations MDGs for sub-saharan Africa instead of learning the major cities of each country; what the future of our earth is in terms of globalization, competing markets, and what that means for our schools and education instead of the ins and outs of price floors and ceilings, the importance of sharing your work with a global audience and getting outside perspectives.

I hope that after I leave you will take these lessons and demand for yourselves the education you deserve - no matter where life takes you, which school district, which college, remember that you deserve a world class education. You deserve to be prepared for a world that is centered around innovation, creation, and collaboration. I hope I played a small part in pushing you in that direction. I know that I threw some different concepts, weird lessons, and "unique" learning formats at you, but even if it wasn't always your favorite way to learn I hope that I helped you see part of what could be out there for you.

Remember that your learning is just that - YOUR learning! So continue to find ways to apply math and science and history and language to areas that interest you, to explore different paths, to be open to creating your own way of doing things, and to NEVER be afraid to fail - because that's how you LEARN! You deserve a voice. Continue to use it. If the first way doesn't work, try again. What should you change? What could be done differently? Don't ever be afraid to reflect and learn from mistakes. I did - not every lesson was perfect, but I kept working to give you the best that I could.

To my 6th graders - you have taught me patience and perseverance. I saw so many of you have these qualities, and I think you'll agree sometimes needed them myself! ;-) I appreciate the way you are always willing to hep one another solve problems, and I know that each of you will continue to grow and mature into amazing individuals.

To my 7th graders - I have watched you guys grow up a lot this year, and am always amazed at the growth I can see from the beginning of the year to the end. Your class reinforced for me the ideas that diversity and individualization are key elements to the learning process. You also impressed me with your ability to take a project and make it your own - whether it was blogging, web designing, or Minecraft-ing. You guys taught me a lot about myself as an educator and as a person.

To the 8th grade - While I've only had you for a year you taught me a couple of key things. 1) Make sure you have fun in everything you do - dancing to Aicha is sometimes an appropriate way to end a class period, and 2) Trust is one of the most important parts of education - you guys trusted me, even though we were still getting to know each other, with some big, new projects and concepts this year, and I appreciate that. Whether it was reading Slave Girl or Gamifying our course, you went with me and we learned together.

My 9th grade - Squeakers, Cheeseburger, Giblatar (how the heck do you spell a word he made up???), and the rest (I wish you all had fun names) - I have probably some of my funniest memories from your class, and I think that is the lesson I will take from you. Keeping a good attitude about myself, finding humor in even the stressful times, and taking time to celebrate as many birthdays as possible - because it's about the people and the relationships you create, not just the work that needs to be done.

To the sophomores - Oh sophomores, what am I going to do without you? You're the only class that I've had all four years. Your class will forever remind me of things like being accepting of others' points of view, the value of COLLECTIVE LEARNING, how to enjoy trying new things (think of the mussels that Bryce brought for our country project), and the value of learning together - your random questions and ideas often sparked cool projects/lessons and opportunities for me to learn right along with you.

Juniors - Even though I didn't have you in class this year I feel like you guys really taught me that through teamwork awesome things can happen - I know it wasn't ideal to do prom with me on maternity leave, but the way you guys brought it all together reminded me of how much more we can accomplish when you work together. You have so many different personalities, and I will miss all of them - no matter who makes up a group (all the different types of people), you guys figure it out.

Seniors - I always feel slightly disconnected from my seniors, especially first semester, after not having had you in class for a year. I told you on our last day together that I felt like we had grown up together - that we started together (high school for you, teaching for me), and we were ending our journeys at NEH together. I hope that I can face my new challenges with the grace, dignity, and poise that I saw in each (most? ;-) ) of you throughout our time together. You are a talented group of individuals who have amazing opportunities ahead of you. I hope I can live up to those changes and challenges just like I know each of you will.

And finally, to all of you, I hope that I have shown you that it's not just about being "good at school". So many times you told me you'd rather memorize vocabulary or fill in worksheets because it was easy or because you knew how to get an A that way. You know what? Those activities are easier for me, too, because I could have copied them out of a book and never thought about it twice. I would have driven me nuts as a student (something I told you many times), because I was one of those kids who was "good at school". But I promise you that those times that I made you THINK about things instead of memorize, when I asked you to design rubrics with me instead of me handing it to you, when I asked you to tackle content on your terms or asked you to define quality work WILL help you in the long run.

If you came to me in 10 years and said, "Mrs. Keehn I don't remember a single date (I'd tell you to Google it), but I do remember having to create something" or "having to push through something I didn't understand" or even "I remember the time you told me you didn't even know what this would look like in the end because it was up to me to determine and it took on a life of its own", I would consider my time with you successful.

Thank you for all that you have given me. Now that I'm done being sappy let's make these last couple weeks something to remember!

Monday, May 20, 2013

It's Almost Over - Lessons from 2012-13

As I reflect back on my time in the classroom this year I can't help but think about the changes I'd like to make for next year. However I won't be making those changes for next year - at least not in my own classroom. There are a few lessons from this year that I will take with me to Prairie Lakes, though. They are lessons that I think we all can learn from.

1. It's okay to start small sometimes. If a project seems overwhelming, you don't have to attack it all at once. Break it down, pilot it on the small scale first. This one came from Scott McLeod (@mcleod), and I think it's important to remember that you can still accomplish big things even if you start on a small scale. 

2. Great things can happen when you take a chance on something new. Inspired by Bettendorf's PD model this year I "gamified" my 8th grade class for the second quarter. I watched kids grow and push themselves in ways that I had not previously seen. They were doing homework on Friday nights for fun. They were pushing me to keep up with them in terms of information and content and activities. My husband (@keehner87) then took the model and adapted it to his classroom setting. 

3. It's okay to fail - in fact, it should be encouraged. Failure is how we learn, learning from that failure is how we improve, and it is a natural part of the path to greatness. If you can learn how to fail, you can learn anything - because when you truly "learn how to fail" you also learn how to persevere, improve, and ultimately accomplish great things. When a lesson doesn't work the right way, I reteach it or at the very least make changes for next year. If a student doesn't get the material, we look for ways that s/he can get the information another way. Learning to fail is just as important as learning to succeed, and this is an especially important skill if you follow #2 - taking chances on something new.

To be continued...

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Education according to those being educated...

Last year I fell into a great lesson on what education should look like (according to my students) in the 21st century as they prepare for graduation, college, and the job market. I tried to recreate it this year, and this is what came of it:

The first image (on the left) is the list of qualities that my senior Econ class has identified as necessary to being successful in a 21st century job market. They created this list based on personal experience and our reading of the book "The World is Flat 3.0" by Tom Friedman. Then I gave them the prompt (written in blue) in the second photo (on the right). I drew a picture of a school building, and asked them to fill in what they needed out of it.

After we filled our school, I asked them to identify the ones they really felt strongly about - a star meant it was super important, an "x" meant that they really felt strongly that it was unnecessary. The list in blue on either side of the top of the school is the list of qualities last year's class thought they needed that was NOT included in the list this year's class created.

Here are some of the thoughts my students shared on their blogs:

Is there still value to the liberal arts education?

There is still much value to the liberal arts education. Today, we tend to focus more on the math, reading, and science as a core of a good education, but the liberal arts (histories, politics, and other sciences) are essential to connecting our knowledge and creating innovations. In the liberal arts, creativity makes the way for innovation and has resulted in many of the advances we have today (multiple typefaces, astrological projections, music players, political analysis systems). Truly, the liberal arts program makes our core knowledge more diverse, which then results in more learning and  our learning how to learn.

Is there still value to the liberal arts education?

While I do see the importance of the liberal arts' program, I truly don't think it is necessary and valuable any longer in today's society. It is good to be a well versed and well rounded person, but typically employers today are looking for localized and focused personnel. Typically a mechanic would not get hired because they know extensive history and ancient literature passages, but if they are good at what they do, which is fix machines, they will get hired. I also believe you spend the majority of your elementary, middle school, and high school practically in the liberal arts department because you are learning a little about everything. It seems as if liberal arts is for those people really don't know what they want to do with their life and liberal arts helps to guide them into something else. Like Steve Jobs mentioned in the text he didn't know what he wanted to do but went to college anyways. In my opinion this can be both beneficial and harmful. He learned what he wanted to do through exploring different areas and not being so focused on one subject, but he also wasted a lot of money getting there. In my opinion, it is the person's job to sort through what they are interested and not interested in to help them prepare for their future.

Is there still value to the liberal arts education?

I believe liberal arts education has more value than society displays it to have. The liberal arts need to be more emphasized than they are today. In my opinion, liberal arts education allows for and develops creativity. I think it also encourages abstract thinking. These two skills, creativity and critical thinking, are skills that are lacking in our math and science focused world. Creativity and innovativeness is especially important in today's flat world. Jobs that don't require creativity and abstract thinking are easily shipped overseas. Those who are creative are more able to compete in this globalized economy.

I also believe the liberal arts can be intriguing and encourage curiosity. Many people do not enjoy learning science or math. The liberal arts involve many subjects that people would enjoy. Because they enjoy this subject, they may grow passionate about it and new innovative ideas could arise. Although many jobs may require math and science backgrounds, I believe an education in math and science AND the liberal arts would be ideal. It would also give an individual an advantage in the workforce.

I watched a TED talk this year entitled, "Schools Kill Creativity." In this presentation, Sir Ken Robinson outlined schools lack of emphasis on the arts. Although this is only one component of liberal arts, I believed it still pertained to this issue. Robinson stated schools don't allow for people to be creative. Instead, they enroll students in the generic math and science classes. He also states how schools kill curiosity. In daddition to the lack of support for the arts, schools discourage failure. Failure and being wrong are seen as bad things and everybody tries to avoid them. In reality, however, originality and creativity arises from failure and being wrong. If everyone feared failure, new things wouldn't be discovered, new inventions wouldn't be created, technology wouldn't be as developed, our world wouldn't be flat. The liberal arts encourages exploration and abstract thinking. It may not have set answers or reasons. For this reason, the liberal arts encourages creativity, something missing in our flattened world.

"Fu bu guo san dai" If the first generation builds, the second maintains, and the third squanders, what will you (your generation) do?

      I believe my generation is still not building up the money we used in the third generation.  We are trying and the high paying people with good jobs are trying to save the money but since our unemployment rate is so low during this generation, it is making it difficult for people to save their money.  According to the text, the Chinese are amazed that Americans are allowing themselves to drown in debt. They believe we are becoming more ill-disciplined, distracted, and dissolute. We under-fund public schools while the media is focusing on fighting over feeding tubes. People need the money so much our economy right now that saving money is harder than it was in earlier generations. Therefore, I believe that people are trying to save up money again but we are continue to drown in our debt and we are becoming more and more in trouble when it comes to trying to get our money back and save it.

Blog Prompt: "fu bu guo san dai" If the first generation builds, the second maintains, and the third squanders, what will YOU (your generation) do?

Based upon the above saying, I would say my generation consists of the adapters and reinventors. Previous generations worked to become successful and maintain it and our predecessors waste away that success and lose it. Therefore, we are responsible for regaining that success. However, because times have changed, which may have caused us to lose our successes, we must learn how to adapt to the changing times. We also must use creativity to create new ideas to aid in regaining success. For this reason, we are the transitioners, the ones who are relied upon to create change. A change for the better.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Show someone my work!

I've posted about my daughter a few times, but as a refresher, Rylee will be 7 this month and is in the first grade at Northeast Hamilton. I don't teach elementary, but so many of my experiences come from that level through my own children and the people I work with, that from time to time I feel that I have enough authority to make observations.

Rylee started blogging recently. She lives the life of a teacher's daughter and is often stuck at school with me for much longer than she'd like. The other day she was particularly chatty and I was particularly busy, so I asked her if she'd like to blog. She was intrigued, so I quickly created a new blog, put her name on it, and set her up to type. At 4:15 she was still typing and I was ready to go. I had to promise her we could save it and work on it the next day before she would consent to come home! We came to school early the next day so she could keep typing. Twenty minutes later I had to cut her off from her "proof-reading" (and proof read it myself) before I could get her to go down to class.

Later I showed her that I had shared her post on Twitter and Facebook and she was ecstatic to learn that 32 people had viewed her blog - her writing - her creation! In pro blogger world you can laugh at 32, but to a 6 year old girl from small town Iowa it might as well have been a million. She was back at it the next day, sharing it with my husband, sharing it with her teacher, and planning what her next post would be about. She wanted to know when we could stay at school again to work on the computer so she could write on her blog.


 Her experience got me thinking about how important it is to give kids a public sphere for their work. She craved the attention and feedback that came with sharing something she had created. She wanted me to read it and make sure it was okay to post. She wanted to add pictures to make it more interesting. Is it perfect? No. But I showed her how to use the shift key to make capital letters, so it's improving. She wants it to be good before she publishes. She WANTS to produce quality work that she can be proud of. How often do we see that in students' work? They want to do well not because they'll get a good grade or their parents want them to, but because they want to produce something that other people will be impressed with and they can be proud of? Not often enough.

I was in a PD session a couple weeks ago where we had a similar discussion. Scott McLeod (@mcleod) was leading the discussion and he said when students produce work for teachers, they want it to be good enough. When they produce work for the public, they want it to be good. This is absolutely true of my students. How does this change your classroom? Your project expectations? Your outlook on student work?

I'm not looking for the minimum requirements, I'm sitting with students in small group meetings discussing what quality work looks like and helping them build their own rubrics for what "good" work looks like. We are connecting with people all over the globe to contribute to their work. Next week my 7th & 10th graders will discuss their projects with people from the World Food Prize, the Gates Foundation, and John Deere's South Africa branch.

Say what you will about the Common Core, but I'm excited about the push for literacy across content areas; about the emphasis on writing and producing. My students - and my children - are capable of greatness. Technology is going to offer them an opportunity to share that greatness with the world. I can't wait to be a small part of that.