Category Archives: Teachers Reflect on their Practice

“Glorified Notebooks with Onboard Cameras.”

One of my favorite Radical Readers is Bob Schuetz.  Bob regularly pushes my thinking by leaving provocative comments, and that’s something I really, really dig.

A few weeks back, Bob left a comment arguing that all too often, classroom technology — iPads, Chromebooks, BYOD devices — become nothing more than “glorified notebooks with onboard cameras.”

(click here to view original image and credits on Flickr)

Slide - Glorified Notebooks

That thinking is rolling around in my mind today.  Here’s why:  Outside of the purpose driven learning work that I do during our schoolwide enrichment period, most of the technology work being done in my classroom probably fits into “glorified notebook” status.

My kids take pictures of notes that I write on the board and store those pictures in dedicated folders in their Google Drives.  I hand out and collect digital versions of handouts using Google Classroom.  Videos and still shots of lab experiences are captured and incorporated into final products, replacing the hand-drawn observations that students used to complete in required lab reports.

And while those uses have made life infinitely easier for both me and my students, there’s nothing revolutionary there.

A part of me feels a sense of shame about that.  I’m a pretty progressive teacher who has been experimenting with technology in teaching and learning for almost 15 years.  Why the heck haven’t I figured out something better, right?  How can I be progressive while simultaneously creating learning experiences that are nothing more than digital versions of the same tasks my students were completing a decade ago?

But a part of me wants to remind everyone that nothing has changed about the curriculum that I’m being asked to teach or the outcomes that I’m being held accountable for.

My state standards are still massive, covering more content in one year than is truly reasonable.  Worse yet, the end of grade exam that I am required to give is nothing more than 35 fact-driven multiple choice questions covering isolated details from that massive set of state standards.  Finally, our end of grade exam carries incredibly high stakes:  Student results become a significant part of my annual evaluation.

All of those realities influence the choices that I make as an instructor, y’all.

Of course I’m going to have my kids keep a detailed digital notebook.  Collecting evidence and information (read: completing fill in the blank handouts that are organized by unit and never lost because they are automatically stored in Google Drive) is essential in our state.  Students need something to study from for the end of grade exam.

And there’s no way I’m going to find the time and space for self-direction and investigation in my room.  Self-direction and investigation take time that I don’t have.  Getting through everything that is required is already darn near impossible — and getting through everything that is required becomes a priority when you are held accountable for nothing more than the number of isolated facts that your kids can remember at the end of the year.

So I get it.  Schools really DO need to change.  And technology really CAN help us to transform learning experiences.  

But let’s not pretend that teachers can drive that change in spite of their required curriculum.  Our classrooms and our learning experiences are a reflection of the expectations set by our state standards and end of grade exams.  Until THOSE change, our classrooms are going to look a lot like they always have.

#truth

____________________

Related Radical Reads:

Lessons Learned from an Amazing Group of Student Bloggers

Why Can’t This Be School?

Blaming and Shaming Teachers for Low Level #edtech Practices

 

 

More on My #Hashtag180 Work.

Regular Radical Readers know (see here and here) that I’ve accepted Kyle Hamstra’s #hashtag180 challenge.  That means I’ve been sharing regular content in my Twitterstream highlighting the work that I’m doing in my classroom with specific curriculum standards.

I’m a month into the challenge, so I figured some reflection is in order.  Here are four lessons that I’ve learned so far:

I really HAVE looked at my curriculum more this month than I have in years.

One of Kyle’s central arguments is that #hashtag180 work matters because it makes teachers more familiar with their required curriculum.  That’s definitely been true for me.  Because I know that I am going to make new posts each day and that each of those posts needs to be tagged with a standard from my curriculum, I’ve opened my state standards and unpacking document every work day for almost a month.

And that’s had a huge impact on my instruction.  Specifically, I’ve discovered things that I’ve taught for the better part of a decade that aren’t really emphasized in my curriculum AND things that ARE in my required curriculum that I didn’t even realize I was supposed to be teaching.

I guess I should be embarrassed about that confession — but my guess is that MOST teachers don’t spend a ton of time revisiting their standards after they’ve taught them for a few years.  Participating in #hashtag180 has changed that for me.

Recording video posts and aiming them at my students and parents was a great decision.

Many of the people who are sharing content in the #hashtag180 stream share still shots of students working on projects or evidence of their standards in action spotted in their day-to-day activities.  While I respect those posts and recognize that those teachers are learning just as much about their required curriculum as I am, I decided early on that my #hashtag180 contributions were going to be short (less than two minute) videos aimed at my students.

My reasons were simple:  I knew that if my #hashtag180 efforts were going to be sustainable, I had to get as much value from the time, energy and effort that I was investing in making posts as possible.  By creating videos, I knew that I was also creating interesting content that my students and parents might be interested in watching, too.  That turned each #hashtag180 post into more than just a learning opportunity for me.  Each post is now a learning opportunity for me AND a review tool for my students AND a communication tool for my parents.

And I know it’s making a difference:  First, more than one student has come up to me to share that they are always excited to see the newest video that I post.  In fact, one complained after I missed a day last week.  Then, a parent at our rising sixth grade open house Tuesday night approached me and said, “I follow you on Twitter.  Love your videos.  Made my kid watch every one of them already!”

That’s totally worth the time that I spend working up #hashtag180 posts each day — and my bet is that video content is the reason that my posts are gaining attention.  If I was sharing still shots, I’m not sure that parents or kids would be all that interested.

Adding our school’s hashtag to each #hashtag180 post adds vibrancy to our school’s social presence.

As I mentioned in an earlier bit here on the Radical, I’m working hard to market our school to interested parents in our local community.  To help with those efforts, I’ve started adding our school’s dedicated hashtag (#SalemProud) to each of my #hashtag180 Tweets.

Here’s why that matters:  Now, any parents who follow our school’s hashtag will see MORE than just scheduling information or celebrations of school happenings.  They will ALSO see teachers sharing academic content in an approachable and engaging way.

That SHOULD leave them better prepared to understand just what it is that kids are learning in our school.  More importantly, that SHOULD leave them with the feeling that teachers in our building are passionate about communicating their content to kids — and that’s a feeling I want everyone in our community to have about our school.

And what does it cost me?  Nothing.  I’m making #hashtag180 posts anyway.

That gives me yet another stack of added value for every post that I make.

#notbadright

I love (like seriously LOVE) my growing digital portfolio.

Another great decision that I made was to figure out how to use IFTTT to automatically cross-post each #hashtag180 Tweet to a dedicated blog sorted by standard.

The result:  I’ve got the beginnings of an AWESOME digital portfolio that I can use to PROVE that I know both my content and the kids that I teach.

Check it out here.

Notice how each video is neatly embedded in new posts?  See how every post that I’ve made is sorted by standard in the sidebar?  ALL of that happens automatically every time that I make a new post in Twitter.  IFTTT searches my Tweets, finds posts with standards-based hashtags, and adds them as a new blog entry WITH the correct labels.  The entire process is automated.  It takes me no time at all.

Like zero.  None.  Nada. Absolutely zippo.

Think about how valuable that all is.  Not only can I go back next year and review the questions that I asked and demonstrations that I did, I can prove to my principal — or to anyone that I interview with in the future — that I understand my standards and have developed effective ways to teach those standards to my students.

And better yet, I’m not the only one that benefits from my digital portfolio.  I’ve shared the link with the parents and students of my team again — figuring that most are unlikely to follow me in Twitter or to spot the posts that I’m sharing their regularly.  Now, they don’t have to worry about joining a social space they may not be interested in (or old enough to join) to see the content that I’m creating.  They can bookmark my blog — or subscribe to get new posts delivered to their email inbox — and see everything that I share.

Other teachers who are responsible for teaching similar standards or concepts can also learn from my digital portfolio.  Maybe they will see a demo that they hadn’t considered before.  Maybe they will hear language that they hadn’t considered using to explain individual concepts before.

Either way, by using IFTTT to cross-post content on an outward facing blog, I’ve created opportunities for sharing that cost me absolutely nothing because that sharing is done automatically.

So let’s summarize:  By accepting Kyle’s #hashtag180 challenge, I’ve committed myself to five minutes of extra work every day.  That’s it.  

I am always on the lookout for something that I am doing with students in the classroom that I can turn into a video.  After recording — which I do directly from my phone in the Twitter app — I have to open my standards (which are also downloaded to my phone) to be sure that I am adding the right standard hashtag to my Tweet.

That’s it.  That’s all I do.

The hardest part of the entire process is holding the “record” button on my phone with one hand while trying to conduct a demonstration with my other hand.

#notkidding

#Ineedlongerarms

And in return, I get:

  • A stronger awareness of my required curriculum.
  • Final products that students can use to review important concepts covered in class.
  • Final products that parents can use to better understand what their kids are learning.
  • Final products that add a sense of vibrancy to our school’s social presence.
  • A digital portfolio that demonstrates my mastery of my required curriculum
  • A collection of resources that other teachers can learn from.

Not bad for five extra minutes of work each day, huh?

So when will YOU accept the #hashtag180 challenge?

#doubledogdare

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Related Radical Reads:

Will You Join Me in the #hashtag180 Challenge?

Turning #hashtag180 Posts into a Digital Portfolio

I’ve Started Using a Dedicated Hashtag to Market My School

Turning #hashtag180 Posts into a Digital Portfolio.

Regular Radical readers know that I’ve jumped on Kyle Hamstra’s #hashtag180 project — which is an effort designed to get teachers to understand their curricula on a deeper level by regularly Tweeting pictures, videos and/or lessons that are hashtagged with the specific essential standard that they are designed to support.

After two weeks of doing my best to share out examples of what I am doing with specific standards in my classroom, I’ve decided that I’m hooked.

I think what I love the best about the project is that it has forced me to think more carefully about my curriculum than ever before.  In fact, I’ve opened our state’s essential standards document more in the last two weeks than I have in the past two  years.

I’ve also decided to turn my daily posts into short video wonder questions for my students.

Need a sample?  Then check this one out:

 

The way I see it, by turning my #hashtag180 posts into short video wonder questions or learning moments for my kids, I’m maximizing the value of the time that I spend creating each new post because it can be used as a parent/student communication tool, too.  I’m more likely to continue creating new #hashtag180 posts if each post serves multiple purposes and helps me to tackle multiple responsibilities.

Finally, I’ve found a way to turn my #hashtag180 posts into a real live digital portfolio that would make George Couros proud.

Here’s how:  I’ve created an applet using IFTT — a cool service designed to automate certain parts of our online lives — that searches for my new #hashtag180 Tweets and then posts them on this dedicated Blogger blog sorted by standard.

All that I had to do was create a “formula” in IFTT — which stands for If This, Then That — asking the service to search for Tweets with my curriculum specific hashtag and then to embed those Tweets as new posts in Blogger.

Here’s what the formula looks like:

It took a bit of tinkering to figure out the right “formula” for my applet, but now that I’ve got it figured out, I just have to duplicate it for each of the standard hashtags that I plan to use during the school year and my digital portfolio will build itself over time.  For example, here’s the formula for the next standard that I’ll be teaching — and Tweeting about — #sci6p31:

 

Remember:  I’m not doing ANYTHING to create the posts that you see in my digital portfolio.  Literally nothing.  Once I point IFTT to the right posts in Twitter and to the right Blogger blog, the service does the rest.  It searches for the Tweets, grabs the “embed code,” and generates a new entry on my blog automatically.  And it will KEEP doing that forever — or at least until I tell it to stop.

Think about all of this for a second, will you?

Now, the two minutes that I spend each morning creating a short video asking a wonder question or sharing a demonstration or linking to an activity is serving THREE essential purposes:  It’s helping me to better understand my required curricula, it’s giving me an engaging bit of digital content that communicates classroom happenings to parents and students, AND it is automatically becoming a part of a digital portfolio that I can use as evidence of the work that I am doing with specific curricular outcomes.

That’s a helluva’ lot of value out of one simple Tweet, don’t you reckon?

So whaddya’ think?  Is this worth doing?  How would you improve on the steps that I have already taken?  Are there any steps that you would leave out?


Related Radical Reads:

Will You Join Me in the #hashtag180 Challenge?

Using a Dedicated Hashtag to Market my School.

 

I’ve Started Using a Dedicated Hashtag to Market My School.

About five years ago, I had the chance to coauthor a book with Eric Sheninger and Jason Ramsden on the different ways that schools can use social media to communicate and connect with the diverse stakeholders that they serve.  During the planning for that book, Eric kept saying something that has stuck with me ever since:  If you aren’t telling the story of your school, someone else will.

That’s true, isn’t it?

The fact of the matter is that the stories of schools are told all the time — by reporters, by community critics, by radio broadcasters, and by satisfied (or unsatisfied) parents standing on the sidelines of sporting events or sitting along the decks of a thousand community pools.  Sometimes those stories are accurate.  Other times, they paint an incomplete picture of events that have drawn attention.

My current school is a pretty good example of the importance of telling your own story.

Here’s why:  Seven years ago, we were converted from a traditional school calendar to a year-round calendar because our district was working to create capacity at a time of rapid population growth in our county.  The change was pretty darn unpopular at the time and it left our community divided.  Compounding matters, for the past three years, our county has had open discussions every April about changing us back to a traditional calendar.

The result:  Some prospective parents shy away from sending their kids to our building because they aren’t completely sure what our school calendar will be from year to year.

That’s been weighing on my mind a lot lately simply because I know full well that there are GREAT things happening in our school.  

Our teachers are passionate, funny people that are genuinely interested in helping to develop the kids in their classrooms as both students and as people.  We’ve got an award winning band, show choir, athletics teams, academic teams, Science Olympiad teams and robotics teams.  We prioritize questioning in our classrooms because we know that asking good questions is worth WAY more than finding the right answers.  Long story short:  Our school REALLY IS worth investing in, but no one really knows that because calendar instability is the primary story told about us.

So I made a decision a few weeks back to start a #WhySalem social media project.  Here are the current details:

As often as I can, I create a short social media post highlighting something super cool about our building.  Here’s a few examples:

I tag each post #WhySalem.  My thinking is that over time, we’ll have an easy to search and easy to share collection of really good examples of the untold stories of our school.  Maybe those stories will be shared on our school’s website.  Maybe they will be seen and spotlighted by local media looking for content.  Maybe they will be seen and shared by other parents who follow us in social spaces.  Either way, a common hashtag makes categorizing content possible.

I’m using video clips as much as possible in my #WhySalem posts.  I think video creates a stronger connection than simple text posts and/or pictures.  I want people to see me and hear me and know that I’m a real person who is genuinely enthusiastic about the work that we are doing in our building.

My video clips are short — less than 90 seconds — and they are not edited at all.  Let’s be honest:  Anything longer than 90 seconds is asking for too much attention from social media users in today’s day and age.  What’s more, I’m not trying to bury viewers in information.  I’m trying to get them interested enough in our building to come and find more information.  Finally, short, unedited videos are easy to make — and “easy to make” is a priority if I’m going to be able to sustain this project.

I’m going to try to get students to make #WhySalem posts:  I haven’t started doing this yet because I have to double check our photo/video permission lists before using kids in any of my videos — but I think having students in videos will bring even more personality and genuine energy to the project.

I’m going to try to get my peers to make #WhySalem posts:  The fact of the matter is that I don’t even know all of the cool things that are happening in my building!  My view of what’s worth spotlighting is limited by the grade level that I teach, the colleagues that I know in different spaces of our building, and the time that I have to interact beyond my own room.  That’s why I’ve got to find peers in other places who are willing to make regular posts.  They will have different stories to share about our building — and that matters.

I need to clearly articulate the purpose for #WhySalem posts to everyone that I work with:  Our school already has a presence in social spaces through our primary hashtag — #SalemProud.  But there’s a difference in purpose for each tag in my mind.  #WhySalem posts should be aimed at potential parents and should highlight something that makes our school unique as compared to our peers.  #SalemProud posts are currently aimed at current parents.  They are more general celebrations in nature.  Keeping the streams separate is important if #WhySalem is going to succeed at changing the perceptions of parents who are considering our school for their kid.

I need to start cross-posting #WhySalem content to other social spaces.  Right now, all of my posts are going to Twitter because that’s the social space that I’m most active in.  The problem is that Twitter is probably NOT the social space that potential parents — the audience I’m trying to reach — is most active in.  Chances are that our school could gain a bigger audience if our #WhySalem content was being shared in Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat.  I’ve got to figure out who controls those accounts in our building and get them to start reposting #WhySalem content everywhere.

So whaddya’ think of all of this?  

Have you got any additional suggestions for me?  Does this seem like a project that you could replicate in your buildings, too?  Are you actively telling the story of your own school?


Related Radical Reads:

Communicating and Connecting with Social Media [Excerpt]

Note to Principals:  You Can’t Keep Ignoring Social Spaces

What Radical Readers are Saying about Social Media in Schools.

 

Will You Join Me in the #Hashtag180 Challenge?

Have you guys met Kyle Hamstra yet?  

He’s truly one of the most genuine educators that I know.  Passionate about teaching and learning and driving improvement no matter the circumstance, I love connecting with him every chance that I get.

For the past several years, Kyle has been nudging teachers to use hashtags on Twitter to document their practice.  

His thinking is simple:  If teachers start to grab videos and pictures of the work that they are doing with specific curricular objectives — or of examples of their curricular objectives spotted in “the real world” — we can all start learning from one another.  More importantly, we create complex “digital portfolios” that we can return to when we are looking for evidence of our “practice in action” AND we can become more aware of exactly what it is that we are supposed to be teaching to our students.

Recently, Kyle has started what he calls the #Hashtag180 challenge.  

Here’s how he describes it:

HOW:  Tweet one experience on each of the 180 school days of the year, and hashtag it with your learning objective and #hashtag180.

WHO: ALL Educators

WHAT: The #Hashtag180 Challenge was originally designed for educators to access and share learning resources very specifically by tweeting life and classroom experiences, hashtagged with learning objectives and #Hashtag180. Where does it go from here? The possibilities are endless…

I totally dig Kyle’s idea — and I’ve started posting regular Tweets designed to spotlight the work that I’m doing with specific curricular objectives.

Here are a few examples:

 

Now, if I’m being completely honest, I’m NOT posting these examples because I’m super interested in helping other teachers to find ideas for introducing the required curriculum to their kids.

Sure — that IS a likely outcome.  Other North Carolina teachers COULD follow my hashtags and spot ideas for teaching concepts that they hadn’t considered — and if other teachers in our state begin using the same tagging language, I COULD learn from the ideas that they are sharing, too.

#notabadthing

But my primary reason for participating in Kyle’s challenge is selfish.

I want to force myself to think more deliberately about the questions that I am asking and the activities that I am creating.  I want to make sure that each task is actually connected to the specific objectives that I am required to teach.  I figure that by forcing myself to post each day, I’ll also force myself to look carefully at my curriculum each day, too.  That has value in and of itself.  I’ll become more knowledgeable about just what it is that the state expects my students to know and be able to do.

And I want to create an easily searchable library of the somewhat spontaneous ideas and questions that often come up during the course of an instructional unit that I can refer to in later years when I’m looking for a new way to introduce concepts to my kids.  If I’m persistent about my tagging language, I SHOULD be able to do some simple searching in Twitter next year to track down strategies that have slipped my mind.

Does any of this make sense to you?  Is taking the #hashtag180 challenge something you’d ever consider?


Related Radical Reads:

Simple Truth:  Hashtags can SAVE You Time.

Five Twitter Hashtags that can Save School Leaders Time

Who Wants to Play Hashtag Bracketology?