Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Teaching the Big People

"Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, allowing us to do things more quickly and efficiently. But too often it seems to make things harder, leaving us with fifty-button remote controls, digital cameras with hundreds of mysterious features and book-length manuals, and cars with dashboard systems worthy of the space shuttle."
- James Surowiecki
Presenting on green screens in the classroom at LFCC
This will be the only picture today, sorry!

The above quote illustrates how I perceive some teachers view technology. While technology can simplify and improve one's life, it can also be very overwhelming. Without the proper guidance and support, one can become frustrated and shut down. I don't think that any good teacher wakes up in the morning and says, "I am going to refuse to learn this new tech tool because I don't want to." I think it has more to do with the fact that change can be hard if it is just thrown at someone without any real sort of support.

I consider myself a teacher in all facets of life. I don't limit my teaching to only students. I also made a conscious effort to help empower teachers in their effective technology integration. I do this in a number of ways, including informal support and holding professional development/presenting at conferences.

I've found that often teachers will have a great idea that they want to do, but aren't completely sure of what to do. Rather than just directing them to a place where they can find answers, I actually create the materials with them and assist in implementation in their classrooms. For example, another teacher wanted help setting up assessments in Google Classroom. After school, we worked on templates and then I came into her room to help her and her students with the Chromebooks and getting set up. Admittedly, this isn't the easiest thing to do while also having my own class to watch, but I felt that I was reaching the largest amount of students this way. I made it work, and now that teacher is more empowered to help her class.

Additionally, I have also presented at local technology conferences, including Googlepalooza, Google Mini, Lord Fairfax Community College Google Consortium, and others. Another way I have presented is through after-school professional development. Either way, I try to make it to be hands-on and interactive for the teachers who are attending. I want the time to be meaningful and helpful to them. I know when I attend conferences, I completely tune out to an hour of lecture. I don't want to do the same to my teacher-students.

I presented at Google Mini 2015 yesterday on using Google Draw for assessments. The night before, I was on TechEducator's 100th episode. Josh Gauthier and Jeff Bradbury had been discussing that at CUE Rockstar conferences, the lecturer cannot lecture for more than 15% of the total time they are allotted. I decided to try that for myself at Google Mini. I talked for 10 minutes of the hour I was given and gave the rest of the time for the teachers to work on the Draw templates. When I polled them at the end, I found that they enjoyed this format:
"I also appreciated that you treated us like we were adults and did not read every slide to us. You used your time well and were able to explain what to do as well as give us the opportunity to work with the information."
The oft repeated quote is that "teachers make the worst students." Is this truly the case? Or are teachers the worst teachers for other teachers? Think about your own classroom. Are you doing a lot of lecturing or are they actively working? Are your students they talking to each other, seemingly unfocused, or are they engaged in their work? Now apply this to technology conferences (or really any conference for that matter.) How many times are conferences just people talking rather than having their audience being active members of a conversation? We don't force our students to sit and listen for hours on end, why should we do this to adults?

That's not to say I am a perfect technology integration guru at all. I am formally trained in elementary education; technology integration is something I have taught myself. This past year, I volunteered for making parent feedback surveys on Google Forms rather than just doing them on paper how it had always been done. I told my principal I would design them and get all the teachers set up on this. I had committed, but didn't really think how I would do this. I decided on using my lunch and planning times to work with the 6 grade levels. Some grade levels were awesome. They worked with me on it and asked quality questions. They clearly saw the value and appreciated my efforts.

Other grade levels... not so much. One grade level was against the idea from the start, simply because they wouldn't see the value in doing it this way. Another grade level talked amongst themselves the entire time I was helping them get set up, and then bombarded me with questions afterwards. After that experience, I was very frustrated and decided to reflect upon the shortcomings.

One thing I immediately realized was that I may have been asking too much in too short of a time. My lunch is 25 minutes and sometimes I would try to fit 2 grade levels in there. However, since I am a classroom teacher and not a tech coach, that was the time I had to work with. Additionally, some teachers just have a very fixed mindset and won't try anything new. I can do all I can to assist them, but at the end of the day, change comes from within and I cannot force that.

What I could have changed was how I presented the information. I should have led with why we were doing this and how it would save time in the end. I had presented that "why" to the team leaders, but neglected to do it to each team. I also could have slowed down a little. I talk a mile a minute (my Voxer friends and listeners of the EduRoadTrip podcast can attest to this) and it only speeds up when I am excited about something. I also have a tendency to just do it for people rather than show them when I get frustrated. After becoming aware of the shortcomings, I worked to adjust future trainings. Slowing down may take more time but is more effective in the long run.

Looking forward, I applied to become a Google Certified Trainer. I have the new Google Certified Educator: Level 1 and 2 certificates, so this was the next logical step. I have also submitted a proposal for using green screens in the classroom for VSTE this year. I used to have aspirations of being a technology coach, but now I am not so sure. I know I would miss working with kids a whole heck of a lot. I would love to continue as an informal tech coach and maybe build to an actual title. No matter if I do it officially or unofficially, I will always keep the focus on providing individualized, hands-on instruction in my sessions.

I left a lot of reflection questions in an earlier paragraph, so I have just one for you at the end: What do you look for as you attend/present at technology professional development/conferences?

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