Friday, March 31, 2017

Take a Break!

Ahhh… spring break. That time when students and teachers take a full week to relax, catch-up on sleep, possibly travel to a tropical location and basically forget about school.

OK, so many of you are laughing right now. “Ha! Who does she think she’s talking too? We're tired and stressed but have papers to grade and lessons to plan. We can't take a break!”

However, perhaps what we really need to do over the next week is do exactly that. Take a break! Disconnect from your normally hectic educational life. Relax!

Yes, you do still have responsibilities but you will thank yourself if you give yourself some time to just be you. My challenge for you this spring break is to act like a little kid. Take a nap, play, wander, wonder, make something, get together with friends, do something for you. Yes, you might also have adult responsibilities that you need to get done but don’t spend all break doing them. Set limits for work and schedule play time. Doing so will recharge your creative batteries and who knows, as you wander and wonder, you may end up planning a lesson that you didn't even know was possible. So, do you accept the challenge? Great! You'll thank yourself and return to school rested and ready to finish out the year!

See you next week!

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Learning Curve of Innovation

After attending the #MACUL17 conference last week, my head was filled with ideas and tools to share with our teachers to implement human-centered design, project-based learning, student-centered classrooms, GSuite integration, and other learning initiatives that abound at an educational technology conference. My hope is that teachers will begin using at least one of the ideas and/or tools that I introduce during upcoming staff PD. However, after reading a blog post by John Spencer, I have to remind myself to allow the teachers the time to become comfortable and competent in their use of these tools and ideas. I also want to remind our teachers, as they strive for innovative teaching, to give themselves and their students that time as well. As the title of John’s blog post indicates, we need to allow learners to ...Develop Creative Fluency. You can’t quit after the first attempt when you are still on that steep learning curve. It took me days to write my first blog post, but now I’m down to about an hour. The words flow more quickly and I’ve discovered that sometimes you just have to stop editing and hit post. The first time you try something new, it feels awkward, you have to question what you’re doing or figure out a new tool or piece of equipment. Your students are the same. Contrary to what many imagine, they don’t emerge from the womb with the knowledge of how to use technology or how to use it to learn. What they do have, however, is a sense of wonder and curiosity along with the willingness to try out that which is new. So, let your student’s natural curiosity lead, learn alongside them and if something doesn’t work out, ask them for feedback. How can we make this better next time? Then give them that “next time.” Build on your skills and soon creating videos or writing blog posts, or whatever technique or new idea you’re implementing becomes second nature. Pretty soon yours will the classroom that others peek into to show them how it’s done!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Are You An Innovative Leader?

What are the characteristics of an innovative leader? In his book, The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros provides eight characteristics of an innovative leader. They must be visionaries that can take their vision and apply it to the classroom allowing teachers to take small steps toward that vision as they build confidence and competence. Innovative leaders are empathetic and consider the learning environment from both the teacher and student view. They should model learning and be risk takers to show their willingness to be the “guinea pig” and try out new things. They must be networked with the world beyond their school’s walls and connect with others to discover and observe new ideas in action. They should then be able to bring those ideas back to their school and be a team builder, working with their school community to filter, add to and build a better idea that fits their shared vision. Through all of these characteristics, however, the innovative leader must always remain focused on the relationships so that the teachers, staff, students and community know that they are valued and appreciated. I don’t know about you, but I think innovative leaders deserve a cape!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Build Those Relationships!

When I started in my current position nine years ago, I walked into a school where tech support was mainly delivered through remote access and staff seldom if ever saw support personnel in their room. Coming from an education background rather than a computer science background and having garnered my PC skills from tinkering rather than study, I didn’t even know how to use the remote access software but did know how to walk. I would show up in the room to work on the computer or other tech equipment. Teachers were shocked! “You actually came to my room?” was often what I heard and so began the relationship building. It started with simple desktop repairs but while in the room, I would ask what they were using technology for and offer a suggestion or two. Soon those who didn’t mind taking a risk were becoming mentors for those who were timid when using technology. It was great working together with teachers, building our community and watching everyone move forward in their comfort levels. Fast-forward to today and our school is a 1:1 environment with teachers and students utilizing cloud-based tools to share their classroom activities with a global audience and each other. I love it when I hear a teacher tell students, “I don’t know exactly how this works but somebody in the room can figure it out!” Look how far we’ve come because we were all willing to teach each other!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Thinking Inside the Box

In today’s world, employers look for those who can use their knowledge to do something that hasn’t been done before that allows the business to move forward, in other words, they want their employees to be innovative. In a similar fashion, it is essential that educators use what they know about teaching and learning and provide new and improved opportunities for their students. Unfortunately, schools have budget constraints that businesses may not have. As George Couros states in his book, The Innovator’s Mindset, “Innovating in our schools requires a different type of thinking, one that doesn’t focus on ideas that are “outside of the box” but those that allow us to be innovative despite budgetary constraints. In other words, we need to learn to innovate inside the box.” [p.36]. So what does that look like?

An example of “inside the box” innovation would be our Freshman English reading requirement change. Students still need to read and analyze text, build vocabulary and other skills previously expected but rather than all freshman reading the same book, they are now allowed to choose a book they are interested in. The teachers built up a library of books that students can choose from using funds already budgeted for, books they donated from their own shelves and garage sale finds. After the student’s initial shock that they were given a choice, they are reading more, writing book recommendations, creating video book talks, and sharing their excitement about their books. Students who come into the program as struggling readers are completing books and many students are reading far more than the requirement. It’s exciting to witness. Teachers took a problem, student disinterest in the assigned book, and designed an improved program within the constraints they were given which improved student outcomes.

So what is your “inside the box” thinking?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A Culture of Innovation

I discovered the second session of the Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course (#IMMOOC on Twitter) while reading George Couros’ The Principal of Change blog recently.  I’d been wanting to read his book, The Innovator’s Mindset, for a while now and it seemed like a great way to both read the book and connect with others while doing so. The book discusses what innovation is and isn’t. It also explores what it takes to build a culture of innovation. Bonus: one of the tasks assigned in the course is to blog each week. That ties into one of my personal goals so here we go!

I’ll begin by admitting that I had a concept of what it meant to be innovative but I actually looked up the definition of the word to be sure. Innovative: having new ideas about how something can be done. Thank you Merriam-Webster. George defines innovation “as a way of thinking that creates something new and better.” So to have an innovator’s mindset one is willing to think about and test out new methods for doing something and making it better.
During this past summer, I attended a workshop in Human Centered Design, a process that involves observing and learning from the people that you are designing for, identifying opportunities and prototyping possible solutions, and then bringing those prototypes back to those people to try out and give feedback on. The cycle of iteration. The entire process of human-centered design always keeps those that you are designing for in the forefront of the process. There are no bad ideas in the design process just opportunities to improve on and/or combine ideas to discover the best possible solution. One is always looking for ways to improve and do it better but always with people at the center. Sounds much like innovation!

So how do we support our innovative educators and build on what they’re doing and spread the enthusiasm for what they are doing throughout the school? Those in leadership positions must model the very innovation that they want to see. For example, if there was a collective decision to become a G-Suite for Education school because of the many ways it allows for collaboration and sharing, then use the Google tools in your work as an administrator. Don’t keep using the very tools that you’ve asked your educators to move away from. Get in the trenches and work through the sometimes painful process of change with them. So what if you share a Google Doc only to discover you gave everyone editing rights instead of view only rights and someone made a change when you weren’t looking. Consider it a great opportunity to learn about the revision history!
Take risks with teachers so they know it’s ok to take risks in their classroom. Be in the classroom with them to see the process and when something fails, help them brainstorm ways to move forward. It’s about listening more than talking, it’s about being empathic and understanding. It’s about relationships. It’s about change. It’s about serving teachers and students and providing them the tools to grow.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Makerspace Expansion - Yes Please!

So what exactly is a makerspace and why expand it? A makerspace is any space where people can gather to wonder, tinker, try things out, create and learn with and from each other. They're fun, engaging and promote many of the skills and habits of mind that we want our students to take with them when they graduate.

Our makerspace opened during the 15-16 school year thanks to Mr. Chris Jones, our French language instructor. Working together with a few other teachers that shared the same 5th hour (lunch time) prep hour, he started with various cooking and art projects once a week (chocolate truffles were a big favorite!) Students would gather, create, design, have fun and socialize together. Now fast forward to the current school year. Over the summer we hired a S.T.E.M. director, Dr. Catherine Molloseau. We also, with student assistance, re-designed the layout of our library which opened up a much larger space which is perfect for students to gather before, during and after school for various activities.

So... Existing makerspace with limited meeting
times meets newly opened library space. Sprinkle in a little S.T.E.M., add a location move to the library desk for the Instructional Technology Specialist (me) and there you have it! The perfect recipe for a Makerspace Expansion!

The new expansion opened on the first day of second semester and students began dropping in throughout the day.  In the makerspace expansion they discovered 3D printing (both the full-size version and a hand-held 3D Doodler), Wacom drawing tablet, Arduino boards, Little Bits kits, Snap Circuits, access to coding resources, puzzles, duct tape, art supplies, clay, an iPad with stop-motion apps installed, button making, paper bead making, books that help spark the imagination or guide one through a project, yarn, fabric, glue guns, ink and stamps for making greeting cards, and the list goes on. Each Thursday students and staff can drop in during lunch to learn about coding, arduinos, or other maker topics. These might be led by Dr. Molloseau or it might be one of our many talented students. Our iPad help desk, manned by Mr. Josh Friederichs who is our 3D printing expert, is also located here so there is usually someone available to ask for assistance if it's needed.
It's been a busy few weeks since opening and we are looking forward to what our students can design and create in this new space. Oh, and just in case you're wondering... Yes, they still make chocolate truffles!