Blogging Buddies

So I’ve added another point to my to do list and I’m excited about it. I’ve decided to join the ISTE Ed Tech Coaches Blogging Buddies. I’m hoping this will add the incentive back to posting regular blogs. I got off to a great start this year, but definitely fizzled out second semester.

So here’s the deal if you’re interested yourself. Basically, I’ll post at least once a month and comment on the blogs of my “buddies” at least once a month. Its a great opportunity to continue to build my PLN, work on my writing and learn from other experts in the field all at once.

My group is in the table below so you can check out some new blogs too. I’m looking forward to a new challenge and a renewed presence on my blog.

Jennifer Santini United States Illinois
Jeff Newman United States Arizona
Joshua Howard United States Missouri
Natalie Davis United States Virginia

Making it count

This week I get the opportunity to lead our secondary staff for an afternoon PD session. I have to be honest, at this point of the year, I’m not really expecting everyone to skip into the room filled with excitement. I’m thinking I’ll most likely need some motivational words to keep my audience from slipping out the back.

As I was working on my plan with all this on my mind, I had a realisation. Why not ask my audience if the tasks I was creating were meaningful to them?

So I did.

I approached several teachers in my building and asked them for five minutes of their time. I showed them my plan and asked for their honest feedback. To my delight, each teacher gave me thoughtful suggestions. One recommended reordering some of the tasks while another suggested an outline of expectations for the session. I even got a bit of unsolicited feedback once I sent the resources for the week. I was guilty of not clearly defining an acronym (ISTE which ironically, as my colleague also pointed out, they don’t even define very well on their own website.)

Test markets and beta versions are an integral part of the business community. Why shouldn’t it be part of building educational programs too? It makes a lot more sense than just waiting for the end and collecting feedback after the fact.

I’m excited to have a new plan as I continue to develop in this roll. I think, if I’m smart in the process, I can improve what I’m offering to my colleagues as well as build stronger relationships along the way.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment or find me on Twitter @rharwood17

Learning on the Road

One of my favorite things about our Sunday surf trips, other than the surfing, is the time spent in the car with my boy. We have some pretty cool conversations as we drive the forty-five minutes from the city to the coast.  We watch football matches come to life on the side of the road, families making their way to church in their array of intricately colorful Ghanaian clothing and weave our way through taxis and tro tros.  

Last week my son got really into telling me all about his teacher’s new approach to math. The more he talked the more intrigued I became.

On Monday, I made contact with his teacher and asked to come observe.  With a time scheduled for later in the week we casually discussed what he was attempting to do in his classroom with the math unit. He noted that the traditional full class instruction for math just did not seem to be as effective as he wanted. It is very difficult to keep 18 students fully engaged when each enters the lesson with a different set of skills and understanding. He stated that at any given moment there seemed always to be a few students who had drifted off into not paying attention.

Essentially, he was working with a flex model of blended learning in an attempt to give his students more choices in the way they learn and keep them better engaged. The process started with a series of worksheets. Stick with me here. The students began with a formative self-assessment that introduced them to each concept. Once they complete the assessment they choose from the list of statements below that direct them to learning options.

  1. This is all new to me. I don’t even have a guess. I need to start with Finding Out
  2. I have some idea how to do the problems, but I’m not confident. I need to start with Finding Out.
  3. I know how to do this, but I would like to explore and inquire more into the topic. I will begin with Sorting Out.
  4. This is something I have already mastered. I’m ready to Go Further.

The sheet included ten tasks that were divided into the three different levels indicated above. Students were free to choose from any level at any time. The options included textbook pages, worksheets, BrainPop and other instructional videos, online learning games and manipulatives. Upon completing each tasks, students returned to the initial self assessment to see if they had made progress in their understandings.  In order to mark the concept as complete they had to explain it in writing as well as illustrate the concept. Throughout the process the students were free to interact with one another, ask the teacher or teacher assistant for individual help and partake in occasional small group instruction.

The teacher was now free to move about the room and observe his students working. This gave him the opportunity to more easily identify those that were struggling and also made it easier for those students to ask for help as they were not asking in front of the entire class. He did note that in some cases, individual students might work with a misconception for longer than he liked as he might not immediately identify it as he made his way around the room. However, he had also noticed that often another student would catch their peer’s mistake in which case each student was developing a better understanding.

Overall, students were more engaged and rarely off task. They thrived on the feeling of independence they were developing and actively encouraged and assisted one another as necessary.

As I spent time in the classroom, students were excited to show me what they were learning and how they were approaching the learning. As I asked questions they were eager and able to clearly explain the processes. The room was a bit noisy as students watched videos, (they were supposed to have headphones but not all had remembered to bring them) discussed their learning, asked questions and laughed. A beautiful sound during a math lesson.

Admittedly, there was a lot of work involved on the front end of the unit. Gathering resources and creating the worksheets took a lot of time. The worksheets were necessary over a learning management system due to the fact that the classroom is no 1:1 and there were not enough laptops or iPads for each student to have their own. In fact, there were several issues with logins and faulty computers while I was in the room. Something our school needs to address as part of a bigger issue.

The potential here is amazing. It is my hope that this teacher will continue the practice and offer his observations and learnings to his colleagues in order for this type of learning to grow.

I can’t wait to see what else my boy will teach me on the way to surfing this week…

Bonus Post: Holiday Travel Apps and Tips

I send out a weekly ed tech update at school with upcoming sessions and some tips and tricks.  To be honest, I’m never really sure how much it is read.  But this week, I actually had a few replies to the email and several people stopped by and said thanks.
It feels pretty good to know I’ve shared something useful, so I thought I’d share again. I’ve inserted the email below.
I hope its helpful and I’d love to hear your favorite apps for traveling and your favorite podcasts as well.
I hope you all have a fantastic holiday.
As we come to the end of a semester I thought I’d share a few travel and holiday friendly tech treats instead of the usual. 
I mentioned before that I love to listen to podcasts when we travel.  My new favorite: How I Built This.  and one for your kids: The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel. There’s also a collection of staff recommended podcasts on the Library website.
If you just really want to work on your teaching craft while you listen, here’s a list of podcasts for that as well. 
I’m sure you’ve heard of it, but I love GoodReads to help me find my next good book.  I’ve got a long list of want to reads on there…
Google Maps on your phone (Android, iOS) will get you where you need to go if you’re walking, subway riding, driving or taking a bus.  Most of the time anyway.  My family has found some mysteriously missing roads here in Accra. You can download the maps of an area before you travel too, just in case you won’t have wi-fi or cell reception. There’s also (AndroidiOS)that is a free downloadable map app.  Between the two you’re bound to get where you’re going. 
Google Translate can help you figure out what you’re buying in that undecipherable language at the grocery store. Just open the app and use your camera. Its magic. (AndroidiOS)
Instagram gives you filters for your pics, but SnapSeed let’s you take more control and make them even better. (AndroidiOS)
Touchnote is a favorite app of mine too.  You can send personalized postcards using your own photos to anywhere in the world. Our parents and grandparents love getting pictures of our adventures on these cards throughout the year. I’ve even managed to have one delivered to Robyn here at school.
One more from Google tip since we’re talking pictures.  Are you using Google Photos for your pics?  Its free cloud backup and has some cool features for sorting, editing and searching.  Add it to your phone and back up to the cloud to access those holiday pics anywhere. 
If you are traveling it can be stressful and draining to navigate the airports and lines.  This is a good read to help you make it through. 
Finally, for balance, you can always just put the phone away and enjoy some time with your family, sitting on the front porch or walking on the beach or in the woods. I plan on enjoying some unplugged time in a hammock by the beach myself.
I hope that wherever the winter break takes you it is fun, restful and joyful.  I look forward to hearing about all of your adventures in the new year.  
Cheers my friends.

Lessons from Lunch Duty

This week we had to move from the field to the MPH due to setting up for the PTO’s annual bazaar that’s happening tomorrow.  As I sat and watched the kids playing volleyball I noticed the following.  To be clear, this isn’t supposed to be a sweeping generalisation about the attitudes or behaviors of boys vs girls, it is simply an observation from today.

The boys spent the majority of their time deciding on teams, arguing if the hits were in or out and worrying about which team was winning.  There were several boys that I’m quite certain never touched the ball.

The girls got in a circle and simply passed the ball around.  Laughing, working together to see how long they could keep the ball in the air.  Mistakes were not reason for berating each other, but a reason to laugh and take a short break.

classroom-1297779_1280The connection here is pretty simple and applicable to so many circumstances, but I’m looking at it through a classroom lens.  If we continue to stand at the front of the room and its teachers versus students, there are going to be kids who never get a touch.  But if we can turn the tables a bit and work with our students, there are so many chances to see smiles all around.

The call for change in education is loud but slow.  We have to step up and see our students more as colleagues than as our subjects who need to listen and do as we say.  If we can open the discussion and give our students a voice in the classroom, make them feel like they are collaborating instead of simply cooperating, I think we will see a huge difference.

Technology gives us a perfect opportunity to explore this new path.  With a little planning and vision we can offer students a world of possibilities through a blended  learning classroom that encourages students to learn and create with technology.  We cannot simply step aside and hand students a laptop, but we can point them in the right directions, curate resources for them, guide them in proper use and help them decide when to put it way and use good old pens and paper.   It gives us the chance to work with smaller groups, for students to choose their own paths and paces and to find answers to those random questions kids always ask.

Will it be perfect in the beginning?  Of course not.  But when we are comfortable in a group, we can laugh at those mistakes, take a minute to talk about them and maybe come up with a new strategy  and then toss the ball right back in to play.




Learning While Leading

Technology in the classroom opens up a myriad of questions, but also presents fantastic opportunities.  Students have been using technology inappropriately since the beginning of education (finger nails on the chalkboard, games of pencil break, spitballs, those jumping things you make with paper clips). Our job is to present students with technology use that enhances learning objectives and to model how to use them appropriately through our own practice.

This week I got the opportunity to lead our staff during our weekly afternoon of professional development.  I enjoy the opportunity for sharing my ideas on something I’m passionate about and coaching teachers through the web of technology in education (you see what I did there?) is definitely one of my passions.  Leading professional development means  I get to share my experiences, hopefully make some people laugh and also be met with new challenges.  There’s always a question that isn’t easy to answer and that means I’m growing as a professional too.

This week we I attempted to use the skills we’ve been developing as a staff around GSuite in order to gain some feedback on our newly revised technology philosophy and introduce teachers to the ISTE Standards for students.  We used a hyperdoc and visible thinking routines to promote engagement and collaboration.  

It can be tricky to introduce new ideas to staff.  I know I’ve been guilty of letting out the “one more thing” groan in a staff meeting before. So I wanted to make sure this was all presented with a positive slant.  Thanks to some great guidance and feedback from my admin during the planning stages, I think we managed to do just that. We used the responses from a teacher classroom technology use survey that was completed earlier in the year to look at and celebrate the ways we are already meeting many of the ISTE Standards. It helped to turn the conversation from ‘what else do we have to do’ to ‘Wow! We already do some cool stuff’. 

It felt like a successful session.  Im also learning that it is more difficult to read a room full of adults than it is a room full of students. But the responses and conversations were positive. In fact I got positive feedback from some surprising sources and responses to my exit survey were very thoughtful and meaningful. 
I’m in the process of follow up on the feedback for those who asked specific questions, an option on my form, and in the meantime I hit some of the highlights in an email to my staff.  That email in turn, led to this blog post.  Its funny how things work out that way.   Below is the final portion of the email and I think it probably applies to a broader audience so I thought I would share.  There was some concern over what role the ISTE Standards were to play in our school and how technology use is “monitored” at our school.  Here are my thoughts:

The ISTE Standards are:

  • a guide for integrating technology
  • a resource for you to access as you continue to develop your craft

The ISTE Standards are not:

  • goals to be accomplished by a specific date
  • suggesting that all education should be based solely in technology

The questions about a policy for

  • monitoring screen time for students
  • who is responsible for teaching digital citizenship,
  • how to make sure we aren’t over using technology as a school

I think this can all be covered by saying yes, we are revising the Tech Plan to address some of it, but much of this is up to you as a teacher.  Don’t worry, it is not extra work.  Just think about how you approach teaching your class.  

Do you…

  • ask students to close their computers when you’re speaking or they don’t currently need them?
  • move about the room while they are working or have them sitting so that you can see most of their screens?
  • check your email or phone constantly during a class?
  • encourage students to take brain breaks?
  • discuss the importance of citing websites and resources?

As we have these conversations, I keep coming back to the idea of are we educating our students for our past or their future.  Its a powerful thought.  I in no way believe that education should be pure technology and we should throw away books and pencils all together.  We used poster paper and markers in this session!  But I do believe we have to prepare students to be successful in their world.  After all, you aren’t standing in the town square reading this pinned to the wall.  You’re probably reading it on your computer, and you could be on almost anywhere in the world reading it on your phone.  Times have changed and education needs to be changing with them if not ahead.

Sharing is Caring and Full of Opportunities

As I mentioned last week, I recently made the decision to work through the ISTE Coaching Academy series.  I shared the idea with my PLN and it has quickly grown into more than I anticipated.  Recent conversations have led to the set up an online community for Technology Coaches in AISA.  I made the request to create it on Monday and as of today there are already 24 members of the group, eager to learn together and share ideas.

screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-11-40-31-amI’ve been accepted as a presenter for the online Global Education Conference next week where I’ll be presenting about our oral history project here at LCS.  I’m pumped that this project is in its third year and continuing to grow.  The opportunity to share it with others and hopefully see their students and schools reap the benefits of a similar project is exciting to me.

So I share these ideas, not to toot my own horn, I do that enough in traffic around here, img_4142but to illustrate the power of sharing your work and ideas.  It opens opportunities, creates connections, and gives us a chance to grow.  I’m more excited about the connections and next steps that will come out of these current projects than I am about leading them.

I’m not looking to become a consultant, traveling the world presenting my canned presentations and racking up frequent flier miles.  That doesn’t appeal to me.  I think of it in football terms.  I don’t want to be the striker with the fancy hair and sixty goals per season with the mic in his face after every game.  I want to be that quiet midfielder that keep the game flowing and occasionally puts the ball on the strikers foot in stride.   Every now and then I take the lead, but I’m usually just quietly doing my job.

For me its seeing others succeed that keeps me going. That’s why we’re in education right?  Its not about my success. Its about my students, or in my case now, my teachers.  If I can set them up with opportunities to score, we all win.

So take that chance.  Submit a conference proposal, or start your own blog, or even just ask for ten minutes at your next staff meeting to share something awesome your doing.  You know you’re doing something awesome.  Then watch those around you grow and flourish and just sit back and see how far that positivity can go.

Projects and Organization

This week absolutely flew by.  I’ve got enough projects in the works that it is definitely keeping me on my toes.  This week I submitted my Google Certified trainer application as I’m wrapping up the series of Certified Educator trainings for our staff.   I’m not sure what the results of the trainings will be.  I haven’t had as much participation in the series as I initially hoped.  There a lot of teachers who decided to work on their own.  That’s all good, if they are, but its certainly hard to tell.

Now attention is turning to school policies and philosophies.  We’re in the process of revising our school technology philosophy.  We have it written and are now just awaiting admin feedback.  Its pretty amazing how one task opens another.  Now we’re having to start to look at what it means to the rest of our technology plan.  Something we needed to do anyway, but it brings the task to the front.   We’ve outgrown the systems that we have in place both in size and philosophy.  Its exciting to be a part of the process of looking forward.

We’ve been BYOD for a few years now, but we’ve also had a set of laptops available for check out.  Its created quite an interesting culture among our students.  Its time to sort out if we really are BYOD or not and think about what messages we are sending about our technology program.  In my opinion we have a lot of tech and a lot of potential, but we need to tap that potential and move our school to the next level.

We’re too reactionary right now with our processes and programs.  We need to think forward and get our systems updated and have a vision of how they will grow.  I’m working on this myself actually.  Just switched over to a new organization system.  My new organization planI’m trying out Trello for awhile and I like it so far.  I’ve yet to find a digital to do list that I liked, but this system seems to be a little more suited to my needs.  I like to be able to move things across the board as I work on them.  We’ll see how it goes.

This week I also started organizing a cohort of people to work through the ISTE Coaching Academy with me.  I put the word out in some forums expecting a couple of responses and now we’re looking at close to 30 participants interested.  A little more than I expected and turned a little PD idea into a bit more of a project.  Its cool though.  Opens up another opportunity to learn and lead.

Friday is definitely catching up with me about now.  I think I’ll have some coffee.

Until next time…

#AEC2016 Reflecting on leading professional learning

img_2221I’ve just finished my first real conference presentations.  I was lucky enough to be invited to be a part of the AISA Educator’s conference in Johannesburg this year.  It was a fantastic, challenge that has my mind spinning and exhausted.  Three days of  two and a half hour each morning and afternoon sessions will wear a fella out.  I’m worked, but also already thinking about what I could do better.

How cool to get to spend three days in a room with educators from across the continent sharing and learning together.  Participants represented schools with great internet, to almost no internet and thirty plus students in a class to only thirty-five students in the entire school!  Talk about diverse needs in a session.  2016-10-19

I feel like things went pretty well.  My task was facilitating discussion and learning around technology integration.  We spent our time discussing the SAMR model and the ISTE standards for teachers and students and of course, experimenting and exploring digital resources. The initial feedback I’ve received was positive and participants seemed engaged throughout the sessions.  I look forward to seeing official feedback from the conference evaluations soon.

As I reflect on improvements, I think the time spent exploring tools needed a little more img_2222structure. In fact, one participant suggested this in the feedback.  I provided a spreadsheet with tools and room to add comments and reviews as well as other resources, but it was not well utilised.  At least not the comments and review parts.  In the future, I’ll structure the form differently and look to have participants commit to a particular group of resources or at least a specific number of reviews.  In the end this would make the document more useful for everyone.  I also feel like I need to work on the closing of each day.  This was an issue for me in the classroom as well.  I could do better with a short review and reflection exercise at the close of each day.  That’s a pretty easy fix.  I just need to do it.

Selfies are an integral part of PDBy far the most positive takeaway from the experience is the time spent with new people.  It is energising to be in a room full of educators eager to learn and improve their craft.  The open sharing and willingness to take chances, ask questions and help one another was invigorating.  I’m thankful for the opportunity to make those connections and share moments with each of them.  As we were leaving, one of my new friends stopped to give me  a hug and turned and hugged my children as well while she invited us to come visit her country someday.  I hope we can.

My wife and me

Which actually brings up another excellent part of this adventure.  My wife was also presenting at the conference, which is cool in itself, but that meant that our kids came along with us as well.  We had made arrangements for them to have people to hangout with while we worked, but they helped us set up our rooms for our sessions, Little helpersmade friends with other kids who were tagging along and got to see us teaching and learning with other adults.  They definitely picked up on it too.  One night before she fell asleep, my girl said to my wife, “Mommy, I love learning.”  You just
can’t ask for much more than that.

Now its back to work and the regular routine, but I’ll have this experience in my back pocket now to return to and reflect upon as I look forward to what might come next.

Good, fun people