May GTL Edition; Play, Plan, Focus: Reflect and Prepare to Launch Your Next School Year

what’s the buzz?

When my sister and I were kids (her in primary school and I as a toddler), our parents would often take us to the nearby nature preserve. There are VHS tapes of us peering into the dark water of the ponds, my mother slyly holding the bottom of my t-shirt as I inched forward. My sister and I especially enjoyed tossing food pellets to the various wildlife of those ponds – snapping turtles, Trout, ducks, and the occasional hissing Canada Geese. The experience never got old and the squeals of delight continued for years. Walking past the ponds and over a wooden bridge, we would find ourselves on a path towards the Visitor’s Center.

In all my years of visiting, I find comfort in the fact that the Center itself remains mostly unchanged. The main level of the building houses my favorite exhibit,“Mammals of New York State”, complete with taxidermied animals of all sizes and an impressive bird collection. Upon entering this particular exhibit, visitors encounter a dull buzzing, which appears to be coming from the corner of the room. As a child, I wanted nothing to do with the buzzing, but as I grew, I found myself drawn towards it, sliding open a wooden panel to reveal a fully active bee hive.

The honeybees enter the hive through a series of PVC pipes, which lead safely in and out of the building’s window. Visitors can watch the bees crawling over the honeycombs, so tightly pressed together they barely squeeze by each other. I will never forget the feeling of the dull buzzing in my chest, a tangible reminder of the intense energy generated by their hundreds of wings.

 

gift of wings

Ask anyone who was at the May edition of GTL and they would agree that the room was buzzing. Participants flew from one exhibit to the next, in search of the best edtech to fit their needs. They had the opportunity to “play” with the new tech and take part in demonstrations which featured effective implementation. The demonstrations were led by those who had experienced success while utilizing the tools and truly believed in their worth. Access to these “experts” reassured even the most hesitant of participants and provided them with the necessary support to try something new.

The buzzing grew louder as participants began to narrow their focus to the tools they liked most. They sat down in groups with other teachers to brainstorm ways in which each tool could improve their instruction and their students’ learning. Instructional technology coaches connected people with similar interests in order for them to better explore the logistics of the programs, predict implementation challenges, draft info letters for parent night, etc. Some participants even went so far as to plan a trial run of the program during the remaining months of the school year. The energy in the room was palpable.

 

creating a hive

I walked out of this particular event feeling much like I did when leaving the Visitor’s Center at the nature preserve. I felt invigorated (which says a lot for the third week in May as an educator). Empowered by the passion and knowledge of those around me, I was ready to become a transformative force in education. It got me thinking.

How can we harness this “buzz” as educators and create hives of our own? How can we transform our classrooms into hives of creativity and collaboration?

Here are a few elements from this event which may help you to create a hive of your own:

  • Avoid being the “keeper of knowledge”. (Great wisdom once imparted on me by a professor in grad school). Allow the free flow of information. Never hold back on making a resource accessible to your students, whether online or from a book. Instead, teach them to judge their resources accordingly.
  • Boost collaboration. Set up your classroom in a way that encourages students to collaborate. Utilize tables whenever possible (as opposed to single desks), or set up your desks in groups. Talking is ok, as long as it’s productive.
  • Allow time for play. Students will be more invested and energized when given time for play and discovery. When you’re introducing a new tool – a math manipulative, a new book, a new program – allow students a specified amount of time to explore on their own. You’d be surprised how quickly they learn!
  • Work towards a common goal. Although each bee has its own purpose, they are all working towards the goal of collecting nectar to survive. Your students could be working towards the goal of gaining a better understanding of the world around them. Try and connect to this common goal even when you are cramming for those state tests.

Not quite feeling the buzz in your classroom yet?

Check out some of these great resources from the GTL May Edition;

Play, Plan, Focus: Reflect and Prepare to Launch your Next School Year

Written by Emily Kirsch, @Ed_Tech_Em

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GTL April Edition, Let Our Powers Combine: An EdTech Think Tank

riding a bike

There is a saying that goes, “Being a teacher is easy. It’s like riding a bike. Except the bike is on fire. You’re on fire. Everything is on fire.” It paints quite the picture. Even someone who has never set foot in the classroom can picture the chaos of this image. The saying is meant to be somewhat comical, but there is an ounce of truth in it. For instance, just as you ride a bike, you never forget what it means to be a teacher.  Throw a former teacher into a classroom full of chaos and she/he will have the students working together and learning within the first 15 minutes. It just feels natural. That same teacher will go home at the end of the day (probably hours after the school bell has rang) and want to collapse on the couch. Teaching is the opposite of easy; it’s hard and it’s exhausting.

I saw a interesting infographic recently, which stated that teachers make an average of 1,500 educational decisions every day. Educational decisions. That number doesn’t include the emotional decisions teachers make for the well-being of their students, nor the professional decisions teachers make in attempt to balance their work lives with their personal lives. And it certainly doesn’t include the vast number of decisions teachers make around the integration of technology in the classroom. I don’t know about you, but the chaos in that original image has seemingly become a reality.

 

“let our powers combine”

I wish I could tell you there is “one size fits all” solution to this chaos – Maybe a magical bean for a teacher to plant, to aide in her escape through the classroom window? Unfortunately, while I haven’t tried that one myself, I have a hunch that it wouldn’t do the trick. However, I can tell you that it doesn’t have to be quite that chaotic.

You deserve support. You deserve to be surrounded by a community of educators whom you can lean on when you need them most. In short, you deserve your own version of the Planeteers. In the midst of the chaos, it is important to remember the wise words of Captain Planet and, “Let our powers combine.” After all, who knows the challenges of teaching better than a fellow teacher?

Here are some practical (and efficient) ways to form your Planeteers:

  1. Start up a group text with your friends from work (FFW). I can’t tell you the number of times that my own FFW chat thread has saved not only my sanity, but usually hours of Googling the problems that I personally don’t know how to solve.
  2. Join a Professional Learning Community (PLC). Google+ is a great platform for online communities and an easy way to connect with others, ask them your questions or share your own expertise. Google Educator Group (GEG) NYC is  a good place to start. Google+ not your thing? Facebook has some good teacher groups, too; Teachers Helping Teachers Grow is on my personal newsfeed.
  3. Jump on Twitter. Create a snazzy handle for yourself and start reading tips from the educational greats; I recommend searching out lists which include multiple educators, such as “Influential Educators v2” by Edbaria. New to Twitter? Check out this intro video.

 

they’re among us

If it were up to me, each teacher would have their own educational guru. This guru would sit in the back of the classroom each and every day, waiting to answer any and all questions the teacher may have without judgement. During an observation, the guru would make sure all technology worked appropriately and all students had a pencil that was sharpened prior to the lesson. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Well, it sort of is, but if this GTL event taught me anything, it’s that the experts are among us.

 

As a teacher, we are surrounded by others who face the same challenges and concerns we do on a daily basis. They may not be teaching directly next door, but they are there. I promise. Perhaps these other teachers have discovered an innovative way to keep students on task when using technology. Maybe they even have some tips on how to scaffold technology for younger students. I won’t know until I ask.

 

 

Ask on your FFW text thread, or your PLC, or even on Twitter. All it takes is a simple sentence: “Hey, I could use some tips on…” and maybe, just maybe someone will show up with a bucket of water.

 

Feeling a little shy? Here are some freebie-tips!

Click to access a summary of the edtech issues and solutions from,

Let Our Powers Combine: An EdTech Think Tank

 

Written by Emily Kirsch, @Ed_Tech_Em