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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

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GTL March Edition, Breaking out of the Box: Students as Innovators

diy

After months of dealing with an ever-dying battery, blurry classroom pictures, and limited hard drive space, I gave in and bought a new Android. It always amazes me to see just how quickly technology advances itself and this phone has been no exception. The first time I scrolled through the Facebook app, I was instantly mesmerized by the videos which automatically began to play. As much as I hate to admit it, I must have watched at least 10 clips of recipes and do-it-yourself (DIY) projects that first day.

When watching these videos, one cannot help but adopt a DIY attitude – an inner voice that claims, “I could totally do that.” Some people adopt a DIY attitude to save money, others simply enjoy the opportunity to flex their creative muscles. Even as I write this, I have a DIYer friend who is beginning the stages of building his own dining table. And, why not? In this day in age, with easy access to resources and experts (in person or virtually), more and more people are exploring the world of DIY.

“every child has a genius”

One fascinating thing about DIY is that it gives people the time and space to explore skills they would not necessarily use on a daily basis. It requires them to think outside the box and to stay motivated, even as unexpected challenges arise. During our March GTL event, Breaking out of the Box: Students as Innovators, we explored the work of a true DIY educator, Steven Levy, author of Starting from Scratch: One Classroom Builds Its Own Curriculum.

Famous for his innovative nature, Levy offered his students in Massachusetts the tremendous opportunity of designing their own curriculum. He even identified his “ideal classroom” as one that was completely empty on the first day of school. He wanted to allow his students to create a space that fit their needs. Why was Levy such a strong believer in “starting from scratch”? He understood the unique power of innovation. Levy recognized that when you give students the time and space to explore, you will begin to discover that “…every child has a genius”. Although this idea is not new to me, I cannot help but smile and nod agreement. As young as Kindergarten, students begin to realize their strengths and weaknesses. Michelle knows she is good with numbers and John knows he is a better reader, but what about the skills not found in a textbook?

“Brian’s” genius was professional wrestling. He wasn’t interested in learning to be a better reader. In fact, he struggled to write more than three words in his writer’s notebook. (Anyone out there find this familiar?) So, I did what any teacher would do, I begged him to write more. When that didn’t work (of course it didn’t), I knew I had to change something. I hopped online and began to teach myself all I could about professional wrestling. I read articles and watched videos, familiarizing myself with the “pros” and began to surprise Brian with wrestling-related questions in his notebook. His three words turned into a sentence and before I knew it Brian was writing a paragraph. Turns out, all I needed to do was ask the right questions.

Are you using innovation to support your students in discovering their “genius”?

Interested in learning more about Steven Levy? Check out his book (one of my personal favorites)!

 

small steps = big innovation

During this edition of Google Teachers’ Lounge (GTL), participants explored ways in which they can build innovative practices into their instruction. From discussing flexible classroom seating to learning about digital makerspaces, teachers figured out what worked best for them. One of the best takeaways of the evening was that innovation does not have to mean “starting from scratch”. There is no need to throw away those boxes of curriculum that are in your closet; instead, start small.

Build in innovation by offering students a menu of options. Let students choose how they want to show their understanding of a concept. A Google Slides presentation that includes graphics? A letter written from a character’s point of view? Maybe they could even record their thinking when solving a math problem. Offering these options allows students to draw from their “genius”, while still providing adequate data for a teacher. Most importantly, it allows students to become DIYers, while staying within the confines of that pesky pacing calendar.

Ready to break outside of the box and take on the attitude of a DIYer?!

…Because you can “totally do this” – Check out our full list of resources here!

Written by Emily Kirsch, @Ed_Tech_Em