Out With the Old, In With the New

New computers await set-up

New computers await set-up

Adios, XP

image courtesy of directron.com

image courtesy of directron.com

The past few weeks have certainly brought a lot of excitement and change around my school as it relates to instructional technology. Within the span of just a few short weeks, every computer and printer in the building will be replaced by brand-new hardware. Windows XP has given way (just in time – Microsoft support ceases in April) to the Windows 7 operating system. Gone are the days of cursing the 32-bit operating system for its failure to manage multiple tasks without crashing. No more light-gray start button. No more Internet Explorer 8. No more ____________ (fill in the blank with YOUR least favorite thing about Windows XP). All is grand. The sun dawns on a new horizon. I can hear the angels singing their grand anthem to usher us into this new era of problem-free computing.

Wait a minute…..WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?????

It would be folly to believe that all technology-related problems could simply be wiped away by new hardware and a new operating system. We will still face challenges with whatever hardware our students use. There will still be glitches, missing software, and the uncomfortable feeling that things aren’t exactly how they used to be. Will we let those problems overwhelm us or will we roll with the punches? I know that our students will figure it out, and I hope that we won’t be far behind!

 

Short-Term Frustrations

image from flickr.com - by Sybren Stuvel

image from flickr.com – by Sybren Stuvel

Change inherently causes a certain amount of disequilibrium for those who are used to routine. Missing programs, different desktop icons, and new locations for cable inputs can run the gamut from being a slight annoyance to totally derailing a teacher’s lesson or a teacher’s entire day. Why do we let technology frustrate us so? I hope that our teachers are able to rely on the support of their colleagues and the tech team to overcome those initial obstacles that stand in the way of their successful integration of their new technology. It might require a few days, or even weeks, of discomfort and exploration before we can feel like we have mastered the basics of Windows 7, new printers, and new projectors (coming soon).

Once we’ve moved past this initial adjustment period, what will we do with this new technology? Will we seek out new features and new uses for our students, or will we be overwhelmed by all the different-ness and revert to less student-centered and more teacher-centered instructional strategies? I hope not. I hope that we will start asking questions like “How can these new tools enable our students to do things more effectively and efficiently?” and “How can we leverage these new tools to enhance student engagement, teacher collaboration, and effective technology integraion?” Only time will tell, but I know I’ll be giving 110% to lead by example as we move forward with all of our new “stuff”. I’ve started by creating a presentation to show our teachers some of the new features in Windows 7.

So, What’s New? And How Can I Use It?

new stuff

One of the exciting new features of our student and teacher laptops is an integrated forward-facing camera. I am personally excited to teach lessons in classes using Movenote, a great web-tool (and app) that lets students upload images, PowerPoints, and PDFs and record themselves as they present. This is a great way for students to create a video and to present “to the class” (and beyond!) without having the nerves that come with standing up in front of their peers. Be sure to check out the Movenote tutorial page I created on our Harbins Technology Central website to learn more about how you can use Movenote in your class!

I am quite certain that there are more great features for our new hardware that we will discover as we begin to dig in and explore the differences.  Our students will no doubt figure out much more that we could ever imagine and “suggest” some new uses for us. I’m looking forward to all of the possibilities as we begin another chapter in our tech integration journey. How have you successfully integrated new hardware into your school and your lesson plans? What has worked to help you overcome the “new stuff” barriers inherent in this process?

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Beginning the Nexus 7 Adventure

The New Google Nexus 7

In December, my school, a K-5 elementary in Georgia, purchased 42 of the new Google Nexus 7 tablets to supplement our schoolwide BYOD program. We have been primarily using iPad minis in grades K & 1 with a mix of older tablets and laptops in grades 2-5, but this purchase will allow grades 2-4 to have large sets of tablets to share. As the technology coordinator, I am responsible for setting up, maintaining, and conducting PD on facilitating the use of the tablets in the classroom. Although our teachers are somewhat familiar with Android devices due to the BYOD program, most have never owned or used one in the past.

The Learning Curve

As an iOS user, I found that Android devices were a little hard to get comfortable with in the beginning. Many users are tripped up by basics, such as locating the all apps button and how to connect to WiFi in the settings icon. I’m hoping to get our teachers past these bumps quickly, so we can move on to how to have students use them in the classroom. The ideal situation would be to let each teacher use a Nexus as their primary way to connect to the internet for a few days, just to figure out some of the basics and to understand some of the frustration their students might initially feel with a new device. But, I don’t believe that every teacher needs to be an expert with each piece of technology in their classroom. They only need to be expert facilitators, not expert users.

How do you help get teachers comfortable with new technology in your school?

What are some strategies/structures you have in place to support this?

Initial Setup

Screenshot_2014-01-03-12-44-45

Here is the initial screen setup for a 4th grade device. Although we are technically a GAFE school, we don’t have permission for individual student accounts using their district IDs, so for now I have 5-6 devices set up on one generic Google Apps login. This gives us access to Drive for cloud storage and integration with many other apps, but still leaves us short of the ideal solution.

I chose to focus mainly on versatile creativity apps for the initial setup instead of content-specific ones. The ones in the picture above are the free ones that are on so far. Based on budget, the picture below shows my wish list for paid apps. I would love any suggestions on other free or paid apps that you use with elementary students.

Screenshot_2014-01-03-12-44-32

Going Forward

We already have scheduled monthly technology staff development sessions to help teachers learn about new hardware, software, and web tools. I am hopeful that these sessions will give teachers what they need to help them feel comfortable using the Nexus 7 as another tool that help them facilitate engaging, personalized learning experiences for their students.  I want to ensure that we always focus on technology as another tool, as a means to an end and not the end itself. I know that in a few years that these tablets will be obsolete and we will have moved on to other things, so I’m not deluding myself into thinking that they are the answer to every problem in education, but I do believe that they can be an important tool to teach a curriculum that prepares our students for middle school, high school, college, career, and beyond.

Have you used the new Nexus 7 in the classroom yet? 

Any suggestions for apps or settings that would help an elementary student be successful?

Embracing Change: The Key to Improving Technology Integration in the Classroom

Image

“Another new initiative? Changing something else again? You’ve got to be kidding me!”

This is a familiar refrain that I hear from teachers on an almost daily basis. It seems as if they are constantly pushed and pulled in new directions, and never allowed to slow down, reflect, and refine their instructional plans to benefit their students. It’s true, there has been a lot of change recently in education, and there appears to be even more on the horizon. While your first gut reaction might be to complain, student achievement data of our country as a whole tells us that we can’t just stop and keep doing the same things over and over – some amount of change is necessary for us to prepare our students for college, career, and beyond.

 

What Does This Have to do with Technology?

 

Throughout human history, technological innovations have always faced resistance. To embrace technology is to embrace change – to go out of your comfort zone, to risk failure, to venture into the great unknown. When I talk to students about technology, I often mention the early explorers of the 1400s and 1500s. There were many that refused to adopt new methods and navigational tools, such as the compass and the astrolabe. I’m sure many of these guys were really good explorers and sailors that were dedicated to their careers and wanted to change the world. But their names are not written in any history books. They were unwilling to leave their comfort zones and embrace technological change, and, as a result, they were left behind by pioneers like Magellan and Columbus – guys who were willing to embrace new tools and stake their lives and the lives of many men on these new tools and new ships, venturing to places that no European had gone before.

Back to our question at hand: how do we as teacher-leaders help our colleagues to embrace change? How do we convince the teacher that always sits in the same pew at church every week to strike out and try something new? Alas, I wish there were a magic pill, a one-sentence answer that I could plop in here that would do the trick. If only life were that simple! I do, however, think that the key lies in the cultures we create at our schools. If we can build robust professional learning communities and infuse them with a “coaching culture” mentality, than we can impact the practices of every teacher in our building and radically alter the ways that they view change and technology.

 

What is a Coaching Culture? How Do I Build One at My School?

 

In their book Creating a Coaching Culture for Professional Learning Communities, Jane Kise and Beth Russell invite us to take a deeply personal look on how our thoughts, beliefs, and actions impact the culture at our schools. One of their participants describes belonging to a meaningful PLC in this way:

“Knowing the talents and strengths of more of my colleagues helps me refer a teacher in need of assistance to precisely the right person. I now understand that I am not equipped to help everyone personally and have started to utilize the talents of others more regularly.”

Once again, making a difference in professional practice comes down to building relationships. If you don’t know the strengths and weaknesses of the people you work with, how can you effectively help them? If you don’t have strong, collaborative relationships with your colleagues, how can you be expected to get them to adopt a new idea? To embrace BYOD? It would be almost impossible.

What Now?

Building a coaching culture is not a weekly, monthly, or even a yearly project. It takes strong leadership and investment in mentoring other leaders in your school. I would invite you to reflect on these questions and decide what YOUR next step is as a teacher-leader or administrator in your school. What can YOU do to help create or to further the PLC in your school? How can you build relationships, know your co-workers better, and be a leader in embracing technology integration? Here are a few ideas.

  • Read and reflect on a great book together, such as “Creating a Coaching Culture”
  • Create or improve a strong leadership team that empowers teachers from all levels in your building
  • Focus on an action plan after each professional development and invite teachers to share at the next meeting how they integrated the new technique/tool into their practice
  • Do the little things to build up relationships – write notes, put in that extra time, help someone without being asked
  • Model, lead by example, and always be willing to share your failures, not just your successes

What are YOU doing to help build the coaching culture in your school? I’d love to hear your thoughts below in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

Reflections on ISTE13- Keep the focus on the WHY, not the WHAT

Just prior to attending ISTE 2013, I read a piece on teachthought.com (originally from the Always Prepped blog) on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Technology Teachers.

http://blog.alwaysprepped.com/the-7-habits-of-highly-effective-teachers-who-use-technology/

What really struck me was the first entry – ALWAYS START WITH THE WHY. Too many times, as teachers who love technology, we get wrapped up in the details of the latest tech tool and forget why we are using that tool in the first place. It’s so easy to get lost in the latest gadget, tip, or trick for your students. Unfortunately, sometimes we lose the focus on good pedagogy amidst the bells and whistles of our FAVORITE NEW THING.

At ISTE, I learned about A LOT of new gadgets, tips, tricks, websites, and applications. But I resisted the temptation to get lost in the WOW factor and tried to keep my focus on the question “How can this help me maximize student engagement and achievement?”. The WOW factor is a great thing, don’t get me wrong, but we need to see each new tool as what it is: just another tool, not a total redefinition of our pedagogy and best practices. Just as a new car doesn’t change the way we drive (or what we know about driving), a new website doesn’t change the way kids learn or think about learning. What matters most is STILL the teacher’s ability to facilitate learning and give kids experiences that they will remember.

So, when you hear about the latest new tip, trick, or website, resist the temptation to dive in and always remember the why – technology for technology’s sake is perhaps the most dangerous idea of our times. Give your students experiences they will remember, regardless of the technology involved.

-CDR

 

Here are a couple of links to great reflections on the ISTE13 Conference in San Antonio. Enjoy!

Chris Rogers is a technology coach for a K-5 elementary school in Georgia. Follow him on Twitter (@cdr58_1977) or email directly to chris_rogers@gwinnett.k12.ga.us