I am a principal by trade and am excited to learn new things. In fact over the recent holiday break (almost two weeks now), I have done just that in trying to get ready for an enrichment club at our school that we will offer upon our students' return next week. All this "learning" was sparked by a recent conversation that I had with my friend +Sean Williams, who serves as our local district technology consultant who posed the question to me in a curious sort of tone. "So, what are you all doing to get ready for the upcoming Smarter Balanced Assessment?" I know he meant well, but he caused me a lot of stress that day! Naturally, my initial response would have been a wonderful explanation of the work we have done over the course of the last couple of years in preparing our curriculum to meet the Common Core State Standards, of which I am very proud of our staff and district for their proactive approach. The problem was, I know that was not what he really cared about and not what he was really asking. I can imagine the look on my face. I was stumped and probably a bit paralyzed. What he was more curious about was what our school was doing to ensure our kids have the skills to think their way through an assessment such as the SBAC requiring students to perform multiple-step tasks all the while interacting with a computerized device of whatever sort they may have access to and will be compatible. Big Question!
I realize that a computer is a piece of equipment and just placing one in front of a student will not necessarily bear positive testing results. The critical thinking that goes into an assessment like the Smarter Balanced and navigating a device to communicate learning is really what concerns me. Our staff is realizing that the Common Core is built for 21st century skills and this has created an urgency to adapt our teaching to allow students to operate at this level more than we have traditionally asked them to. We are still working through this, it has proven to be a long process.
Our current reality in terms of student practice using a device is outrageously insufficient. Our students do not have computer classes, let alone access to devices but for limited stints throughout their months they spend at our school this year, and the exposure will be limited for the most part of ensuring those papers that are due will be word processed. My paralysis, as to how we preparing our students technologically, came from envisioning our current students sitting down for the first time to take an assessment lacking the technical skills to demonstrate their knowledge toward meeting standards, ultimately becoming frustrated to the point of tears.
We have been able to get by with the current point and click format, but this will no longer be the only actions our students will be asked to perform. Now, just to be clear this blog post is not about the test, but about a realization that as a school we need to get our students up to speed using technology as a tool for learning, furthering engagement and ability to critically think. This means our kids need exposure to navigating tools to help them learn and process information. I probably wouldn't be the first to tell you that this is not happening at our school and I am sure we are not alone.
So, the creation of Area 42 was born from my new experiences of being a connected learner and a way to start sharing challenges and hopefully some solutions through the experiences at our school. Through the enrichment club, I will be learning with our students. The use of technology as a tool for learning is new for me as well, and thus I promised to forgive myself when I screw up because I am sure that I will...a bunch! My goals for this coming year will be to:
- Get students to recognize the devices in front of them are more than toys and can be powerful tools for learning, but I am hoping for more.
- Use my experiences as a testing bed for staff development that is much needed for our teachers when it comes to using technology to enhance learning.
- Not sure, but hoping for increased student engagement as they take charge of their own learning (sarcasm intended)!
I will keep you posted, wish me luck!