Monday, January 13, 2014

From Toys to Tools

Learning alongside kids.

A Peek at Our Challenge

The launch of a new enrichment activity at our school this week called Wildcat Internet Cafe' in simple terms was a self-imposed challenge that +Sean Williams and I have teamed up on.  Our goal is to try out a few things with our students, teaching them to utilize technology for learning.  Selfishly, I want to learn right along side them so I can know what all is involved when directing learning with the use of  technology. 
The take-aways from the week were few, but a powerful few. The first days of running a group of our students through the discovery of utilizing computerized devices as tools for learning was interesting to say the least. Our first meeting was quite comical in that our students usually get the choice of what they would like to do during the enrichment period. Of the 70 kids sitting in front of us, about 13 actually signed up.  I guess I did not do a great sell job on that one!  The reason we had so many kids was that I had no where else to put them and, well, I am glutton for punishment so I figured, "why not?" So we created a rock concert environment and tried to get them excited, with a little bit of success. The first day was a bit slow, but the second and third days were full of learning, and I have to say the level of engagement on their part was great!  We as a group had some successes and we certainly struggled a whole bunch. So, I thought I would share from our experiences.

Yep, they view those things as toys!

Our first discussion was, I believe, a sincere one and one that I needed to hear with my own ears. After having our students place the devices in front of them, most of which were their own, we discussed what wonderful things we would do with them instead of listen to my wonderful monologue.  At first they were sheepish in their response, but soon I could hardly hold back their unanimous outcry of "just let us play our games already!"  It was that moment that I realized the obstacle that lay in front of our school as a system -- although they are fluent in games and texting, they are not skilled in using these devices for learning.  I suppose there was a part of me that really wanted to hear them give an account of all the cool things that they had done the previous day to learn and share that learning with others...Nope! 

Not all devices were created equal.

Our school, well we are not device all! For this activity we worked to incorporate a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program with our kids. Sean and I worked on an activity to have students review policy on BYOD and to get parent approval.  We set up a Google form to have students get approval.  In hindsight, most kids had their smart phones out of which the majority bring to school on a daily basis, which we knew and it was great to see. My thought was if we were to roll out a BYOD program tomorrow, a large percentage of our students would be able to do this.  I worry about liability, which I guess it is part of my job, so the parent notification, although now seemed unnecessary for most, I think it was a great navigation task to kick us off. One of the things that we discovered quickly was that not all devices are great for working multiple step processes.  Screen sizes, different platforms used by the wide assortment of devices, and loading speeds were some of the technological challenges we sorted through in our first few days. We made due, but I discovered that if kids struggle a bunch with their devices doing simple tasks, their frustration shuts down their perseverance, especially if they are new to this game. So, not to endorse any product over another, I did take note of those types of devices that were working better than others in the tasks that we were working through. If needed, I can now have somewhat of an intelligent conversation about which devices would be good to invest money in when talking to a parent or advocating for our school.
    Wildcat Internet Cafe'

You can teach an old dog new tricks.

Although I use technology for myself to learn and be productive in my daily life, I am finding it a bit of a challenge learning how to use technology for learning in the classroom. I realized a while back that the "head in the sand" trick and avoiding the technology aspect of student learning wasn't doing anybody at my school any good. Typically you probably wouldn't see a principal of a school teaching a class at the end of the day. In fact, I had a couple of kids ask what I was doing and probably more wondering what I was thinking! Well, for me it is important to know first-hand the challenge that our students and teachers are up against.  I have learned and will continue to learn from the experiences of our kids and staff.  I cannot ask our teachers to implement strategies if I don't know the what, the how, or the why?  The importance of creating a professional learning network cannot be overemphasized in this case.  The connections that I have made thus far have really helped improve my understanding of many things, but most of all the fact that there are people out there willing to share their experiences and knowledge has helped me incorporate professional development everyday. It does take a willingness to jump in the pool, but having people willing to push you in the pool is even more important.  We will continue to learn through this experience. Stay tuned!

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