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Hats and Shoes: Gearing up for Tech Ed with ISTE


I wear a lot of hats in my world of education. I’m a former JI teacher with experience mostly in grade 8, and I’ve dabbled in administration and curriculum writing. Currently, I’m a self-employed home daycare provider, education student at Redeemer University College, and a parent and board member at my daughter’s independent Christian school. While at times I’m overwhelmed, these various perspectives are a blessing to me on my journey as a lifelong learner. 

In my Digital Technology for Education course, I’m exploring the use of technology from my current perspectives. The International Society for Technology and Education (ISTE) has developed some standards and performance indicators for teachers regarding their use of technology. ISTE has also outlined several conditions that need to be met by schools so that teachers can effectively use technology.

 As a board member I share a responsibility for ensuring that many of these conditions are met. Boards are instrumental in helping to develop a shared community vision that embraces technology. Necessary to implement this vision would be consistent and adequate funding for the technology itself, the maintenance of it and the professional development around it. This funding for technology should be integral part of our education budget and can even help to reduce spending on some of the traditional consumables and non-consumables like textbooks, notebooks, and pencils. Our board needs to work with administration to develop and implement the technology plans and support policies that align themselves with the shared community vision. However, this collaborative work should not be limited to boards and principals; we need to recognize the leadership potential in teachers, parents, and even students. As boards and teachers move forward and embrace 21st Century education, the ISTE guidelines are an excellent resource for planning and implementation.

 As a student enrolled in continuing education courses, the ISTE standards and performance indicators are what I strive toward. The 5 basic standards below are manageable, but the detailed performance indicators that fall under each of the standards are overwhelming.

1.  Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity

2.    Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assessments

3.    Model Digital Age Work and Learning

4.    Promote and Model Digital Citizenship and Responsibility

5.    Engage in Professional Growth and Leadership

At this point without my own class or students, I can dream big about how I will inspire student learning and creativity with technology. I can imagine how my students and I will engage with colleagues and students of other cultures through technology. I can envision my involvement in promoting digital learning in my workplace. But these are ideals, and as a student myself, I’m going through my own technology learning curve. As I engage in my own learning experiences using technology, I can focus on professional growth, modelling digital age work and learning, and I can begin to practice digital responsibility.  I’m becoming more familiar with designing digital age learning experiences using tools and resources. (Just look at my blog posts and various background colours. Why are my first two backgrounds white? Yup, still lots to learn.) I’m collaborating on a group presentation for using Blendspace and google docs. I’m exploring apps for special education. I’ve begun to model digital age work and learning by blogging, following other blogs, and establishing a personal learning network on twitter. I’m engaged in online learning. I’m learning to be a responsible citizen in the digital world. As I’m growing professionally, I’m on a very steep learning curve, and yup I’m overwhelmed. I don’t even have my own class yet, so I can only imagine how teachers might feel as they face this mountain of “performance indicators.”

As a board member, my added perspective as an education student makes me empathetic to the challenging climb that teachers face. I’m also acutely aware that in order for technology to be implemented, the leaders who are passionate about 21st Century education need to be working alongside the teachers. Leaders in our schools are most effective when they are modelling the initiatives that they promote. Chris Wejr, a K-6 principal in British Columbia, celebrates his role as a teaching principal and describes the benefits to his school in his blog post “Principals Are Teachers.” http://connectedprincipals.com/archives/985. Greg Miller, a superintendent of a school division in Alberta is another big proponent of school change. He encourages principals to try team teaching, and describes his own experience as a team teacher. He brings his passion for technology integration, and the teachers bring their expertise and knowledge of their curriculum. http://gregmillerprincipal.com/2013/04/07/principals-try-team-teaching/ As we strive to meet the standards set out by ISTE, leaders who model digital age learning are integral to effectively implement technology in our schools.

So as I wear all of my various hats, I also need to put myself in the students’ shoes. They don’t expect to learn it all at once, and we certainly don’t lay it all out before them in preschool and kindergarten. Learning takes forever! So thanks ISTE for the mountain of technology guidelines and conditions. We’ll get there, but it might take a lifetime. For now, I’ll simply take a deep breath, put on my lifelong learner hat, my sensible walking shoes, and be content to take one step at a time.

Train your Brain

I got a new app on my phone called Lumosity. It’s supposed to train my brain. It challenges me with a daily workout that claims to improve my powers of attention, memory and problem solving. I need that. I’m getting older. At this point my BPI (Brain Performance Index) is 554, whatever that means. After I do enough workouts (or buy the upgrade) I’ll be able to compare my BPI with others’. This is an intentional brain training program that is designed to affect my brain power, and it’s pretty cool how this app can measure how I think.

How kids think is my business. I’m a former JI teacher, but now I run a home daycare and teach preschoolers, JK and SK. I’m planning to eventually get back into the formal classroom so I’m taking some education courses at Redeemer University College. One of the courses I’m taking is Digital Technology for Learning, and this is why I’m blogging about technology in education. My goal here is to reflect on what I’ve observed in the kids in my life, share a bit about where I might be going in education, and hopefully get some feedback so I can learn some more.

In my home daycare, I don’t use technology a whole lot. And I’m not convinced yet that I need to make more room for it. I’m passionate about helping the children develop a good solid foundation and a love for literacy and numeracy in their tender young years, so we spend lots of time playing with numbers and patterns, puzzling, singing rhymes, and reading great books. Perhaps about once a week, the preschoolers might choose to play on a website like Starfall as one of their morning centres. The activities on the site are a good complement to the letter and number practice that we do every week. But I don’t make the tech activities an integral part of my program.

Some of ‘my kids’ are reading before Kindergarten, but that’s not really my goal. So if the switch happens to click on in their little noggins, I don’t make a big deal out of it – as long as they’re having fun it’s all good, and a few tech games make it all the more fun. But I do make it my goal to teach kindergarten survival. Those make-or-break skills like learning how to put on their coats, hold a pencil, wash their hands (a lot), say please pass the ketchup, and put on their snowpants before their boots. No amount of technology will help a kid learn to do these basic skills. You just can’t get an app that teaches a kid how to climb up into his chair by himself.

Perhaps my biggest passion is to help children train their little brains to become creative. Or I guess I should say I facilitate this training. Kids do pretty well at being creative and resourceful; in fact, I’d say they rock at it. Just give them a big cardboard box and see what they can do. Oh the places they go and the worlds they create! That’s resourcefulness! And that’s a 21st Century skill that we’re aiming to teach, right? But if I can do it with a simple box, do we need technology to teach this timeless skill? Doesn’t creativity and resourcefulness happen when we can do a lot with just a little? But we need to facilitate this creativity, and if given a choice between a cardboard box or flashy iPad, I think kids will choose flashy. In this case, sadly, we’ve robbed them of a great opportunity to train their little brains to be resourceful. So at this point, I’m not convinced that technology plays a big role in educating young children. But I’ll speak more about creativity and technology in a future post, because I have a lot more to say (and learn) about it.

This is not to say that I don’t appreciate technology. I do! I love the convenience of my phone and my apps. And there’s one game I know that does a great job at developing creativity in older children (and adults). A recent tweet from Edutopia that resonates with me is a link to a You Tube video promoting Minecraft in the classroom. As a parent of a 9 year old, I stand in awe of her resourcefulness and ability to create worlds on her own with very little instructions. I’m also impressed with the social interaction and collaborative problem solving that goes on as she plays and creates with friends. This video features a teacher who embraces Minecraft as an effective learning activity. And as I look ahead to teaching older students again, I look forward to learning more about game-based learning.  http://www.edutopia.org/made-with-play-game-based-learning-minecraft-video?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=post&utm_campaign=video-minecraft-edu-tool-videobreak

Another recent post that resonated with me about technology was written by Peter DeWitt who writes the Finding Common Ground blog for Education Week. In his post “Is Your School Leadership Style…Outdated?” DeWitt discusses the issue that educators’ dislike of technology is preventing our students from having a richer experience at school. He cites Eric Sheninger, a progressive high school principal in NJ (who I’ve also begun to follow) and lists a few of the changing trends in education that teachers need to embrace including Smartboards, tablets, document cameras, Chromebooks, web 2.0 applications, cloud computing, and gaming. And these are 7 reasons why I’m psyched to take my digital tech course because I get to play with a lot of these tools! http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/finding_common_ground/2014/01/is_your_school_leadership_style_outdated.html?cmp=SOC-SHR-TW

One final blog post to note regarding professional development: “Isolation is now a choice educators make,” by George Couros. It’s about the importance of blogging and sharing our learning journeys as educators. I can say that as a student who has written only two posts, I have already learned more about myself as an educator than any past university paper has ever taught me! In fact in the past week since I began my Digital Tech and Education course, I’ve devoured the rich online resources that are available to me through twitter and educational blogs. I’m so excited about learning from others who share their reflections! I’m not alone. I’m part of a learning community. I can train my brain with an app like Lumosity, but when it comes to learning about education, you just can’t get an app that can teach us how to teach. My learning needs to be communal, and social media resources like twitter and blogging has brought that community to me. I just hope that I don’t become overwhelmed by it all or that the novelty will wear off, because now I can’t imagine being an educator without technology! http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/4156

Preschool: a primer for perseverance, patience, and problem solving

best toy everI run a home daycare called the Big Cardboard Box. I began my business in 2006 after a maternity leave and after working as an educator in more formal settings for 13 years. My experiences include classroom teacher (mostly grade 8), vice principal, interim co-principal, and curriculum writer. Eventually I’ll get back into the classroom, but for now I can add professional nose-wiper and Raffi crooner to my list of credentials.

I’ve mastered the art of cooking deluxe cheesy noodles (which is really just all about texture), and I can hogtie I mean change 2 diapers in under a minute, 3 if all are of the number one variety. I’ve learned how to create learning experiences that will give ‘my kids’ a solid foundation in literacy and numeracy before they go to kindergarten. We play with dominoes, create patterns with pretty rocks from Dollarama, chant nursery rhymes and read lots of books. We spend a bit of time every morning doing structured learning activities like circle time, calendar, morning message, and printing practice.

But really we spend most of our day playing – simply doing ordinary kid stuff like building forts out of blankets and furniture, propelling ourselves around in Flintstone cars, climbing to the top of Snow Mountain, hosting spontaneous dance parties, and setting up homes in big cardboard boxes. We also learn some handy skills along the way. Besides the really exciting milestones (over a dozen kids have learned how to ride a two-wheeler in the cul-de-sac), we figure out how to do the ordinary things like put on boots and snowsuits, use a fork and knife (thank you IKEA) climb stairs, and open a gate (doh!). We try something and if it doesn’t work we try something different. We stick with it and we get results.

I say ‘we’ because I’m very engaged in the playing and learning, or at least in the planning and reflecting on the activities. And I’ve learned a few things myself. I’ve discovered that you should never give a kid a timeout near an old spring doorstopper. I’ve learned that grilled cheese is really just a utensil to scoop and shovel large blobs of ketchup into kids’ mouths. And I’ve realized that if left to their own fumbling devices, preschoolers will eventually figure out how to get their snowpants off so they can drink their hot chocolate before all the marshmallows melt.

Perhaps this is the most significant lesson I’ve learned as a daycare provider. While it’s agonizing to listen to noises of frustration, (tip: kids are less persuasive if you leave the room and they think you can’t hear them), sometimes the best thing I can provide them with is nothing. “I’ll be there in a minute,” is my mantra. If I helped them lickety split, I’d be robbing them of their opportunity to practice some creative problem solving. If you leave the kids alone with the candy wrapper (yes sometimes I feed them junk) trust me they will eventually try enough different tricks with their little fingers to rip it open. If they say they’re finished playing with a basket of toys and are ready for something new, (“I’m bored!”) I encourage them to stick with it and play for a few more minutes, I’m impressed with how many new ways they can play with an old toy. Kids who are encouraged to persevere will amaze me with their resourcefulness.

So what will these lessons mean for me when I get back into the formal classroom? In teaching the children to be patient and persevere, I’ve developed a little bit more stick-with-it power myself. In my experience before I left the classroom in 2004, I tended to over-instruct. It made me uncomfortable when students took too long to find the answer, and I didn’t allow them enough time to be resourceful and creative problem solvers. But now I’m ready to embrace newer trends and movements in education. I no longer view myself as the sage who delivers knowledge and strategy; I’m ready to become a facilitator of learning. I’ve learned to sit back and allow students to muddle through a task, make mistakes and start over. If the 4-year-old in my care can do it, the 14-year-old can do it too, right? I won’t feel compelled to give them the strategy and the solution after 10 seconds of silence. After 13 years of formal teaching and training, it’s actually my 7 years as a daycare provider that taught me how to be a patient educator. I’m ready to witness my students’ creativity and resourcefulness, their perseverance and patient problem solving! I’m primed and I’m pumped!