This post was originally published on my blog on December 6th, 2017, as I wrapped up another semester of my master’s program at the University of Houston. I think one incredible benefit of blogging as a reflective learning activity is the ability to go back to those older posts and revisit the learning that occurred. I’ve come a long way since my master’s program, and yet the lessons I learned then are certainly still relevant now. In that spirit, I present to you: Technology, Research, and Community Education.
Ah, hello again, friends and followers.
I can now officially say that I have finally submitted all of the assignments for all of my classes, and, boy, was that a huge sigh of relief. I will also say that, in the three days since I submitted my last assignment, I created instructions for the math and English teachers on my campus to access their universal screener data and enter into Eduphoria (the system we use to manage data), wrote lesson plans, entered quiz grades from Schoology (my LMS BFF) into the gradebook, entered my own screener data and a coworker’s, put together an amazing lesson using Pear Deck to go over a test that my students bombed, acted as the middle man between a Pear Deck representative and my principal to get Pear Deck for my campus, and my Sim family just had triplet girls. So, in summary, being finished with my classes in no way means that I’m not busy anymore. I am very ready for winter break.
But, I digress.
I do want to take a couple of moments to reflect on those other two classes I took. First, there was a seminar class that was separated into three mini courses: Technology, Community Education, and Research. I loved this class. I loved the format of the mini courses and how each mini course was taught by a different professor.
Technology was obviously my favorite. Part of that class focused on building PLNs, and part of it focused on helping our students learn the essential 21st-century skills. Let’s talk about 21st-century skills.
Picture it: A classroom. Flexible seating. 20–25 students. Every student has a tablet. All students are using tablets to enhance their learning. The teacher is monitoring them from her own tablet. An administrator pops in for a walkthrough. The students are smiling. The teacher is smiling. The administrator is smiling.
If you’re a 21st-century teacher, you probably read that and thought, “omg, I wish.”
But many people picture something like this when they think of 21st-century teaching and learning. I wish it were this easy. Quite frankly, it’s difficult for me to even wrap my brain around everything that 21st-century teaching and learning means. I mean… look at this:
If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know that I like to be completely honest about how I feel. I read the entire P21 framework as part of the required reading in the Technology mini course. My first thought was “Are you kidding me? So on top of the 28 TEKS, each of which has anywhere from 1 to 10 items attached to it, I’m supposed to also teach my students life and career skills, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity, plus information, media, and technology skills? Nah, man. I’m out.”
I’m sure I’m not the only teacher who has freaked out at the idea.
But then I really read into what the framework is saying and calmed myself down. For one, I’m not their only teacher. I’m not the only one responsible for all of this. It would be impossible. Two, most of these skills are not difficult to work into an existing curriculum. I already use technology at least 2–3 times per week as a part of my lessons. For one assignment in this mini course, I created a short video about a time that I incorporated 21st-century technology skills into my classroom.
One huge takeaway from looking at this framework and from completing this mini course was that I need to step back. Here’s an exchange that used to happen daily in my classroom:
Student: “Miss, I don’t know where to click.”
Teacher: “Click here.”
Teacher: “Oh, let me do it.”
I cringe just typing that, but it’s true and it’s honest, and it’s one thing that I realized I needed to stop doing. I tested this idea out with my advisory class (similar to homeroom, but with lessons and without grades). I assigned them an article to read out of our advisory notebooks. I told them to identify five words that they didn’t know or that they thought a friend wouldn’t know. I asked them to create a Frayer model for each word. This was not a new assignment; we’d done this exact thing before. Except this time, I had them use their iPads. I provided a template PowerPoint through Google Classroom, and they needed to figure out how to create a PowerPoint or a Google Slides presentation with their five Frayer models.
And then I did the thing that teachers aren’t supposed to do: I sat at my desk. I let them go. I didn’t ignore their questions, but if they asked me a question like “How do I draw the picture?” I told them to figure it out. Our advisory period is 30 minutes long at the beginning of every day. It took them three days, but every student completed something. Every student learned a couple of new vocabulary words. Every student learned how to use Google Slides and PowerPoint. All students learned how to save their work after every student had to start from scratch on the second day.
They were frustrated at first. I was frustrated at first. Letting go and getting the students to think for themselves is simply not easy. We want to help them. But sometimes it’s better to get them to help themselves.
I’ve done similar activities with my regular classes now a few times—nothing that took as long to complete, but little things. My new class mantra is “Figure it out.” If you don’t know how to do something, you need to try before you ask me to do it for you.
I’ve noticed something about this experiment. When told to figure it out for themselves, they can. I don’t know if they’ve learned that they don’t have to think if they ask for help, or what it is, but when I told them to set their profile picture on Schoology, every single student was able to do it without me even telling them where to find their profile. Students are capable.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but after I completed the Research mini course, I was able to identify what I’d done in that advisory class as Action Research. We learned about the importance of educational research and how to develop and analyze an action research plan where teachers are identifying a problem in their own classroom, coming up with a solution to that problem, implementing the solution, and assessing its effects. That is exactly what I did with the technology and 21st-century skills. Isn’t it funny how things always connect?
The third mini course was Community Education, and we explored connections between the schools and the community. I’ve always felt a little at a disadvantage in this area because I didn’t grow up here. I’m from small-town Ohio, which is quite far from big city Texas. I’ve used my husband to help me in this area a lot because he did grow up here, and he knows the area a lot better than I do.
This mini course was a lot of fun. I got to take some field trips to get out into the community. I learned about a lot of the awesome connections that already exist between my current district and our community. Completing the assignments in this course really helped me see and feel how lucky I am to live in such an amazing, uplifting community.
I’ll be honest, though: I don’t know that I learned or experienced anything that immediately manifested in my classroom the same way that Technology and Research did. I’ve always found it to be a little more difficult to incorporate fun community activities like the museum or the nature center into an English classroom, especially in this time of STAAR testing. But, I have the thoughts hanging in the back of my head now; I’m on the lookout. I’ve never organized a field trip before, but I’ve always wanted to do it. Now I’ve learned some places to look, some places to keep in mind, and I know that eventually it will happen. I will find the right connection to bring the community into my classroom and to bring my classroom into the community. I’ll do a little research first, and probably use technology to do it.