The WOW-Factor!

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You may have recently seen posts on social media warning about the dangers of screen time for young people. While I don’t want to take the time to deconstruct all of their arguments, I do get it! There are concerns about how much screen time is too much screen time. Most people would probably tend to agree with me that common sense should play a huge part in this debate. I don’t think a device is a good babysitter for an infant. I think moderation for most things is a good thing. The problem with this debate is that there is a lot of fear-mongering that takes place and not a lot of research to back up those beliefs. We are at a time in history where devices, like it or not, are an integral part of the world and we as teachers need to recognize the importance of this fact.

As teachers, one action we can take to counter the critics is to provide rich activities with the devices that we are having students use. We need the WOW-Factor! Convincing a critic is not easy when devices are being used as mere substitutions for what has always been done. Let’s face it…a digital worksheet is still a worksheet. Why waste screen time on that type of activity? What is needed is for students to be creators of content. This is where the WOW-Factor comes into play. Allowing students to use devices to make decisions on how they will show their learning will go a long way in showing those critics that devices do have value. This decision-making process should be an important part of the experience of school for students. The key…we have to regularly give students these types of opportunities. Will it make the classroom look and function differently? Will the role of the teacher change? Absolutely, but that is what we owe to students who are attending schools in 2018! There are so many ways to allow students to create that it would take many blog posts to cover them. Starting to use apps/services like Buncee, iMovie, Explain Everything, Book Creator, SeeSaw, etc. is a great starting point. These apps/services allow students to start with a blank canvas and create. This blank canvas is about them showing you and the world what they know and how devices can be used in an effective way.

Here are a couple of examples that teachers in my district have shared with me that show the real power of devices in the hands of students. When the technology nay-sayers see a Wow-Factor product created by a student, you have provided the hook to start a different discussion about the benefit of devices in the classroom.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=t9Pz6cZv5dI

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=GGSDE8Z7Gn8

Don

It is all about perspective!

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I was helping a new instructional coach come up with ideas for a video she is making describing her new role. She mentioned that when she described the role of an instructional coach to a classroom a student mentioned that she must know everything. Her response was something along the lines that she didn’t know everything, but she could see the classroom from a different perspective because she wasn’t the classroom teacher.

This exchange really got me thinking about the importance of perspective in education. Vocabulary.com defines perspective as, “the appearance of things relative to one another as determined by their distance from the viewer.” There are many examples of how we try to gain perspective. Players on a football team can only see the field through their helmet. Even the best players can only see so much of the field at one time. Teams counter this lack of perspective by placing coaches in elevated perches to gain a view of the whole playing field. This new perspective helps coaches make decisions based on the big picture. NASCAR teams employ spotters who sit on top of the viewing stands to help drivers “see” more than they can while in the car. Urban planners use aerial perspectives to make long term decisions about how cities should expand. From their perspective, the Thai soccer team trapped in a cave only had one way out and it was blocked. It took others outside of the cave to see the big picture and make decisions that lead to the happy ending of that story.

So what does all of this have to do with education? As educators, I think we need to ask one simple question, “How can I get a different perspective of my classroom?”. The answer could be asking an instructional coach to come in and provide that added point-of-view. It could be visiting classrooms to see how other teachers are working with students. Recording your lessons and reflecting could help you see your classroom in a different light. Social media can add a different perspective as well. Becoming active on Twitter helps you to gain perspective because you have contact with others and how they educate their students. You may not like or agree with some of what is shared, but the experience will force you to reflect on what you do in the classroom. In other words, you have gained a different perspective. The app Voxer has been a powerful force for me in gaining a different perspective of education. My #4OCFpln Voxer group challenges me everyday to look at the field of education with different lenses. I believe my social media presence helps me to do my job better because I am exposed to a variety of perspectives ranging from different grade levels to different regions of the country and other parts of the world.

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Simply put, today’s teachers have to gain perspective to be the best educators possible. Gone are the days of doing things the way that you think is right without considering other viewpoints and strategies. What will you do to gain perspective?

Don Sturm

Twitter @sturmdon

Voxer @dsturm823

It’s All Over but the Connections!

Buncee_CreationSo I am sitting here in Chicago’s Union Station waiting for the train to take me home from ISTE 2018. All I want to do is sleep, but I thought I would start the reflection process. Let me start by saying…WOW! As a first timer, ISTE was very overwhelming. Being someone who likes being in social situations and unfamiliar places, it is good for me to feel overwhelmed. It helps me to see how others view the world. I see why introverted personality types feel exhausted after being in social situations.

I have to admit that I was a little concerned after getting to McCormick Place on Saturday. There didn’t seem to be much open and things were crowded. Sunday wasn’t much better. The lines for sessions were over the top! People getting in line an hour and a half early for a one-hour session were common. There wasn’t much in the way of food. Complaining was common amongst participants.

Sound like a negative experience? Not at all! Prior to the conference, I got a lot of advice that connections at ISTE were the best part of the conference experience. That advice was SPOT on…my connections made ISTE amazing! Being able to see and talk with educators that I hadn’t met face to face was amazing. Hanging out with Dan Kreiness, Louis Soper, Sarah Fromholder, Jennifer Ledford, Christie Cate, Amy Storer, and SO many others was simply awesome. Those connections that we had forged over Voxer and Twitter transferred to the real world quite nicely. Many educators with whom I work say that they don’t like social media because of all the negativity or the time that it takes to make connections. ISTE made me further convinced that social media can be a positive, life-changing experience and it is well worth the time that I have put into it.

One other aspect that I was excited about was the opportunity to meet those educator “rock stars” who have written the books and blog posts that I spend much of my free time reading. Again, what a great experience. Every rock star that I met was a real, down to earth person who cares about education as a profession as much as I do. I have been BookSnapping since the beginning but had never met Tara Martin face to face. I don’t read the same since I started BookSnapping…my mind is awhirl with images and emojis! She was just as awesome and personable as she has been to me over social media. The energetic, thoughtful Jennifer Casa-Todd who has spoken my language in terms of the value of social media for students recognized me and gave me a big hug just like a regular person! What can I say about Dr. Sarah Thomas? Edumatch was my first experience on Voxer and my education life hasn’t been the same since. I had “met” her over a couple of Google Hangouts, but I got to meet her for real at the EduMatch Meetup. Such a great person. Sarah your passion for education and educators is much appreciated by many…I hope you realize the impact you have had on so many of us.

I do plan on attending other ISTE conferences, but what hit home about this one is the power of being a connected educator. My goal will continue to be to get my teachers involved in social media in some way. It is truly the connections that matter!

Don Sturm

One Week to #ISTE18

As a first timer, OVERWHELMED is the word going through my head right now. I have been to many conferences, but ISTE is by far the biggest. There is just so much to do and not enough time or human energy to be able to do it all in the Saturday to Wednesday time frame! I have read blog posts, followed hashtags, and joined the ISTE Voxer group all in the hopes of gaining some degree of comfort before stepping foot in Chicago next Saturday. The one thing I might have going for me is the fact that I have been to Chicago many times (I only live 2 1/2 hours away) so I don’t have the added stress of trying to figure out what I need to see outside of the conference.

What I am most looking forward to at ISTE is simply furthering the connections that I have fostered through social media. For me this is exciting! Many of the people that I have grown to know over the last two years will be there as well. Unless you have a strong PLN it might be hard to imagine what this group of people has given me professionally. They have been a sounding board, they have challenged my thinking, they have pushed back on ideas, but most of all, they have been there anytime that I have needed them. While social media has come under fire for its negative influence on society, my experiences have been the complete opposite!

I have one week left to put the “finishing” touches on my game plan to try to make the most of my time in Chicago. You can bet that I will be sharing photos (I’ll have my flat PLN ready to go) and Tweets about the experience.

Many thanks to my Voxer group peeps…#Edumatch, #Edumatch2, #4OCFPLN, #LetThemSpeak

I should also give a shout out to my roommate for the week Dan Kreiness.

I can’t wait to talk with you all in person.

Don

My 100 Word Challenge

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As I was following my morning ritual of listening to my Voxer groups on the drive to work, I came across a challenge that started with Jessie Boyce and spread to fellow Voxer members Justin Schleider and Dene Gainey. The challenge…answer the question ‘Why do you love teaching?’ in 100 words, no more no less. Here is my 100 word challenge. A big sorry goes out to all the ELA teachers who will notice that there is a mix of present and past tense. This comes from the fact that I am no longer in the classroom, though I still consider myself a teacher.

Mrs. Holt, Mr. Williamson, Mr. Dyroff…these are the people who inspired me to teach, but I love teaching because of the kids. This sounds like the typical teacher answer, but I truly enjoy young people. I never knew what I would get each and every day that I walked into the classroom; it was never boring! Don’t get me wrong…there were hard days, but there was nothing like the satisfaction of seeing interest, engagement, and understanding from a class of students. Having students come back years later to say that they enjoyed my class also kept me going.

I would highly recommend that you take the challenge. It is not as easy as it looks!

Don Sturm

Morning Routine

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Though I have many unfinished posts in my draft section, it has been awhile since I have hit publish. Here goes my latest! I am fairly active on Twitter and my morning ritual is to Tweet out a quote on a background made with Buncee. Simple right?

Over the last couple of weeks I have had a few colleagues ask me about the purpose of this ritual. Their inquiries into my practice tend to be fairly nice and pleasant, though I sense the underlying feeling is that my morning routine is sort of a waste of time. I want to provide a little insight as to why I do what I do. Ultimately, I do it for no one other than myself. I post it publicly because that is what I preach to other teachers and students. Put your stuff out there! Create rather than consume! It just MIGHT resonate with someone else but, if not, I am ok with that as well.

The process I use to get and post the quote is the most important part of the ritual. It starts with thinking about what is important to me on that particular day. Monday might find me thinking about happiness, while Wednesday might be a growth mindset kind of day. Once I have my topic I set out to find the perfect quote. I read over a lot of them as well as trying to “verify” that the quote can be attributed to the person who is being claimed to have stated it. Sometimes I even to do some background reading on the person. This practice has lead to me reading book(s) by the person after finding out more about them. Laszlo Bock is a perfect example. I found a quote by him (see below) and ended up reading Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead. Definitely worth a read!

If you’re comfortable with the amount of freedom you’ve given your employees, you haven’t gone far enough. –Laszlo Bock

My next task is to use Buncee to add a background and/or images. Here again, there is more to this than just picking the first image that comes to mind. I add, take away, add again, delete, etc. until I find the perfect visual to go with the quote. The wonderful thing about Buncee is the huge number of visual elements that can be pulled in to make just the right impression. All that is left is to post it for the world to see…or at least my followers!

So what makes this routine mean something to me? Simple…my brain is working and making connections. In my role as a technology integration specialist I preach that classrooms/teachers/students need to be doing more of this. I am trying to set the example that what I am doing has purpose if for no other reason than it makes my brain think and make connections. The quote and philosophy behind each image sticks with me because of the process, not the number of retweets or likes it receives. Just think of the possibilities if your students could be given more options to create products that were meaningful to them!

Simple right? Not by a long shot!

Here is a link to my Buncee Board where I have started to collect my quotes.

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Forging New Paths

PathIt has been awhile since my last blog post, but now that the 2016-2017 school year is over it is time to think about next year. Summer is the time that teachers relax and regroup from the previous school year, but for many it is also the time to reflect on their teaching practice. I would argue that many times this is the only time when true reflection occurs. During the year we are often pulled in so many directions that is challenging to have meaningful and deep reflection. This post is meant to get you thinking about next year!

Think about the times that you have walked through the woods. Most of the time is probably spent walking the worn path. While this might be done because of posted rules, many times it is done out of sheer convenience. Why wouldn’t you take a path that has already been forged? Think of all the difficulties of going off of that path. There are sticker bushes waiting to grab you. There is poison ivy all over. How will I know where I am going? People will think I am weird. Yes, all of those things could happen, but think about the possibilities waiting to be experienced off that path. When you take the worn path you are seeing and experiencing what others want you to see and experience. It is probable that the path offers the least resistance around an obstacle that lies ahead. Maybe the obstacle is worth admiring, not skirting around. Going off path might be challenging, but that is what makes it fun. You will see things that others have not.

Education is similar to that worn path in the woods. We do things the way that they have always been done because that is what is easiest or most convenient. Does this sound familiar…The way that I teach (fill in the blank) has to be done that way because that’s just how it is done. Economists use a term called path dependency to describe why people do what they do. Path dependency is simply the idea that past practice (history) dictates what we continue to do even if there might be new and better alternatives available. It is the worn path in the woods.  There are advantages of that worn path in education. We know where we are going. We know how long it will take us. We know the obstacles that will be encountered. But…what are you and your students missing out on by being path dependent? There will be no way of knowing until you try.

My challenge to you is to try to walk off the path next school year. How can this be done? Read…there are all types of books written about ways that you can step out of the normal routine. These books don’t have to be purely subject specific. Jump onto social media and follow others who are stepping, or have stepped, off of the path. Pick their brains about what works and what doesn’t work. If you are one who wants to remain on the path, don’t stop others from going off course. This will be challenging for those schools that are departmentalized by subject or grade level because there is THE WAY that curriculum has to be taught. If you have someone who wants to try something new…LET THEM. If that teacher won’t be able to give the quiz on the same day as every other teacher because of this new way, the world will not come to an end. An even better alternative…agree to follow them as they step off the path. This type of action will be the only way that you will know if there is something better out there.

The transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau wrote Walden because he was tired of living life according to habit. He went into the woods to “live deliberately.” This is probably the familiar part of the story. What is important to know is that he left the woods, at least partly, because he saw himself falling into the same rut day after day. Don’t fall into a rut where all you do is take the path that has been forged for you.

“It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct. It is true, I fear, that others may have fallen into it, and so helped keep it open. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so, with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity.”

Henry David Thoreau

Walden

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