Sometimes you just have to try it!

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I am probably dating myself with this image, but I think Mikey can teach us a lesson…Sometimes you just have to try it! When considering the Week 4 blog challenge, the graphic “5 Ways to Lay the Foundation for Innovation” by George Couros resonates with me in my role as a technology integration specialist. Attachment-1

I should mention that I am not a huge fan of that title because it seems to work against the first point in the graphic-Powerful learning first, technology second. I really see my role as more of an instructional coach, but I digress…point number four is my focus! The quest for educators who are in my position, no matter the title, is to get teachers to just try things. They may or may not like them, but they have to give new ideas and methods a try or they will never know. Sort of like trying brussel sprouts for the first time! With this in mind, I try to create learning situations where educators really have no choice but to try these new ideas. A couple of recent examples in my district come to mind.

The district administration team in my district was willing to let me run with an Edcamp style inservice in March. There were no administrators who were completely against the idea (at least I don’t think so), but there were some who were hesitant about trying this new idea. You can imagine the concerns:

  • What if there are no experts in the room?
  • What if  we don’t have enough ideas?
  • How do we ensure that everyone is where they are supposed to be?
  • Vote with your feet…ummm…what if teachers just leave?

I wish there were only four concerns, but the point…they said let’s do it, we did, and people liked it!  There was nervousness from teachers on the day of the event, but generally the above concerns did not come to fruition. We had more than enough ideas to fill forty-five session slots and administrators just trusted that teachers would be where they were supposed to be! Surveying the participants after the event allowed them to share the good and bad of the event, but what we found overall is that people liked the format. The response to the very last question (graphic below) almost brought a tear to my eye! The survey “required” some type of response on the positives and negatives, but in the end, teachers would do it again! I cannot tell you the number of teachers who have emailed and stopped me in the hallways to say that they were pleasantly surprised because they were not looking forward to it, but in the end enjoyed it. More specifically, a P.E. teacher stopped me and said that normal inservice topics don’t seem to apply to them, but the Edcamp style was different. Screen Shot 2017-03-25 at 11.00.36 AM

Another example of creating meaningful learning experiences involves conducting a Mystery Hangout for an elementary building in my district. The building principal (@kate_wyman ) asked me to conduct one with her staff. This principal is very open to new, innovative ideas and she wanted her staff to experience it. After finding a willing and experienced Mystery Hangout school (thanks to@MindySouthin Farmington, Missouri, we conducted one at the March faculty meeting. The teachers seemed to enjoy it at the time, but the best part was the video message I received the next day from a 6th grade teacher (@theresescifres ) and class who had just set one up. That teacher went to school, put out a call on the Google+ Community (Connected Classroom Workshop) that I had suggested, and set one up the day after that faculty meeting! The principal also sent me an email saying that one other teacher had scheduled one, and two other teachers were interested. Again, that almost brings a tear to my eye.

Specifically, these two experiences make me see the power of creating meaningful experiences rather than just telling teachers about them. I can honestly say that too often time constraints have caused me to rely on just telling teachers about the innovative “stuff” that they can be doing rather than actually creating those opportunities that allow them to experience the possibilities. My next goal is to create an experience that proves the power of connecting on social media. If I can get teachers and administrators to experience the benefits of Twitter or Voxer (my new favorite…look me up @dsturm823), I think they will find that they do like it and that those experiences can lead to richer classroom experiences for their students or staff.

Don Sturm

Lessons from a motorcyclist!

 

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Tail of the Dragon- Tennessee/North Carolina
When given the option of going from Point A to Point B, a true motorcycle enthusiast will always pick the route that has the curviest roads. We might be able to get to Point B faster by taking the straight road (sometimes we ride 200 miles to go 60), but it isn’t as exciting and memorable as those roads that are scenic and challenging. You gain a greater skill set and appreciation for life when you take these curvy roads!

What if this was the philosophy that dominated the field of education? Many teachers feel that the best way to get information across to students is the linear model…the straight road. The kids will still learn this way, but it isn’t as exciting as learning the random and non-linear way. Learning in this way can be challenging and messy, but what you learn sticks with you longer. The curvy road way of learning is just a more exciting and eye-opening experience. Honestly, I think it is higher quality of learning.

We deserve to give kids the most exciting and memorable education that we can..let’s start taking the curvy roads and not the straight ones!

 

Ever get stuck on an escalator?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA If you have never seen this video, it is worth watching!

Do you know any educators who are stuck on their own escalator? Are you stuck? While this image and video might make us laugh, there are those in education (and to be fair every profession) who are literally stuck in what they do. They are the ones who wait for someone else to set an agenda and make forward progress. They wait for “official” PD opportunities, avoid social media, etc. The sad part is that this has an impact on kids!

How do we help people who are stuck? How do we get them to take ownership for their own learning and not wait for someone to train them on a new teaching strategy? We could throw up our hands and say that there will always be educators like this, but what about those students in the classroom? Don’t all students deserve a rich classroom experience?

Schools can start by creating a culture where self motivated PD is not only encouraged but expected! The big question…What is the best way to foster this culture? I would love your thoughts!

Don Sturm

The kids just trust us!

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This view over the weekend from the driver’s seat of a small white bus (the kids call it the white rhino) while taking my scholastic bowl team to a competition caused me to have a deep thought. The kids just trust us! As I looked in the mirror, every kid was asleep on that REALLY  long ride. This may not sound like a huge surprise, but it got me thinking that they trusted me enough to not give a thought to me driving them. They have never questioned my ability to drive it or my safety record. I thought really hard about this to the point that I was more aware than normal. I looked a little more closely when I had to cross traffic or go through a busy intersection. Teachers and administrators should not take this trust for granted. Plain and simple, we have to keep in mind that students trust us to do what is right!

It is all about taking risks!

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The biggest risk is not taking any risk… In a world that changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.

Mark Zuckerberg

I think we hear the mantra “take risks” all the time in the field of education, but the nature of our schools makes it difficult to go too far out on a limb. Personally, I think this is one of the issues holding schools back from getting better! There are always those who are working against teachers and educators taking risks because it will upset the way that things have always been done.

Having this risk taking characteristic is something that I have prided myself on from the time I started my teaching career in 1991. Obviously, the degree of risk taking varies from year to year, but I have always held the belief that you have to step out of your comfort zone to truly grow. Moving from the classroom to technology integration specialist has given me the opportunity to encourage others to take risks. So much of my current position involves getting educators to try new ways of doing things, which instantly takes them out out of their comfort zone. It takes a nuanced approach on my end because not all teachers and administrators are as comfortable as I am with taking risks. My style is to try to get teachers to think about what they want from their students in the classroom, which many times involves expecting students to step out of their comfort zone. If they expect this from students they should be more open to risk taking in their classroom/school. My philosophy is that no one should expect something of another person that they would not expect of themselves.

The fear and trepidation that comes from risk taking is what makes it such a valuable experience. If the risk results in a successful outcome, the confidence gained from that experience is invaluable! Conversely, if the risk doesn’t turn out successful, that experience also provides a teachable moment. We have to start looking at risk taking as a win-win situation. Risk requires a growth mindset toward the idea of failure. Failure should be a learning experience, not an excuse to quit innovating. If we expect our students to be resilient and learn from failure, we have to be prepared to do the same thing!

Don Sturm

 

Most Likely to Succeed

img_1175Wednesday night I had the opportunity to view the educational documentary Most Likely to Succeed. I had read the book a couple of years ago, and the movie was thought provoking. It really forces the viewer to think about how education is currently delivered to students. The movie is not yet available for purchases; instead, you purchase a one-time screening license for $350. The reason for this method of distribution, as stated by the executive producer Ted Dintersmith, is to “force” people to view it in groups and have a discussion about the ideas presented in the movie. While I would love to be able to encourage people to buy/rent the movie, I respect the philosophy behind not releasing it. This movie is really meant to be seen in groups!

I am going to push to have a community viewing for the community where I work to truly generate some conversation about how schools need to change. However, I would like some feedback from those elementary teachers and administrators. How do you see this working at the lower levels? I want to be able to provide specific examples of how the ideas that are present at High Tech High can be implemented in grade schools. It is one thing to say that a high school kid won’t learn the same breadth of content in this new paradigm, but how do kids learn the basics at the lower grades while still experiencing this “new” type of education? Is what is presented in the movie really more for middle and high schools? I have started a Google Doc where people can share their thoughts. Hopefully this is something that could help others who have the same types of questions. Please feel free to share the Doc with others.

 

Don Sturm

Goal for 2017: Encourage PLNs!

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Four simple words…I love my PLN! For those who are unfamiliar with the acronym, a PLN is a personal learning network where you decide what you want to learn and who will help you learn. It is an informal, organic type of learning where individuals engage with the goal of contributing to the overall base of knowledge. It typically starts online but may continue in person through attending conferences. One of my professional goals for this year will be to encourage others to build a robust PLN, using my experiences over the last year.

My online presence takes place on Twitter (@sturmdon), Voxer (@dsturm823), SnapChat (don.sturm) and Facebook (member of The Innovator’s Mindset and Teachers Throwing Out Grades groups). These four online resources have provided me with much inspiration as they are filled with educators who truly care about teaching and learning. Even if I don’t use specific strategies that are shared, the interactions inspire me to try new things.

Educators need to be encouraged to take risks and try new things. This is exactly what you can get from a PLN. It is very easy to bounce ideas off of others simply by posting it. The bigger your PLN, the more advice you will receive. People are more than willing to share their experiences, both positive and negative, so that the collective group can benefit. My philosophy is to follow as many educators as possible. As a result, I follow many more than follow me.

Online PLNs help to make collaboration more than just a buzzword. Working with others is easy if you are open to experiences. PLNs can be a one-way street, but if you are willing to share it becomes something more. There have been many times that a Twitter chat or Voxer chat has turned into work sessions with other educators. Most of these work sessions have taken place on Google Hangouts where your online colleagues are now “real” in the sense that you can see and interact with them. I have also had side conversations with individuals where we hash out issues that are important to us in our jobs. I have to give a shout out to Tara M. Martin for being a great PLN collaborator! We have had many conversations about teaching and learning. In the spirit of collaboration, I hope that I have given back…at least a little…to her. She is down to earth and has inspired me (and many others) to create and contribute to our PLNs so as to get the most out of the online experience. Her development of #booksnaps as a way to get students and educators interacting with text using emojis/Bitmojis and images is fantastic. I can honestly say that it has changed the way that I read. Her blog can be found at http://www.tarammartin.com. I have also included a few of the (from the MANY) #booksnaps that I have created. Search for #booksnaps on Twitter to find the hundreds of others who have added their own.

The chat capabilities of these online mediums are AWESOME! Twitter chats are probably the most well known, but I have also taken part in EdCamp Voxer, as well as regular groups that are part of the Voxer experience. My new interest is experimenting using SnapChat as part of my PLN. Recently, I started a SnapChat group chat that has been an interesting experience with the fifteen others who joined.  The point is that chats allow you to discuss real issues with real people and have real-time interactions versus the typical social media experience of posting something and waiting for a reaction. These chats sort of kill two birds with one stone. You get the professional discussion, but you also learn how to use the medium. The later is important with learning and understanding the social media lives of students. While many complain that this generation of kids always has their head buried in their phone, my experiences have led me to believe that kids are being much more social on their devices than we think!

The belief that we need to do things the way that they have always been done is one of the major ideas holding back schools from being even better. The sheer nature of online PLNs will help to combat this feeling. These PLNs surround you with people who do and want to try new things. It helps you to see that there are other ways of doing things. Teaching used to be a very independent endeavor, but it no longer has to be! Give an online PLN a try this year. Find someone in your district/school who can help or, better yet, get someone to join you on the new endeavor.

Don Sturm

 

How do I change what I do??

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Innovation is not about the stuff; it is a way of thinking.

George Couros

In my role as a technology integration specialist, I hear many teachers complain that they don’t know how to plan innovative lessons or that they don’t have the time to plan new lessons. One of the most common requests is for specific examples of lessons that “qualify” as innovative. It would be virtually impossible for me to provide specific examples for all of the grade levels and subjects. The classroom teacher really needs to be the one taking the concept of change and innovation (whether with technology or not) and apply ideas to either the grade level or subject matter. I think the most effective change is change that is intrinsically motivated. If you want to change the way that you teach, it is much easier to find the time that will be needed to make these changes. The steps below will hopefully help to solidify the process that can be used to design engaging and innovative lessons. By the way, I don’t think these steps need to happen in any particular order. Use any of them as a starting point for making your classroom an exciting learning space!



1. Take a look at what you teach and ask..

  • What lessons bore me?
  • What do I get excited about that doesn’t seem to transfer to students?
  • What lessons don’t seem to engage students anymore?
  • What lessons do students consistently say doesn’t apply to them?

These questions should help you to identify those lessons that are a perfect starting point for change. This is how I methodically set out changing what I did when I was in the classroom. Don’t try to tackle everything at once or there is no doubt that you will be overwhelmed. I found that once I started to get into the mindset of change, it got easier. Planning the first few new lessons was way harder than lesson 20+.


2. Decide what type(s) of changes are necessary to make the lesson better. 

Here is where your subject specific skills come into play. What do students really need to be able to do in terms of both content and skills? Be honest and reflective here. Think outside the box. Remember the saying, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you have always gotten.”

  • What do students really need to know?
  • Do they have to memorize a set of facts or would they be better off researching and finding those facts on their own?
  • Do those facts really need to be committed to memory?
  • Is a lecture or whole group instruction absolutely necessary?

I want to stress again, you have to answer these questions honestly. This honesty will cause you to think about everything that you do and why you do it.  Just a warning…it may be hard to change your thinking, but it will be worth it! Don’t be afraid to challenge the long held beliefs about how school is supposed to look.


3. Look for specific ways to make the changes that you have decided are necessary. 

This is the part of lesson planning that I really enjoyed. Once you know the big picture changes you would like to make, you have to decide what help is needed to actually put your ideas into practice. You have a few options here. While you can rely on professional organizations for your subject and grade level, this is where I think social media can be extremely helpful. Twitter, Facebook, Voxer, and Pinterest are awesome places to help you get specific ideas. Finding and following the right people will give you a plethora of ideas to implement into your lessons.

The other option (if available) is to contact your instructional coach/technology integration specialist/innovation coach for help. Forget technology for a moment, you should be focused on what is needed to make for an engaging experience. If it does involve technology, your comfort level will dictate the help you need. You might think back to a conference you attended and/or professional development experiences for a list of specific apps and programs that will help make the new lessons engaging and rich. You might go to your technology person and share the overall lesson idea and ask for 1:1 help with how to best accomplish your goals. I want to stress that the technology, if any, should not be at the forefront of your thought process at this point; it is about the pedagogy. Technology might play a big role in your new lesson, but I would caution that you not start with an app and figure out what to do with it. This is especially true for those who are just starting to make big changes to their classroom environment. Once you have decided the big picture, it might be a new app and/or service that sparks some ideas, but don’t put the proverbial cart before the horse. Even an app like Explain Everything, while awesome, should be considered only after deciding that students need to take on more of a role in presenting and sharing what they know. The app then becomes the vehicle by which the students show their mastery.


4. Talk, read, and share with others.

This might be the most important step! Teaching is no longer that solitary profession where you enter your classroom, shut the door,  and do your own thing. Let me rephrase that…teaching should NO LONGER be a solitary, lonely profession. When you want to make changes, “talk” with people. Talk with other same grade level teachers, talk with different grade level teachers, talk with teachers who teach a different subject matter, get onto social media…see the pattern here, talk with others. Teaching isn’t just about content anymore! Read whatever you can get your hands on whether it is blogs, articles, or books. All of this talking and reading will lead to ideas. These ideas will lead to more ideas, which will hopefully cause you to want to make more changes. Some will shrug and ask where will they get the time. If you want to truly make changes, you will find the time. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time, but dedicating even 10-15 minutes a day will help generate ideas.


5. Look around for great ideas!

When I was in the classroom, one of the methods I employed was to think about how everything I saw that was “cool” could be replicated by my students. The important part here is that my students would create! I remember watching a Common Craft video and thinking about how my students could create one…hence History on Paper was born. A language arts colleague shared with me the idea of animated Powerpoint presentations for poems…my students designed a presentation that might play in the lobby of the National Civil Rights Museum. Are you a Tasty fan? Just think about how your students could do something like that with the content that you teach! Everything I experienced became a possibility in the classroom. Did everything work? Nope, but that didn’t stop me from trying new things. The good ones stuck, while the “bad” ones were either dropped or reworked.



There is no question that making changes in the classroom will take time. It will be much more enjoyable to change what you do when it is something that you want and need. You don’t have to change overnight; instead, work to find a few areas where you want to see changes and focus on those. The more that you invest in a new classroom experience for your students, the easier it will get. Hopefully you will find that you enjoy teaching and may even make you remember why you got into profession in the first place. Changes to your classroom will hopefully pay dividends in terms of time. For example, looking at homework differently might lighten your grading load.  Allowing students to choose how they show mastery will no longer mean grading one hundred plus of the same paper! You will still assess, but it might look different than taking home a stack of papers. As the old saying goes, “work smarter not harder.”

Guilty as charged :(

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I am passionate about education and technology…I know I come across as annoying at times! The mantra less is more has always been a struggle for me (my colleagues still kid me about my ability to talk when in front of others).  When I was in the classroom, I was the one who went to conferences and came back and wanted to try EVERYTHING that I learned…in one day. The justification that I used was that I was providing a real-world, fast-paced classroom experience for my students. I did finally come around to the fact that some students probably felt like they were on a roller coaster without the help of Dramamine . While some loved this theme park experience, others were just plain worn out! I started to focus on those skills and content that were truly important and then carefully selected (many times having the students decide) the technology or overall way that I would help guide students to master those important concepts. I had finally settled into what I thought was an effective classroom experience for my students.

Three years ago I felt like I was in a position to help other educators with the daunting task of incorporating the new 1:1 iPads into their curriculum by becoming a technology integration specialist.  There I was on the starting line of the greatest race I had ever run.

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On your mark, get set, GO…

Voxer, Twitter, Google Apps for Education, Explain Everything, Kahoot, Socrative, Today’s Meet, Padlet, Schoology, Edmodo,…

 

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I had forgotten most of what I had learned from my 22 years of classroom experience. What was true for my high students played out with my teachers. Some loved the roller coaster ride I was providing…others…not so much! While I am still not completely there, I think that I have started to get back into the grove that “less is more.” I have started (hopefully) to provide the exciting roller coaster ride for those who are ready for that type of experience and a gentle walk in the woods for those who need that type of experience. Just like with students in a classroom, my job working with teachers requires that I push them to step out of their comfort zone while also respecting their overall well-being. That is a tough task and one that I stress about everyday. I will continue to strive to keep in mind that LESS IS MORE!

Don Sturm

Where to start??

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There is just so much in Part 2 to discuss, but I think this graphic is a great place to start! I remember the first time I read The Innovator’s Mindset, I stopped at this graphic and just pondered all that is presented here. The funny thing is that I asked myself…what if the physical schools could be like this graphic. Funny because I had yet to read the What if section of the book just a few pages further! Those eleven bulleted points are HUGE! Imagine how the world and our kids would be different if we focused more on the right side of the graphic than the left.  The right side is what I wanted for my kids when they were in school. There were those teachers who inspired and challenged my kids, but I would say that most of their formal education took place on the left side. I tried to promote the right side when I was in the classroom as a high school social studies teacher, but I think in the end the left side won out more often than not. There were those that I think I fostered in my students…challenging perceived norms,  promoting the idea that everyone is both a teacher and a learner, and making your own connections. Those were the ideas that made me love teaching.

But (and I don’t mean to get negative here!), it is challenging to truly make some of the changes that I believe need to be made. Schools are behemoths…they change at a snail’s pace. Let’s not forget that it is not just the teachers or administration who might be resistant to change. One of the biggest “roadblocks”  to change is the community. The mindsets of some communities are hard to change. I know that I am preaching to the choir here, but it is REALLY hard to encourage innovative thinking when community members are not convinced of the benefits of the right side concepts. I can only speak for the areas in the Midwest where I have lived and taught but, the common thought is teachers need to teach and kids need to learn. Teachers talk, kids take notes. Teachers give tests, students take tests. Community expectations make it more difficult to convince teachers to try for more of the right side!

So what can be done is what has been suggested by George Couros, innovate inside the box.

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As educators, we need to make those right side ideas/concepts part of the culture of the classroom. Just as we can help one teacher at a time innovate, so can we make changes to the community as a whole. It would be hard to question the excitement for learning that your child brought home as a result of having a teacher who believed in the right side ideas. What if education became more about learning and less about schooling??

Don Sturm