Does it count as “lurking” when it’s a blog project you created? Not sure. Regardless, I’ve been “lurking” on all of your posts this year, and haven’t posted myself. This was in part intentional — I didn’t want my voice to occupy a space that’s really all about your work in the classroom. I want this project to be driven by all of you, led by all of you, and voiced by all of you.
But the former (and forever) teacher in me finds so much to comment on in each of your posts — so much that resonates. I never expected to become an administrator; I believe I wound up here because I wanted to have an opportunity to shape many of the policies, structures, and practices that I found frustrating when I was in the classroom. Things like restrictive web filters. Devices that didn’t always work the way I wanted them to. Apps that almost met my needs… but not quite. Resources that always felt just a little too scarce. Professional development that focused on “how to” instead of “why to.” These were all things that made me crazy — things I wanted to find a way to mold.
Then there were the victories. When I taught 8th grade English, one group of students tore me away from the standard curriculum and into a month-long digital writing project. They created documentaries about racism and sexism in their school, and held a school-wide assembly to showcase their documentaries. They collected data, interviewed staff and students, and learned how to cut, edit, and publish digital texts. I’m pretty sure that project, which drifted far from the “official curriculum” (but still addressed the standards I was expected to cover) was the reason I ultimately wound up following my passion for EdTech.
In your posts, I feel moments of tension coming up against moments of success. I feel your joy as students create and invent with technology, and your seething frustration when the technology doesn’t act as it “should” or how you “expect it to.” Here are just a few trends I’m noticing:
Tech is Engaging
Many of you have commented about students who are engaged, drawn in, and excited by the technology tasks you give them:
- “Students’ engagement levels increased and we found them wanted to say more and record more information from their writing. This was a great tech experience!” – Kate and Stephanie
- “Students had a ton of ideas to prove their understanding of the novel, some wanted to create Snapchat diaries using Explain Everything, others wanted to compile a mix CD that the character might make, and other students wanted to stay with Twitter or Instagram.” – Tom
- “What was great about the lesson was that students seemed immediately engaged. They quickly read the 4-5 samples and began discussing.” – Brian
We talk a lot about “student engagement” in education. And certainly, we want students to be engaged and excited about their work. I have always found the concept of “flow” a powerful one — it was initially developed by Mihali Csikszentmihalyi (say that name out loud, I dare you) and describes a state of engagement so deep that time just evaporates (read more here). I think it’s hard to know, though, when you’re doing something that’s engaging purely because it’s fun versus because students learn something from the process. A number of you noted this in your posts, questioning yourselves (“why am I doing this? what do students take away?”). In the digital age, these are important questions to ask. Engagement for the sake of engagement doesn’t necessarily result in meaningful learning. Which brings me to the next trend I am noticing…
Authenticity and Relevance is Powerful
This is no surprise, right? When kids can see why something matters, connect it to their own experiences, or ask questions that they find interesting, they work harder, dig deeper, think more critically:
- “Overall, my students are definitely demonstrating progress in their willingness and ability to question information and also question their own role in the world.” – Marika
- “I am all for including more complex texts but we cannot lose authentic, creative, and multimodal assessment in the process.” – Tom
- “This was a powerful lesson because students were analyzing a primary source to introduce a new topic within a unit. What better way teach history than to have students act as historians and discover the information themselves?” – Jess
Inquiry-based approaches are all about helping students see the connection between academics and real-world issues and questions. As we engage students, we want them to be thinking like historians, like humanists, and using digital tools in the ways historians, anthropologists, authors, humanists, scientists, engineers, or architects (and the list goes on) would. We want them to draw on what they know, but we also want to challenge what they know. But this is difficult when…
“The System” is Not Always Supportive
Whether it’s administrative, bureaucratic, or technological, “the system,” “the man,” or “the powers that be” don’t always make it easy for you to integrate meaningfully:
- Technological: “As I mentioned, there were many unforeseen problems that we had to figure out. One of the biggest challenges was how to save student projects that were created on iPads that they did not own.” – Mike
- Bureaucratic: “So I made a YouTube channel…which my students still weren’t able to access. My school’s tech guy told me that I have to tag each video I make as WalthamEDU in order for the video to make it past the filter. However, I can’t tag videos that aren’t mine (if I find something really great), so I’m more or less back at square one.” – Alex
- Administrative: “I received immediate feedback that the lesson and the project as a whole was too low on Webb’s DOK. While I definitely understood their point and the cumulative project of the book could have been a more direct synthesis or analytical project, I saw and still see, a lot of value in the creativity of the project as I had it.” – Tom
- Technological: “One of my major beefs with google sites is that ii has a tendency to reformat itself. This is SO FRUSTRATING! I feel obligated to check back with the site from time to time to be sure that it is still laid out the way I intended. It also lacks the cuteness I look for as a first grade teacher.” – Marianne
These are just a few of my findings and reflections, based solely on what you have written (a bit of qualitative data). I can’t wait to see what you have recorded, collected, and developed as the project moves forward.
In our workshop on Monday, we’re going to talk about “findings” and “data analysis,” and how to somewhat-systematically take our vague impressions and capture them, hold them still, and say things about them (perhaps here on the blog). That’s what I’ve attempted to do in this post. I had a few vague impressions about what you all were experiencing: that perhaps you were running into obstacles, that certainly you were finding the use of technology powerful, but that maybe just being “engaging” isn’t “enough.” I have tried to capture those trends here by quoting your writing in what is a bit of a meta-reflection… a reflection on your reflections.
Where we go from here? Not sure. But I look forward to thinking about it with all of you on Monday.