Category Archives: Education

Second Day of School

I teach a technology course for school leaders seeking a master’s degree. Most will become school or division leaders such as principals or curriculum specialists. Normally, the course is fully face to face during the fall semester.

This year, I am implementing a blended, mostly online approach, with weekly synchronous meetings.  We will have three face to face meetings. Last week, we met on campus to get to know each other and make sure everyone was comfortable with the tools we were going to be using to do our work during the semester. More on those tools in another post.

Tonight was our first online meeting using Zoom as our interface. There are 7 students in the class, which seems like a good number for an online meeting, particularly because I wanted to use video and audio. It was good to see their faces, and I think it facilitated conversation. My face to face class is very interactive. My students have a variety of professional experiences related to educational technology that can inform their understanding and provide diverse perspectives to their classmates. We talk a lot about how our work connects with standards and research and practice.

And, we did that tonight. We spent time making sure everyone was comfortable with the Zoom room. We used the text chat and then video discussion to explore the topic of technology transformation. My one technology glitch was that they couldn’t hear the audio on a video. I’ll explore that more this week as I do want us to have some communal viewings.

At the end, I asked what they thought, as many of them hadn’t had an online course or even used Zoom. I got positive feedback and am excited about exploring the possibilities. There are some drawbacks that I will explore in another post.

For now, I am a happy teacher: I had an engaging few hours with some thoughtful, smart educators that allowed me to be closer to my base while they could go home and relax a bit before we connected.

I did do one thing to make sure we would be successful: I am renting office space in the small town next to my farm. The internet at my house is problematic: our potential cable provider has refused to provide us with broadband so we are stuck with DSL, and it is notoriously unreliable. I didn’t want to take any chances with losing connectivity during class. It was the right decision.

I had honestly forgotten what good internet was like…I’ve already messaged the landlord about creating a co-working space. I don’t need daily access but knowing I had a place to go for important meetings and large file uploads would be reassuring.

Live Local

I live in the country, just on the edge of small incorporated town between Richmond and Virginia Beach. We love living here but have had to learn to do without suburban luxuries like dry cleaners, public transportation and a decent grocery store. What we do have is local health care.

There is a medical center in our town, just a few minutes from my house, and the nurse practitioner can do almost anything the doctor might do. I went in to see what we might do about my bad hip and immediately got the referral I needed. They even skipped x-rays to save some money as they knew the orthopedist was going to want his own.

I, of course, ended up in the big city for the orthopedist but it turns out the physical therapist is just in the next little town over from me. What a lovely surprise!

At my first session this week, I  joined a group of local folks in the workout room who were obviously enjoying the fellowship along with the exercise. They welcomed me right into the group. I recognized one lady from the library, and we chatted while we did our stretches and steps. When I woke up the next day, I realized it as all part of their evil plan: chat, laugh and forget that you are moving muscles that haven’t been moved for awhile!

Having supportive , local community as part of my care seems important. Yet, this same county closed their three local elementary schools some years ago in favor of a centralized campus. I understand the practical reasons, and the students did gain in the deal. As with many rural areas, enrollments are dropping so there is less funding even as the aging buildings need major repairs and updates for technology. One elementary school on a central campus with the rest of the schools helps reduce busing costs.  And, the students are able to learn in a new building with updated architecture, functioning technology and strong infrastructure. It is modern and welcoming.

What do you lose? Community. That small town feeling. Parents could chat with teachers as they picked up kids to walk them home or stop by to help with a classroom activity because it was in the neighborhood or regularly attend parent/teacher conferences. Because we are a low-income area, many town citizens do not have ready access to a car so getting to the events at the elementary school is not so easy now.

Think global, act local is one mantra. I would like to change it to LIVE local. Yes, Walmart has better prices, but it is nice to have a local pharmacy like the one where I bought a birthday card and a candy bar after PT today. Yes, I can get books from anywhere any time, but I don’t get to catch up on the town news like I do when I go to the library. And, yes, a central campus consolidates services but just what do we lose?


Settling for Two Stars

I am not much of a gamer, but I do like to play single player time management building games. The one I’m playing right now is Kingdom Chronicles 2. It is a typical game set in something of a Medieval type setting:  you collect resources, build farms, sawmills, quarries and diamond mines that produce additional resources that you use to clear roads and destroy enemies. It is a somewhat mindless diversion, but each level brings different challenges that require some strategy to solve. And, as it involves time, there is a reward for finishing quickly: you get three stars. (There are also points involved but I haven’t gotten that involved in how they work.) I go for the stars.

In Kingdom Chronicles 1, I was able to fairly easily earn three stars on my first try on each level. There were a couple later levels where a surprise part of the way through the level made me rethink my strategy and required a second try.  Finally, there were just a couple that sent me looking for cheats and video tutorials.

Kingdom Chronicles 2, on the other hand, has been much more challenging. At first, I stuck with my usual approach to playing: don’t move on until I’ve gotten three stars. But, even with the support of videos, I got stuck on a level.  I like the game, but playing the same level over and over with similar results was boring and I didn’t seem any closer to getting that third star.

So, I moved on. And I got two stars on the next level, and the next one, and pretty much every level since. I haven’t given up on that coveted third star, and  I’ve tried each one at least twice. For those where I seemed close, I may have watched a video or two.

Mostly, I just decided I wanted to play the game, and I was willing to settle for two stars. I wonder how this might apply to kids and school: we’ve all known kids who likes school, engage with classes, but don’t necessarily care about the grade. It is an external motivation that can take away the intrinsic joy of an activity.

Maybe some day, I’ll return and work on those three stars but for now, I’m settling for two and enjoying the game.


Short Bits: Nuance

For now, in order to get in the habit of blogging, I’m going with pieces I am calling “short bits.” Basically, what I am thinking about it. Sheri Edwards, the blogging mentor to us all, calls them blog shorts and has a wonderful introduction here.  So, my short bits are blog shorts.

This one is simply about the seeming lack of nuance in all sorts of places, due I think, in large part to our continued distraction with media. We want quick answers and memes to share, diving into the ever flowing stream of stuff, generating quick comments but never really digging deeper than the surface. We label things good and bad, and certainly there are examples of both of those in the world, but there are also nuances of good and bad. Events are often more complicated than they seem. Zero tolerance policies almost never work. And, teachers and students and content and pedagogy overlap in complex ways that do not always lend themselves to easy charts or frameworks or continuums or, for that matter, 280 characters on Twitter.  Whenever someone says you should ALWAYS or NEVER, I want to shout, “It depends!”

But, in the interest of seeing nuances myself,  there ARE good conversations going on within communities, including Twitter. The #clmooc has made long term use of the web to connect around creativity and collaboration. I am sorry I missed the #clmooc book discussion about affinity communities online. Participation in these kinds of groups allows users to access  the power behind the tools when wielded with a mission of authentic connection.


Just Because You Can Look It Up, Should You?

I saw a comment on Twitter recently suggesting that teachers should never tell students things that they could look up. It struck me as one of those zero sum statements that are not helpful as we try to navigate the changing relationship between teachers and students. Teachers have expert knowledge to share that can help students move forward with their own learning more efficiently. Finding the balance of when to share and when to encourage students to explore on their own is, in my humble opinion, part of the art of teaching.

I think the spirit of the statement was probably related to teachers telling students lots of stuff the don’t need to know to move forward efficiently, and the balance must include some consideration of how much knowledge students might need to get started and the best way for them to gather that knowledge. For instance, I observed in a project-based learning high school for several years where ALL direct instruction was banned. A math teacher shared that, as she worked with her 9th graders on a three-dimensional construction project, she realized that many of them did not know how to use a ruler. She felt that she could get everyone up and running pretty quickly with a short full group lesson but was worried about violating the pedagogical rules. Of course, they could look up how to use a ruler and helping them learn how to learn might be a valuable lesson for them, but in the context of the project, she could move things along in ten minutes of instruction.

Rather than imposing rules, we need to trust teachers to make good decisions about the needs of their students. Strict pedagogical rules–whether conservative or liberal–do not help anyone, serving only to create frustration and even fear in professional educators. As connected educators, we recognize the value of community and shared expertise as part of the learning process and often ask questions of our colleagues that, theoretically, we could have looked up ourselves whether we are doing so on Twitter or around the lunch table.

Perhaps we should start thinking of our students as those colleagues. That changes the dynamic, and those quick questions between colleagues can help keep them on track with their larger project.