Thursday, December 8, 2016

Failure to Launch...Blackboard

The Beginning

Last spring I took the Blackboard 101 TDP course, and most of the time I was thinking a combination
of 3 things:
1. How can first graders use this?
2. How can dual language students use this?
3. How the heck can I use this?

My head was swimming in a sea of content files, items, learning modules, and a vast array of other tech speak I was still not even near fluent in.  I suppose that's why it was a 101 course.

I made it through, and I made a unit about telling time.  It was really clunky, and I'm still not quite sure if it would've worked or not because I never let my kids use it.

This year, though, I was determined to give it a try.  Now that I'm in my fourth year of teaching I'm kind of ignoring Todd's constant "Be the tortoise" and thinking more along the lines of "Work smarter, not harder."  I wanted to build a Blackboard course little by little so that I could get things figured out and all uploaded to my Blackboard course so that NEXT year I'll have almost everything I want to teach all laid out for me already.  No more searching through my Google Drive to find that one worksheet on graphing that the kids somehow thought was interesting or poring over file folders and stacks of papers to find that one great worksheet in English that a colleague gave me that I colored over with White Out and wrote the Spanish translation on top of.

No.  Last year when we had to make all of those Language Workshop planners I was kind of begrudgingly doing them.  This year, though, my language workshop is all planned out for me already!  If I do the hard work THIS year, I won't have to do it next year and hopefully for years to come until we get another big change like Common Core again.

Well, I got my course built with a little help from Wendy Liska and my knowledge from Blackboard 101, and launch day came.  I had the kids all sit down and I talked them through logging onto the new Blackboard App.  Miraculously we got through it in only 15 minutes!  I was feeling great!  They'd have so much time to explore and use my new unit!  But...I missed one crucial step.

I failed to enroll my students in my class.  I ended up getting the kids on one of the apps that they would've used as part of the Blackboard unit, and I scrubbed the rest of the day's math plans for another day.

Stay tuned for my follow-up to this about what happened when I actually did launch Blackboard and how things went.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Sometimes you just need them to step away from the ipad

The answer was in their data

As we embarked in our second unit, we discussed how to incorporate the use of technology into science. We realized, as we had the first printouts of tables, that data and technology go hand in hand. This increased their learning and engagement.

We merged their data into the Numbers Application. Here students were able to see the data come to life. As they entered the numbers the dots appeared in the graph. If this was not great news already, they were able to predict future data points and analyze their results to a deeper level.

Sometimes it is best to go back to a quick poster

As we discussed what how our students would present all of there findings, we had a hard time using another application on their ipads. We wanted the focus to maintain with their Numbers work, yet wanted them to tie in all of the pieces. They had been in addition posting research notes in a different page in Numbers. 

This is were sometimes you have to step back and admit that creating a paper copy is what makes most sense. They were engaged in putting their presentations together and were able to provide great feedback to other students. We really were able to see the use of technology and paper. 

As we reflected, we realized that there was still one area to address as the year progresses. The area of design. Surprisingly, we realized this during the creation of the posters. We believe this was primarily because the templates we provide students with are already designed. Now that we have introduced many programs and apps, it is time to begin to discuss lessons about: font color, font size, headings, font style, contrast, etc.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Consider What Students Need -- It May Not Be What They Want!

Every teacher and parent knows one universal truth:
One role adults play in children's lives is directing them toward that which they need, even if it isn't necessarily what they want.
That is the kind of thing that you can say to almost anybody that is responsible for children and they will nod in agreement.

This week  I had several conversations with educators who shared that something they were trying out in their classroom wasn't exactly what their students wanted to happen. With my lens in technology, you can be sure that these issues revolved around pushback from students in using tech for teaching and learning.  I believe that we should take our students opinions and ideas into consideration when developing our learning environments and plans.  However, my challenge to these teachers, and to all of us is to ask two simple questions:

  • Why are the students pushing back on this practice?
  • Are they getting something they need, even if they don't want it right now?
I'll use an example of one of my former students.  I did a lot of project-based learning in my English classroom, and we used technology quite often (NO, not every day! And that is okay!).  She was adamant that my teaching style and use of technology did not fit her learning style, that she learned more in other classes, and that she hated having to use technology in her classes.

I spoke with her regularly about what I could do better, what I could change, how I could better meet her needs as a student. I asked her why it was not working, and I even made some of those suggested changes. But I did not back off of my students taking greater ownership of and responsibility for their learning. I also did not back off of my belief that learning to use the tools we had available gave my students a voice beyond the footprint of my classroom walls, and taught my students how to use technology to be creative, collaborative, productive, and efficient.

In her senior year (when she was no longer in my classes) we were talking and she shared with me the underlying issue to why she complained so often (and loudly) about my class. In summary, she was frustrated in my class because I changed the routine of school. She was really good at playing the game at school. She sat attentively. She showed up on time. She took the notes and completed the homework. She answered questions when asked. 

Her frustration with my class was that those things alone were not enough to get her the results she wanted -- an A in my class.  She was good at writing papers and taking tests. When she had to learn how to use iMovie to make a movie trailer in class (it was much harder then), that stretched her skills.  When she had to moderate her group book discussion and record it for a podcast, that was a new skill that she had never developed before. When she had to write reflections as she read a novel on the class blog, and then comment on other people's reflections by challenging their thinking, that intellectual discourse in a public venue was new and uncomfortable. As she said, "Your class was really hard. I actually had to think about doing what I was doing before I did the work."

The lesson I took from that student is that sometimes our students push back on what is happening in class, and we need to listen and consider what they are really saying. And sometimes we need to weigh that against what they are getting from the activity, use of the tool, or instructional method we are using. 

When the instructional benefit to students is essential your students' success or growth, sometimes we have to offer students what they need, even if it isn't exactly what they want.