Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Speech Camp 2.0: The Power of Social Media

This week, I'm in full fledged speech team mode, running around a high school with a team that has grown so much since I started five years ago.  At the start of every August for the past five years, I have had the joy of hosting Speech Camp - a week long camp with the goal of setting the tone for a very long, yet rewarding Speech Team season. With a crew of incredible individuals, I've worked with 20-ish to now 45 kids, taught them about speech team events, developed team/leadership skills, and challenged them to find their voices through a variety of highly interactive activities.  Every year I seek ways to take the camp to the next level, challenge students further, and facilitate experiences that will remain lasting memories in the minds of the kids I encounter.  This year, my goals have remained the same, yet my inspiration to captivate 21st century students ignited ideas that have taken this camp even further than the cinder-block walls of the high school.

What I am coming to understand about technology is really the capabilities it has to connect us all.  Students love their smart phones, and they love being able to "share" their experiences.  So far, this week students have encountered many team building activities and challenges, focused their attention on listening and improvisation, and today they will encounter their first Genius Hour.  The question I've been asking myself through all this is: how do we keep the conversation and momentum going throughout the week in fun, yet meaningful ways? How do we create excitement to learn?

The natural platform to allow students to extend and "share" their experiences is Social Media.  They're already using it to share and interact, but if they are prompted and given a purpose to use it, Social Media can become more than just an outlet for "Truth Is" posts and "selfies".

On Monday, during my welcome to Speech Camp pep talk, we talked about making "good choices", digital citizenship, and the permanence of the internet. We talked about the fact that I had all intentions of sharing what they posted on the back-channel with their parents and with other teachers.  They have shared goals, wrote six-word memoirs, cheered on their teams, added pictures, and posted about the fun they were having via the #CGSpeech.  The conversation has been active on the Facebook, Twitter, and Today's Meet channels.  They're getting involved and making it count.

Unprompted, students have even used their Google Drives to craft their scripts for their student-written performance scenes and they've used the CG Speech Facebook to post reminders to use their Google Accounts to collaborate even further.  They are seeing the advantages of web tools/social media and the interconnected lives they are leading, and they are using its power for good!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Inspire a Love of Learning - Preserving Student Work Through Portfolios

In the past few months, my father has found several essays and note cards from speeches he wrote in college.  It seems every time I go to my parents' home, he has a new piece of work that he cannot wait to show and GIVE me to share with his future grandchildren (Thanks, Stephen.).  Reading his work has shed some insight into my father at that age.  Yellowing paper and poor handwriting aside, perusing his work has reminded me that an 18-year-old then and an 18-year-old now are not that much different.  Aside from their digital presence and the technological distractions that exist now, they still have hopes and dreams and are aspiring to be something great.  Working with high school seniors, I have found several similarities between my father's ideas of the world and theirs (aside from the impact social media has had on them).  They both worry about the future, genuinely want to achieve, and have unique passionate that make them individuals.

While he was not an Education major, I have loved the opportunity to read writings from a younger version of my father.  The excitement he gets when he shares these documents with me and the fun I have as I jokingly critiquing his work, are great moments for us and have provided fodder for great conversations about my current teaching experiences and practices.

When we educate students, we need to inspire a love of learning.  There are certain documents that I urge my students to keep.  In Creative Writing, their memoirs are obvious ones.  In Media, their Media Diet papers and videos they create are also artifacts that they love to share/post on social media.  Creating digital portfolios is something that I started doing last year and plan on pursuing in all of my classes this coming school year.  In my drama class this past semester, my students collaborated with a class in Michigan.  They created websites, wrote monologues and performed them.  Their work was documented every step of the way, they received feedback from people outside of class, and we had many great conversations on what all this means for 21st century learning and living.  While the lack of technology daily made it a little challenging, students were so excited.  When they received a message from their Michigan friends, they could not wait to read it to the class and share.  They could not wait to watch their videos and talk about the messages we were exchanged.  The classroom was abuzz with excitement from learning that was both expressive and yet, mindful of digital-citizenship.

What I am most excited about for a 1:1 classroom is the ability to preserve and celebrate student work.  When students know they are publishing their work, they take greater care in crafting it, and they are more invested in it.  Their work does not just become something that Mrs. Sukow will grade, and then it will inevitably end up in the recycling bin on the way out the door.  No, it will become a living document, a way to communicate with the "world", and something they can "take with" them.

I want my students to look back on their work in the way my father does.  I want them to be proud of their academic successes and remember who they were/what they created at 18 fondly.  Sharing our educational pursuits can allow us to all reflect, grow, and gain knowledge.  Using technology to ignite a new fire in students and allow them to witness their growth happening live is a powerful development.  Our goal is to inspire a love of learning in our students, and creating a dialogue that leaves the classroom walls is an incredible way to do it!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

One-to-One: A Reflection and Preparation

How to Prepare for a One-to-One Classroom

Next year, I will be teaching in a one-to-one learning environment with Google Chromebooks.  I could not be more excited to begin this process and am looking forward to the challenges that I will inevitably encounter.  Most of all, I am excited to empower students to take hold of their own learning.  Technology is only a tool, but it is a natural motivator, a creation tool, and a way to bring students to the content both in the classroom and beyond.  

1. Revisit the learning objectives of the class:

This week I spent a great deal of time reflecting on my lesson plans from last year.  I keep a very detailed log, color coded by type of activity, that contains the daily learning targets (objectives).  At the end of each day, I also try to write note if something went particularly well or flopped for the follow year. Yes, it's can be a bit tedious, but it helps immensely when re-planning or redesigning a course.   Understanding the ebb and flow of the course, the intended learning outcomes, the activities that helped students to master the content, and the timing are all key factors when engaged in instructional design, regardless of the format of the class.  

2. Consider successful learning activities and think about how to expand upon them:

During my lesson plan reflection, I focused on the most meaningful activities and some of the favorites that students seem to learn a lot from.  In my Media class, I have several graded discussion throughout the semester and have students watch several documentaries about various media subjects (My favorites is Miss Representation or anything Frontline and media related).  In the past they've filled out worksheets to gather important data or reflection questions, which they complete because they have to do so, not because they've discovered new knowledge.  So my question is, how can I spark conversation and retention of important concepts from these documentaries using technology as a tool?  Holding online discussions with tools like Today's Meet while the video is occurring and requiring follow up for homework is one way to keep the conversation going.  Many of the documentaries we watch in this class also have great websites with resources, Twitter feeds, and what better way to get students engaged in conversation than allowing them access to these tools?  While one might argue that students may get off task or not watch the video - if we challenge them to participate and get active, I believe high school students will get active.  They want to discover and learn; they just have to have the right tools to motivate them. 

I have also been rethinking annotating and article reading.  I am excited to explore Subtext, online highlighting tools provided by Diigo, and other sites with students.  Just because I prefer reading a hard copy and taking on the colored pens does not mean that they do!  Providing students with opportunities to dialogue with a text in various formats is an exciting experiment that I will be exploring with them.  I think acknowledging the "with" is key.  

3. Research

There are so many web tools available.  Google Apps for Education are usually my go-to tools as my district is officially a GAFE school.  Also, using Chromebooks and GAFE making collaborating seamless.  I think the most important point to remember is that one can become lost in the tools.  Providing positive learning experiences for students is not about the tools, it's about providing quality INFORMATION and TASKS that can be accomplished in a number of ways (with and without a computer).  Finding the few tools that allow easy curation, collaboration, and creation is what is most important and may take time!  That is okay! Using resources such as blogs, Twitter, friends, and STUDENTS can help in this process tremendously.  

4. Be prepared to be flexible:

I know that mistakes are going to happen.  The internet will inevitably go down, or worse, it will run so slow students will reach a point of frustration.  I know that some students may get off task, and I know that some apps will change or not work in ways that I would like.  Yes, I may even look foolish from time to time.  I may need to smile, dance, or rap to distract them from the chaos that may ensue as a result of introducing new technology, but first of all, these disasters will not be as catastrophic as I've just described.  Secondly, mistakes happen in any format of teaching.  Going with the flow, creating teachable moments, and always having a Plan B (and I like a good Plan C, too), are all ways to counter these challenges.  Flexibility is a character trait that is essential for a teacher.  Introducing new technology into the classroom should not mean removing this "F" word from my vocabulary. 

5. Play - foster a love of learning:

Above all else, my job as an educator is to create life-long readers, writers, speakers, and thinkers.  This can only be accomplished by sharing my passion, providing meaningful learning opportunities, and empowering them to accomplish tasks.  Students need to see the connection between content in their lives to find value in it.  Technology is a great tool that is a natural motivator to them and opens a door to countless resources and opportunities to relate content to what they are most passionate about.  Overall, I'm excited that this new tool that I will be implementing in my classroom will break down walls.  Learning will not stop at the door of my classroom; learning will continue, and it will be a reciprocal process.  Students will learn from each other, they will learn from me, and I cannot wait to learn from them! 

I am happy to be sitting in my classroom that I share with a roommate/teacher friend that I love and am enjoying the paint will just added to the walls at the beginning of the summer.  I am enjoying the relatively bare walls that will soon  be filled with student-work, inspirational posters, and books still remain in boxes that typically line shelves along several sides of the room.  It is peaceful in here, smells like fresh wax, and for once, is not filled with dust and grime that students track in from outdoor gym class. Granted, fresh wax is  not exactly an appealing smell, but it is an inspirational one.  The smell reminds me that every year is filled with new possibilities, new opportunities to reach students, and new personal growth that will inevitably ensue.  The summer is half over, but I'm excited, I'm a little rested, and ready for a new year!  Even though most everything is still packed away, I love that my favorite phrase is still lining the walls... I believe in the power of words.  I cannot wait to instill the value of words in my students this coming year through face-to-face interaction, writing, speeches, reading, and collaborating online!

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