Unearthing the Unknown 

  
While sitting at the @blackgirlscode Dallas event, something was said that epitomized everything I do and believe but see encouraged at a very poor rate. 

A gentleman mentioned growing up and taking a copper hairpin to fix the on and off switch on his old Atari 64 and I remember doing the same. However, as mentioned by the moderater, parents today will fuss and sometimes cuss at the child and say that they broke it, you damaged it…I spent all this money on this and this is how you…

We focus on the negative instead of an opportunity of discovery. Innately kids are built to be curious and naturally gravitate toward personal passions. However, we don’t spend time in schools and in homes sometimes asking what our kids are fervent about in order to reach them where they are. 

As parents, my wife and I, who both are in STEM fields, spend a ton of time sitting back and watching our kids. We started by simply placing things in front of our kids just to see what they could and would do with it. Once we saw serious interest in something we allowed for further exploration. Our oldest, always went toward music; the keyboards, violas and guitars in the house. Naturally, she ended up a Fine Arts Academy. However, she is a huge gamer, writer, artist and technology geek. So, while at the @blackgirlscode Dallas event where they plan to teach girls how to build and code video games, my daughter asked if I thought the instructors would let her build a game that combined all her passions. My response was “if not, we will!” 

If we don’t champion the drive for our children and students to unearth the unkown, who will. However, the key is meeting them where they are then planting and watering a seed of opportunity to move forward with their passions so they can unearth the unknown.  

The Lurk & Learn Process of Becoming a Connected Educator

The secret of getting ahead is getting started. – Mark Twain.7696058_s

The hardest part of doing anything challenging is simply getting started. Navigating the EdTech space is very intimidating. There’s so much to learn and by the time you learn it, everything changes; there is newest hot item, app or tool. Then there is the whole social space. How do I get started, who should I follow, who in the world will follow me, will what I say matter to the gurus who already have established platforms. Thinking like this keeps many brilliant educators away from the empowerment that comes with getting connected.

I’m in what I call the lurk and learn stage of getting connected. I realized there was so much I wanted and needed to learn, but didn’t know how to go about the process. So, I put together some steps I’ve taken during this connective learning journey.

1. Began Using my twitter account. I first joined Twitter way back in 2009 through a 23Things course taken at my school. I didn’t use it much and couldn’t fathom the benefits of using it in the educational arena. Boy was I wrong. However, I wasn’t surrounded by users to help me understand the power of connecting with educators who were using twitter to not only build a PLN, but start movements to change education for the better.

Which brings me to the next step 2. Figuring Out Who To Follow. This one is still an interesting decision that I weigh with each click of the button. You must determine what you want to learn. I began with leaders that I either have read something from or heard at conferences and workshops. Then I began to look at who followed them, and who followed them and …you get the drift. I became a fly on the wall of those who were doing the learning because their conversations surrounding questions about learning and collectively they offered solutions. Sometimes, the leaders just disseminate information without facilitating conversation. Relationships occur when you listen more than you talk. So I followed those who listened.

Then I moved to 3. Retweeting. So, after I began to listen to the listeners I decided that it was time to start sharing. Now, I didn’t have much of my own message to share, so I shared the message of those I followed. If someone tweeted a blog post that I thought was insightful, or maybe an inspirational quote, or maybe a relevant article, I simply pressed the retweet button as a way of saying, thank you for sharing, I’ll pass your wisdom to the folk I know. I did that for a while to understand where the good information actually came from. This led me to wonderful websites, bloggers and publications that have become essential in my current educational philosophy. Well, the more I read, the more I learned. The more I learned, the more opinions I began to develop. Therefore…4. Retweet With Quotes became another step in my Lurking and Learning process. When there was room, I would not only retweet, but with the remaining character space, I tried to creatively add my 2 cents. Then I moved a little beyond that by going to the actual article or post and make comments directly and tweet that while providing a shout out to the person who original shared the knowledge. This has lead me to begin…5. Tweeting My Own Words. I’m still working on this craft. So, I’ll come back to this on a later post. Still learning to provide meaningful content without the help of an attachment. Therefore, 6. Sharing Content Is what I began to do. I started blogging, not consistently, but I did start. However, from blogging I found myself researching a little more and coming up with ways to aggregate information from various sources into one place. if I found something interesting and that could potentially be influential in some manner, I would share it. However, I begin to notice that the content I was sharing was written by those I was following. So, how do I begin to make that connection meaningful for me and my learning. I was closing the circle so I needed something to disrupt the potential loop of the same ole’ same ole’. 7. Participating in Twitter Chats is my answer and most intimidating step. When I first heard the term, I didn’t quite understand how you could have a live conversation on twitter without becoming lost in the conversation until I realized that was the intent. I don’t mean to a state of confusion, but to the point of being surrounded by a room full of answers. Using a common hashtag to consolidate the conversation, there is no true flow. Therefore, you have to become accustom to what could seem like chaos with people talking and responding simultaneously. However, you can engage at your own pace and still participate in real-time. There are a ton of chats that happen on a consistent basis. @cybraryman1 has put together a marvelous calendar of Education Twitter Chats for anyone to choose to connect with. The list is overwhelming just looking at it, so don’t just jump into the cold water. Dip your toes in first. Start with one or two, get comfortable with the formats and then cannonball if you like. I however am still just getting my feet wet. While doing that I am also beginning to participate in 8. Voxer Groups. I wrote a post about Voxer some time ago titled Have You Looked inside the Vox Lately? so I will not go into detail. However, like twitter, the opportunity to put your voice to the conversation, but without the use of a hashtag is very compelling. However I am also 9. Finding Other Avenues to Connect and Share. There is so much out there, that I want to be able to experience a much as possible while making meaningful global connections. Google+ Communities have been extremely engaging among other, but I’m being careful not to do too much. The most important aspect to the lurking and Learning process is 10. Creating Balance. My salvation is first, my family comes next and everything else is a distant third and beyond. Therefore, prioritizing the process is key. I’m still working on that and as soon as I figure it all out, I’ll let you know. Don’t hold your breath waiting though.

Why do all this? Well, how else can I meet them where they are if I don’t go where they are? That’s how educators make a difference.

On another note…

“help the learning process continue by investing in my efforts to get to #ISTE15 with @isteconnects

http://www.pledgecents.com/cause/tgqjfq/get2iste.

Saying More Than Just Hi

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As a 1:1 Technology Integration Specialist, part of my responsibilities is the actual distribution of the laptops. At this point in the school year, I am still passing devices out, especially to students who are enrolling into school. Last week I had a student enrolling who was from another country. As a part of the process, when students sign up for a laptop, I provide an orientation for the parents to explain the expectations of the program and why we do what we do. This particular orientation presented a challenge, the parent did not speak english or a language that anyone spoke on campus. No worries!

Last week I had the opportunity to witness superb customer service transaction while visiting the University Village Apple Store in Fort Worth, TX. There was a customer who did not speak English and he stopped one of the specialist and asked if some spoke his language (I’m assuming that’s what he asked). The young specialist shook his head, but in English, said he would be glad to assist him and pulled out his phone. After opening an app, he repeated what he said into the mic and then showed it to the customer. The customer smiled and spoke back into the phone and they completed the transaction in this manner using the @sayhitranslator app.

So, I opened the very same app, grabbed the language survey in the enrollment packet and saw that the language spoken in the home was Arabic. Within the app there were several options for Arabic and I showed the phone to the mother and she pointed to the appropriate dialect, Egyptian Arabic. I pressed the talk button on my phone and introduced myself in English. The app immediately translated what I said in the parent’s native tongue and script. The parent was able to see and hear what I said in the her own language. I pressed the button again and gestured for her to respond. She spoke in my phone and the app translated what she said in English and thus the orientation began. I held a shortened Q&A version of the normal session in order to make cover the important items, but also to make it more conversational in order to ensure the parent understood. Toward the end to the orientation, the parent was a little teary-eyed. I asked, in the app of course, was everything alright. She replied with a yes and thanked me for validated why they came to America…opportunity for her children.

I shared the application and the implications with a few of my World Language teachers for Mandarin and French. They both were excited to see an application that truly translated. For Ms. Hu, she could barely contain herself as the app wrote out the Chinese characters perfectly. Imagine the power teaching with this application, students having conversations in other languages without to accomplish a like task. There is a tabletop version that can be used with the iPad that makes communicating easier when using the same device. There is even a sharing features to Twitter, Facebook and more. Can’t wait to introduce this to curriculum.

If you every wonder why I love and use technology so much to connect, look no further than this example. Technology allows us to connect in ways never before imaginable. Therefore, I use technology to meet students and parents where they are.

It’s Okay If They Try It Their Way

If a child can’t learn the way we teach, then we must teach the way they learn.

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While at baseball practice Tuesday for my 6 yr. old, I was working with my 10 yr. old on his pitching. He has a strong desire to move from his current position to become a serious shutdown pitcher for his current team. I’m flattered because he knows that I was a pitcher…he’s seen all the newspaper clippings, photos and heard all the stories from my dad. However, when I work with him, the results are disastrous. We have been working for months and no matter what I did or do, he doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Then I realized something, if my son has a passion for something, then he must have his own way of approaching the situation. So, remembering to be swift to listen, I said, “How do you want to pitch?” He went into his wind up, a little awkwardly in my opinion, but threw a perfect strike. The ball had the sweetest rotation with a slight drop at the end. His form was not perfect, by my standards; his approach had no structure…but the results were phenomenal because he had complete ownership of how to demonstrate mastery.

Mind blown, I began to reflect on my teaching when I had a classroom. It was always important to me to present several approaches to solving a math problem, but I would always ask my students after I was finished how they would solve the problem. Sometimes, it wasn’t the way I taught it. They may have taken elements to the approach I provided, but always adapted the solution to the way they would naturally think.

Then I thought about how my daughter would bring home a graded assignment that was flawed according to her teachers because she didn’t put her thinking in the suggested order, but still came to the same conclusion…sometimes in a more insightful manner. I would be completely disturbed, but continued to encourage her to find her own way.

Are we as educators so sold on our instructional processes to where we refuse to listen to our student’s way of thinking? How can we encourage innovation if we don’t allow our students to be creative in how they problem solve?

It’s Ok for my kiddos to try it their way from now on. As a matter of fact, the results might be a little better using their approach as opposed to mine. Valuable lesson learned in meeting my students and my own children where they are.

Just Say it Already!

What blends in gets forgotten. What stands out gets remembered.

A few days ago, after doing some observations in a staff meeting, a teacher pulled me to the side and asked me for my opinion on an idea she had to increase student engagement in her department. I thought her idea was brilliant and I asked her when she was planning to present it to her team. Her eyes immediately dropped and I began to see the excuses formulating in her mind. I immediately stopped her and began to tell her my story…

I used to struggle in the Ed Tech space because my first and strongest concern was how others would judge me based on what I said. I wouldn’t participate in most discussions or group chats, thinking that people wouldn’t value my two cents. I would hesitate to say something only to hear someone else say the very same thing I was thinking 10 minutes later in the conversation.

Why-its-imperative-brands-have-a-Voice-of-the-Customer-programme-770x289In my own space, you couldn’t tell I had any introvert tendencies. I was bold, confident and in control of the learning space quite naturally. The audiences were those who already knew me and had great respect for my opinion. I was comfortable there. The problem was I was not growing…I was already the expert in the room. Hence the fear of leaving the comfort zone and testing the waters of unfamiliar learning networks.

I’m beginning to get over that now…I’ve changed job, started presenting and began to realize that I wouldn’t be in this position if I didn’t add value to the group. So, looking for opportunities to just say it already has been my new passion. I may look foolish to the so-called sage on the stage, but that is only because I may have said exactly what he wanted to say before he had the chance. That was a difficult transition for me. Now, I look to influence others to make that step as well.

Going back to the teacher, I explained to her if she doesn’t say it, someone else will. I implored her to not squander her opportunities by waiting on others to take the risks. She needs to stop blending in and make some noise instead. Just say it already! you’ll feel better when you do. This is the advice that I still give to myself everyday so that I can continue to meet each learner where they.

Annoying Quesitons

“We get there when we get there! Now shut up and sit back in your seats!” – my mom

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I haven’t had much chance to write, let alone do anything else since the massive undertaking of deploying laptops to every high school student in our 6 pilot schools began in December. It’s been a interesting journey, but 2 questions kept banging in the back of my head during the entire process. Funny things is, every parent hates these questions during long trips with kids in the back of the car; “Are we there yet?” and “Why?” The first question was forbidden on our long treks from Kansas City, Missouri to Louisiana during my childhood, but I always would ask why. That only infuriated my mom further. Yet, as an adult, when my own kids ask these questions over and over and over again, I myself get quite annoyed. However, during this pilot, these 2 questions prove to be the most important questions that we need to be asking ourselves on a daily basis if not more often.

WHY?: It is vital that every decision we make, every move and countermove we put in place, every protocol we write needs to serve the purpose of serving our students. So we have to actively ask why we are even doing what we are doing. Are we handing out a laptop to fix the way a student learns. No, we are trying to fix the way we do this thing called education. Like Marva Collins, founder of the Westside Preparatory School in Chicago said, “Don’t try to fix the students, fix ourselves first. Good methods makes poor students good and god students superior. When our students fail, we, as educators, too, have failed” So we must always be in reflective mode to ask if we are fulfilling the ultimate purpose of making learning better overall for our students.

Are We There Yet?: Forces us to know what our end goal should be. Now as we learn more about the 1:1 process, it is possible that the end goal can change as we grow. However, we need to be asking “Are we there yet”, to continually gauge where we are in the process which then determine any changes we need to make to support the “Why”. At the beginning of my week, I look at my calendar, (when it’s filled out) and determine Why I’m doing what is on my schedule and then during the process, I ask myself if I am making in progress toward that end goal. By mid-week, I truly need to evaluate what I’m doing in order to ensure the expectations are met or exceeded in the end. In actually, this is how I either stay focused and/or go insane depending on where I stand in the process.

Though these questions may seem annoying in some settings, fore me, when building a 1:1 environment they are essential if we want to truly meet are students where they are.

Celebrating 16th Place

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At the annual Spelling Bee in one of the schools I saw a very interesting reaction. In the 8th round, a student, who just happened to be my son, misspelled a word, was out of the competition, but celebrated as if he had won. He is a hilarious kid already, but this response took me by surprise. When it was all said and done and the winner was established, I asked my son why he was so giddy about coming in 16th place. He looked at me with eyes of devilish innocence and simply said, “Progress!”

Throughout all my years of teaching I always celebrated progress, growth…the little moments with that understanding that every student’s pinnacle may not be the same. However, when you take the time to make a big deal out of the little moments, students were encouraged to either keep climbing or challenge themselves on the next mountain. I’m ecstatic to know that my son has picked up on this and has learned to celebrate even 16th place…he didn’t even make the final 40 last year. Progress!

He just entered the Geography Bee…can’t wait to celebrate with him.