I have observed something pretty amazing since the 1-to-1 technology movement in my class. Students feel quite comfortable and take pride in sharing their technology knowledge or tricks with their classmates. The learning energy is obvious and clear as this happens. This is so cool to see and participate in, regardless of the class or subject.
This "Sharing" first surfaced last year in a 6th grade specific class called Middle School Skills and Support. Years ago this class was called Positive Transitions, with a plan of support students with changes that come with the elementary to middle school progression. We meet every other day and the class has changed dramatically since the infusion of personal devices for all students. I am very fortunate to work in a district that values this academic step with this 42 minute class. In addition, our principal has been so supportive and simply awesome, empowering us teachers to retool this class for 21st century learning.
The class begins with teaching and reinforcing the soft skills of organization, study skills and time management techniques for the new independence these 11 and 12 year olds now have in middle school. We continue with teaching students how they are part of various learning communities as small as a classroom to grade level teams and even an entire school. The FISH Philosophy is the theme for all 6th grade teams and introduced in middle school skills or as we call it MSS. The four philosophies are; choose your attitude, make their day, be there and play. 6th graders have no problem with the play part for sure.
Though none of the topics listed in the previous paragraph are a tested standard, most educators would agree they are extremely valuable. Then came eLearning2 to our district and 6th grade. Every student had their own personal device, with most having chromebooks. This class was the perfect place to teach new soft skills of device management and digital citizenship. So our MSS class was retooled again, except this time the technology plane was flying and we were making modifications in the air.
As one might imagine, the students were extremely motivated to use this learning tool on most anything they could. That was the first lesson, to establish that their chromebook was a tool and not the holy grail of learning. The classes did appreciate the reality that they were the first 6th graders in our district to have this instant access power of learning at their finger tips. As we established new behavior and learning expectation norms something unique had taken root and was growing. By table groups and class, students started looking out for each other when being distracted with their screen.
We built in at least 2 weeks of Google Skills lessons into each quarter. The lessons went far beyond Google Apps For Education, but it was a fitting name. This is where the neat sharing began. Let's say we were introducing the basics of Google Slides for classroom presentations. There would be a normal bell curve of knowledge from, I don't know what a presentation is to animation slide transition explorers. It started by table as one student would do something new and cool with their presentation. A beginner would ask "How did you do that?" Suddenly two students that have no connection beyond this class were sharing and learning from each other. I gave it a little push, having students walk around the room to see what others were doing with their project. This became a buzz of learning and excitement. By the end of just one 42 minute class the technology knowledge gab had narrowed in a noticeable fashion.
I thought there had to be a way to take this technology device motivation and bring it to my science class. It isn't like technology wasn't a part of my physics classes, for we use the tools daily. The quest was bringing technology sharing to content learning. Inspired by @MsMagiera - Jenny Magiera's TedxBurnsvilleEd, it was time do a summative project that allowed creativity and still hit the standards. The Grand Portage Project was born. The expectations was to map a route from our school to Grand Portage. The route there was to be in current time and returning by mode of travel for 1800. Using My Maps in Google, they created their ground travel each way. I will summarize the entire project when completed and I can assess its merits in future posts.
Though early in this sharing classroom learning focus, the project brought regular moments of goosebumps on my arms. It was so cool to see the creativity and SHARING between students that rarely talk to each other. The digital format to share their journey was open for each student to select. There was another learning area hit as well and that was what I gained. Student interest and knowledge openly shared. Our classroom community became closer and more trusting of each other. I learned about many new tricks that a 6th grader can see from their perspective. Sharing the Classroom Learning is powerful and energizes this old educator.
It seems only appropriate to kick off my blog journey after being surrounded by so many smart, inspiring people in Austin, Texas for the Google Teacher Academy. This was an amazing experience. Sure, we got to dig deeper with the Google tools and in a room where everyone embraces technology. I learned quickly that it takes people to use the tools and those same people love to share. I mean they LOVE to share.
Any time I present to teachers I start with “Get a Tech Buddy” to share the journey. Initially I was referring to other great teachers down the hall, building or even other schools. Face-to-face is clearly hard to beat, but that isn’t always possible and limits the network. Many of my tech buddies are active in social media and have encouraged me to start sharing beyond face-to-face. My past practice has been more of a content consumer via Twitter, Google+, or my geeky podcasts on my commute, then share with others in person.
Within the last month I experienced the great power of expanding my tech buddies to the midwest and even North America. First, I was presenting at the Midwest Google Summit. This is a great technology summit, well organized and solid content for anyone in education to add many tools to their toolbox. Twitter and the MWGS G+ communities went from 0 to 90 even before the keynote. Then after our presentation the sharing requests came and retweets within their networks. That in itself was powerful and a two way learning experience. I shared, but got so much back from people I had never met before.
During the past two days sharing went into hyper mode. To be in a room with 51 other leading educators and instructional technology specialists was awe-inspiring. In addition to that the lead learners and special guests were all so accessible. They all get as excited as I get when sharing, then of course learning from the audience. I sat with the some of the best in educational technology integration and something surprising happened. I actually had a couple tools from my classroom that were added to the sharing network and session discussion. As well as a few tweets traveling around my new learning community, then back to Minnesota and beyond.
I know for most active in social media, this discovery of mine is not a great surprise. Those people live it everyday, but this was new “tech buddy” territory for me. While sitting with Matt Miller, @jmattmiller at dinner, I said how overwhelming Twitter can be for me. He shared a great view; “Twitter is like a beautiful mountain stream, flowing with new knowledge. I don’t stop going to the stream because I can’t see the beginning or end. I simply take it all in where I’m at on the stream.” Now that made sense to me.
Technology is changing education everyday and sometimes by the hour. Keeping up with the wave can be overwhelming if attempting to stay at the cutting edge. What cutting edge is to one teacher, classroom, school is regular practice somewhere else. It is really as simple as jumping in and trying from where anyone is currently at for that specific time.
I sit now with so many more tech buddies that I have been blessed with. Jump in and share the journey. You, your students and your network will all grow together. Seeing a student’s eyes light up, learning with a new tools is priceless. Then sharing that tool and method is what education is all about.