Today I rode my bike. Living in (usually) sunny southern California I can do this almost every day. I don’t. There are a variety of reasons why, but I want to share just one. My husband used to be an avid cyclist (100 mile rides in 5 hours multiple times a month!). He decided to buy me a fancy bike about 5 years ago. Back then I’m sure he showed me how to use it properly. Apparently I didn’t listen or didn’t remember. Recently I decided I needed to get out more and wanted to start riding again. The bike was ready and so was I.
My first ride in several years was hard. I came back super sore. Why? The hills were too hard and the valleys were too fast. (Apparently my town is NOT flat, as I discovered on the first long ride!) I didn’t know know how to use the gears properly. I was doing more work than I needed to and wasn’t making the tech work for me. My friend, Cori Orlando, wrote a blog post, Walking Your Why. I completely agree with her, but as I had my epiphany today. If you don’t know the HOW, it doesn’t work. They have to work together.
As I took my ride, there were a lot of people getting out as well. Most were very friendly. A couple even gave me encouragement! (Use your toes, you can get up this hill!) There were two sets of families that really stuck with me. The first is in the picture above (taken with dad’s permission). A dad, a son, a dog. They figured out how to use what they needed to ride as a family. The dad casually rode his bike with the dog jogging along (happily I might add). The young son, probably 5 years old, rode a motorized bike that allowed him to stay at the same pace, or just a little faster, as the rest. They were making the tech work for them. On the return trip, I saw another larger family. Three kids and a couple adults rode their bikes. There were a few adults who ran. The last member of the group was on roller skates. Everyone was doing their thing and they were all staying together. They were using whatever tech worked best for each of them. If I am to get better at riding my bike, I need to get better at using the tech.
Same goes for our classrooms. Teachers and students are given various types of tech and told to go. Many of both groups are at a loss. Teachers will assign students to go on various websites to play academic games or write an essay. Students will go on YouTube or game websites and do their own thing. Some teachers have learned what else the tech can do and get their students to create. Maybe they have had more training or have figured out a few things themselves. They have figured out some of the HOW.
When our district first rolled out 1:1 Chromebooks for classrooms, we had a 2 day training on different things you can do with the computers. The training was pretty good, but for many it was overwhelming. It was a lot for someone who was new to the tech, just like my learning how to use the gears. There have been a few more trainings since then, but again like my gears, if it doesn’t happen regularly we tend to forget and rely on old habits. It’s important to offer support in HOW to use the tech on a regular basis, but it also has to be willing accepted. If my husband had forced me to ride my bike more over the years it would have been something I didn’t want. I had to be ready to learn.
I use a lot of tech in my classroom, a lot of times at the higher end of the SAMR model. However, I need to remember that everyone has their way to using it. It’s okay if teachers are beginning with having students go on those academic websites. It’s okay if students are using YouTube to learn a few things. They are figuring out their HOW.
As I finished my ride today, I realized a few things. I was doing better with the gears. I got confused a few times and went the wrong direction (higher gears when I should have been in lower) and worked more than I should have. But it was easier than the past few rides, and I am less sore. In the process I had a lot more fun (see my last blog post for more on this). I figured out HOW to make it work for me.
Today was Junior Olympics. As coach of the volleyball team, there is always a lot of work to be put in. Choose the right players, work with them to build their skills, and try to get them to gel as a team. Not an easy task, but always fun to watch them through the end. This year we started with 7 out of 12 players who were new to the team. 6 of those had never played volleyball before.
After two months of practices, it was finally game day. They definitely had some strengths and weaknesses. We found out we were playing first thing in the morning. Our first three games, we won without a lot of effort. Our spirits were high. After a break, we played our next three games. They were a much tougher team (who by the way ended up winning the whole day!). We did our best and kept the games close, but lost. The kids’ spirits dropped. Because of the way the games are played, we had about a three hour break before our last games of the day.
The kids relaxed, did some practices, and were mostly ready to play again. However, they still weren’t in the best of moods. They were tired, bored, and down due to our loses. As the final game times came closer, our other coach decided they needed a little incentive. If they could keep the ball off the ground for more than 20 hits in a row, they could have a piece of candy. (Yes, sometimes teachers resort to bribery!) They took a few turns to get there, but they did. If they could do it again, they would get another. Not only did they do it again, but they figured out how to talk to each other and managed to hit it 100 times in a row! Suddenly they were having fun again!
As we went into what would be our last two games, I reminded them of the fun they were having when they hit it 100 times. Smiles beamed all around. First game in the finals, they had fun. They played as a team and won. Second game, we had to work harder for the points, but they continued to have fun. The team ended up winning the silver division (7th place overall in the district). Pretty good for a team that had so many brand new players.
Today reminded me of my classroom. When the students are having fun, they do better. They learn more. They remember what they did that day when their parents ask at home. When the fun stops, no one does well. No, school can’t be fun all of the time. Life doesn’t work that way. But can’t we, as teachers, bring as much fun into the classroom as we can? Students deserve it. We deserve it.
Anyone who has read my blog knows I am always up for taking risks in the classroom. Yesterday was the culminating activity to another one I am excited to share with you. About a year ago, I read Dave Burgess’s blog post, A Deep Dive Into Creativity. It was all about using the Oscars as a way to get kids talking about the books they were reading. I loved the idea but didn’t go anywhere with it at the time. Fast forward to a few months ago (and a podcast reference to his idea), and I was suddenly totally into trying it NOW.
I started by having the kids come up with categories that they thought represented the best parts of books. I had a few of my own ideas and a few of Mr. Burgess’s to back us up just in case they struggled. Not only did they come up with the same ideas I already had (without my prompting), but they came up with a few more that I had never even considered. That part right there would have made this activity worth it. They were talking about books in a new way. Of course we didn’t stop there though.
Once we set up the categories, the kids got to work. Each student created a minimum of two presentations for their nominations. Most of the kids used Google Slides, but others also chose to use Prezis, Microsoft Sways and Flipgrid videos. Students’ were able to use whatever means they wanted to be able to share their enthusiasm for the nomination. I loved watching a few of them step out of their comfort zone to create using a new tool. To go with their presentations, each kid also had to share 5 reasons why they picked that book/character/author/etc… for their nomination. Once again, students were talking about books! They weren’t being forced to answer a worksheet of questions or take a quiz on what they read. They were sharing their favorite parts about being a reader. Even the reluctant readers were getting into the activity.
I wanted this to be a full-on student centered event. I just needed to help with a few logistics and organizational elements. So, while they were creating their nominations, they were also designing the winners’ certificates and making trophies in our Makerspace. Students also created an acceptance speech. Since they didn’t know if they were going to win, everyone took it very seriously. We talked about what kinds of things should be said and why they were important to talk about. Now, the kids were also writing about the books and some would be talking about them in the ceremony!
After they had enough time to share their presentations (through a Google Form set up so that I had an easily accessible location for them all!), they chose their classmates as a formal “Nomination Committee”. The only rule was that they could not vote for themselves and they had to choose people from their own class. Since I was doing this for two separate classes/grade levels, I felt it was important to make sure we had a committee that wouldn’t favor anyone specifically. The Nomination Committee had the difficult job of narrowing each category down to the top 5 to become finalists. They gave up their recess time for about a week to be able to do it. Once they were done, I felt we had a pretty good selection for the classes to vote on.
The finalists’ presentations were shared with the classes through another Google Form. Each student in both of the classes voted on their favorite for each category. I was able to split this into three sections so we didn’t take a lot of class time to go through each of the finalists’ nominations and vote. Some of the categories came down to 1 or 2 votes to determine the winner. Watching the 100% anonymous (this was very important to me) votes as they came in was exciting!
The morning of the awards ceremony was impressive. I had convinced 11 other staff members to dress in formal wear (not an easy feat!) to be our presenters. Students were encouraged to dress as their favorite book characters or in something “fancy”. Boy did some of them dress to impress! We even had a professional photographer and a few parents act as paparazzi to take their picture as they walked the red carpet! As each adult announced the finalists and finally the winners to the audience (parents and other classes), there was lots of clapping and cheers. Each winner received the student-created trophy, certificate and a prize bag (where I had given them a few things to make it more special.) I loved watching not only the winners, but the anticipation of the audience as each award was given.
There were so many moments of this activity that made it all worth it. One of them came from a parent who commented that this made his son’s love of reading more evident than taking a book quiz and earning points could ever do.
This was our first year doing the event (which it truly became!). It will not be our last!
Just a few pics from the event with student-created certificates (shown on the screen) and picking up a trophy.
20+ year teacher, mother of 2 kids and 2 dogs, wife, lover of all things M&M, interested in tech in the classroom, and changing up my teaching