Friday, February 19, 2016

The Transformative Power of an Authentic Audience

Look at our society today and it doesn't take long to see evidence that people enjoy an audience. Sometimes the public stage contributes something valuable to either the audience or the contributor such as with Thomas Suarez, a young app developer. Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of unproductive and harmful things being shared publicly.

Kids are comfortable in the public arena of the internet. YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter and Snapchat are all popular venues for garnering an audience. (Facebook has dropped in popularity since the old folks showed up). Employers are starting to research what applicants are sharing publicly. They will either find evidence of values that will contribute to their organization, evidence of poor judgement or no significant evidence of anything.

How can we help students leverage the power of a global audience to promote themselves in a positive light and engage in dialog, inquiry, and the publication of relevant work?

Providing experiences that offer students an authentic audience have a transformative impact in the learning environment. No matter how awesome you think that Powerpoint project is, students really don't find it that important to do work that is only seen by the teacher. If they know their work may be potentially viewed by anyone in the world it takes on new level of importance. Students want their work to be great and they want feedback.

Check out this example of an authentic audience. Kids frequently muck about with their parents and a ball. Parents may even coach on their little league team. Small children are pretty motivated by feedback and support from those close to them but as they go through school they are less interested in what we think and more interested in feedback from others. This young man is experiencing the power of a larger audience. I'm betting there are some people in the stands are a little jealous.

My daughter has been sharing video and photographs on various sites since middle school. She has acquired a fairly large audience and she wants to showcase her best work. When she started publishing, she thought "more was better" but then she found she wasn't proud of all of the work she was posting. Through this process she has learned that for her, it is not good enough to post everything you do; it needs to be of a high quality.

I'm not advocating that everything we do should be public. When you are doing good work and want genuine feedback from a larger audience, technology provides a perfect medium. We need to be aware of and help our students understand that not all feedback will be positive and some may be inappropriate. We can teach them how to avoid unwanted feedback and how to deal with criticism, be it constructive or otherwise. Feedback is important to iteration and improvement.

Many kids will seek out the public audience available on the internet with or without us. It is up to parents and educators to teach them how to utilize this space in a productive way.

Examples of students who have garnered a world-wide audience.
Jack Andraka- at age 15, developed a test for detecting pancreatic cancer
Jacob Barnett- shares how autism gives him a different perspective
katexone Videos that address teen culture, interests, reflections
Cicily Boone- make up videos
KBOB TV- Bethke Elementary math tutorials created for students by students

Resources on Authentic Audience
An Authentic Audience
3 Easy Ways to Increase Learning Using an Authentic Audience
Another Study Points to the Importance of Students Writing for an Authentic Audience

Friday, February 12, 2016

Building Community Through Twitter Chats

Our school district has grown from about 10,000 to nearly19,000 since I first joined the team and despite this rapid growth, I feel a greater sense of community than I have ever felt. I think this is in part, because of the amazing leadership that has in recent years developed a shared vision for excellence. There have been growing pains and people have left but we are upping our game with higher expectations for educational quality. The curriculum and instruction department which previously felt a bit disjointed has really gelled as a cohesive and collaborative team; an amazing feat given that we have grown so much! For the first time, I feel a real sense of unity between content area specialists, Instructional Coaches, CTE. ESL and Special Education departments. This unity is great for our students.

In November, the Digital Learning Department, under the leadership of @jamielocklin, started a Twitter chat with the intention of bringing district educators together to share ideas, solutions, resources, pedagogy and other good news. We knew there were district people on Twitter but everybody was kind of flying solo. There was no mechanism in place to connect us in the vast universe that is Twitter. Our first Twitter chat was pretty well attended but it was mostly those of us in direct contact with each other in the curriculum and instruction department. The next chat was pretty abysmal with only half as many participants. The first chat of the new year was great with twice the number of participants. The word spread and campuses started to get involved. The next 3 chats showed an increasing numbers of people joining with the February 11th chat nearly doubling compared to the November. The Digital Learning Team fanned the fire by creating a giant Twitter sticker badge that was awarded to frequent participants. This has really helped promote the chat and drive more people to the conversation. This past week was another success with the chat being hosted by @AlejandroGongo1 and our bilingual department. In addition to the usually participants we had quite a few new district teachers join us as well as several people from other districts! We hope to build momentum to promote a culture of professional learners and a community that shares a common vision of excellence in education.

Our twitter chats don't solve the problems of the educational world but after a chat I feel so connected to my team. I am energized and proud to be a part of this community and I think everyone else that participates feels that too.

We have a lot of work to do in our district and we have some high expectations. The only way to get where we want to go is as a cohesive team and I feel that tools like Twitter chats are helping us come together as a community of learners.

A special shout out to @jimknight99 who spent 3 days this week with our instructional coaches, content coordinators, directors and principals. He helped us develop our understanding of "coaching done well" and how to communicate effectively to meet the needs of those we serve.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

“Shut the Front Door” Experiences at TCEA ‘16

TCEA 2016 is in the rear view mirror. As I reflect on my week, there were several experiences that really made an impression on me. These blog-worthy moments will be a source of inspiration as I set goals for leading learning in the next several months.

Adobe Mobile & Leslie Fisher
I’ve been a huge fan of Adobe products for years and use Adobe Creative Suite on my Mac. I don’t use CS that much but when I need it, I need it. I knew there were several Adobe apps out there but I really didn’t pay much attention since I already had CS and Adobe products tend to be pricey. Much to my chagrin, not only was I completely blown away by the functionality of the Adobe mobile apps but more importantly; that they are free. These products are simple to use beautiful in form and function and accessible. This opens a whole new creative component for students.

“Adobe Gone Mobile” was presented at TCEA ‘16 by Leslie Fisher. Despite the fact that she presented eleven workshops throughout the week, this was my first time seeing her. At 8:00 am on the last day of the convention, Leslie surprisingly roused the crowd; many of whom I suspect partied to the beat of the Spazmatics the night before. She is a high energy, humorous and knowledgeable presenter. If you ever have the chance to go to one of her presentations, you will not be disappointed! Leslie followed her Adobe workshop with a packed session on the Apple Watch which was equally engaging. I will definitely be referencing her website.

Emily Connelly
@EmilyTCEABound is a high school freshman. The description for  “Student PD: Passion Driven Technology Integration” began with “ My name is Emily. I’m 14 years old and in my first year of high school.” Her workshop had me at hello.

We hear a lot about student voice and here was a real student offering it up. The audience of educators were rapt. She was such an eloquent speaker and although nervous, quickly assumed the demeanor of a pro. She shared with us the tools that she likes to use for learning as well as some of the annoying realities that digital natives have to put up with from “seasoned” educators. She recounted a situation where a teacher required them to handwrite notes to study for a test. Involvement in sports meant that there were many evenings of homework on a dark bus, making it difficult to hand-write note cards. In fact, she would use the flashlight app on her phone so she could write out her notecards by hand. This task seemed completely pointless since creating her note cards in quizlet would have been just as effective for her learning and much less cumbersome.

Not all students are able to articulate their learning needs as well as Emily but I think part of our job as teachers is to help students find their voice and advocate for themselves. We can improve our craft by listening to those we serve.

George Couros, Leading Innovative Change
George is always and educational crowd pleaser and he never fails to engage and inspire his audience (and it was a large one). When he announced that the entire ballroom was going to play rock paper scissors until we only had 2 people competing in the entire assemblage, I couldn’t envision it. Two by two, partners squared off with the loser becoming the cheerleader for the next
Conversations we should be having with IT
 departments regarding decisions which impact
 by George Couros
match. The number of cheerleaders increased exponentially as the competitors decreased and soon the entire ballroom was a cacophony of shouts and cheers. In the end there was one winner but we all benefitted from the energy this activity created. I think the point George was making was that when we are transparent in what we do as professionals others witness our successes and not only rally behind us but also imitate, modify and iterate. My additional take-away from this is that when we all join together and support each other for a common goal, the experience is positive and powerful. Even when we are not successful we feel supported and are more likely to continue to take risks and improve our craft. Through this process we build a supportive community with a goal of continuous growth and improvement.

A final note
TCEA 2016 was a great experience. This was my first year as a presenter and although I was nervous it was gratifying to know that I was able to share some ideas that will benefit others. Rather than trying to cram everything in this year, I selected fewer workshops to attend and allowed myself more time for conversations and reflection. I think these things combined with great presenters made this one of the best TCEA conferences I’ve attended!