Above The Line

Change takes time.  I have to repeat those words to myself every single day.  We have come so far since we began our journey as a 1:1 school and transitioning our curriculum – closing reading deficiencies through differentiation, providing unlimited practice when it’s needed, using data to focus our instruction exactly where it needs to be, and so much more.  But I breathe a sigh of discouragement when I hear some of the comments from parents, teachers and students that indicate that we still haven’t fully shifted our thinking.

It has never really been about the tech.  

The devices are just a means to a munch bigger end.  Yes, we need to give students experience with technology to prepare them for the world they live in and will work in.  Yes, we can use technology to make learning more engaging and efficient. But it’s really about using technology as the tool to make it more personal and authentic.

In recent months, we’ve presented students with a writing prompt for Digital Learning Day, sent a survey to parents, and announced that Riverton will be a BYOD school next year.  In addition to showing some really good steps we’ve taken forward, the responses have also revealed that many still see the devices as nothing more than a substitution for an old way of doing things.  Their vision is far too small.  We clearly need to do a better job of helping students and parents to see that tools like Achieve , ALEKS  and IXL aren’t just moving from a book to a screen, they are moving from a one-size-fits-all education to one that is customized to each students’ exact needs and pace of learning.  Students don’t always like this because it really raises the bar for them.  Advanced students aren’t just coasting through the grade level content that comes easy to them, but are being challenged more than ever.  Students who were happy to slip through the cracks before, are now finding that impossible.  I don’t know of any parent who wouldn’t want this kind of individualized education for their child, but some don’t really understand that is what we’re doing.  Most of our teachers are seeing the benefits of this kind of shift, but some still struggle to see the true possibilities opened up to them because we are a 1:1 school.  Let’s not stop at discussing the author’s purpose, let’s use the technology available to us to ASK him or her!  Let’s give our students a voice and open up the doors to create and share with the entire globe. Let’s give students, teachers, parents and administrators the means to really communicate with one another anytime. Let’s give students the chance to explore their curiosities in unlimited ways, invent, solve real problems. Let’s use the technology less for things that can be done just as well on paper, and more for things that truly transform learning.  If you’re an educator, you know that I’m talking about making the climb over the S.A.M.R. line, which is a topic I think we need to revisit in professional development and set some specific goals towards accomplishing.

Please don’t get me wrong, we have lots of teachers who are leading their students to these places.  This year I’ve seen classes where students are blogging, Skyping, sharing their voice about current events from news clips, and mastering multiple levels of content in a single year.  I’ve watched teachers’ eyes light up as they get excited about new possibilities that will take learning to new heights.  But it’s like this….


It isn’t their fault that this process takes so long and seems crazy at times.  There is a lot standing in a teachers’ way – fear of failure, state mandates, lack of time… We just need to do a better job of sharing that vision so that everyone sees it and believes in it.   And I need to be patient and wait for it.   There isn’t a doubt in my mind that Southwest Parke is a school district on a path to climb above the line.  It just takes time.

Reinventing The Wheel


I’ve heard it over and over.  I wait for it as I am working with teachers who seem to be struggling with the concept of making a transition to digital curriculum.

“Aren’t we just reinventing the wheel?”

Yes we are, in a sense.   We should be!

We must.

Now don’t get me wrong.  If Mr. Smith has created an amazing collection of the best resources for teaching multiplication facts and is willing to share it, there is no reason for Mrs. Jones to create her own from scratch.  I believe we are all in this changing time in education together and we must work smarter, not harder (to throw out another cliché phrase).  It’s why I share every stinkin’ thing I create, hoping someone will find it beneficial in their own journey.

…But this isn’t the same as our work to transform education by replacing textbooks and worksheets with digital tools.

The stone wheel and wood axle invention was amazing.  It changed everything.  But what if we stopped there?  It was perfect in the day when transportation was a simple cart and you could live your whole life in a 10 mile radius.  But can you imagine your high-tech car today, with its computerized engine and Bluetooth sync to your iPhone, trying to cruise down the interstate on that?  As the world has changed, so has the wheel.  I suppose it is possible that some argued along the way that what they had before was working and had its benefits.  (I’m guessing a stone wheel has more than a 70,000 mile warranty… if you can stand the noise that long.)  But there is little doubt that it wouldn’t serve our needs today.

We must reinvent the wheel of how we educate students.  We have tools today that allow students to learn on a very personalized level.  No more holding them back or leaving them in the dust because we have a textbook and worksheets that give everyone the same exact thing, whether it is what they need or not.  Technology allows us to have a curriculum that adapts to the achievement of individuals and provides the differentiation teachers have tried to accomplish for years.  It enables us to provide learning that is authentic like never before.  It’s hard to imagine what the workforce will look like when today’s kindergartener reaches it, but I can guarantee one thing.. it will involve technology.

So let’s get to it.

Let’s work together to reinvent the wheel.

We want our students to go places never before possible, and that takes a different kind of wheel.

Social Training Wheels

Hand holding a Social Media 3d Sphere

Should teachers and students be Facebook friends?  Is it ok for a student and teachers to Tweet with each other?  I have been involved in these discussions so many times and I see valid points in both sides of the argument.

On one hand….
Has there ever been a case of inappropriate relationships between teachers and students that couldn’t be traced back to a social media connection?  There’s a lot of bad stuff out there and such tools are a distraction from learning at the least and a potential for real harm at worst.  How would you monitor and control it?  You can’t.  You can only teach students what is right and the respond when they choose to do otherwise.  There are other tools, such as MBC, that offer the same social components but provide the safety net that can protect students while also teaching them to behave appropriately.
On the other hand…. 
Facebook and Twitter connected us with a far bigger world – a world that has huge learning potential!  Students and teachers can use these tools to connect with people in fields of study, experts, and gain cross-cultural experiences.  They are tools so many are already using and checking daily.  Are we going to throw those opportunities away because we’re too scared of what might happen?
As you can see, I’m a bit torn on this.  I see so much good for education in these tools, but I’ve seen too many hurtful posts, indecent pictures and inappropriate student/teacher relationships to just jump in and embrace it.  People who are opposed to filtering and blocking content at schools always argue that students need to learn through experience.  I agree, but I also don’t think they have to learn the hard way through a negative experience.  I think we should be more proactive than that.  Perhaps my views are affected by being a parent.  I have the responsibility to teach my children right from wrong and I think it is possible to overprotect them in a way that hurts them more than helps them.  But I still protect them.  When they were learning to walk I didn’t just sit there and watch them hurt themselves over and over.  I held their hands for a while.  I guided them away from sharp corners and covered the outlets.  Over time, I held their hand less and gradually allowed them to try on their own.  Yes, I knew they would still take some falls when I let go, but I waited until I knew the pain would be minimal.  It is the same with learning to ride a bike.  We start with training wheels.  At some point, they have to come off, but we don’t just put our kid on an adult bike and send them down a hill.
So for now, I have adopted these positions:
  • I use Facebook for personal connections only, and do not accept friend requests from students until after they graduate.
  • I use Twitter professionally.  I haven’t actually received any student followers (I don’t think) because they don’t care about the professional stuff I post on Twitter, but I do not restrict my tweets.  It has played a HUGE role in developing in my Professional Learning Network and I have grown in immense ways through the people I connect with there.
  • I promote and support My Big Campus fully (hence the little “MBC Coach” badge next to my name).  I think it is kind of like giving students a social platform with training wheels.  It allows them to learn, teaches them how to do better when they do make errors of judgement, but does it in a safe environment where they are protected from real harm.
So when is the right time to take the training wheels off?  I think it probably is before they leave k-12 education, but only after we’ve given them sufficient practice in a safe environment.  Maybe another year or two into our 1:1 and we’ll be able to do this with our older kids.  But there have been enough of these issues in the last few months with these tools restricted that I can’t say we’re there yet.  The students need to show they are mature and responsible enough to handle it, and it’s our responsibility to get them to that point.