Author: Randy Rodgers (page 1 of 51)

What Do We Expect?

Source: https://images.app.goo.gl/MvHLqa4fqM3fBBZn9

As is true in many parts of the state, country, and planet, we in central Texas are facing immense uncertainty as the new year approaches in the midst of a global pandemic. We know that we won’t be starting face-to-face school until after September 7, and that our students will have at least 3 weeks of exclusively online learning. We know that schools got a crash course in online learning in the spring as this all hit with jarring suddenness. We know that a large percentage of the online learning that occurred was intended to prevent regression, rather than to achieve significant growth. We know that our leaders in Austin and Washington won’t accept that as sufficient this year, and we will need to teach new concepts, engage kids in higher levels of learning, and face the accountability monster once again. So, we know we have to raise our level of online teaching and learning.

In the spirit of helping our schools accomplish this, I have been working to put together standards for our online teachers. Think of these as virtual “walk-throughs” for administrators and as a self-check rubric for teachers. I’m sharing it not as some complete answer from an expert, but in hopes it might help other educators as they grapple with their own standards for this new, online reality. Note that red text is only significant to us, as it reflects applications our teachers have learned or are learning this summer. I welcome any comments, questions, or feedback!

Here is the link to the document, if you wish  to not have to scroll quite so much!

Observations From a (Social) Distance

Child working on computer.

Source: https://images.app.goo.gl/oQKmWhhQ2WG8mx957

Well, hasn’t this been an interesting couple of months? Little did we know when we left for spring break that we would not be returning to our campuses and classrooms for the remainder of the year! It has certainly been a strange, bewildering time. While we miss our kids, colleagues, our schools, and our normal routines, there have been some remarkable changes happening at a breakneck pace, and some real positives may come out of this when we are all back together again. Here are a few of my own, personal thoughts and observations:

  1. Teachers and administrators and support personnel have been amazingly resilient and adaptable. The immediacy of all of this has forced change on the fly and a great deal of professional learning to happen all at once. This has been a great opportunity for the world to see the dedication, talent, creativity, and hard work of educators everywhere. Undeniably, there have been bumps and a learning curve, but obstacles continue to fall. In a time when stories in the press about schools are overwhelmingly negative, this has been like a B-12 shot for education public relations and goodwill.
  2. Digital divide by income level

    Source: https://images.app.goo.gl/rd86LsbGfH1zfDKw5

    The digital divide continues to be a real barrier for our students. We now have a much larger body of evidence that many of our kids don’t have the kinds of technologies and connectivity to make learning outside of the classroom successful or even feasible. Additionally, many parents don’t have the technology knowledge or skills to adequately support their children in their online learning. Schools are being forced to address these inequities, which should be a good thing in the long run. Some are buying student devices to implement 1:1 programs. Others, like Seguin, are purchasing wireless hotspots or are even going so far as to install community wireless towers.  Along with the devices and infrastructure, schools will need to find ways to ensure students and their families have the necessary experiences during more normal times to succeed in times of crisis.

  3. For a variety of reasons, some students are thriving in this new reality. Perhaps learning via short videos, websites, and student-selected online tools provides better opportunities for on-time reteaching. Maybe it gives them multiple styles of presentation of information, allowing them to find what best speaks to them. I think some students can better focus on learning without the distractions of the complexities of the classroom social structures. It doesn’t matter how fluently they read out loud in front of their classmates, what they wear to school, or how disruptive the classmate next to them is. They can do the essential work without the negative, extra “stuff” that goes along with being a kid. For my own son, who generally finds football the only exciting part of the school day, it has been a chance to get the “boring” stuff out of the way of the things he’d rather be doing. He misses his friends, but he manages to keep connected via a variety of online games and networks.
  4. Sad teen

    Source: https://images.app.goo.gl/mjp1vCAccF3UQYxh7

    Some students are struggling mentally and emotionally during this time of physical isolation. Schools provide more than just access to knowledge and skills. They are places where kids can connect positively to other people. They can laugh, share secrets, complain, unload their painful thoughts, get support. Sadly, teachers are often the only positive, supportive, loving adults some of our students encounter on a day-to-day basis. School administrators and counselors provide invaluable support to kids with a range of mental and emotional issues. School lunches are the only reliable meals for many students. These kids, even the ones who are often the most challenging, miss the consistency and positivity that schools provide. The social distancing situation we find ourselves in has to force schools to think about ways to creatively and effectively take care of these kids.

  5. Inexperience or misguided priorities have been an issue for some schools or districts. As I have followed the news and the Twitter-sphere, I have seen some likely well-intended but hopelessly off-base policies and practices being advocated or implemented. For instance, some schools have sent full-day, detailed schedules for students to follow while learning at home. Such schedules reflect a complete disregard for the home life realities of students and parents, many of whom are either at work or working from home. Other schools have issued edicts that students continue to wear school uniforms, or that teachers wear “professional dress” while working from home. While certainly sensible during virtual meetings by video, it is dubious that a teacher is less effective in a t-shirt and pajama pants while grading essays at the breakfast room table. Still other schools have reminded staff that lunch breaks should be limited to a half hour. These kinds of administrative decisions are likely rooted in experiences limited only to normal, physical school, and we will, hopefully, learn better how to structure the schedules and environment of online learning, as we have no guarantees that we won’t be returning here next year or in the future.
  6. Now that we are mastering the basics, the next step is empowering online learning. The past few weeks have required on the fly learning and transitioning curricula into the online learning environment. Now, we need to work on the work. How can we move beyond viewing a video and completing an electronic worksheet? How do we make learning more relevant and meaningful and engaging? Can we use this opportunity to empower students to construct their own knowledge, with teachers serving to prompt and guide? I think there is a hesitancy among some educators thus far to give students more open-ended, student-driven tasks online. However, if the learning activities online would not have been good enough for the physical classroom, should they be acceptable in the virtual setting? The reality is, students have access to more diverse, powerful tools for learning and for creating, collaborating, and sharing online than in a typical classroom. We need to structure our online courses to take advantage of these.
  7. Professional development may be changed forever. This is not to say the face-to-face workshop or conference will become a thing of the past. However, more teachers are taking part in PD through book studies or Zoom or Google Meet. Having offered these types of professional learning for years, I know I have seen countless more participants joining in now. Will this be a positive experience that affects how they choose the grow as educators in the future? I think it is a real possibility, so long as they find it worthwhile in the present. A related benefit is that a lot of educators have become much more familiar and proficient with the use of technology tools that they might not take the time to learn in normal circustances..
  8. Teacher hugging student

    Source: https://images.app.goo.gl/QgqmiuUb1vQzr8Xd6

    The heart of the educator is all about the kids. Given an unprecedented time of separation from their students, teachers have shown time and again how their love for their students is at the heart of all the work they do. Teachers genuinely miss their students (and vice versa). I have read countless stories of teachers going out of their way to express how much they miss their students. Teachers in my own neighborhood and many others put together parades, honking, waving, shouting support. They have hand written personal letters to students. Others have read bedtime stories to their students at night. They have organized Zoom meetings just to catch up on the latest news from their students. They have worked to put together virtual proms and graduations. It has been a remarkable and touching display of the deep affection of educators for their students, and that is truly encouraging to me in such difficult and challenging times.

Something else just occurred to me. There will continue to be successes and stumbles in our new, virtual existence. We will learn from this in the most effective way there is, through real-life experience. I hope that may be the biggest takeaway for educators. Just like their teachers, students benefit from authentic learning experiences. It makes learning relevant to their real lives and makes it durable. After we return to the classroom, perhaps we can work harder to create these kinds of experiences.

Best wishes for success and continued good health all of my education peers.

Game On! Getting Started in High School eSports

Gamer with controller

Source: https://tinyurl.com/t8w8g5c

Seeing the phenomenal, explosive growth in school participation or, at the very least, interest in student esports teams in the past year or so, I wanted to share our experiences as we try to get going in our inaugural year here in Seguin. I am not an expert by any measure, but I hope that makes what I learn even more valuable to other novices out there. I’ll add more posts as boxes are checked or achievements…well…achieved.

Step 1: Genesis

After doing my research and, particularly, speaking to an ed tech friend from north Texas, Kyle Berger,  I became convinced that our Matador students would benefit from participation in esports. Kyle, CTO for Grapevine-Colleyville ISD, shared his experiences starting a program and watching it explode in popularity. He also shared many, pany positive impacts on students. Among the benefits shared by Kyle and found in my researcher were:

  • Inclusivity. Esports offers the opportunity for students not traditionally participating in groups or larger school events, clubs, sports, etc. to be a part of a team.
  • Accountability. Our team members will be held accountable for attendance, grades, and discipline, just like students in other activities.
  • Opportunity. An increasing number of colleges are forming esports teams and paying up for top players. As colleges routinely demand $30-$70k from students each year, every bit of assistance helps.
  • Responsibility. Students will benefit from time spent practicing and collaborating ahead of matches. Most of this preparation, especially in the absence of an experienced coach/sponsor initially, will be the responsibility of the students themselves.

I approached our high school principal, superintendent, and other leadership about the idea. Somewhat to my surprise, there were only enthusiastic responses, and all saw the idea as providing a unique and exciting opportunity for our students.

Step 2: Getting the Ball Rolling

Gamers holding controllers

Source: https://tinyurl.com/wk4rhbv

Once approval was so quickly secured, I set about determining some of the basic things we would need, such as:

  • Budget. This was something of a shot in the dark, particularly as inexperienced as we were. I did some shopping around for leagues, checked prices, looked at hardware investments required, team supplies, such as jerseys, etc. We limited participation for our initial team to 20 kids, just for ease of management. This also kept the cost lower to begin. In total, I estimated no more than $2000-$2500 for our first year.  While some schools are building gaming rooms, with new, gaming PCs, gaming chairs, high-end headsets, etc., I wanted to equip our kids without going overboard at the start.
  • Coach/Sponsors. I got lucky here. To my surprise, a young technology teacher at our high school had started a gaming club the year before. In honesty, this was really just a time and place (his classroom after school on Fridays) for students who were into gaming to gather and play. He had a good core group of kids who were VERY jazzed at the idea of an actual team. He agreed instantly to be the coach, and I would offer help throughout the year.
  • Leagues. In Texas we do not yet have an official, state-sponsored esports league. I decided that our options were to either host our own, local events, probably inviting other area schools, or to join an existing league, such as HSEL or PlayVS. After comparing costs, available games, infrastructure requirements, etc., I opted for HSEL for our first season. This was based on the wider range of games for students to choose and the overall low cost and fairly simple technology requirements. Also, everything is online–no travel, and scheduling is up to matched teams, which is super convenient.
  • Hardware/Software. So, we are really learning more as we go along here. For now, we are using student devices (Nintendo Switch) and our existing iMacs. We use our wired network for online games, such as CS GO and Minecraft, and our wireless network for games that utilize student devices.  I did order some gaming headsets and gaming mice. Because this is a pilot, they weren’t high-end models, but our players seemed to really like them.

Step 3: Season 1

Our selected league, High School ESports League, has 3 seasons during the school year. It took awhile to get things set, so I opted to wait until the Winter Open to get our teams onboard. The process was fairly simple:

  • Register our team on the site and add our players. This can be done for no charge, and it immediately puts you on the league’s email list, which is a great way to stay on top of upcoming seasons and deadlines.
  • Determine how many players would be participating. Request an invoice from the league for that many seats (Note: players can play as many games as they want for just the price of 1 spot on the team). We have 15 players for our first season.
  • Once the quote/invoice was received, I submitted the request for a district PO. The turnaround here is fast, so this was in hand in a few days. I sent this off to the league, who added the requested number of seats.
  • Create game rosters. For some events, such as CS GO, rosters include 5 players. Others, such as Minecraft or Smash Bros are individual games, but all players are added to a single roster for the game.
  • When the season begins (January 17, in this case), HSEL sets up brackets and matchups. A dashboard on the site lists all of your players’/teams’ matchups for week 1.
  • Within 48 hours, teams or coaches use the dashboard to schedule their matches.
  • Teams or individuals contest their matches and record their results on the dashboards.
  • The process resets and repeats every Friday throughout the season.
Mario

Source: https://tinyurl.com/wss7bbp

There have already been some useful lessons learned:

  • For big teams, I can see scheduling being a real chore. If possible, players should do as much of their own scheduling as possible.
  • Devices such as the Nintendo Switch may or may not play well with every network. Leave plenty of time to work out any kinks. For example, ours took about 15 minutes to join our guest network and reach the internet, which made us miss a couple of matches.
  • The variety of match days/times is a little weird, as you don’t always have a room full of cheering/groaning team members. It would be cool if our match schedules synched up a little more.

Step 4: Next Level

There are a few things I will be looking at soon for our teams:

  • More formal, including getting official jerseys made, practice schedules, grade and attendance check procedures, etc.
  • Purchase consoles and monitors to allow console-only games to be played.
  • Hold occasional LAN party gaming events to just allow the players to hang out and enjoy something they already are passionate about.
  • Continue to explore league options. If we stay in HSEL, we will likely purchase an unlimited participation license for next year, which will include all seasons and unlimited player spots.

There are probably MANY things I am leaving off, but I hope this helps get the wheels turning. If you have questions, comments, suggestions, etc., please leave them in the comments. Thanks for reading!

The Evolution of Digital Citizenship

New podcast discusses how our concept of digital citizenship has changed in the past decade plus and offers some suggestions for digital citizenship topics to use to engage today’s students, such as:

  • What is the role of the internet in politics? How can we be sure we are getting good information in a world with fake news, deepfakes, and more?
  • What amount of screentime is healthy?
  • Is it desirable and possible to have civil discourse online?
  • What are the laws that pertain how students should behave when online?
  • Are our internet personas real, or do we take on different personalities and identities online? Is this good or bad?
  • How can we use technology to positively impact our world?

Other topics? Leave them in the comments below!

Listen to “#34: The Evolution of Digital Citizenship” on Spreaker.

What IS School For?

Our Matador Innovative Teaching Academy participants are winding up their first book study, discussing What School Could Be, by Ted Dintersmith. In the discussion materials on the book’s website, I came across this video, which I promptly sent out to our innovative teachers and our district leadership. It is a fundamental question that, frankly, we don’t really hash out like we should: What is school for? Watch the video and think about it. Talk with your colleagues, your students, your stakeholders, and see how tough it is to come up with a consensus on the topic. Share your answer in the comments, if you reach a conclusion!

Traits of the Greats

Now that we’re back in school, I’ve had the chance to engage in some great conversations with some really strong teachers, observe some wonderful classes, and even do a little teaching (still a blast!). These experiences have served once again to remind me that powerful learning is not the product of thousands of dollars of laptops, or ipads, or robots, or textbooks, or online curricula, or any of this stuff. What makes a great educator and remarkable classroom so exciting and motivating, and  the learning super-sticky begins with things we can’t submit a PO for:

  • Creativity – great teachers do fantastic, engaging things that meet kids where they are and take them where they haven’t even imagined they could be. These experiences can’t come from exclusively following a textbook or a prescribed curriculum (both can be valuable resources, though).
  • Humor – the ability to smile and laugh is almost universal among great educators (my junior high math teacher excluded). Laughing is good for the soul and the mind, releasing chemicals that actually help us learn. Teachers who “don’t smile until Christmas” probably have learners who learn nada until Christmas.
  • Humility – related to the above, this sometimes involves the ability to laugh at one’s self. It definitely involves being able to admit mistakes, to embrace that we don’t have ALL of the answers, and to allow kids to know more about things than even we do sometimes.
  • Flexibility – teach in the moment and be willing to shift gears are make a radical 180-degree turn if the situation calls. If the learners aren’t responding, it is easy to blame them or their cell phones or the full moon. Be willing to scrap the plans and go in another direction as students’ responses or interests dictate.
  • Empathy – perhaps the greatest skill a master teacher has is the ability to put themself into the shoes (and mind and heart) of the student. Understanding what experiences they have had, what motivates them, what challenges them–these are fundamental to creating learning experiences that “fit” the child.
  • Grit – the teacher who never gives up, no matter the arguments for such a path, is the one who changes everything. It is about believing that kid can learn that skill or concept and going to any length to get them there.
  • Trust – amazing ideas won’t come in an environment of fear or mistrust. Students (and teachers) should be willing to try crazy ideas and, potentially, fall on their faces as a result. This mandates a teacher who won’t pounce on every mistake .
  • Love – the belief that the kid is the most important person in the room, and you will do anything to help them be happy and successful. It is protective, it is nurturing, it disciplines, it serves. It may sound cliche, but it is the thing that makes the best teachers who they are.

Here is to you, my fellow educator–thank you for all you do for all of our kids. May you have an amazing, impactful year filled with students’ wonder, marvel, surprise, and joy!

Hang Up? Crawfishing (a Little) on BYOD

For years, I have been an avid supporter and advocate of BYOD. Specifically, I have argued that students’ smartphones were powerful, pocket-sized computers with high-speed internet capable of connecting, creating, engaging. They were a fabulous solution to the very significant problems of digital divide. Schools lacking in computers or infrastructure would no longer be shackled by the technologies they lacked–just get out your pocket PCs, kids!

Lately, though, I must admit that I wonder about this idea and really have been questioning the validity of my beliefs. I more and more frequently encounter news stories and blog posts about schools or even entire countries abandoning their phone-friendly policies. Policy makers have decided the competition for students’ attention, the distractions, the discipline problems, the effects on student emotions were all too high of a price to pay for any positives the devices might promise. Surprisingly, their arguments against the devices in the classroom are starting to resonate a lot more with me.

Some experts, such as the folks at Common Sense Media, have determined that teens spend an average of 9 hours per day looking at a digital screen. I will testify that at least seems pretty accurate in my own household, even if I haven’t put a timer to it. Life is intently focused on a screen of some sort the vast majority of waking hours, riding in the car, sitting in their rooms, eating a snack, etc. The majority of the time, my kids, wife, and I are thumbing robotically through Instagram, watching YouTube or Netflix videos, checking Snapchat, or something similar.

I will say that the number and range of topics that my kids are learning about is sometimes really amazing. This is especially true for Reilly, my son, who watches videos on every topic under the sun. Also, I have much appreciation for the way that my kids are able to stay connected to their friends, particularly during the summer, as we live a half hour from most of them. I can completely understand my son’s penchant for gaming, as I enjoy an admittedly smaller variety of games almost as much. We ditched cable and satellite television a few years ago, too, so much of their phone time is a substitute for former television hours. All that to say I recognize there is considerable value, for sure.

On the other hand, though, it is unrealistic to deny that there are significant problems that come along with the devices’ constant presence. One that I think is most significant is the devices’ tendency to become the attention priority of the user. In other words, the user is so distracted by the device that he/she cannot maintain focus on anything or anyone else. Just try to count the number of times in a day when someone checks their phone while having a face-to-face interaction with someone. I’ve sure been guilty of it. Watch families/friends sitting together at restaurants. We see it (maybe take part) constantly–groups become zombies making idle chit-chat while staring at PewDiePie on their new iPhone or Galaxy. A 2018 study by Common Sense Media revealed more than half of teens acknowledged that phones distracted them in negative ways. Additional research by Common Sense shows that not only do a large number of kids check their social media feeds pretty much constantly, the negative outcomes (hateful comments, posts not being “liked” enough, etc.) more profoundly affect the kids already facing social/emotional problems.

For the teacher optimistic enough to try and use them in the classroom, a particular challenge I have heard about endlessly since basically the debut of the iPhone in 2007 is management. Even teachers who are still open-minded or enthusiastic about the possibilities struggle with ensuring that they are being used in purposeful, learning-focused ways. For a teacher who may not be experienced or especially skilled at general classroom management, this becomes an even bigger issue. I know that I and countless colleagues in the edtech world have attempted to share effective management strategies, but the dismal tales persist.

What’s the point to all of this then? Well, I suppose it is that I am probably less convinced of the power of student devices in the classroom than I was a decade ago, when my former superintendent abruptly declared our district to be a BYOD environment. Certainly, there have been some cool moments of real success, from creative student video productions to collaborative documents to engaging formal assessment and feedback apps and many more. I won’t begin to argue against those. I think, though, that more than a decade’s time passing should have ironed out many more of the wrinkles in the plan and the process. It hasn’t, and I still hear more negative feedback than positive (Okay, maybe complainers are just more…expressive.). I am currently running a Twitter survey to gauge my PLN’s feelings on student phones in the classroom and already seeing some interesting results.  My mind is far from made up, and reflection is critical to my own professional practice, so I’m going to keep mulling the pros and cons of this issue for awhile. As always, I would welcome and respect your thoughts and comments!

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