So Far, So Hard … But Mostly Good

I was planning on writing this kind of a post after school got out and I actually had time to reflect … although looking at the list of summer “to dos” that has already accumulated I’m not sure “reflection time” is in the cards.

Several things I’ve read recently, along with a few conversations and some meetings at school about how we are going to carve out another 45 minutes per day for “intervention time” (along with the 90 minutes for literacy and 75 minutes for math) – this is required by the school district btw – found me making some notes about where we have been so far with our 1:1 laptop pilot and the next thing I knew …

First off it’s hard … doing this mostly on your own is actually easier in that you don’t have to wait to get others’ opinions or permission or listen to others’ ideas or wait for them to “be ready” … but is that better? … NO!
I think I’m OK to pretty good at this kind of stuff … but think of a job, task, whatever, that when there is collaboration doesn’t improve geometrically … you don’t double the speed you work at or the ideas and methods you produce, or the problem solving that ensues, you triple it and more.

We’ve done some transformative things, some on purpose and some that have just happened, but that’s not good enough … I know we can do better. I still buck up against schedules and curriculum pieces I have little to no control over … and it’s scary to constantly fight that because when you make waves and get even some of your way then things almost HAVE to go right or you are yet just another example of education gone wrong, tech gone wrong because it didn’t work or raise test scores or whatever, and that’s extra pressure that’s not all that productive.

You need the “reminding voices” – those that remind you where you were going that help bring you back on course, on focus, that are there when you work with a group that is truly collaborative.

You just know it’s fun in many ways to be an innovator, or at least someone that is seen that way. You do things that are new to others (even when they’re not always actually “new” – my kids used email on a project last month and several people referred to that as “What a great new idea!”), you get attention … mainly positive, you are involved in exciting endeavors – often with interesting people, and there is an extra bounce to your step many days because of that.

The problem with being the innovator is that you are usually doing only the things you feel you can “get away with,” and that still seems REALLY radical to others. But in reality what you REALLY want to be doing, the ways you really want to be innovating are too radical for others to imagine or understand, and that becomes a sticking point … especially when you are pretty much alone in what you are trying.

Being different is scary, and sets you up for ridicule … just ask my students.

This year we have done a lot of “connecting” with others via Skype, blogging, Google Docs, sharing videos and more. We were getting so many requests from classrooms to video-conference with them that I was worried we were at that point of conferencing “just to do it” – which is exactly where we don’t want to be going. Fortunately, every experience we had was worthwhile, and with my students’ weak English skills, anything that forces them, prods them to articulate themselves in English is valuable.

Laptops are intriguing. Intriguing to me, my students, others … especially at first. And I think that is why we have so many poor examples of tech integration and 1:1 laptop initiatives. The tech, the laptops become the change because the intrigue they generate can be at first enabling and engaging and seemingly transformative. But once the newness and shine wears off, if nothing has changed besides the tech, things go downhill and pick-up speed as they go. It’s seemingly easy at the beginning and I think that gets people sitting back on their haunches watching all this engagement and motivation happening instead of thinking about “now what?” (which should have been done BEFORE the tech arrived of course) and the next thing you know things aren’t going well.

I think I at least get that, and hope it will drive me this summer to do the best I can to design a way around the roadblocks of curriculum, programs and schedules to make what we do truly a different approach to learning … as different an approach to “doing school” as possible that truly is transformative and valuable.

Up until now my students have been easy to monitor as far as being on task and not clandestinely doing things and going places when they are supposed to be doing a specific task or looking for information on a specific topic. Lately however, they have reached the point where others’ students must be, at least from what I hear and read. I have students looking for cool images to wallpaper their laptops with, or playing a game when they are supposed to be writing,  (fortunately games they find on FunBrain or I Know That). Interestingly enough this has happened the most with my 2 newer students (here less than six weeks) that haven’t been here for ALL our discussions about the ethics and responsibility involved with using these tools. They have both been talked to by STUDENTS about that since by-the-way, and they have wised up (not that it ever happened much, but if I’m starting to notice it I figure it is happening more than I realize).

Next year when we reach sixth grade together, we will of course revisit ethics and our responsibilities as digital learners. After almost 2 years of 1:1 my students are finally ready to jump into the next phase of being digital learners, and I am so ready to try things differently, but I know that is going to be very hard.

Why? because there are no roadmaps to that reality. It’s different. Again, that is why I wish I had a staff going there with me. What I’m trying to do IS NOT a shared goal (mostly) of those around me – realize they’re not against it, are supportive in a “you go!” kind of a way, but they are not going there with me helping carry the load and responsibility.

Having said that I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else right now.

Learning is messy!




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One Response to So Far, So Hard … But Mostly Good

  1. Paul Schwan says:

    Brian,

    As one of your skype contacts from this past school year, “I hear you”! We’ve dabbled in somewhat different things than you — podcasting mostly, then some blogging toward the end of the year. We’ve experienced the same kinds of things, though, mostly battling the enemy of TIME. Our parochial school isn’t burdened with many of the issues you have, but we still must get through the curriculum’s scope-and-sequence by the end of our school year. So, I find that my energy and thinking is always spent finding ways to use the tech tools to enhance, expand, and augment the “regular” lessons I’d be doing anyway.

    While we aren’t blessed yet with 1:1 laptops, we’ve had 1:1 Neos for about 3 years now (alphasmart.com). We do a LOT of rough drafting on our Neos, then via USB hub/storage cart we transfer our files to our school’s server for later editing and final publication. With blogmeister, we’ve been able to upload our own blog entries via the computer lab (copy from the Neo file and paste into blogmeister), which we have access to at least twice a week. It’s less than ideal, but then I don’t have all the issues you must have with wireless laptops. I learned a long time ago to back up my students’ work stored on the server, as we lost 2 years’ worth of work, two years in a row! So, do it to me once… do it to me twice… shame on me if I don’t have a backup strategy to avoid “3 strikes you’re out”!

    I’ll be spending my summer months in the same reflection and planning mode in-between some at-home projects. Maybe an online, ongoing discussion over the summer is in order? I know it’s not the same as face-to-face with fellow staff from the same school. But, then, you and I are in similar circumstances: we’re the ONLY ones from our schools doing what we’re doing. I’ll bet many of your skype buddies from this year can say the same thing! Let’s face it: it’s more work to do what we do. I end up doing a LOT of extra work because of my efforts with tech tools. Not that many are willing to pay the price!

    Enjoy your summer!

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