That’s me on the left — or at least how I’ve been feeling lately — a snake all curled up, waiting patiently, ready to pounce at a moment’s notice. In many ways, that seems to be my role as a Tech Coordinator with our K-8 teachers.
Over 2 years ago, I had the opportunity to be a part of a monthly Critical Friends Group, a professional learning community made up of 10 or so colleagues with two fellow teachers facilitating. Twice a month different teachers had the opportunity to formally present a teaching dilemma to the group, and we used highly structured protocols to help the colleague think through possible solutions, get to underlying issues and expand their thinking around the dilemma.
I remember in particular our 8th grade Spanish teacher struggling with ways to authentically assess her students’ oral skills without it being the tremendous time-drain her current system required. I vigorously suggested some technology solutions, including GarageBand, mp3 recorders, etc. as something that would benefit both her and the students, and while she was intrigued, she simply wasn’t ready. Last year we touched base about voice recordings again, but it still never went anywhere. Still not ready.
This year, something shifted. We installed an LCD projector, document projector and interactive whiteboard in her classroom over the summer, which she’s been using with great relish and success. My colleague and I expanded our roles this year, and are now directly supporting our 6th-8th grade teachers rather than focusing exclusively on K-5. And she’s ready. Simply put, she’s ready.
She approached me two weeks ago wondering about a project she does each year with the kids writing and reciting Spanish “pickup lines” or piropos. She asked whether I had any cool technology tools that might enhance this project, and indeed I did! I suggested teaching Voicethread to her kids, which would allow them to both say and write their piropos, and would provide them with an opportunity to comment (in Spanish) on each other’s work. I showed her a few examples I had collected on my new MCDS Ed Tech Wiki and she was completely sold on the idea.
Today we launched the project with her first 2 sections of 8th Grade Spanish students. Predictably, the kids were thrilled and had a blast doing the work. But most exciting for me was seeing this teacher taking so many risks, figuring things out on her own, learning alongside her students, and the lightbulb going off in a big way. She reminded me that this was the very first time she had ever even used one of our mobile laptop carts in her classroom with students, and told me about two more ways she intends to use Voicethread before the end of the year. I will post about those later.
At the same time, one of my Ed Tech partners-in-crime sat in on an incredibly frustrating grade-level meeting today. One of the grades she works with is about to start a big Social Studies unit and asked her for a way to integrate technology into the mix. She researched and prepared a suite of delicious choices for them to look at, chock full of examples, simple ideas and marvelous rich connections to the content. They couldn’t have been less interested in the ideas she was pitching, and she left feeling frustrated, confused, and sad for the students.
So what’s the take-away lesson for me? That integrating technology is, of course, a process that takes time. That we are planting seeds that may not take root right away, but that eventually will. That we need to shift our emphasis away from making changes this year and look realistically at the next three to five years or even longer. Which, of course, is impossible. Voicethread wasn’t even around nine months ago!
At a recent meeting our Head of School referred us to an image described by Jim Collins in his wonderful book Good to Great — that of the flywheel. The concept reminds us that with consistent effort over time, pushing and pushing will eventually build momentum until there is finally a breakthrough. Click here for a nice description of the buildup-breakthrough flywheel. I found the wonderful flash animation illustrating this concept at http://jimmyzimmerman.com/blog which I have embedded below:
[kml_flashembed movie="http://jimmyzimmerman.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/flywheel.swf" width="480" height="360" wmode="transparent" /]
(Snake image from http://flickr.com/photos/cpstorm/158374275/)