Monday, September 12, 2016

Getting them Hooked and the Importance of Engagement

Getting a chance to get out on the water these days doesn’t happen as often as it used to. I
have a wonderful wife and three small children ages six, four, and one. Things tend to be pretty busy, so if I get some time to fish, either by myself or with any of my children, I really try to make it count. In the past when I could be out on the water for hours I may be using a specific bait that would target the big bass on the lake. It didn’t matter if it took all day to catch a fish, the one I caught would be worth the wait. Plus, I could get back out there the next day and try again. Now, it's a little different story. I want to use a lure that is going to allow me and my daughter or son to catch the most fish we can. This lure that I choose has  to be effective for all sizes and types of fish. As a dad and a fisherman I have to know when it is time to go after that one huge fish or keep everyone engaged, excited and keep fish swarming the boat. It’s about being out on the water and most the time I’m just helping the kids fish without actually doing any fishing myself.

This same concept of using a tool to get the most bang for your buck definitely applies to my work with teachers and students. I am not looking to introduce a tool to a teacher that they may end up using with an individual or small group of students. Our teachers’ time is extremely valuable, I really have to make it count. The resources that I bring to the table, especially with teachers that don’t have a high comfort level with technology, are ones that can be applied to various situations and used with a variety of students and classes.

periodic table.jpgFor example, I may be asked to work with a set of Chemistry teachers during their PLC time. I can arrive to this meeting ready to provide a training on the best interactive periodic table out there. The use of this table can provide images, videos, historical information, you name it. But, the focus of this tool is narrow. Students can use it primarily only when they are working with the actual chemical elements. Instead of a training on using an interactive periodic table I may come to the teacher meeting with a tool that allows students to create an interactive timeline. Using this timeline, students can create an engaging, informational, presentation-like-timeline that includes images, audio, video, text and interactivity. Students are still learning about and working with the chemical elements, but they may be doing it by creating a timeline of chemical element discoveries. One of the timeline tools I promote with staff was developed by Northwestern University’s @knightlab and can be found here.

This emphasis on a tool that has the ability to be applied to other areas of Chemistry or different content areas has such a greater impact on teachers and students than one that has a narrow focus. A Chemistry teacher can now give an assignment regarding how the modern atomic theory came to be or the life of a chemist and students can use this timeline to create a product to explain their understanding. Students can walk into an art class and develop a timeline regarding the Renaissance or they can go to History class and create timelines representing a variety of concepts, people or events. The application of this tool spans all subject areas.

Don’t get me wrong, those specific tools and resources available, like the interactive periodic table or 3D solar system that can be virtually manipulated are extremely important and valuable to our students’ education. As teachers and technology integration specialists we should become comfortable applying their use in our classrooms. But, just like fishing with my kids, we have to know when to go after that lunker bass or simply keep everyone engaged, excited and coming back for more.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Beginning of the Trip

Although I started in this educational space in 2003 and have been incorporating technology in my practice, I can say that this is only my 4th year being charged with making technology the core of my job as a technology integration specialist for Medway Public Schools. The field of educational technology is of great interest to me and I absolutely enjoy my job and the people that I work with. Outside of school I have a fondness for the outdoors, especially fishing. A little while ago I began to think of the similarities between these two passions of mine. All these thoughts gave me inspiration to start writing a blog.

If I am going fishing it is usually for Bass, but there are many different species out there in both freshwater and saltwater. Each of these species is attracted to various types of forage. As a fisherman you have to know what lure or bait is going to give you the best chance at catching your target fish that day. Have you ever been to Bass Pro Shops or Cabelas and looked out across the aisles? More than a few choices, right? 

Teachers come across this kind of situation every day. In a sense, they have it harder than the fisherman. Most of the time, a fisherman will target one type of fish, analyze the weather, water temperature, clarity and time of year to then make the best decision as to what lure to try out that day. There may be a couple of specific strategies that are known to be productive for any given scenario. On the other hand, the students that are in teachers’ classrooms are so varied in their interests, personalities and learning styles. It is impossible for teachers to just target one type of student (fish). Teachers must be prepared to catch all the students, every day. 

Just like the aisles and aisles of lures available to fisherman, teachers have thousands of apps to choose from, various technology teaching strategies to implement, devices to use, and so on. A good understanding of the resources available and their uses in the classroom is essential in effectively integrating technology into lessons and activities and engaging every student.

It is my hope that through this blog I will be able to share with educators some of those stories, tips, tricks, strategies, tools and resources that will help reel in all those unique and wonderful fish in your classroom. So I ask you, What’s On Your Hook?