I feel fortunate to have attended the 2017 Northwest Council for Computer Education (NCCE) Conference in Portland last month. As I registered for the conference, I worried it would be a haphazard mess as I was only able to officially sign up for three workshops within the entire three-day conference schedule. I was eager to attend those options but felt unsure about what I was supposed to do with the rest of my time. Once I was there, however, I figured out how it all worked and found myself in the difficult position of having to choose between multiple desirable workshops and sessions for various time slots–what a great position to be in!
As I have shared in the past, my school recently went 1-2-1. As my district’s technology coach, I am in charge of staff training and professional development through our transition. I, thus, did my best to attend a variety of workshops and sessions that would help me support K-12 teachers in my building. I came back with notes and ideas abound (as you can see in my Keep NCCE2017 Label cover image). As I review those notes a few weeks later, two major takeaways emerge that will help me moving forward. I hope they provide some food-for-thought for you as well.
- We need more play.
One of the keynote speakers was Kevin Carroll, an author, speaker and, as his website describes, a change agent. I am a pretty easy sell when it comes to speakers in that I find most anybody’s story interesting, but I would say his presentation was everything a conference attendee would hope for–funny, inspiring, and thought-provoking. In telling his story, he sold (and I bought) a message I am still pondering three weeks later. The gist: Everybody has a story, and so much of that story, of where we come from, comes from play. His claim: We can discover more about a person in a hour of play than a year of conversation. His challenge: Don’t talk about it, be about it.
I immediately took Kevin’s advice to heart and attended two workshops I might have otherwise thought irrelevant, both hosted by Oregon’s Redmond School District. In the first, we were randomly assigned to small groups and played a Breakout Edu challenge. If you are familiar with the new-in-my-neck-of-the-woods “puzzle room” craze, that is what this is like. Our group had to solve a number of (mostly math and logic) puzzles to find codes to unlock locks to find more clues or to (ultimately) win. In the second workshop, we used two Sphero robots to try to save one of our group members who was stuck on Mars (or, you know, in the next room). We were presented with a challenge, which had to do with building something from random materials that our Sphero could then deliver to our person, and then we had to work collaboratively with limited methods of communication to “save” him. In both cases, my group did not solve the problems in the times allotted, but I still had a blast. I also suspect I learned, practiced, or reviewed a number of academic and social skills.
Neither of these experiences connects to my content (HS ELA) in an obvious way. Nonetheless, I have purchased a Breakout Edu kit for my school and plan to use it with staff, AVID students, and in ELA to build or reinforce collaboration skills. I may choose to create puzzles to connect to our literature, and my students could always write about their experiences with this or even with Sphero robots if I purchased those as well. Beyond these two specific tools, however, I am changed by these experiences and Kevin’s message in that I am inspired to realize play and its elements as integral to my teaching.
What is play? So far I have brainstormed that it’s games or competition. We can do that with our new technology (Kahoot, Quizziz, etc) or old-school with other group challenges. Not everybody loves competition, but I find it works well on those hard-to-manage spring Fridays. Play is also collaboration–working together to solve problems or create understanding. No longer do students need me to tell them things–Google can do that. They need me (or others) to help them figure out how to interpret and use what Google (or literature, other reading and media) has told them. One way to do this is to use the constructivist model of teaching–to have students figure out what transcendentalism is, for example, from reading and making connections between various transcendentalist works. Once they think they know, Google (and I) can confirm and add to what they have discovered. Finally, play is creating, making things to solve the aforementioned problems or showcase understanding and passion. My youngest son loves cats. He spends hours filming and editing videos of our two furry friends and their hilarious antics. I think what he’s doing is play, and my students could do something similar with course curriculum or even their own passions. I am sure there are more ways of “playing” in school, but this is what I have so far and these are ideas I will work to include in my courses with more regularity.
- Teacher voice matters.
Another of the keynote speakers was Jaime Casap from Google. In an early morning Q and A session he shared a number of perspectives regarding tech in the classroom as well as some Google tips and insights. Underscoring the importance of vision and culture, he shared that Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” He also advised us to focus on learning outcomes and to use technology as a tool to achieve our goals.
Speaking specifically about G Suite for Education, Casap shared that an employee reads all comments and feedback. He encouraged users to submit ideas for improvement, adding that about 40 engineers are currently working on the applications. “If you can imagine it, it’s on the list. Be patient,” was his parting advice. Though I am already a Google and G Suite for Education fan, this impressed me. In fact, I’ve already submitted some Google Classroom feedback. And it appears as though Google is not the only technology company looking for ideas from us–Microsoft also had engineers at the conference. For instance, as I learned about Sway, one of their lead project programmers was there noting teacher questions and comments. This a good reminder that teacher feedback and buying power is important. What can we imagine? Let’s dream it, and then let’s advocate for it.
Our power as educators does not come without a cost, and I believe we can do more and we can do better. In my district, we can start by teaching kids what they need to know for the jobs of their future. Providing equitable access to technology is a beginning but it cannot be an end to the changes we make and the opportunities we provide. I would additionally like to see some coding curriculum infused K-12. Design and media technologies are additional must-haves. Yes, we are small, and yes, we have limited staffing options, but there has to be a way to give our students the exposure that others get in larger, perhaps less rural districts. So this is the work of my future.
Kevin Carroll showed this 2001 Nike commercial during his keynote address. While there are plenty of parallels to be drawn that would not represent the way we should teach, I appreciate its playful spirit and will strive to infuse THAT into my future classroom and school.