Monthly Archives: July 2013

Battling my iPhone! #distractions

Let me start by saying that I love my iPhone! I have since I got my first one. It is sleek and elegant. It feels good in my hand and is comfortable in my pocket. I take it with me everywhere. It connects me to the world that I have created, both family and friends around me but around the globe. It lets me easily stay in touch, providing a strong sense of personal significance in my larger community.

That being said, I have to confess to an increasing addiction to what it offers. I check my phone all the time. Did I miss something? What if someone wants me for something and I don’t respond in time? What if I am needed and don’t know it? The little voice in the back of my head, or more disturbingly the unsolicited impulse, makes me quickly press the button and check. Often, I am largely unaware that I have made the choice to do it. I close my laptop and look at my phone. I walk to my car; check my phone. I go to the bathroom; check my phone. All day long, I do it.

Last weekend, I decided to “unplug,” to try and get as far away from my digital world as I could. I didn’t do it completely, but I decided to start making some significant choices about the times and places when I connected. When I made the decision, it didn’t seem like a Big Deal. I know lots of people who post that they are unplugging, and I didn’t really expect the full-on battle in which I was about to engage. I thought I had control over my use of technology. As someone who believes in its benefits, I considered myself an aware consumer.

Boy, was I in for a surprise!

After checking my email in the morning, and basically clearly out all of the Junk Mail, I closed my laptop and went to pick up my phone before heading out to do some chores around the house. I stopped myself. There was no reason to have my phone on me. I wasn’t going to check it for email until late afternoon. Facebook and Twitter were not going to be part of the day. I was unplugging…remember. So I left it behind, not without a bit of a tug. I was used to it being on me, connecting me.

As the day went on, I had to constantly make choices, far more than I had anticipated. My phone didn’t go between the seats in the car; it stayed in my bag. My phone didn’t come upstairs with me to load the washing machine; it stayed on the counter. It simply stayed put; it didn’t travel to every space in my world. Over and over, I had to consciously make the decision to not pick it up. I was amazed at how often it happened. It took real discipline, especially the first day or two.

The downside of it was that I did miss some emails that I should have answered sooner – one about a conference presentation and one about a collaboration. I wish that I had responded sooner, BUT both were repairable and the lessons that I am learning are worth this.

What is abundantly apparent is just how distracting and compelling being connected is. It isn’t the technology; it is the community. It is feeling like you are part of something that matters and that gives you validation.

The takeaway for me is that this is the world that my students have been born into. Of course they move from page to page, screen to screen before, during and after a lesson. The need to belong is even stronger in a middle school student than it is for me. I want to think about ways to acknowledge this in my classroom and help them gain control over the impulses. They will never want to truly disconnect, as it is the vehicle that they have always used to belong, but it might be possible to help them gain more control over when and how they use it.

#ISTE with Students!

I had a totally different experience this year at ISTE, because I took students along to present at the Student Showcase. In the past, ISTE has been a time to learn and share with colleagues. It has been mostly about my own personal development. This year, with students, I experienced the conference in a whole different way. Two girls and one of their mother’s came with me and had a tremendous impact on my thinking.

The topic of the Student Showcase was “Not Your Mother’s Research Paper,” and was about doing research in the day and age of Google. It was based on a PBL that my class did in the winter, where the students learned about the highlights of the Abbasid Empire and created magazines for the 4th grade to show what they had learned. It was an entirely digital project, from research to creation and presentation. (I want to acknowledge that the start that this project would never have been as successful as it was without the help of Kim Sivick, who supported my work and the students at every turn.)

In preparation for going to ISTE, we worked with the girls to create the bulletin board to show the stages of their work. Each of them created a Google Presentation and loaded screen shots into it from the different parts of the process:digital sources, notecards, images, ISSUU. We then printed out many of them to hang when we got to San Antonio.
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The girls were initially nervous about what to say, worried that they needed to develop and memorize speeches. To alleviate that, we talked over the stages of the project. I reminded them about each part and got a lot of. “Oh, yeah!” “I forgot about that.” “Didn’t we then do…”

It all came back to them, which is what I wanted. I just wanted them comfortable with their work, without scripts.

The day of the Showcase, we found our area, hung all of the images and waited! That was when we were all the most nervous! Would anyone come over and talk to the girls?

Then teachers started coming, dozens of them, asking questions and listening attentively to students talking about their work. The girls were amazing – articulate and engaging! They were really proud of what they had done and easily shared their learning. They explained each step of the process and how it helped them develop an understanding of the topic. The teachers wanted to learn from the girls and asked real questions, in no ways patronizing them. Students are fabulous teachers! They knew what they had learned and were ready to share it. It was so far beyond taking a test or writing a paper. It was a powerful example of the product of deep learning! Not only did the girls know about the Abbasids; they knew about their own process of learning, categorizing, prioritizing and creating new meaning!

While the girls and I didn’t know, when they were doing their research, that they would later share it at a conference for educators, their presentation reinforced the PBL focus on having an authentic audience. The work should be done for someone to whom it is significant. The original audience had been the 4th grade class; the final audience turned out to be crowds of educators.

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The highlight of their time presenting was when, unknown to them, the creator of NoodleTools, Debbie Abilock, came to talk to them. The girls shared how they used it to keep track of their project, using the Dashboard to set daily tasks. They explained how they used the notecards to cut and paste and then paraphrase. They shared about creating and labeling Piles to organize their work. She listened attentively, as if she had never heard of the tool and asked them clarifying questions that allowed them to continue sharing how they had used it and why they liked it.

Favorite quotation: “You know how when you have regular index cards, you can drop them and lose them. Well, this way, they are always there.”

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When the girls found out to whom they had talked, it was like meeting a rock star! Three cheers for loving to learn and loving the people who help you!

For two hours, the students shared with teachers and changed how I think about conferences. I wonder what it would be like to always have students as part of the learning that happens at a conference. Teachers, with their students, sharing how learning happens.