Educating in a pandemic has become increasingly challenging for educators. Learning in a pandemic is challenging for our students and their families. As we continue to traverse this ever changing landscape of education, we must leverage the resources that we have available and use them in the most productive way. This can include devices, applications, paper, pencils, and almost anything that you can imagine. This combination of both digital and analog resources are often remixed to help students when they are challenged to learn.
My eight year old son is amazing for many reasons. One of those reasons involves his use of resources that we have at home such as stray notebook paper, a ragtag collection of pens and markers, and many pieces of toys. He is often inspired to create new things based on an active imagination that is unbridled by shame gremlins. He is an innovator and creator. He uses the constraints of the materials that he has to create and make something new. He does not let obstacles stop him. In fact, sometimes, I don’t even think that he realizes that obstacles would often be dead ends for many individuals. He somehow finds a way to go around them and create something new and different. In addition to being a proud father, I am mesmerized by his determination to stick to his intention and allow his idea to evolve. Constraints only improve his creative capabilities.
As I think about educating in a pandemic world, many of our teachers have embraced their creativity or what is more appropriately called creative thinking. I have seen teachers, based on necessity, develop and enhance their digital teaching skills tremendously. Educators who in the past had shown minimal interest in using Flipgrid and Canvas have transitioned into being the “go to” people in their school on these tools. Many of them are providing leadership and direction to other teachers in areas that used to matter very little to them. For many of our educators, their desire and commitment to support students and their learning have made a tremendous difference in how they have become active and creative problem solvers. The impetus on supporting students have pushed many educators to grow tremendously in expanding digital pedagogy. Further, our educators are supporting each other through various social media by sharing their resources and expertise to support others. It is amazing to think about how much our educators have grown in such a short period of time.
While teaching and learning in a pandemic has and will continue to present challenges, I hope educators will reflect on how much this disruption has challenged them to grow and evolve. Additionally, I hope that we will use the lessons that we have learned to implement in our work with students. Our students, much like my son, actually strives to be creative and innovative. He wants to be a maker and creator, He likes to show how he sees the world and how we imagines the world could be. We should work to support our students in doing the same. Our students bring a variety of experiences and ideas with them. We must create learning experiences where students incorporate these and remix them with new ideas to show a deeper and most impactful learning. As we move forward, I encourage all educators to think about how we can maximize the impact of this disruption to empower our students to grow into become creators and innovators. If you are looking for resources to support in the journey, I highly recommending snagging a copy of “intention: critical creativity in the classroom” (yes, I am using the official name of the book and disregarding standard excepted rules for book titles), by Amy Burvall and Dan Ryder. They provide a great explanation on critical creativity with insights as well as ways and paths to implement various activities in your classroom. Another amazing resource is “Educated by Design” by Michael Cohen. Cohen’s book is a game changer and will change how you approach design and creativity with your students. Finally, I would encourage completed both parts of Adobe’s Creative Educator Program (adobe.ly/ACE). This program is free and provides a lot of resources to help guide your thinking around creative thinking.
Over the past six months, I have become increasingly more focused on how we alleviate barriers to learning for our students. With the move to emergency remote and hybrid learning, I have grown more aware of this need. I have seen students struggle with connectivity issues at home. I have spoken with parents, grandparents, and guardians who were beyond frustrated with technology and devices as they sought to support their students in digital learning. This, coupled with the focus on ensuring equity among all students, has forced me to pause and really think about how we can ensure that technology supports learning with all students.
I have spent the past six months working with an extraordinary ESL teacher, Mariel Gomez de la Torre-Cerfontaine (@MGomezdelaTorre) on developing and delivering a powerful professional learning presentation titled "The Power of WE: How Technology Helps ELs." Mariel brings a career worth of experience in supporting students whose primary language is not English. She grew up in Peru and lived in the Netherlands before coming to the United States. She is very focused on literacy and helping students improve their abilities to read, write, speak, and listen. I have learned how to better support EL students and so much more from Mariel.
Another benefit from working with Mariel is that I have come to realize that what is good for helping one type of students can also support other students. For instance, the website, Rewordify, will take a passage and help break down complex words into more student friendly and easier to understand terms. Here is a short video demonstrating how to use this site (which is free for use by the way). While Mariel focused on using it to help break down text for her students learning to speak English, I have used it in the past to help students struggling to comprehend Shakespeare. Based on my experiences, I can see how this site would also support struggling readers and special education students as well. This site is very straight forward for students to use as it involves only a copy/paste function.
As I continue to think about the many barriers to learning that exist, I increasingly saw Microsoft's Immersive Reader stand out. As an Apple person, I often did not pay as much attention to Microsoft products due to my internal bias for Apple. By not paying attention to the developments that Microsoft has invested in education support, I missed out on some amazing developments and arrived late to the party. Microsoft has now caught my attention with carefully designed tools that will support all learners especially with their Immersive Reader. I started using Immersive Reader after its integration with Wakelet. When Wakelet added Immersive Reader to their ecosystem, the game changed. While Wakelet has always been an an amazing tool for curation and innovation, the addition of Immersive Reader to their ecosystem moved Wakelet even further into "awesomeness." Through the use of Wakelet and Immersive Reader, students are able to take websites and transform them into environments were many of the barriers to learning are eliminated. These practices include the following:
In working with Mariel and others, the transition feature is powerful. The translations are much "tighter" than other translation tools. I am impressed with Immersive Reader's ability to eliminate many barriers to learning. Immersive Reader integrates with other tools such as Flipgrid and Microsoft Office. I have recently started using it with Microsoft Lens, a scanning app where you can take a picture of a text and export it to Immersive Reader. The potential of Immersive Reader to help all students should cause all teachers to pause and integrate its use into their classroom. My excitement continues to grow as technology evolves to better support all students and reduce their barriers to learning. We as teachers must ensure that we support all students and remove barriers to learning. What works for one group of learners often works well for other groups of students as well. I encourage you to spend time investigating various tools that eliminate barriers to learning. Don't forget to check out Rewordify and Immersive Reader.
Imagine going to a country that you have never been to before. One where they speak a different language where you recognize just a few words. Then imagine that the locals expect you to be proficient in just a few days of arriving. This is what the experience has been like for many educators as they have adapted to teaching in a digital/virtual environment.
When schools closed in March due to Covid, many teachers were immediately thrown into remote learning where the natives expected to them to instantly adapt to this new environment and solve problems. My analogy demonstrates the many challenges that educators faced last spring and continue to face this fall. Too often, students, parents, and the community have expectations that educators can be accomplished in digital teaching and pedagogy. However, simply adapting your face to face learning experiences to digital instruction is not as straight forward as many seem to think.
We must continue to give our educators grace as they work to become proficient digital teachers. I equate this shift as my experience as a English speaker when I hear German. I recognize a few words and feel like I should know a lot but sadly, I don’t. German has some similarities but the truth is that I am not very functional in German. This is exactly what our teachers are experiencing.
Good teaching is good teaching. We all know it when we see and we definitely know when the teaching is not as good. But adapting to a digital environment requires educators to navigate through many barriers. Some of these barriers involve ensuring that all students have access to high speed internet at home. Some of the other barriers involve making sure that students know their log in credentials and that parents understand how to use digital tools if their students do not. Often these barriers are beyond what teachers have the ability to influence, yet, they try.
These barriers are challenging. But perhaps, more challenging than overcoming barriers, is developing a plan to support all learners using sound pedagogy and technology. Merging them together is often a challenge. Further, the teacher must adjust and provide multiple ways to support learners who may learn in different ways. In some ways, it requires looking into a “crystal ball” and hoping that you receive the messages needed to support all the ways that students can learn.
Another important factor to consider is that in face to face instruction, teachers have trained for a minimum of four years with lots of support from college professors and experienced practitioners. Most teachers also receive at least three years of support when they start teaching from their school and experienced professionals. All of these help to create a path in which a teacher has the opportunity to grow into success with support from others. Sadly, most educators have had minimal experience with practicing to become a digital educator. Most school systems lack dedicated professional learning opportunity and digital teaching specialists to help teachers. Further, most educators have received minimal, if any, experience in being digital educators during their undergraduate preparation. In fact, I am not familiar with any teacher prep programs that provide an introduction or extended experience with digital teaching.
Yet, given these challenges, teachers still manage to make it work. While it can be a bumpy road, it is the desire to ensure that all students can become independent and resilient learners that motivate teachers to move forward. Teaching digitally is not easy. It takes time and requires much deliberate and intentional preparation. It also requires ensuring that the necessary support and preparation is in place. It seems that many of the systems and processes that are in place still have much room to grow to fully support our educators though. As we move forward, let us remember that the grace, understanding, and empathy that we want our teachers to show our students are the same qualities that we must show to our teachers as they work to navigate this foreign world of digital learning.
Earlier tonight, I watch my local Board of Education meet mostly in an empty board room and approve a plan that would return students back to school in a few weeks. While I had my own strong opinions about the return of students and educators to school this fall, I listened with open ears and really sought to understand. Our superintendent and district staff has worked hard with input from school administrators to create three plans for the return of students. Last week, our Governor shared that systems may only choose one of two plans eliminating the plan would return all students fully to the classroom for now.
As I listened to tonight’s board meeting, three things were very obvious to me. One is that our district administrators have spent a tremendous amount of time and effort to create the best plan possible. Also, they have worked really hard to provide forums for educators to share concerns. One of the more uplifting things that I will remember about this time is that I have seen a lot of empathy shared from administrators at both our central office and at the school level. I know that this is not easy for many individuals but I am so pleased to see that our system worked hard to model what they wanted educators to have with students, take the time to listen, be present, and humanize relationships.
Another thing that I observed during the board meeting is that I felt all board members really wanted to do what was best for students. I don’t think anyone can question that. The way that we resume school is not an easy answer. Everyone wants students back in the building in a face to face environment. However, there are safety concerns and we must acknowledge that. Many educators are uncertain about what the next few weeks will hold and several are anxious about their own safety and well being as well as their students' well being. I was also happy to see that the board strongly considered the working schedule of teachers who were teaching both face to face and virtually. I was concerned that the hybrid plan that was approved would translate into double work for teachers. While this may still be true, several board members realized this and shared that they did not want this to be double work. I hope and pray that that will be closely monitored as we move forward with the plan that was approved.
Fast forward toward the end of the meeting and the board approves a plan to have our students attend 2 days a week in face to face with 3 days at home with virtual/digital learning. Cohorts will rotate and Wednesday will be a workday for teachers. Families may also opt to do entire virtual instruction as well. While many may be unhappy with the plan and will be challenging for many educators, I realized that we are now seeing a new challenge for our parents, stakeholders, and greater community.
As we move forward, we will have to rely on parents in a way that we have never before. I realize that parents have much not their plate. As the father of an 8 year old son, I know the challenges associated with getting my son to do his work in a timely fashion. I also realize that my son is fortunate in that he has two educator parents who will support him, see that the has the resources needed, and push hard to learn. Unfortunately, not all parents have this ability. We are privileged enough that we can take time out in the evening to help him or find friends who can assist him. We don’t have to work multiple jobs and make the difficult choice about helping my child learn or making sure that rent or the mortgage gets paid. We must acknowledge this and find ways to fill some of the gaps that many of our students face. It is time for those parents who can to be deeply involved in the education of their own students. It is also time that other stakeholders including elected officials work to actively support rigorous learning that transforms all students into independent learners. It is time that many community organizations such as churches work to fulfill this missions to help all. We have got to have everyone on board supporting all students, especially those who may not have advocates. I would encourage each person to ask what the organizations, businesses, and community agencies can do to help ensure that all students are successful.
While many will be unhappy with the board’s decision, it is time that we unite to find the resources, support, and materials needed to ensure that no students fall into the gaps that will exist. We also have to ensure that our students are prepared to be active participants in their learning. Learning is something that they need to be willing to take the responsibility for and not lay it all on the teachers. Students must be active partners in their learning along with educators and the community. When we went to emergency remote learning, I heard many parents say that this did not work for their student. Part of this may be due to the sudden and involuntary change in instructional delivery. But I also wonder how many students were prepared to be online students. This is a mindset shift and requires responsibility on the student that is not required in the face to face classroom.
As we move forward, we must help our students understand what is needed in order to be successful as an online student. It can be a completely different set of behaviors and expectations than being in the classroom. It also requires students to be active in the learning process, to ask questions if they don’t understand, seek help when needed, and use feedback appropriately. We have to also work to provide the professional development needed for teachers to learn best practices and what works in virtual instruction. We must provide time for teachers and students to learn how to learn digitally.
Each of these are extraordinary challenges that no one individual can surmount. But collectively, we can and will rise to meet these challenges. We must work together to support our students and ensure that both the students and educators can safely learn whether in the face to face classroom or virtually. We must continue to show empathy to all and work to find real solutions to the problems that exist. This challenge is too important not to overcome. Let’s remember that as we move forward.
Having worked in public education for over 20 years, I can say that the 2019-2020 is unlike any other. With the closure of schools due to COVID-19 and the implementation of remote learning, I experienced a system of education that I could have never anticipated. Added to this was the social change that occurred when the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis policy. This tragic event, coupled with many similar events of people of color dying in police custody, has forever changed the way that I will view the work that I do with all students going forward.
I am currently reading Zaretta Hammond’s book “Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students.” This book, along with others, was inspired as I sought to make sense of the reasons behind the many protests occurring in my town and across the nations, I actively sought out a way to productively and intentionally respond in a way that affirms the dignity and worth of all humans, not just ones who look like me or have similar cultural experiences. As I processed the many thoughts and words of protestors in the media and my own social networks, I realized that I needed to spend deliberate time reflecting on my experiences and consider the privileges that I have that many students that I work with do NOT have. I have a 8 year old son who means the world to me. I thought about what his life will be like as he grows up and I begin to wonder if I am doing en.s been a season of reflection, contemplation, and intentionality.
This “lens” is how we view the world. It is shaped by the experiences that we have growing up as well as many unspoken practices and rules that can be observed and learned. He is growing in a world quite different from where I grew up. I grew up in rural Appalachian in the late ‘70s and ‘80s. My family was not very wealthy but I had a lots of love and support from others. The world that I grew up in involved eating “soup bean and fried taters” (pinto peans and fried potatoes for those outside of my lens) at lead five nights a week. This was out of necessity because this meal was cheap and easily obtained. Both my parents worked hourly jobs. We had clothes, but they were not designer brands. We did not mind this as we realized that designer brands were simply a status symbol anyway. What we did have was lots of great experiences back in our “holler,” where we played late in the evenings in the woods, creeks, and the mine dumps. Yes, you heard that right, the mine dumps, an area where rocks and other minerals had been mined with remnants of dirt left behind. Mind you, these remnants were not toxic as best we know. We lived in an area abundant with minerals and rocks known throughout the state and nation for these resources. Most of my relatives and neighbors had worked in mining at some point.
As I reflect on my childhood, I now realize that I grew up in a very collectivist culture where we all had to work together for survival. The church served as the focal point for the community and we often would assist others in our community. I recall going on a weekend to a widow’s home to help several men with re-roofing her home before the roof was being to “cave.” I also recall that when someone died, the grave was dug by locals and there was no charge to the family for the digging of the grave. We had only one high school in our county and we all knew each other by graduation. When I would make new friends, my parents would ask me who the parents of my new friends were. Often I discovered that many of these parents were individuals that my parents were friends with in school. My parents were leery of letting us go to anyone’s home that they did not know their parents. We were raised on and taught the value of working toward a common goal and to make sure that we had everyone with us. One of the lessons that I still carry with me to this day involves the process that we would go through when dropping off our friends at their home or cars after an evening out. We were specifically instructed to never leave a friend until we saw that they got into their home and turned on a light or that we made sure that their car started and was moving before we left. It is these and so many more lessons that has helped shape the lens in which I view the world.
When I went to college, I left home and went over four hours aways. Even though four hours away is not far, I found a world drastically different from the one where I grew up. This part of my state was heavily industrialized and more diverse. It was faster paced and seemed more impersonal in many ways. My college experience provided me with many unique experiences and more importantly more exposure to new ideas and lens. I went to the beach for the first time as age 19. I remember running around a cow as part of a World Religions experience where I visited a Hindu temple. I interned in a school in London where most of the students were Bengali immigrants. I taught a summer camp for inner city kids from Cincinnati. I purposely sought experiences that would challenge me to grow and help me to expand my cultural lens. I took lots of Anthropology courses and spent time volunteering with AIDS education programs, recruiting campus speakers who would introduce new ideas, and working to better understand the experiences of an increasingly more diverse student population. Part of my teacher education program allowed me to focus on diversity (what we would now call Culturally Responsive Teaching) and how I can best support all students.
When I landed my first teaching job, I taught at an inner city high school with roughly an equal number of White and African-American population. Over time, the LationX student population grew and the percentage of White students declined. I loved the challenges of this school though but my first year was tough. I struggled in many ways connecting with some of my students. But it is not the students who you may think. I struggled connecting with students who looked much like me. While we looked similar, my experiences were so different from there’s. For the students who looked like me, they had large homes, played multiple sports in many cases, and took nice vacations over the United States and Europe. Many of these students had experiences that I could not related to since I never had them. The students that I seemed to most connect with were students who on the surface did not look like me. However, we had similar socio-economic experiences such as worrying about how certain bills may get paid, or how we can support our neighbor down the street who may be going through a difficult time since he/she was laid off their job at the mill. As a i reflect on this unusual experience, I think that much of what allowed me to connect with students who looked quite different from me was a shared experience where we knew what it was like to struggle to survive. We understood the challenges associated not being able to pay all our bills that month. We knew the value of making sure to support our neighbors in need since we never know when we may be that neighbor needed help.
As I prepare for the next few weeks before our new school starts, I am reminding of the importance of understanding our lens and how it impacts how we see the world. Hammond actually refers to that lens as an aperture which is what allow more or less light in a photo. It can also be used as a metaphor to describe how we may or may not allow more experiences in to help shape our own individual picture of the world. As I continue to read Hammond’s book, I am reminded of the importance of making sure that we are supporting all learners in our classroom and ensuring that we challenge all students to learn at high schools by creating a system in which ALL students transform into independent learners. Too often, more most dependent learners are not provided opportunities to be challenged and learned at high levels. My next few blog posts will involve I am reflecting on my experiences and expanding my lens by allowing more light through my aperture to ensure that ALL students will have challenging learning experiences to become independent learners. This is my journey toward addressing the lack of equity experienced by many students.
The last few months have been quite challenging for educators and learners. With school buildings closed, we have had to create remote learning opportunities to help our students. Some students have thrived during this time while others have not yet checked in. Most students fall somewhere between these extremes. Regardless, I think we can all agree that this time has challenged us to consider how we deliver instruction and help our learners progress.
As a scientist and educator, I fully understand the role that disruptions can cause. Our geological record is covered with the signs of major disruptions that signal how climate and life has changed over time. I believe that we are essentially at this point with education. Many of the professional learning sessions I have attended in the past several weeks have alluded to the importance of using this time to reconsider and reimagine how we are helping students to learn. We must place emphasis on learning here, not grades or other measures. In fact, as I reflect, I think that it is time that we reinvent our education system to really focus on learning and not metrics that reduce learning. We must also also use this opportunity to shift mindsets and philosophies from preparing students for an industrial world to one that prepares our learners to live and thrive in an information age.
One of the more interesting connections that I made during this time is a partner that my home school system, Rowan-Salisbury Schools, is partnering with is Transcend (@TranscendBuilds). Transcend is an organization dedicated to supporting communities in creating and spreading extraordinary, equitable learning environments. I love that the focus on disrupting inequity in education.
As a technology facilitator, I have seen our system reduce in equity by providing students with a device that the majority take home. As our chief technology officer recently shared over 99.4% have devices at home during our building closures. For those who do not, I am guessing this is due to either a device repair (even though efforts have been made to provide students with devices) or a personal choice not to take the device home. When our system first transitioned to its 1-to-1 initiative, I was teaching science at Salisbury High School. I remember that we distributed devices in late August which is typically very hot and oppressive in North Carolina with our humidity relentless. I recall leaving school and walking our main door to see several students who lived over two miles away that walked back to school. They were trying to figure our their Z-Scaler passwords for accessing internet outside of the school. They said that they walked over from one of our larger public housing centers in our city. After helping them, I recall thinking that this may be the first time that many of these students have ever had a laptop in their home. This definitely changed the game as the 1-to-1 initiative put all gave all students a device and access regardless of their personal circumstances. This initiative has continued to make a huge difference in the learning opportunities for all students. It has reduced a major source of inequity in our community.
This is not to say that we have reduced all inequity in our system though. We still struggle with making sure that all our students have access to internet while at home. We also have other inequities based on the support that students may have at home, their ability to use different software programs, and even with teacher preparedness. As a technology facilitator, I have supported teachers in remote learning. I have been so amazed at how much many of our teachers have progressed in become more effective in digital learning. Many of our teachers have grown exponentially in their professional learning. Our own school system has offered extensive array of professional learning opportunities including webinars. Our educators have also engaged in many other opportunities. As a result, our educators have customized and chosen their own individual professional learning opportunities. As a result, they are learning and acquiring new skills that matter to them. This has customized their own learning and resulted in educators who are more satisfied with their professional learning.
As we continue to work through this pandemic, we must use these lessons learned to customize our education for our students just as educators have customized their professional learning. As we look toward the fall, it is my hope that we will continue to use this disruption to create an education system that is much more equitable to all students. I hope that we use the lessons learned during this disruption to create a better education system where we are focused on learning, not measures that negate true learning such as test scores, with educators who are well supported with extraordinary professional learning. We must work toward creating an accountability system that is tied to our community expectations, not one that serves bureaucratic establishments that rewards and diminishes students based on personal circumstance or zip code. Now is the time to make a definitive break in our education record and create a new and better system just as we see in different strata in our geological records.
Earlier this morning, we had a staff meeting via Zoom. It has been challenging for many of our teachers to be separated from their students. They genuinely love their students and want to support them. I have seen how agonizing it has for many of them not to be able to give high fives or that needed pep talk to students in the hallways. It has been hard for them. As a technology facilitator, I don't always work directly with students as much of my work is concentrated on supporting the educators in our building. So I thought that I was doing okay and focusing my time on supporting our teachers and staff. However, this changed yesterday afternoon as I attended one of our 6th grade zoom meetings. As I saw the pictures of our 6th graders popped, my heart just melted as I realized how much I missed seeing them in the hallways and classrooms. I was really thrilled to see them and know they were okay.
I also had the opportunity to attend a weekly meeting with Jaclyn Stevens (@jaclynbstevens) of the Friday Institute for instructional coaches, media coordinators, and technology facilitators. The Friday Institute has been doing an amazing job providing support and professional learning for all educators during this remote learning time. In yesterday's session, Jaclyn shared some great ideas and resources to engage staff and help us focus on meeting their social emotional needs. Based on the ideas and inspirations that I received from her session and my realization of how much I missed our 6th graders, I wanted to work with our instructional coach, Amanda Pembroke (@pembrokeamanda), to create something to help our staff share what they were feeling and experiencing. As I was walking the dogs, it hit it- remix an activity that I had done with the North Carolina Digital Leaders Network a few years on emoji writing with some of the ideas from Jaclyn's session.
From this, was born the activity "5 Pictures and 15 Words." In activity, our staff would be divided up into breakout room in zoom of 3-5 people and complete a slidedeck where they tell about their quarantine experience using 5 images and up to 15 words. I prechoose the images using Pixabay (www.pixabay.com). Pixabay is a great resource to find pictures that can be used without copyright consideration since they already provide the permission for use with no restrictions (but it is always good to provide attribution for them as a good model for students). Each group received the same five pictures and they could use them in any way they chose. The beauty of this activity as Mrs. Pembroke pointed out is that it allows for critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity. Each group was assigned a slide in the slide deck and asked to complete it within a certain amount of time. Our principal floated between rooms helping facilitate conversations. A more complete list of rules is available in our slidedeck posted below.
We reconvened and we had our groups share their creations and it was AWESOME! It was amazing to hear what each group was experiencing and their interpretations of the pictures. I loved seeing how the same starting points diverged into a variety of emotions, experiences, and creations. It also allowed our staff the opportunity to share in small groups their experiences and stories. We expanded our empathy for others as a result. We also continue to build connections between our staff and expand our relationships. As I listened to each group share, I was blown away with their final products. Below are some of the creations that they shared and I was truly touched by this. Perhaps remote learning has taught us some important lessons about human connections that we could not have learned otherwise. Let remember those when we do reconvene face to face and be sure to continue to touch the hearts of others.
Our instructional coach shared how this could be a great activity to modify to use with students in the classroom as a exit ticket, warm up, or a formative assessment. If you would like to have a clean copy of the slidedeck to use, you can make a copy of it into your Google Drive by visiting this link. Be sure to drop us a line or tag us in a tweet (@scibri and @pembrokeamanda) if using this activity and let us know how it is going and how you may be remixing it.
We have had so many changes in the last few weeks in our world. Most of us are now living under “stay at home” orders and sequestered to our homes in almost all cases. Many of us are now very aware of maintaining social distance from others and washing our hands often. Much like our “new” normal, we have a “new” normal in education.
In just a few weeks, we have seen education move from the classroom to a new stage – the home. Parents are now serving as home school teachers and classroom teachers are serving as instructional designers. As our teacher plan instructional cycles and design lessons, there seems to be one tool that many are using but, perhaps, it is not getting the recognition that it needs. We often take this tool as granted and overlooks its multiple uses. My guess is that almost all students with a device have either used or benefitted from this tool without realizing its importance. It is the camera that almost everyone has on their device. In my district, our K-8 students have an iPad with a camera and our high school students have a macbook air with a camera. It is these cameras that are working so incredibly hard these days with many of our apps.
Here is just a few ways that cameras have benefited me in the last few days.
The ubiquitous camera is a tool that is often not given the credit that is due. It has and will continue to serve many purposes in education and creation. Coupled with various apps, it can totally transform students from mere consumers to creators. So, the next time you use your camera, think about how amazing this tool is and how much more we could be doing with it.
Forget the Full Moon & Time Change; Focus on Scientific Literacy, Media Literacy, and Empathy During the Coronovirus Outbreak
What a crazy week it has been? Normally a time switch to daylight savings time along with a full moon in the middle of March is enough to put many educators on edge. However, this week has proven to be unlike any other one.
In a period of a week, we have gone from some concern over the coronavirus to canceling large gatherings of groups, closing churches, and urging people to work from home. In addition, many states have closed public schools. As a science teacher and technology facilitator, I have gone through a range of emotions. I watched as my college students received notice yesterday that the rest of their sport season is cancelled and witness their disappointment. I saw our 7th grade students leave school on Tuesday with excitement of going to Charleston only to learn a few hours later that the trip was cancelled due to concerns about the outbreak.
It has been a week of challenge and reflection. As I sit at my desk this evening, my mind runs among three main areas: scientific literacy, media literacy, and empathy. It is quite the combination. But I believe that it is these three areas that will yield the most answers and direction as we move forward.
In my forty-four years, I never recall a situation such as this. As the parent of 7-year old son, I am sensitive to the emotions, feelings, and challenges that impact him. As a public school educator for over 20 years, I am very aware of what many of the middle schoolers that I work with are experiencing and wondering. As a classically trained chemist, I am amazed at how much more work is needed in improving scientific literacy. As a technology facilitator, I am confident in knowing that media literacy is needed more than ever. So how do all these things converge?
In many of my conversations with students, friends, colleagues, and others, I have come to realize the need to have a good understanding of viruses and how they spread. I think that a lot of individuals have major misunderstandings. While there is some widespread debate about viruses (and if they alive) in the scientific community, they are basically the equivalent of DNA hijackers. They invade a host cell, insert into the genome structure, and force the host cell to replicate the new structure. They live off the host cell eventually spreading to other cells both in the host organism and other organisms. Viruses are common and most often, we are only impacted by them for a short period. This often results in staying home sick and symptoms that are undesirables. Healthy individuals tend to recover in a short period of time. Individuals with compromised immune systems are considered more at risk. Recovery times are longer and the symptoms are more extreme. There is a higher rate of death in individuals with compromised immune systems who are infected with viruses. The current coronavirus is one member of a large family of coronoviruses. Coronoviruses often causes respiratory illnesses, fevers, and coughs.
It important that we understand that these viruses are spread through contact and the best way to limit the spread is through limited contact with others. I am not advocating for living in a protective bubble though. Instead, the utilization of good hygiene practices is most likely a better route. Routine washing of hands with soap and warm water is one of the most common recommended practices. Additionally, the regular cleaning of surfaces with proper solutions will reduce their spread. If a person is coughing or sneezing, it is important these individuals cover their mouths or noses so they do not spread the virus to others. Finally, if an individual is showing symptoms, they should limit their contact with others and focus on recovering though plenty of rest and proper nutrition. Even with these practices, viruses can still be contracted and we must realize that is part of living in our world.
The sociopolitical impact of this outbreak has been very interesting as well. I think that a lot of individuals initially associated the outbrak with a political issue and this may have created some challenges in ensuring that everyone had correct information. This is why media literacy is so important. In today’s polarized world, many individuals simply agree with what their preferred politician instead of analyzing what said politician may be saying. I have preferred politicians and I usually like what they say. But it does not always mean that they are correct. In many instances, they are incorrect. I don’t think that they purposefully choose to be incorrect but rather they want to appeal to their supporters. I get it but we, as citizens, must be vigilant in analyzing what others say in the media and social media. We must be willing to do fact checks and accept that our preferred politicians may be speaking in hopes of public approval instead of accuracy. We have to learn how to verify information from multiple courses, apply what we have learned, and be able to determine the accuracy and shades of accuracy in what others say. We must be willing to challenge others whose words are not accurate. We have to be aware of the dangers of inaccurate information and limit the circulation of this information.
Finally, we come to empathy. This is one of the more challenging areas. Our students are unsure about what to feel. They look to us adults to help them make sense of this new reality. But we, as the adults, are often not sure what to make of it ourselves. We need to make sure that we have accurate information that can be verified (hence, scientific and media literacy). But we have to also make sure that we are supporting each other. Each of us will process and react differently to this new reality. It is okay to let our children know that we are not certain about everything. I think that we need to have open conversations where we listen to our students and acknowledge their concerns and seek to answer their questions. Our students and children must feel safe and we must make sure that we do our best to make them feel and be safe. We have to also ensure that we validate their feelings and help them navigate their complex feelings and emotions. We have to ensure that we take the time to really understand them and what they are thinking. We call this empathy. We must also reassure our students that they are supported and loved. This new reality can be a great learning opportunity for us to connect in authentic ways with our children and students. We must acknowledge that it is okay to be concerned and even fearful. We must reassure them that they have our support and we will work through these events together.
As we move forward, we must show love and kindness to others. The safety net that many of us have enjoyed (often not realizing) has been removed. So as we adjust to a new normal, be sure to help and support each other. We can always show our true humanity by taking the time to listen to others, support them, and help them find correct answers to their questions.
It has been a long time since I was able to post but I am thrilled to share about our Kindness Club Challenge. The Kindness Club meets once a week. Students elected to be in the club. The purpose of the club is to spread kindness to others. This is such an admirable challenge for our students. Mrs. Losey is the club's sponsor and she has done a great job with inspiring the club to spread kindness to others. In discussing the club with her, we decided to tackle a large challenge that students would complete over the course of a few weeks. Since it had been a long time since I was able to help with a Design Challenge, I was eager to implement this with the Kindness Club. We decided to have students create a book for children in early elementary school. In doing so, we were able to connect English/Language Arts (ELA) standards as well. While the connection to content standards was not an initial goal, it was awesome to be able to connect what students where learning in their ELA classes to a real world, authentic challenge that encompassed kindness and empathy.
We immediately recruited our dynamic literacy coach to assist with plot diagrams and story boards. Mrs. Pembroke was outstanding and pushed our students to create books that were extraordinary. We worked in helping our students examine children's literature books and determine what devices were effective and ineffective in them. We then compiled a list of these practices to consider implementing in our creation. Our students were eager and committed. As we journeyed through the creation process, we had several obstacles to overcome. The largest obstacle was that of time as we approached Thanksgiving and the Winter Holiday break. We also had several interruptions which kept the club from meeting each week. Additionally, we had to contend with students being pulled out for remediation during this time. However, the Kindness Club did not let this discourage them from creating their children's books. Instead. they worked hard outside of the club period and completed some amazing products that exceeded expectations.
We partnered with our nearby elementary school, China Grove Elementary School. The Media Coordinator, Mrs. Litke, arranged for the Kindness Club to share their creations with the entire 2nd grade. This was no small feat as it was the week before Winter Holiday break where time is a challenge. Our students were initially nervous about sharing their creations as I think that any creator, designers, author, and illustrator would be. But once they got started, they rose to the occasion and the 2nd grade authentic audience loved it! The 2nd graders loved meeting authors who looked like them and our students shared about their design process to the younger students.
I was so proud of our students for taking this opportunity to design an authentic product that will positively influence younger students. I am also pleased that our Kindness Club students learned that they can be designers, authors, illustrators, and creators. The process of design lies in the ability to change paradigms. Our students also were challenged to examine assumptions that they may not have realized. I asked them if they had ever thought of themselves as authors and most replied "no." Upon deeper conversations with the students, they began to realize that they could be authors, designers, creators, or anything else they wanted to be. This experience served to liberate our students from many of the assumptions that they held about what they could be in the future. Additionally, we discovered that many of our students are natural storytellers, a fact that was readily apparent in our 2nd graders attention to the authors.
I am deeply appreciative that our Kindness Club was able to share their amazing creations with others. I hope that during this season in which we often espouse love and peace that our Kindness Club shared these with others. I cannot wait to see what many of our students will do in the future as a result of learning the transformative power of design. During January, we will have creations on display in the CGMS Media Center. I invite you to come and check them out.
The ideas shared here are my own and do not necessarily represent my employers, associations, or organizations. These thoughts are entirely my own.