Goals: Encouraging Constructive Use of the Computer Lab

Hey there folks. I’m sorry I haven’t posted in a while but things have been crazy of late. We are in the midst of our second term and new challenge has arisen:

Tanki Online

We have a very liberal policy for our lab, and in some ways that has created a new challenge for us. Students have found and fallen in love with Tanki, and online tank simulator. While I’m not against games in any way, our lab looks like a LAN Party from the early 2000’s most days during lunch and students who want to do work are hesitant to enter the lab.

Today we are trying something new. We are going to start directing students to use their “free time” to pursue their interests and try to learn new skills. While I know that gaming is a skill, we’re hoping to transform the lab from something like this:



To something more along the lines of this:




Kids at Young Rewired State


My hope is that students will start looking into developing their non-technical skills as well. This may necessitate purchasing some crafting materials, knitting supplies, etc. but it will be worth it in the long run!



Technology Meets Courtesy and Common Sense

Two of the cornerstones of The Northwest School (NWS) philosophy are courtesy and common sense. These foundational ideas, while simple, capture two of the key lessons we can impart in students as we prepare them for life in the 21st century. Technology provides the ideal junction of social interaction and personal expression where we, as educators, can impart these values. Most of what schools do today is not based in framework of courteous or common sense use of technology. A majority of acceptable use policies focus on listing punishments and consequences rather than laying out expected uses and outlining potential benefits of technology. Instead of viewing the inherent opportunity that lies within technology, most schools today create Draconian zero-tolerance policies which punish students rather than educate them. Our role should be lift barriers for students, not create them.

Here at NWS, we have the rare privilege of working with a faculty that abhors these kinds of discipline policies, and truly wants to educate and inspire our students. The primary directive of any place of learning in the 21st century should be to find ways to remove limits on the uses and implementation of technology and model its use in responsible and intentional ways. At our school we have just implemented student wireless and Office 365. These tools will make it easier for students and teachers to communicate with each other. They will also make it easier for our users to distribute documents, store files, and collaborate. However, these tools will be of little value if their use isn’t modeled constantly by teachers, based in sound pedagogical practice, and if it isn’t tied directly to our core values of courtesy and common sense.

A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason. –Thomas Paine, Common Sense

Currently, schools around the country have a flawed view of how technology should be introduced and used. They are often willing to buy new Chromebooks, iPads, or other hardware, but they are seldom willing to implement common sense policies for dealing with teens and young adults. One example of this is the level of filtering that schools place on student networks. Current norms dictate that it is right, or “safe,” to limit students’ access to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit.

Let’s take a moment to consider some of the reasons why schools block these sites. First, they claim that there are liability issues. There is some merit to this line of reasoning. When students post irresponsibly on these, or other sites, there are often real-world consequences that manifest in our schools. I would argue that it defies logic and sound reasoning to completely block students from using these sites because: they are going to use them any way, they are going to do so at school (on their phones if not our networks), and most importantly we should teach them how to use these sites responsibly in school. We should instruct students how to manage their digital footprints, post responsibly, and use social media to enhance learning. We should not hide behind worst-case scenario liability issues that may never materialize if we take the preventative step of educating students how to use technology in the first place.

A second concern that schools have is that student use of technology will put unmanageable stresses on their networks. This concern should be a thing of the past in most major cities. Bandwidth prices have steadily declined and the ability to filter traffic on some sites (with some reasonable limits on non-educational bandwidth hogs like Torrent sites or streaming video) should remove this concern. There will still be times when students find sites that can’t be managed during school hours, but when this happens we should speak to students. We should find out what they are trying to do and see if it has educational value. If it does, we should strive to enable them to view the content and pursue their interests. When it does not we should take the time to speak with them about how the network operates and the times they should avoid intensive use of it. Blocking sites does not prevent students from accessing these them, it inspires students to find ways to hack around the technologies that limit their access.

Common sense dictates that there should be some limits on the role of technology in our lives. We should strive to maintain a balance between our digital and real-world lives. If students don’t learn this in school, a place where they spend a large chunk of their waking hours, where will they learn it? As educators we should model the behavior we’d like students to employ, and teach them how to change their habits when they fall short.

“Life is short, but there is always time enough for courtesy.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Courtesy is an equally important value for students to learn as they navigate the world of technology. While it is unrealistic to think that students will never err when they comment, post, tweet, and selfie away their time online, it is important that we model courteous and responsible online behavior. Students need to take control of their digital footprints and one of the easiest ways for them to do so is for them to see adults modeling the behavior. They should learn early and often that digital media does not have a shelf-life. It never expires and may come back to haunt them when they least expect it. That said, they shouldn’t be afraid of the internet. We all learn about the dangers of driving when we turn 16, yet we have implemented a rational and regimented process of learning to drive. Very few people would hesitate to sit behind the wheel of car, despite knowing the dangers that come with the privilege of driving. Instead of fearing cars, good drivers drive defensively. They actively watch for the hazards in the road, follow the rules, and trust that if they do so they’ll be relatively safe.

We treat the other drivers on the road with some modicum of courtesy (usually). We do so without knowing them or often without even looking too closely to see who they are. Students need to learn to take a similar approach to the internet. They should learn to recognize and appreciate the other “drivers” on the web as fellow human beings, and act with the same level of courtesy and kindness that they would expect. They should learn that there are negative consequences when they make mistakes and that they will be held responsible for their actions. However, at the end of the day, we should trust them enough to give them the keys and let them take the net for a spin on their own.

Goals for 2014-2015: Working Towards Redefinition Using the SAMR Model

This video gives a great overview of SAMR:

“If you have  (21st century elements integrated into lessons and throughout the year) then you have the necessary conditions for teachers to mesh their work together, and for the institution to be transformed not just at the level of the individual classroom, but at the level of teaching practice as a whole.” ~Ruben Puentedura

One of the problems with being a technology evangelist is that teachers often think that I will always “have a tool for that” or “know the latest app” when they approach me for help. While I do try to stay up-to-date on the various tools that can be of assistance in the classroom, I do so with the mentality that the individual tools are nearly meaningless. The power of technology does not lie in the individual bits of software or hardware we provide to students, but in the methods we use to implement its use effectively in our classrooms.

If the best tools to create an engaging lesson are a piece of paper and a pencil, there is nothing wrong with that. However, if the same lesson can be completely redefined and expanded in a way that uses technology to engage students in higher-order thinking, should we not aim to do so? Historically, as new tools have been introduced teachers have been eager to find creative uses for them in their classrooms. This spirit of innovation and creativity is what drives us educators to create engaging lessons, but when we do so we should always stop to think about the way in which the technology will be impacting our instruction.

I love Ruben Puentedura’s (@rubenrp)  SAMR model for precisely this reason: it creates a simple framework for measuring the quality of technological integration in a given lesson or course. SAMR Model

At the most simplistic level, technology is used merely as a substitute for the traditional tool. Like having students type an essay using an online editor like Google Docs rather than Word. Although this is a new technology, the use presents no functional change in the way the student is completing the task. This is often where teachers who are new to using technology begin, but even pros can end up in this category if they don’t have clear objectives and a great lesson plan.

On the other end of the spectrum is redefinition. When teachers reach this level of instruction their students are actually using technology in novel ways complete tasks that would have been impossible without the technology.  Kathy Schrock (@kathyschrock) has an amazing blog post in which she delves into this more deeply. She aligns the SAMR model with Bloom’s Taxonomy, and more specifically, she draws a comparison between redefinition and creating or evaluating.

As I reflect on my time as a teacher, I feel like have slowly moved along this continuum; I have moved from simply using technology to replace an older tool, to a place where I’m striving to empower my students to do something that was previous unthinkable. One example  was when they used their phones to gather GPS data on invasive species in South Seattle, then mapped these data points to Google Earth and  put all of this into a presentation they then shared with the Seattle Parks Department (Full disclosure, a project of this scale was not a one person job. I was collaborating with Ms. Dresler and Ms. Hitchcock on this).  I can also remember far too many times where I have fallen into the trap of using technology where it was not necessary.

As I begin my new role as an Educational Technology Coordinator, I hope to help teachers see the value in working towards redefining how they use technology. My goal for this year is to always keep a copy of the SAMR model handy when working with faculty, and help them try to push the boundaries of their practice. What’s more, I’m excited to support them as the put these plans in action, and celebrate their successes when they do so.

Here are some additional links that I found interesting:

SAMR in 120 Seconds

Every Classroom Matters Podcast: Using the Four-step SAMR Model to Update Your Teaching Practice

Ruben Puentedura’s Blog