Thursday, September 12, 2013

Turning an Epic Fail into a Win: An EdTech Story

Ok, so today could have been terrible.  I mean absolutely awful.  I had planned to do a Bring Your Own Device lesson today, since I'm in the process of making my classroom a more "EdTech friendly" environment.  I even enlisted the help of my colleague from UCA, Dr. Michael Mills, who is always ready with an awesome creative lesson idea.  Once again he succeeded in amazing me with a fantastic, high level thinking activity, requiring students to analyze multiple primary and secondary sources and evaluate their relevance to a particular research question.

The BYOD/technology piece here is that each source is accessible to students through a QR code.  Now, I love a good QR code.  It bypasses the need to have a large number of students logged on to the wifi network, which can cause a pretty solid traffic jam sometimes, creating a situation where nobody can get on the Internet.  QR codes also eliminate the need for students to type in lengthy website addresses, should they be accessing the Internet.  All things considered, I think QR codes are GREAT. When they work.  When they work, they're just fantastic.  However, today they did not work.

In our efforts to bypass our need for the Internet, our QR codes connected to text turned out so complex that the QR scanner apps on the devices couldn't read them.  And thus, we have come to the center of my love/hate relationship with technology.  I adore technology.  In fact, I probably have an addiction to several social networks.  I don't know how I would survive without my iPhone, and (true confession) I've never taught without a SmartBoard.  But when technology fails, it's not just a minor hiccup.  It's an epic fail.  In the moment when Dr. Mills and I realized that the QR codes weren't going to work, we could have panicked.  We could have said, forget it kids, we'll just read Diary of Anne Frank today, so you don't have homework.  Most people would have found that perfectly acceptable.  But not us.  I refuse to lose to a computer.

So we did what every good teacher does.  We decided to monitor and adjust.  In first and second period, we struggled through the process of frantically downloading new QR scanners and trying to increase the size of the codes to see if they scanned more easily.  This helped, sort of.  Some codes would scan, and some wouldn't.  We pulled up some of the sources on the SmartBoard and worked through part of the activity as a class.  Amazingly (and thankfully) my first two classes of the day were incredibly well behaved and perceptive to the fact that we were doing our very best to make things work.  They did the best they could with what they had, and they instinctively worked cooperatively with others around them to try their best to get the work done.  I was so thrilled I could have cried tears of joy.  That first week foundation that was laid and creating our classroom vision statements really seemed to come into play today.  My kids were living out their commitment to create an awesome learning environment, and I didn't even have to ask them to do it.  It was a proud, although still stressful, moment.

By third period, we solved the problem.  Rather than having students scan codes to access the sources, we put the text on the handout and had students cut the the sources out into twelve squares.  They then had to sort their sources into three groups: images, primary sources, and secondary sources.

After sorting their sources, students used their devices to identify the people in each of the images.  Since we've been reading Anne Frank, they knew exactly who Anne was.  I mean, she's on the front of their book!  But they were a little unsure about some of the other images.  Since we couldn't use the QR codes, this was a great way to still integrate technology into the lesson.  It ended up being a really meaningful mini-lesson in identifying appropriate search terms, which is both a Common Core technology standard and a pretty important life skill these days.

The last step was to sift through the evidence with a partner and determine which pieces of evidence were relevant to the question.  We gave students twelve pieces of evidence, and they only needed eight of them to answer their two questions, four pieces of evidence for each of our two questions.  This meant that students had to sift out the four unnecessary sources, and then determine which sources applied to each question.  

Once they evaluated the evidence and selected the correct pieces, they could answer each question, and glue their evidence to their paper.  By seventh period, we finally hit our rhythm with this lesson, and even had time to spare!  Students used that time to reflect on their process during the lesson.

Overall, I learned two things today.  First, I learned that a strong classroom management foundation is essential in implementing a BYOD program in any classroom.  A mutual trust and respect must be built in order for students to be successful in the process of learning how to use their devices for instructional and educational purposes and not just as playthings. Second, if you think you have to be flexible when a traditional lesson tanks, you just multiply that by 100, and that's how flexible you'll need to be if a technology-based lesson tanks.  I'm pretty Type A, so it can be hard for me to switch gears quickly in a lot of situations.  But like I said earlier, I also hate to lose, and I'm definitely not losing to an iPad.  With any lesson, it's important to have a Plan B, but I was reminded today just how necessary it is to take what you're given, no matter how frustrating it is, and turn it into a win for the students.  

Before I call it a night, I have to thank Dr. Mills and our school's media specialist for jumping in and fixing the problem with me.  I don't think I would have survived the adventure of today without an awesome co-teacher to keep my sense of humor intact and help me monitor and adjust.  It made for an awesome lesson and an even better story :)    

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