Sunday, October 13, 2013

Don't Grow Tired of Doing Good

This year, my school district decided to fully implement a Bring Your Own Device policy on all secondary school campuses.  Last year, I piloted BYOD, or BYOT as some people call it, and I saw a lot of success in the work that my students were creating.  I found that they were engaged in a whole new way when they were able to bring their own technology and work together to create a product or participate in technology enhanced discussion.  Because of my experiences last school year, I was thrilled to know that our whole campus would be implementing the policy this year.

But here's the thing.  Technology fails sometimes; kids fail sometimes, too, in drawing the line in what is acceptable school technology use and what is not.  This past week, both types of failures happened at my school.  Technology failed at a time when we least needed it to do so--during literacy and math quarterly standardized testing.  As a measure to prepare for PARCC testing, our district decided to administer all quarterly testing for math and literacy fully online.  That meant no back-up paper copies.  That meant that when the portal failed (like it did on Tuesday and Wednesday) and when the school's network connectivity went down (like it did on Thursday and Friday) kids were frustrated and teachers were frustrated and everyone went home tired and begging for a paper test.

Back up to before any of that even occurred...on Monday I received a note in my box that three of my students had been suspended from technology for two weeks for taking photos of other students on their devices without the permission of these students in health class.  Not cool.  It specifically states in our acceptable use policy and in our BYOD agreements AND in the digital citizenship session our students are required to attend when school starts that they are not to take students' photograph without their express permission.  These students got caught up in the fact that they had their phones with them, they were bored, and, hey, when kids aren't in school, what are they doing?  Taking pictures of each other, sending snapchats, and posting on Instagram.  That's their real life.

BYOD problems occur at other campuses as well.  I realize that our problems this past week are not unique.  It's just part of the implementation curve.  But this is my concern.  Many times, when problems occur in succession, it becomes easy to want to give up on the change.  I think giving up on this particular change has huge implications for our students.  Our students have been taught, almost since birth, that a cell phone or a tablet is a great "toy." It plays movie to keep them occupied; it has games on it that will keep their faces staring at the screen for hours; it takes pictures and movies.  It's a world of entertainment at their fingertips.  Before they had their own devices, they had their parents' devices.  What our students need to learn through BYOD is that their devices are not just toys.  They're instructional tools and life tools.  Those phones don't just hold games and movies. They hold a wealth of information.

In addition, so many of our students lack any type of digital etiquette.  Let's face it.  So many of the adults we see everyday lack any type of digital etiquette.  They place calls or check Facebook in the checkout line at the grocery store.  They text during meetings.  They send snapchat selfies in their cars at stoplights.  This is the world we live in, and I am just as guilty as the next guy who is choosing an Instagram filter at the dinner table instead of enjoying face to face conversation with the other people there.  Our students have to learn when those entertainment choices are and are not appropriate.  It has always been our obligation as teachers to educate our students for the world they live in now AND the world they'll live in as grownups.  I think the world we live in now could use some soon-to-be adults who know how to use technology for good, necessary reasons, not just to be their daily boredom-killer.

So, as my devotional challenged me on this gorgeous Sunday morning, I will not grow tired of doing good.  I will not grow tired, in a moment of frustration and exhaustion, of teaching my students to be better digital citizens.  As idealistic as it may sound, I do completely believe that my job is not just to teach English, it's to create smarter, more involved, more respectful future-adults. Even when it's frustrating.  Even when there are failures along the way.  Here's to a new week, and a new opportunity to turn failures in to teachable moments and do some good.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Spreading Happiness

It's been an exciting two weeks at the middle school, not to mention that last week was birthday week.  I realize that most people probably view my obsession with birthday celebration as a little over the top, but it sure is fun.  So as long as I can keep it up, the tradition of week-long birthday fun will continue. This year was a much more subdued, less hectic version of birthday week, but it was still awesome.  The fun wound down last night with Girls Night painting at one of those BYOB painting places.  It was such a wonderful reminder that I am blessed with some seriously wonderful friends.

At school, lots has been going on, too.  We finished our study of The Diary of Anne Frank, and now we're writing our first research paper.  Last week, thanks to our school's awesome library media specialist, our seventh graders were able to Skype with a Holocaust survivor as part of their preliminary research for their paper.  Talk about a primary source!  Mr. Finkel was captured by the Nazis in Poland when he was eight years old and wasn't released until he was thirteen.  His story of survival is amazing, inspiring, and incredibly heartbreaking.  His goal in speaking with students is to ensure that future generations continue to fight against racial injustices.  He was so sweet as he answered the students' questions and interacted with them during the Skype, and I feel like they learned a lot.  I feel like I learned a lot, too.  It was so eye-opening to hear about the atrocities of the Holocaust from a firsthand perspective.

This week, our school got another awesome opportunity when we became the first school in Arkansas to partner with the American Heart Association and Teaching Gardens to build a Teaching Garden.  Our school is receiving the supplies to build and maintain a self-sustaining garden that will supply fresh produce to our cafeteria.  It is such an awesome opportunity for our students to learn where food comes from and how to cultivate and cook fresh, natural ingredients.

Needless to say, all of these awesome opportunities have enhanced our students' educational experience in the past two weeks.  It's been so fun to watch their reactions to these events!  Some of them are so excited and involved while others seem to be totally clueless to the awesomeness of these opportunities.  It's been a good reminder to me that our job everyday is to help kids "plug in."  Excitement and happiness is contagious. Even when I have a bad day, or I'm tired, or I'm not in the best mood, it's still my job to spread excitement and happiness to my students because their day might be going even worse than mine.  It's been easy to be excited with all the fun things that have been going on lately, but as we really dig in to writing a research paper, the struggle to make class "fun" really begins.  Here's to spreading some happiness to my students as they send me death glares while writing their first research paper.  It's going to be a great week!