Sunday, February 28, 2016

PLN Journal Week 5: East County Tech Fest and the Evolution of Technology in Education

Last Saturday, I attended the 3rd Annual (my 2nd) East County Tech Fest, which gathers educators throughout San Diego's East County. The Grossmont Union High School District (GUHSD) that I work for is a 9-12 school district, and so it was special to have time with colleagues from our feeder K-8 districts.

Powering Up with the Keynote

The keynote speaker Jen Roberts, author of Power Up: Making the Shift to 1:1 Teaching and Learning, addressed the topic of "How 1:1 Changes Teaching and Learning." Her talk was structured around ten lessons that she has learned over the years since she first became involved with a 1:1 implementation at her school. The advice that she shared included the following:

Information students find themselves is always more engaging.

Make the most of face to face time.

Just from these two snippets, you can get a glimpse that the lessons were not specific, technical tips. Roberts did share details from her journey, such as emails she exchanged when originally unsure about agreeing to pilot 1:1, how students started off using machines running Linux since they were more affordable, and how websites in those early years were text heavy and unengaging when compared with today's offerings. 

But really, the heart of her stories and message were more universal in nature, relating to her educational philosophy about the importance of relationships and how teachers need to be able to model failure and resilience. Along these lines, the two sessions that I attended after the keynote speaker also turned out to be rich discussion starters regarding our larger goals and roles as educators.

Session #1: Break the Box

Valhalla High School teacher Mike Skocko led this session, challenging us to rethink the current mainstream educational system. He shared research that prompts us to question traditional testing and grading systems, and he introduced new ways to imagine the student learning experience. As a specific example, I loved learning about the Zone of Intrinsic Motivation (ZIM) model, which Skocko generously makes available for sharing along with all of his other resources.

ZIM! The Zone of Intrinsic Motivation.
Click here to read more about Skocko's journey that led to ZIM.
Skocko has great technical expertise and remarkable success when it comes to his students demonstrating skill mastery. Still, while he is a technology teacher and while he was presenting at a technology conference, Skocko is clearly rooted in focusing on the foundations and conditions of good teaching and learning in general.

Session #2: Using a 4 Point Grade Scale in Infinite Campus

Fellow Teacher Librarian Stephanie Macceca and I were excited to attend this session, as it was led by recently hired Teacher Librarian teammate Anthony Devine.

District Teacher Librarian Colleagues (from left to right)
Suzanne Sannwald (me), Anthony Devine, and Stephanie Macceca
The title of the session was more technical sounding, and yet, it turned out to be a perfect follow-up to the "Break the Box" session. Devine shared some tips regarding how to finagle the student information system to enter grades in a non-traditional manner; but more importantly, he opened up discussion about questioning the effectiveness and impact of standard grading systems.

Referencing resources such as a thoughtful student blog post "Stop Telling Us It's Not About the Points" and links regarding standards-based grading, Devine's session organically prompted participants to voice concerns and frustrations regarding grades, as well as their own philosophies and alternative solutions. In fact, the discussion was so engaging that it kept on going in the hallway after the session!

This New Era

Thinking about the presentations and conversations from the conference, I find myself inspired to be working amid so many passionate and forward-thinking educators. As I first entered teaching over fifteen years ago, I have observed a progression occur when it comes to technology that I heard echoed in the keynote. I remember times dominated by hesitation and fear when technology was rapidly exploding (e.g., just think about the whole Y2K debacle). Then there was a period of intense learning when every professional session was centered on learning how to use the tools (e.g., "How to Build a Teacher Website" and "Google Drive 101").

Hesitation and fear never go away completely, and there are always new tools to learn about. At the same time, I am excited that we have evolved to a point where technology is neither the enemy nor the answer for everything. It is an integral part of our new normal, but the focus is not squarely on technology as an ends. With these recent conversations fresh in my mind, I am pleased that we have arrived in a more nuanced era with enough trials behind us to afford for substantive reflection. And, I am grateful to work in a professional community that is so thoughtful and brave to experiment and explore in the very ways that we hope our students will, too.

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