The Importance of Resilience

Standard

We’ve all experienced those kids that are likeable, that strive to be successful even from a young age.  Those kids who have their eyes on the prize, who easily (or seemingly so) find success at anything and everything.  It just comes “naturally.”  These kids have goals and plans, and the fortitude to do what it takes to achieve them.  But more often than not, we see kids who want to be successful but struggle.  Maybe they have learning barriers, maybe they are easily distracted (squirrel!).  These kids either overcome those obstacles to achieve or, they just stop trying.  They disengage.

I was one of those kids who wasn’t an instant all-star.  I struggled to be liked and I was always a little different than my peers.  I mean, I wanted to be a park ranger when I grew up, which is definitely not typical for adolescent girls.  One thing I can say for sure, is that achievement sometimes is difficult for those who don’t fit the mold.  Even though I had a well-rounded set of talents, being that they weren’t typical, I still struggled to be seen as someone with potential.  That’s why I feel that I was seriously lucky to find my passion early in secondary school, in the way of technology and digital arts.  Finding a connection and fit was how I learned to be who I was, to further develop my strengthens rather than focussing on what I thought I needed to be.  Having a teacher look at me like there was a future, who embraced my differences and pushed me to try harder made such a difference in how I interacted with peers, how I approached problems.  It was like being given a map and told I could go anywhere.

It’s not the same for kids anymore.  They have so many more outlets for their peers to give feedback, all thanks to technology.  Finding satisfaction in just being themselves is becoming more unattainable as their world of peers broadens.  Technology has also opened up what seems like unlimited competition. There used to be just one or two kids you had to compare a success to but now its infinite.  We compare ourselves on the world stage, against celebrities, sport stars, professionals.  What good is your best strength when there’s a thousand other people hash-tagging the same thing, every second of the day?  It’s no wonder kids struggle with resilience and don’t like taking risks that might lead to failure.  Everything you do, good or bad, has the potential to be broadcast to the world and archived indefinitely.

I asked one of my top students about having the world as a critic, and she said “you can just be the best person you know how to be, and it shouldn’t matter what anyone else thinks.  You can’t give up because what does that say about you?”  She’s an exception in a lot of ways, as it’s so easy for many students to give up.  They are lacking resilience and perseverance–some of the most important tools we need in life.  They get us back up on the horse, help us find another fish in the sea.  Resilience and perseverance work together to get us out of tight spaces.  We as educators should be helping prepare our students for life’s ups and downs.  We need to provide opportunities and organize experiences that allow our students to develop perseverance and grow resilience.  But kids are smart.  They’ve learned all about the path of least resistance—it’s easier, its faster.  It usually doesn’t result in failure.  Unfortunately, it also doesn’t lead to adventure, or greatness, or world-changing ideas.  If quitting, or not even trying means zero negative outcomes, that is what is now seen as the better choice vs. trying and the possibility of failure.  Kids are missing out.

We have to push back against that mindset.  Kids are scared to take chances on themselves.  They compare themselves to every hashtag or snapchat story they see.  We have to change that by giving them opportunities to be brave.   I used to do this project in computers where I removed myself as a resource—I remember one of my quietest, back-of-the-room seat-warmers stand up and walk across the room to a peer he had never spoken to before to ask for help.  I can tell you, for him, that took serious courage.  What that kid wasn’t my top student?  No.  But he was talented (when he tried), and he had a great sense of humour.  It took four years to really get to know him and know the best way to push him outside his comfort zone.  I had to learn the best place to “start a fire” with him.

We really do need students to be brave, so they take risks.  We are lost as a society if risk taking becomes a faux-pas.  Technology is interfering with people trying new things—we can always find someone who did it better online.  I can’t even bake a cupcake without comparing it to the thousands of others posted on Pinterest or Instagram.  If I struggle with that comparison as an adult—undoubtedly most kids are struggling too.  I learned about risk-taking essentially in the dark ages.  Unless someone loaded their camera with a fresh roll of film—most of my risks went undocumented.  I remember doing silly things, like cartwheels during gym class and wacky halloween costumes.  No way are some kids doing that now, as they don’t want to go viral.

Technology doesn’t have to be all bad though!  We get to be connected to anyone and everyone we want to showcase our stuff to, be it cooking or biking or whatever.  We have the opportunity to be You Tube stars, to write and blog and share our wonderful creations to the world!  But, we still need courage, resilience, perseverance to be ourselves, to rise above the negative comments, the broadcasted failures.  The vlogging, blogging, hashtags, boomeranging will to continue to be an essential influence on our kids.  We need to equip them with the compass they’ll need to navigate the virtual world, so they can use it to their advantage.

We need to encourage adventure, risk-taking and the pursuit of excellence so resilience and perseverance make a comeback.   This is what is going to equip the next generation to take on the world, to get back up when they fall, and try, try again BUT most importantly, be successful.

Advertisements

Parent Connections

Standard

With the world of today, parents are finding it increasingly more difficult to connect with the school community and classroom teachers.  One would think that with the increased usage of technology, parents would feel more connected vs. less.  Although some parents may receive upwards of 3-5 emails per week from their student’s teacher–others feel left in the dark in regards to how their child is faring.  Obviously, there are significant differences in parent communication when you look across the span of different age groups (elementary, middle and secondary)–with a notable drop in parent involvement as students draw nearer to graduation.  So, what is the answer?  To determine the answer, we first must identify the end goal.

Is it to have more parents present in the building (PAC, events, etc.)?

Is it to have parents feel more involved, nay, BE more involved in daily classroom learning (via home checks, emails, etc.)?

I would argue that both goals are important, at all levels of education.  There are certainly more opportunities at the younger grades for parents to be involved than at the secondary level; however, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is impossible.  Taking the time to invite parents to interact with the school is the first step in creating bridges between classroom and home; however, inviting multiple times is often required for parents who are busy and have limited options for school participation.

Three key ways to encourage parent involvement:

  1. Keep them informed.  How can a parent be involved if they are not informed of what is happening around school?  If a child isn’t overly forthcoming with school-related news, parents should have another access point for important dates, going-ons, etc.  For some schools, a weekly newsletter or blog has been useful for keeping parents “in the loop,” especially when items such as report cards, field trips or assemblies is concerned.
  2. Offer multiple opportunities to get them in the building.  While parent-teacher interviews are a standard way for parents to be included in student learning, there are many other avenues to have parents visit a school, even a secondary school! First, hold events at times that are typically available for working parents, such as open house evenings, performances, etc.  Second, offer more than the typical events that parent attend (sports, theatre, band), such as Fine Art/Applied Skill open houses, Social Studies project presentations or family-friendly language plays are just a few suggestions!
  3. Keep inviting them.  If turn out is lower than expected, keep inviting parents.  If they can’t attend the first event, it doesn’t mean they won’t or can’t attend the next.  Making sure parents really know schools want them to be a part of their child’s education is vital to seeing more participation and presence at the school.

Overall, having parents feel included in their child’s education will lead to them being more involved, more invested and more likely to encourage their student to be more engaged with their learning.  School community should be a symbiotic triad between staff, students and parents.  All three working together leads to better education for students, and that is of course, what we are here for.

 

 

Substance over Technology: Tools, Tasks & Takeways

Standard

Is technology a stumbling block for you?  Does a lack of internet connection ruin your day?

There are two extremes to technology use in the classroom; with a full range in between.  On the one hand, there are teachers who utilize technology tools because they feel that it is the ‘thing to do.’  They are creating Powerpoints instead of overheads, using YouTube Videos in lieu of VHS.  They have embraced technology as far as they feel comfortable.  If you mention blogging, or hashtags, they bear a panicked look–hoping beyond hope they can retire before anyone notices their Smart Board is covered in dust.  On the other hand, there are teachers who have plunged classrooms into the deep end of the technological pool.  Every day they use something technology-based with their students.  They’ve logged hours upon hours on the in-school COWS, and have a ‘app’ for everything.  They use so much technology, students are beginning to forget how to write with pen and paper.  Both of these extremes exist; fortunately, the majority of teachers fall somewhere in the middle.

substanceovertechnologyTechnology doesn’t need to be the centre of your classroom.  It also doesn’t need to be a pain in the you-know-what.  Think of technology in two ways: as a teaching tool, and as a learning tool. By combining both tools, you should be able to create a dynamic and modern learning environment for your students, where technology makes tasks easier, and takeaways more magical.

Never feel pressured to teach with technology, 100% of the time.  For example, does it make more sense to use a tablet for notes in math than an old-fashion overhead? Of course! Notes can be reused and saved, rather than erased…plus, no more overhead pen all over your hands!  Technology as a teaching tool can make your classroom a better place for not only your students, but for you as a teacher.  How you incorporate it is up to you, and I encourage you to find new ways to give notes and lessons, be it through presentation software, or perhaps Skyping with an expert.  You don’t need to use it all the time, but at least find way to use it sometimes, and always for the betterment of student learning rather than for the sake of technology.  Technology tools should make daily or weekly tasks, like notes, easier and more engaging.  When technology is used as a learning tool, students are given the opportunity to learn new technology, but how to use technology as a tool rather than a toy (see HERE for a post about that).  When there is sound, pedagogical reasoning behind using technology as a learning tool when it comes to students, good things happen.  When students use technology to explore, to engage and to demonstrate their learning, the takeway factor is magic.   Don’t be afraid to discontinue the use of technology if it isn’t positively impacting learning in your classroom or if students aren’t yet ready to use it for learning.  Find another way, another tool, that does work for your students.

And above all, when using technology in your classroom–for teaching or otherwise–make sure that what you are doing has substance.  Make sure that you are utilizing technology as a tool for learning, that the tool hasn’t taken over the teaching.  Remember: Substance should always win over technology.

Learning Technology: What Kids Should Know

Standard

Every vocation is different, and each requires its own unique training, whether you are a doctor or plumber, teacher or graphic designer.  Not every career requires coding skills, or skills related to difficult computer technology usage.  Not every career requires typing skills or research skills.  Daily life; however, is a little different.  Lately, colleagues and I have entered into conversation surrounding what students REALLY need to know when it comes to computers, once they leave our academic nest to the next step of their lives.

team-523239_960_720A lot of discussion about students and technology seems to be geared towards what skills they required when they enter the workforce, but I would argue that any and every job
(for the most part) will and should offer specific training for the technology required of its skilled workers.  Universities and colleges offer beginner computers courses, and other introductory courses that are vital to specific careers.  I don’t believe that we need to necessarily prepare students for specific careers in the K-12 system (unless of course they are enrolled in those amazing apprenticeship programs!), but rather prepare them for a lifetime of learning, of critical and creative thinking, and of social responsibility.  I feel strongly that BC’s new curriculum, specifically the Core Competencies, truly embody what a BC graduate should have in their toolkit when they leave our system for the workforce or into post-secondary training.  Should students know how to use technology?  Absolutely.  They should know how to use it responsibly, how not to spend 20 hours a day playing games, how to be respectful, how to be appropriate.

Students should also know how to use storage programs, like Google Docs, or iCloud…or, as simple as it seems: adding an attachment to an email.  Students don’t need to know Photoshop, or how to make games.  They don’t need to know Minecraft, or how to make websites.  They need to know how to critical examine content found online, how to cull through the millions of hits from Google for real, factual information.  They don’t need to know how to code robots, they need to know how to express their opinions and be good digital citizens.  I am not saying that students SHOULDN’T be using photoshop, or making games, or learning robotics–I’m saying that it’s important not to get caught up in those things without considering what real skills our graduates should be leaving our doors with.

 

 

Coding, Curriculum and the Classroom

Standard

1108_classroom_tech_630x420Have you heard the news about “coding in the classroom” as a part of British Columbia’s new curriculum?  If you are a parent or a teacher of a student in K-12, this news should have caught your attention.  As a Computer Science teacher, I want to reassure everyone that coding, at any grade-level, is possible (even without years and years of teacher training!).

Coding is different than programming.  Programming is intensive, time-consuming and tedious.  It is infinitely more complex than coding.  Coding is about having an understanding of how certain programming languages function, and then using those languages to create something, be it a game, function or otherwise.  The great news is that there are TONS of awesome resources available for a variety of age groups to help them learn to code.  ALL of these resources require technology, which unfortunately is not readily available to every student, in every classroom.

(Unless, of course, we are all going to be the subjects of some technology windfall!)

This is what you need to know about teaching coding: coding is all about “cause and effect,” and about “variables.”  For example, if A happens, then B happens.  If I press this button, the light goes on.  Variables work the same way, but with more options.  Choices are A and B, and depending on what option is selected, either C or D will occur.  You don’t need to have a computer or iPad to teach these ideas to students.  Coding is also about critical and creative thinking.  Students who know how to code should also know how to be innovative and how to problem solve.

Coding is also cross-curricular.  It can be used to demonstrate mathematic concepts, to teach storytelling, even for physical education purposes (my students and their robots get a lot of exercise!).  In British Columbia’s new curriculum model, there is a place for coding. It is by far one of the most powerful 21st century learning/teaching tools we have available–as intimidating as it might seem–and it is time to learn how to use it for the sake of our students.

Want to hear the good news?  It won’t be nearly as complicated as programming the VCR.

In the next few weeks, I will take the time to post resources and options for teachers interested in learning more about coding in their classrooms, with a variety of platforms, to demonstrate that coding can be accessible to all classrooms, despite whatever technologies are available to utilize.