Friday, May 29, 2015

Diving into math...

I would not categorize myself as a "math" person. I did well in math, but I loved reading and that was how I identified myself, and still do really. I'm a bookworm. But when I started teaching I found that I really did like teaching math. I liked working with the students who weren't understanding the concepts most, not that I always knew how to get them to understand, but I liked breaking down the processes. Which is weird because I'm usually a very big picture person, but I digress.

Part of the process of expanding my role to STEAM coach is to delve into the math and science curriculums. So I have done that, in what can only be called baptism by fire. My first foray into the math curriculum was to join a group creating curriculum documents for the district. To say I was lost would be an understatement. These ladies knew the curriculum and they knew the trials and tribulations that the teachers have gone through in teaching math and teaching math with our current adoption. So I didn't add much, and I didn't add much to my second meeting where teachers were working on the curriculum documents, but I learned a lot.

I've never been involved in curriculum writing. I dodged that bullet by hiding behind the shield of my children. (Summers are precious when you have little ones.) I had no idea what to expect when I went in there, but the process is very interesting. Breaking down the TEKS and curriculum, putting it all on a calendar, determining what pieces are most important and which can be given a nod and a glance.

As a classroom teacher I just took the curriculum for granted. Here's a math book and here's a district document that tells me what to do when. I'd glance at it and go about making my plans and finding my resources, but I have a new level of respect for the people who do curriculum writing. The old adage you can't please everyone all the time is definitely true.  Just trying to think about all of the teachers in the district and all of the kids in the district and trying to create something that is relevant and useful to all of them makes my head spin. Yikes.

I'm also getting really excited about math though, and finding ways to incorporate STEAM into math (which sounds counter-intuitive, but math isn't always taught as in innovation subject). I've also attended one vertical math planning class, bridging 5th to 6th and a math residency for Kindergarten and first grade. The vertical meeting was wonderful. The conversations between the fifth and sixth grade teachers were eye-opening. Those sixth grade teachers have a lot to handle. Looking at the TEKS from one grade level to the next was an eye-opening exercise too. In fact, I think that should always be done. It is so important, and I never realized just how important it is to be able to make those connections and to see how what you are doing today is building a foundation for tomorrow. Obviously I know that's how learning works, but I mean concretely.

The residency was especially helpful in getting me oriented with primary grades. I'm deathly afraid of primary grades. So seeing how they work with their students to teach math was fun and enlightening.

I'm looking forward to a summer of more fun and learning.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A change in perspective...

For the past two and two thirds year I have been a Technology Coach. A title that I have thoroughly enjoyed having. Before that I was a fourth grade teacher, and I loved that title as well. I'm actually pretty easy going when it comes to titles, I like just about everything.

But in the past month and a half I've had the opportunity to apply for a Blended Learning Initiative through the district. The process of filling out the application for the Blended Initiative has been a learning experinece. In the span of a month I have learned so much about my personal views of technology use in the classroom, and so much about the views of others around me.
I don't know much about the history of my position, but I do know that when I took it, I had many discussions with my predecessor about trying to shift focus from fixing technology problems to collaborating about technology integration. We both wanted to be seen in an instructional role, not just as a resource for troubleshooting or just for technology based projects.

Add to that my philosophy that technology isn't a separate goal to be tacked onto the end of an objective. Technology should be wholly and seamlessly integrated into the classroom. There should not be a time when we say, "It's technology time. Stop your regular learning and let's do this technology thing." In fact, my philosophy is that it isn't about the technology at all, it is about meeting learners where they are in order to get them where we want them to be.

So I've started to refocus. While having a technology coach on campus is cool, it is only as useful as the amount of technology usage allows. I'm crazy busy at the beginning of the year when people are getting students acclimated to using new tools, and at the end of the year when PBL ratchets up. There is still a strong view of this position as helping with technology, but not really other curricular areas, so not as a technology integration coach. 

So I started to really think about this position and how it could be transformed into something meaningful to a broad majority of people--whether they feel they are "techie" or not. and I landed on the idea of a STEAM coach (science, technology, engineering, art and math--sometimes STEM, without the art). STEAM is a big deal in educational circles, the heart of many discussions about where education is headed and why. Innovation is the key to future careers and STEAM is at the heart of innovation.

Whether you ever have your students pick up a computer or not is not totally relevant to STEAM, although technology is a piece of the puzzle. STEAM is about giving students a strong foundation in science and math, and giving them a strong foundation in thinking and problem solving. Those who love technology and those who don't are all united in the goal of teaching our students to be creative problem solvers and self-motivated thinkers and learners.

I don't know exactly what this shift in role definition will mean in day to day operations, although I will be focused a lot more on science and math curriculum, and will spend more time working with those areas. I am hopeful that the main shift will be that I am not seen as an end of unit project idea generator, but as an instructional partner in bringing more STEAM into our student's education. I'm excited about the shift, it fits my philosophy of learning and education much more closely than isolating technology does, and I think that the possibilities for innovation and creativity for our students are endless. 

I’m looking forward to moving full STEAM ahead with this new title and initiative!