The key guiding question for our Seminar (An Introduction to Apps and Programmes for Teachers) was “How can we help Bavarian Teachers to Effectively Use Technology in their Classrooms?” Today we were to produce artefacts based on the students’ individual Inquiries into this question. I had invited three experts to join by Skype to provide mini-lessons on the theme. Johannes Claassen is an elementary school teacher who created an outstanding class website. John Linney is the presenter of the Edspiration Podcast, the most popular education podcast on iTunes, and he was to speak about how podcasting allows teachers to be classroom entrepreneurs. Julie Szaj, the founder of #nt2t, was to provide a practical introduction to Twitter before leading students (who had yesterday created the questions) in the chat. The aim was to punctuate student work with examples of outstanding educators who positively model effective EdTech use in their own contexts and who would inspire my students to take tech risks themselves in their Inquiries.
I was eager to avoid the errors of my previous approach, so while I had all the elements of a good lesson in my planner I made sure to be guided by my errors from yesterday:
- Set high but realistic expectations.
- Increase student voice and choice in the project in the planning stages.
- Begin the seminar with at least some team-building activities and reflection.
While I could have begun the lesson with a physical trust team-building game I chose instead to gamble on emotional trust. I reflected on yesterday’s failure and took responsibility for my part in that failure. Students, having seen my passionate response to yesterday, were eager to get started with the day and achieve success. Importantly, I made sure to allow ample student voice and choice and students set the final task for our Seminar, defined guidelines and assisted in setting a grading rubric.
The majority of the group stayed until 9pm (the seminar ended at 6) pushing hard to produce high-quality artefacts. This was unprompted and I made it clear it was not in any way expected. Of course, they stayed because they were hooked. Hooked on producing outcomes that mattered to them. Those still sitting in the University of Augsburg at 9pm on a Saturday night were not there for a grade. They were there because they saw how the tech tools that they had been introduced to, Julie’s Twitter chat, John’s Podcast, Johannes’s Website, were tools that they too could use to give themselves a platform to effect change that mattered to them. While yesterday I pushed an outcome on them that was set in stone, today, pursuing their own interests, they produced individual and creative artefacts that will ultimately help define their own pedagogical journeys. And of all this in one day. One group of four, who teach part-time at a local refugee centre, decided to create a website and interactive video which would help refugees (and their teachers) pass their German driving test. Another group decided to create a website dedicated to archiving sources on plant and animal species that would help elementary teachers with their biology curriculum. Another group created an Infographic and accompanying Socrative quiz to help elementary teachers make learning countries and capitals engaging and interactive.
Just as last night I asked students to reflect on why we failed in our task, tonight I asked them why we succeeded. The feedback was consistent with yesterday and reinforced the change I made to my lesson plan.
- I allowed student control of their outcomes and learning.
- The task set a high expectation but was more achievable.
I was proud that I did my job. I was hurt yesterday but reflected on that and arrived at changes I needed to make today. Other interesting points arose on reflection. Students said that while they were intrinsically motivated by their ownership of the project, they also felt inspired by my disappointment to do better today. One said, “We are a community. We didn’t want to let you down. We were internally motivated but also I fed off your energy.” I was proud and humbled to see that I had forged a relationship with these students that transcended the walls of our classroom. I had only seen any of these students in my seminars one other time at most. A different student explained, “You are passionate. It is about passion. And last night you challenged yourself in front of us. That is important.”
Tonight I leave not thinking what might have been as I did yesterday. Tonight I leave the university imagining how these personal websites will grow and how students will use the tools we examined to amplify their voices, make global connections and ultimately, be great educators.
So what have I learned today?
- Blogging is a outstanding tool to help reflect on both personal failure and success.
- By making my failure public by blogging I was more motivated than ever to be successful today.
- Don’t forget to trust your students. They are capable of amazing things.
- If you do not have coping mechanisms to avoid becoming too low after failure or too high after success you will most likely burn out fast.
- Students want to learn. You simply have to step back and allow them.
- Be passionate, even when it is awkward or challenges your ego. Your passion has a profound effect on your students.
- A lesson plan is a good start but passion, realistic objectives, student voice and choice and motivation are the crucial elements of success.
- When my students trust that I believe in their ability to change the world, they believe it too.