Navigating the Digital World: #kasbcon13 Reflection

Well, I survived my first KASB conference!  Even made it to the office on time Monday, and for those who know me personally, that’s amazing!  I have to say I was impressed with the conference as well as the KASB staff.  From a newbies perspective the whole conference was smooth as silk.  The general session with Kevin Honeycutt was awesome, and as always, inspiring.  If you’ve never heard him speak you really are missing out!  Kevin and his wife Michelle are dear friends of mine.  Kevin also happens to be a school board member on the Inman school board, a former art teacher and currently is a Technology Integrationist with ESSDACK.  I met Kevin in 2008 at a conference in Wichita.  I was a first year tech director and looking for other educators who experienced the power of technology in the classroom.  Everything he said during that breakout session in 2008 was what I had experienced as classroom teacher integrating technology, meeting my students needs, differentiating instruction, and battling misperceptions.  You see, back in 2004 I had the opportunity to pilot palms in my 5th grade classroom.  Each student had a palm handheld computer of their own.  Since this was a relatively new venture in education there weren’t many resources available so I got to create my own curriculum incorporating these mobile devices (based off the approved standards of that time).   I spent planning time, lunch time, evenings and weekends online looking for ways to incorporate the devices in meaningful educationally appropriate ways and teaching to the established standards.  My students were amazing as they adapted to the new technology, helping each other out and discovering ways of their own to make the technology work for what they were doing.  I found a blog by a teacher in Nebraska who was using Palms in his classroom (Tony Vincent) and dreamed of the day I could share what I was experiencing. Today that possibility exists and there are so many wonderful blogs out there where teachers are mentoring teachers, administrators are mentoring administrators and school board members are mentoring school board members.

In my classroom I saw the technology as a tool. An awesome tool with great potential for fostering creativity, problem solving, higher order thinking skills and collaboration.  I would give my students an end result (standard based) and they would find a way to show me what they had learned using applications on their Palms.  They would share with their classmates educational appropriate games, tips and tricks for making their Palms work as they discovered that they were in charge of their own learning.  Discipline problems were very few or non existent, absenteeism was minimal, and we had fun!  We really did have fun learning!  I had high expectations of my students and treated them with respect.  We had established a culture for learning.  

As a tech director I decided to try and recreate that atmosphere and culture with a couple of fifth grade teachers.  We discussed the potential of having mobile devices in their classroom using the book Toys to Tools as a guide. Parents were asked how they felt about letting their child bring technology to school and every one of them was OK with it.  We did have a few students who didn’t have access to a mobile device so I purchased some iTouches and iPads to supplement the technology.  We worked together as team, mutually respectful, with opportunities to fail, so we could learn from those mistakes.  I would spend a day or an hour each week in the classroom so I could help troubleshoot connection issues and other unexpected problems.  But after a while I wasn’t needed.  As sad as that sounds it was exactly what I wanted.  Those teachers were empowered to make the technology work in their classroom.  They had the rights to fix issues, the knowledge to know that an issue was beyond their control and the creativity to go on to plan b, c, d…  Let’s go back to the statement “They were empowered”.  That’s the key!  Empowered, trusted, encouraged, and expected to make the technology work, to build the culture of collaboration, to engage their students in meaningful, relevant learning opportunities. That was the inspirational message Kevin conveyed.

Please visit http://www.kevinhoneycutt.com.  If you do get the opportunity to hear him speak you will be inspired!