My students and I need some tech equipment and non-tech equipment for the classroom. I’ve created some Donor’s Choose campaigns to supplement some of the missing materials. If you could donate that would be so awesome. Thank you so much in advance, and I know this isn’t poetry but I will be back soon with more.
Originally posted on Medium.
Panel discussion on Youtube
Often times when we think of teachers and policy, we think of them in isolation, one only affecting the other as an after thought. For us, teachers, it’s also much more comfortable to focus simply on teaching and stay away from policy because we all fear being too political. After all, it’s all about the kids, and politics and policy just get in the way of good teaching, right? Now, I’m not going to argue for educators to become activists or run for local office though it can’t hurt if some do, but as educators, we can’t shy away from policies that affect our students, and how we’re able or not able to teach them.
This past Wednesday, March 9, I was able to participate in a panel at SXSWedu and discuss policy. The panel was titled, “Straight Talk from Teachers on EdTech Policy”, moderated by former governor, Bev Perdue. I was accompanied by Kerry Gallagher and Matthew Worthington.
I arrived on Wednesday in Austin, and let me start by saying, that I should have gotten there on Monday. That was my bad, and am already planning for next year. I say this because going through the schedule I could see that I’d miss a lot of really cool sessions and workshops on virtual and augmented reality, EdTech, and Maker education. I did get to attend a panel titled: Can Hip Hop Save Us? I felt pleased that hip hop had been given a platform at the event. I actually appreciated the effort at diversity throughout the event.
I even saw Jose Vilson, author of This Is Not a Test, just hanging out. I had to approach him, and let him know I thought he was rock star. If you follows teachers on Twitter, you know Jose Vilson, especially if you follow #educolor. I didn’t say much because I didn’t want to interrupt his conversation, but walked away feeling like such a groupie/fanboy. To a certain degree, Vilson is one of my inspirations and role models for blogging and tweeting. Of course, I had to tweet about having seen him. I walked into the green room before my panel even more excited and pumped. I’d only even ever heard of green rooms from TV. I think I was expecting more snacks, but that’s just on TV, but it was nice to have somewhere to sit and wait.
The panel consisted of a Q&A session followed by a questions from the audience. Former governor, Bev Purdue, had a set of questions we had reviewed over the phone earlier to discuss throughout the session. Right away, I was impressed by my colleagues on the panel, and the ease with which they spoke about policy.
One of the issues we discussed was on access and equity. While I argued for the importance to provide access to equipment and technology within the schools, my colleagues added that not only should we be talking about access, but also equity. They brought up a good point about certain schools having state of the art technology that goes unused or underused because the staff hadn’t been trained properly or the technology was not rolled out adequately while there are schools doing a whole lot with the little technology they do have. This highlighted the importance of professional development for teachers and staff during the acquisition of new technology.
Another topic we looked at was data, and the growing concern in different districts with concern to data. We felt teachers were definitely concerned about privacy. I, however, feel that there are certain expectations to privacy that we automatically give up when we choose to participate in this modern society. In my community, many parents aren’t really that concerned about their children’s data. Perhaps, it’s because most of my school’s parents for better or worse have full trust in us, and what we are doing. Another reason is that being immigrants many of students’ parents just don’t feel they have any agency to push back or question anything the school does.
I have a love/hate relationship with data. As a math person, I love numbers and collecting data to find patterns. The problem is that some of the data teachers are asked to analyze is often times irrelevant and very abstract. In particular, having a score for an assessment where teachers are not aware of the question and how the student answered provides very little information. I also dislike data being used to evaluate teacher effectiveness. Doing so hinders creativity and experimentation on the part of administrators and teachers, which in turn means the teachers allow the students less creativity and experimentation.
Currently, I’m loving using programs to create my own assessments and forms in particular when those programs and forms can graph the results, so that I’m really enjoying collecting data, but the thing is that it’s my data. Teachers have access to tons of data, and if we are strategic we can begin to collect “smart data”. “Smart data” that aligns to our curriculum, instruction, and students’ needs.
For too long, we have been given the data by our districts, and many times, the data is reflective of student’s learning the previous year, and not even of the whole year, but of that one day on that one subject. We still need some form of data, so that instead of fighting against data, we would do better to guide the discussion towards smarter, timely, and relevant data. Technology definitely has a roll in the collection of this data.
Another point, we made about the use of technology was about allowing students to use the tools of their times. Kerry mentioned how often times we look at school as preparation for the real world, forgetting that for our students, school is the real world. Matthew mentioned a student who was interested in film who sought out professionals to engage in the process of filmmaking, so that because of technology students can now seek out professionals in a given field for mentorship or collaboration.
This is what I feel is technology’s most important role. Our students need to be working with the tools and equipment that will be used once they are professionals. Also using these tools will give them an idea about whether or not it’ll be something that interests them as a career.
When I was in elementary school, I performed really well in Math, and competed. In eighth grade, I placed second in the whole city in the math portion of the city’s academic olympics, and teachers told me I should go into accounting, but why not computer science or programming. A lot of it had to do with the fact that my teachers weren’t teaching me with the tools of my time. Our computer lab was hardly ever used, and when it was, there was hardly any computer science happening.
The event ended, and I checked my Twitter account, @j053frau5t0, and retweeted all the awesome recaps from the panel. I headed back to my hotel, and to my surprise right after the panel, Jose Vilson tweets me back with “You should have said more tocayo,” which in Spanish is a term of endearment for someone with your same first name. Bonus. I replied that next time I would, which means I need to get on it, and look towards the next conference or the next panel. Geek heaven on Twitter for a moment.
I walked away from my panel very impressed and pleased with the whole process, and very excited to return, and maybe even hopefully stay for some of the music next time. Thank you to all involved in organizing the panel.
One last side note, everyone at the SXSWedu was quite aware that we were the nerd contingent of the whole SXSW madness, and as we, the nerds, departed all the real cool kids were beginning to arrive. I was surprised by the amount of roadies, and that even McDonalds was setting up a stage.
Originally posted in Medium.
For some, technology has made the world a smaller place and brought us closer together. For others, the gap between the haves and the have-nots has widened. Take technology in schools for example — students in certain schools, primarily where the poor and people of color reside, still lack access to the basic technology and tools they need to help them succeed in today’s world. A University of Chicago study has found that “at-risk” youth — including low socioeconomic students — in Chicago use technology less than other students. The same report also revealed that increased technology use was correlated with higher student outcomes.
As a student, I attended my neighborhood public school in Chicago and from a very early age, I felt the difference between the haves and the have-nots. Now, as a teacher in the same system, the gap has become even more apparent.
I grew up here and went to my neighborhood school. Like many public schools at the time that primarily served low-income students, there was very little technology in the building. My school had a computer lab equipped with 30 or so desktop computers, but it was only used by students who needed remediation. The first time I used a computer at school was during an after school class when the school decided the high-performing students needed technology exposure before high school.
In high school, all this changed. I went to Whitney Young High School — Chicago’s first magnet school. Suddenly, technology was everywhere. We had two computer labs, a TV production lab, and a media lab. It was an amazing transition. I felt empowered and trusted, like I was in control of where my future was going because I finally had the right tools at my fingertips. This is where my passion for education began, and part of what drove me to become a teacher. I knew — even back then – that if more students had this type of access and these experiences, it could be a game changer.
For the past 13 years, I’ve been teaching at Enrico Tonti Elementary School, a school that has the luxury of providing our students with technology, though not without effort. Many students at Enrico Tonti don’t have access to the level of technology required for future careers, so that the school has taken it upon itself to provide access to those tools. My students have access to so much more technology than I ever had and it has made a huge difference.
Our students are learning to use devices at a young age. In kindergarten, they learn how to handle the equipment, use QR codes, take screenshots, type, and even code. Eventually, students learn to create digital content and by fifth grade they design their own websites. Students use technology during the day to work on self-paced learning programs tailored to meet them at their specific level. The best part is how well this is working; in a survey we gave, nine out of ten students said that they pay more attention and focus better when using technology. This bodes well for their future careers.
Although we’ve come a long way since my time in elementary school — Enrico Tonti is proof — there’s still more we can and must do to narrow the gap. In a city where poverty and crime are so closely linked — where 2,995 people were shot in 2015 — we must find ways to educate youth who need it most. It’s the only way to bend the curve of systemic poverty and make our city safer and more prosperous.
Technology is not an end in and of itself and I certainly don’t think it’s the answer to all our educational problems. But we must be aware of the message we are sending to our students if we don’t address the barriers that currently exist. All students should have access to the types of devices and programs they’ll be expected to navigate as adults. If we don’t show them we trust them, who will?
As the politics around the future of Chicago Pubic Schools intensify and new deals and policies are discussed and negotiated, let’s be sure that we are not forgetting our city’s most vulnerable youth and that we do everything we can to equip them with the tools they desperately need to succeed. We’ve made some progress since my years as a student, but our work is not finished.