My Light Bulb Moment(s)

There are lots of really incredible tools out there for #edtech aficionados to use. Whether you are a beginner at this stuff, a seasoned vet, or somewhere in between the two*, there is a tool out there just waiting to be tackled that will fit your needs. Wherever you are, check out the SAMR model and a great slideshow discovered by our tech specialist Colleen McLain (@colleenmclain).

*Yes, I am aware that I wrote this to include everyone. I’m sneaky like that…

I recently wrote a post about why trying out new technology tools is so scary for teachers. In my mind it really all comes down to not knowing what to expect. Teachers lack control over the outcomes of tools and activities with which we are unfamiliar. If you know a teacher, you know that teachers like to have control! The solution is, in my mind, to value the process over the outcome. The strategy to make this switch is probably different for everyone. The tool that will provide your light bulb moment is unknown. Heck, the tool that works for you may be in the process of being developed in some basement somewhere around the world as you read this.

Having written this other post about getting over the hump, I thought it made sense to spend some words on how it happened for me. If you’re a familiar reader of this blog, you know that I entered the teaching force completely inexperienced in the official sense of education. What I lacked in teaching pedagogy I made up for with brute force of will, lots of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and an endlessly naïve spirit. I knew that I would completely change the world; I just didn’t know how it would happen. 

Today I am more confident in how I could change the world, but more realistic that my influence of change may not be as far-reaching as I originally thought. Maybe this blog will eventually take off and I’ll gain a huge following, write a book and all that nonsense. More likely, I’ll continue to get some hits as I write and continue to use this space for reflection and personal growth. Whichever way it goes, I’ll keep teaching in the best way I know how.

Currently, the best way that I know how is centered around the role that technology can play in the classroom. Center is very lucky to be in a position to give it a go at a 1:1 technology initiative, giving each student at Center Middle School and Center High School a laptop. This has presented numerous opportunities and challenges which I’ll reflect on throughout the year in the space. For today, I want to focus on why I use Moodle.

When thinking about organizing my classroom, I immediately knew that I wanted to recreate the feeling of college (the engaging courses, at least) as much as I could. At Center, we talk to kids until we are blue in the face and they are asleep about getting ready for college. It felt natural to extend this into how I developed my courses.

Once that decision was made, I needed to decide on a platform. I was most familiar with Blackboard, but our district has a subscription with Moodle. Both are similar in aim and design. While I never have used Blackboard from a teacher’s perspective, it certainly felt more natural from a student’s perspective. This is the kind of thing that a single teacher cannot make a decision on however – our district pays for Moodle, so Moodle won out over Blackboard. 

As far as free options, Google Sites was knocked out because I could never figure out how to build a coherent site after playing with it for a few months. I figured if I couldn't figure it out being pretty tech-savvy myself, then maybe it wasn't for me and my kids. I liked Edmodo when I tried it out, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it felt childish. Not that kid-friendly and fun is inherently bad, but if I want to develop a course that feels like college, then Edmodo was somewhat lacking in that professional feel.

And that’s how I ended up with Moodle being my online classroom of choice! It has everything that I have needed so far, even if some of it takes some time to get used to. Once you get the feel for how the site is developed, it all begins to come together and make more sense.

In the past three weeks, I have started to make a series of tutorials for Moodle. Some of these are geared towards students and helping them to help themselves. This is a big theme of mine as our kids get ready for college. Becoming independent and strong at solving problems is just as important a skill as is history, math, english, science or any other content area. It is also a skill that our kids will use no matter what field they enter after their education. 

 This is a tutorial I made when another teacher
asked a specific question

I make other tutorials that are geared towards teachers. I have no idea if any teachers actually watch and learn from these and I don’t particularly care. I make them as much for me as I do for anyone else. It gets back to the idea that you can test to see if you know a skill or concept by whether or not you can teach that skill or concept to someone else.

The last piece of this reflection I suppose has to be about time, because we all need more of it whether we’re in education or any other field. With so little extra time, I’m often asked how I find time to blog, work on my Moodle page or participate in Twitter chats. The simple answer is that I make it a priority. I don’t have kids yet, but I hope that I’ll keep this kind of work at the top of my professional priority list even when we do have kids.

I choose this as a priority because it is the teaching version of what I want my students to do in my class. Like I have focused on Moodle the past three years – and now have become somewhat of an expert on it – I want to encourage my students to find something in our content on which they are excited and want to spend time reading and writing about. Exciting this passion in a student is a damn-hard thing to do, but I truly believe that living it out in my profession, showing the willingness to take risks and (sometimes...OK, often) royally screw it up, sharing my professional writing and reflections and constantly looking for connections between yesterday and today are keys to whatever success I have found thus far in my career.

Whether it is Moodle, Edmodo, Blackboard, a Yola site, Google Site, a Weebly or any other tool, pick one and go for it. That is the choice and decisiveness that we try to instill in our students. Pick something, put your whole self into it for a year or two, constantly reevaulate and share the experience with your students. I guarantee that you’ll love the buy-in that you receive when you open yourself up to your students in this way.

What is your tool that has opened your eyes in some way? What was your light bulb moment? Share in the comments section below!