I have been fortunate this year to have colleagues challenge me to expand my knowledge in reading. I have a habit of reading articles, news, and probably could be addicted to information processing. As a society, I think we are all getting that way. Through technology and the Internet, we are inundated with information at every moment and every gesture of the hand on our smartphones. These last couple of years though, have been different for me personally.
Our first book was called LAUNCH. Design Thinking has been taking the world by storm by introducing a strategy for problem solving. LAUNCH brings this strategy straight to the classroom. For educators who value classrooms in which student choice and ownership of learning are non-negotiables, LAUNCH serves as a mentor resource for implementing these methods through design thinking and student-friendly motivational practices. I am a personal fan of the resources, personal stories, and doodles. So during the process of reading this book, I decided to doodle in OneNote about this book.
As a group, initially we chose to read a couple of books that focused in an area where we saw a need in our work here in Omaha Public Schools. The second book was Uncommon Learning by Eric Sheninger. This is a great book that outlines effective teaching and learning ideas to design the next generation of classrooms and schools. This was very timely since we had just passed the largest bond issue in Nebraska history at $421 million to renovate and build new schools. We worked through the book with a challenge at a chapter a day and put notes into an email (to facilitate conversation) that later transferred into a OneNote Notebook.
After that book activity, our momentum continued and we jumped right into another. Before long, it became the regular practice to start a book, invoke the challenge of a chapter a day, and tweet about it. Now, we have completed 8 books since last December and compiled our notes in a OneNote Notebook.
Here are the books we have tackled in their order:
Recently, Rebecca Chambers, Eileen Heller, and I co-wrote a blog post on the book Learning Transformed. It was an incredible, highly collaborative activity that brought many questions and conversations about how we could approach different educational opportunities. You can see that post here.
I have also doodled many of these books listed above as I have went along:
Currently, Eileen Heller and I are in the middle of the book Brain Rules. It does a great job of explaining how we process information and how many factors determine how we learn and grow as individuals. I appreciate it for identifying positives and some negative outcomes that we and our students deal with. As educators, it is important to look at mindfulness; learning to become aware of your environment without judging and learn to enjoy the moment, among other practices. As parents, there are certain factors that contribute to you and your kids success including: exercise, sleep, stress, wiring, attention, memory, sensory integration, vision, music, gender, and exploration—relates to this performance envelope. For me personally, the Stress chapter was one that spoke to me. I love challenges and John Medina explains what the perfect storm looks like:
It has been 5 years since we have taken a vacation as a family. We have been to the beach, to Missouri to see relatives, and to the lake many times. We just have never been to the mountains together as a family. Amanda, Aiyana, and I are pretty active people in our family unit. There aren't many days we miss workouts in a year. Colorado made many opportunities for us to explore and get some exercise in the process. Two days prior to the start of this blog journey you are about to read, Amanda, Aiyana, and I had just done a 6+ mile hike to see a waterfall in Ouzel Falls. It was cool, it rained, a very different experience than climbing Deer Mountain. The day we decided to tackle Deer Mountain, it was going to be hot and muggy.
That morning, Bailey decided to go with us. Initially I felt as though this was going to be a piece of cake for her. She surprised me a couple of months ago tackling a half marathon without having run even 5 miles total at a time before attempting it. Never even trained. Completed it. Crazy. I had no worries for her other than maybe a bit of breathing problems with the altitude.
Starting out she and Aiyana took off, Bailey dropping her iPhone without even noticing. I put it in my pocket and let them progress ahead. They got a ways ahead of Amanda and I, and I have to be honest, I didn't think it was going to be as long as it was. By midway, we were all panting a bit, but Bailey was struggling (see right).
Breaks were a necessity in this climb. There were times I thought Bailey might give up. But we encouraged her along the way. By the way, she still didn't have a clue she had dropped her iPhone at this point. One of the benefits of this climb was that it leveled out a bit at the end before a hard short climb in the end. Below is a video of that approach.
It was at this point that I thought, "this would be a great blog post!" Her progression up the mountain and the imposing struggle she went through gave me the thought of having her climb a similar "mountain" but in the process of a digital detox.
The Digital Detox Challenge
Today, we have endless cable channels, unlimited varieties of entertainment options, and countless ways to communicate with each other, all of which has led to this constant tsunami of information. I can remember when I was young that my choice to communicate was a home phone or driving to the person's house. Today the internet has changed how we communicate; we always stay connected. Technology is not bad. It is how we use it that can be problematic and questionable. Technology makes things exponential, and the pace of digital information in this mobile device age is fast and furious. For all of us today, the new "up-time" is really downtime. The climb up Deer Mountain gave me the idea to present Bailey with a challenge to do a digital detox and journal her progression through the day. She didn't know when we did the intro video on Sunday, I decided to tell her Monday that this was happening Wednesday. Below is a great article that identifies what happens to us when we do a digital detox.
As you can imagine, Bailey's summer day starts pretty late. My instructions for her was to journal her experience on paper every hour and do two reflection videos, recorded by Aiyana. There would be no access to Internet, TV, or devices for the entire day. Here was her experience:
As you can tell by the written notes below, things went well initially, but as the day progressed, she felt emotionally challenged and disconnected. Looking over these, it made me think of my own daily journey. I seem to always have a fractured attention span, constantly looking at the next digital notification. For me this is exacerbated by my Apple Watch. I think it keeps me from looking at my iPhone, but in reality it gives the outward perception that I am preoccupied and uninterested in face to face interactions, meetings, etc.
Bailey completed her digital detox in one day. In hindsight, the thoughts that went through my head were more about what does this constant digital interaction mean to sleep? Our smart phones, tablets, and multiple screens have invaded our bedroom space and am sure negatively impact our quantity and quality of sleep. I think we have a deep fear of missing out, and interacting constantly produces a feeling of connectedness and power. This exercise was good for Bailey, and good for me. Here was her final reflection video:
For Bailey, I am sure we will do this again. As we rely more and more on technology, we forfeit some opportunities to memorize "how" to do things. YouTube teaches us just about everything on the fly. Technology is not bad; it is how we use it at times that becomes questionable. I will give you one example of something that I personally continue to do but with technology. Note taking. I used to write in Moleskine journals pretty religiously. It helped me memorize and organize my thoughts. Then I moved to electronic notes. I typed them out and it didn't allow me to retain nearly what I did when I wrote them down. But with the introduction of digital inking, I get the best of both worlds. I guess what I am trying to say is, be purposeful with technology. We should make sure we practice self control and enable technology to work for us and not us working for it.
Common Sense Media is an amazing free resource for parents out there who are struggling to keep up with this ever changing social and technology mixed environment. We are fortunate in Omaha Public Schools to have our very own Lead Teacher for Digital Citizenship in partnership with Common Sense Media, Keegan Korf.
First: About the challenge
Eileen Heller and Rebecca Chambers work with me at Omaha Public Schools. Their contribution to this post has been invaluable. Our challenge was to tackle one chapter a day and I can say we successfully met this head on. If you would like to connect with Eileen or Rebecca, click on their image below:
During the #HackTheClassroom event at ISTE, I spoke about how I approach teachers that are reluctant to engage with technology in the classroom. It starts with, "What if I told you I could save you 15 minutes, would you then consider it?" With the introduction of the smartphone in our lives, think about all the little things you do with tech each day. If any of these are daily tasks you engage with everyday, there is quite a bit of time put into it. Over the last couple of years I have used IFTTT (If This Then That) to automate everything from social media posts to home automation. Recently Microsoft has introduced Flow which does similar workflow integrations but takes it a bit further. For example, lets take the use of web forms and apply some automation to it. In another blog post, I talked about my use of Google Apps in my previous district, and have seen this capability with Google Forms. With Flow, however I can go further, but let's start simple. You can begin by downloading the Flow app for iOS and Android.
As you can see below there are an incredible amount of templates you can choose from. I would suggest beginning with something like "Block out my Office 365 calendar for an hour". This "Flow" will automatically block out your calendar for the next hour. You can do this to other services as well like Google calendar and your Outlook.com calendar.
Save Some Time With Integration
All the big names are supported on Flow. For social networking you'll find Facebook profiles, Facebook Pages, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram. For those Google Apps users, there are Google services like YouTube, Drive, Gmail, Google Calendar, etc. You'll find sync services like Dropbox, Box, and commercial OneDrive, plus blog services like WordPress, Medium, and Blogger. Omaha Public Schools exclusively uses the Office 365 suite, so this integrates nicely with our workflow.
Social media with the use of mobile devices have made an incredible impact on us socially. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to manage all of the social media presences you might have. What makes it frustrating is that these devices occasionally overlap in what they do — i.e. Twitter and Facebook — or seem like they’d just work well together if you could just figure out a way to connect them. Where Flow comes in is that it allows people with little to no programming knowledge to make use of cutting-edge technology that can make their life easier. For example, if you tend to engage in multiple social media platforms, Flow can integrate them.
Now I Am Going To Geek Out A Bit...
When you have had the time to toe dip into some of the simple flows, and you want more, Flow allows you to engage at a deeper level with it's possibilities. Microsoft Forms is a great application when working with Flow.
The ability to utilize dynamic content from within the form creates a whole world of opportunities. I can make dynamic content available for things like sending an email or I can also use Flow to make those dynamic content areas actionable. If I use Flow with SharePoint Online, I can make this dynamic content actionable in order to start an approval process.
Now I have multiple solutions I am integrating together:
The ability to grab dynamic content, make it actionable, and do it all without the knowledge of programming is where the power is. Something that in the past, would take a admin assistant, teacher, or administrator having to engage a developer or programmer is now being presented to anyone. Engaging with Flow through some simple steps and still having the power of the cloud is pretty incredible. The promise of this cloud environment is that it will always be on and available - when and where ever you are at.
As educators we are constantly trying to find more time. With a little bit of exploration, you can find some efficiency in these tools that can save minutes here and there to bring a reality to saving time.
These posts are personal. They are not reflective of the Omaha Public Schools District.