oil painting of aspen treesOne of my guilty pleasures is watching Antiques Roadshow on PBS. There’s something oddly satisfying about making completely uneducated guesses about an item’s monetary value only to find out moments later unsatisfyingly how uneducated you really are. The most disappointing for me has always been hearing just how out of my price range the artwork is. Beautiful little pastel? $4,000. An effortless little pencil sketch? Better insure it for $10,000. Then along comes an oil painting… Yeah, $100,000 sounds about right. My hopes of someday filling my home with the work of master artists are clearly not based in reality. But while my story is nowhere near as interesting as some of the Roadshow guests, and my find will certainly not fund my childrens’ college funds, at least once in my life years ago I was at the right place at the right time.

It was a little junk shop in Sequim, WA (long-since shuttered, unfortunately)… As my wife and I wandered the meandering hallways of the rundown little house-turned-store, we looked through boxes and shelves for a hidden treasure. It was our lucky day. First it was a little Texas Ware splatter patterned bowl, still in use in our kitchen to this day. Next, a complete set of lawn darts in their original box. Still kicking myself over not buying that one, though in hindsight, it’s probably for the best that my three boys don’t have weighted spears to throw at each other. (Good Lord! Who ever thought those were a good idea for kids?!) And then, there, mixed in with a pile of velvet Elvises and terrible faded seaside prints, was a gorgeous oil painting of an aspen stand. It didn’t matter that the frame was a little dinged up (still is) or that the painting was a little dirty (still is). It was clearly the work of skilled artist and his deft touch shone through the grime.

When I get ready to walk out the door each morning, I’m greeted by the scene of sunlit aspen. I think back fondly to that day when my wife and I spent $50 more than we had on a painting that had no business being in a junk shop, and I’m thankful for finding treasures in unexpected places.

ISTE Coaching Standard 3. Digital age learning environments
Technology coaches create and support effective digital age learning environments to maximize the learning of all students.

If you’ve been a teacher for more than three days, you are probably up to your elbows in Scholastic Reading Club flyers. I’m always trying to find ways to avoid tossing the extras directly into the recycle bin, and this past year I finally came up with an idea for a project.

Scholastic book club flyers

SBA testing was looming (though not as much as the giant pile of Scholastic newsprint next to my desk) and students were losing patience with our endless figurative language cramming for test review (it’s pronounced “hyperbole” not “hyper-bowl”). In a moment of clarity, I created a Google Classroom for each of my fifth grade classrooms. Next I recorded a quick video introducing my lesson idea, similar to this one:

screengrab of youtube video

I created a Google Sheet (a completely new tool to my students) to act as a template for a partnered activity.

Google Sheets spreadsheetFinally, I compiled manila folders for each group, filled with Scholastic book order forms and a booklet of genre posters to assist with the task at hand. The task? Each pair of students had a $150 budget to “spend” on books for their classroom library. The only catch: the books had to be found in the Scholastic flyers and they had to buy at least two books from each of the listed genres (the same as the genre posters that had been on display in their classroom all year).

My fear? That things would go horribly wrong, horribly quick. (The fear was not assuaged by the fact I was being observed during this unit by my administrator). In reality, it proved to be one of the most dynamic and effective periods of learning I’ve been a party to. Kids worked collaboratively together and those that didn’t also had a chance to evaluate themselves and their partner at the end of the project by submitting a Google Form. I came away convinced that taking a risk and managing an activity outside of my comfort zone was not the easy way, but it was the right way.

My next step is finding ways to encourage my teacher-librarian colleagues to explore using Google Classroom in their library teaching spaces. I’ve submitted my proposal to the district for a 90-minute workshop to be held on our next district-directed Learning Improvement Day. My goal is to find ways to encourage my peers to create “effective digital age learning environments”. So what does that even look like? It’s my hope that my proposed workshop can serve as an example of the work of The Gates Foundation and the related work of Soine & Lumpe.

Google Classroom presentation page

Duration
I chose 90 minutes, as a 50 minute session would result in far more frustrated questions than satisfying answers (not that that’s always a bad thing, but it is an unsustainable model for professional development).  Though the workshop will be 90 minutes long, the need for additional training and collaboration time will extend into Learning Improvement Fridays, too.  

Active & Engaged Learning
The extended time frame will allow for use of Socrative http://www.socrative.com/, an online assessment tool, collaborative work, and extended peer discussion. The workshop setting is built around teachers participating as students in Google Classroom to gain a better understanding of both sides of the technology.

Content Knowledge Needs
I’m always looking for ways to extend my library lessons beyond my walls and into the classrooms. The focus of this workshop is encouraging the use of Google Classroom. Classroom, in and of itself, is not a curricular content piece, but it is an absolutely fabulous delivery agent. Math, science, reading, writing… Any subject can be addressed through its use.

Teachers’ Needs
This workshop is intended to directly meet the needs of my peers. We need job-alike instruction. We need chances to brainstorm and collaborate around planning curricular units. We need time and support to explore new instructional tools, with a critical eye watching over us to provide assistance and help us avoid trouble. 90 minutes won’t be nearly enough time, but it’s a start.

Promoting Collaborative Participation
Though it would be tempting to write it off as merely a Substitution tool, the lowest-level of the SAMR model, don’t forget that Classroom was designed to allow for communication and collaboration in all steps of the lesson process. Students can comment on each other’s work, teachers can comment and provide feedback in real time. My proposed workshop follows a similar model, encouraging collaboration through Classroom and conversation during our session, and by utilizing Google Hangouts for follow-up virtual sessions.

Like my beloved junk store painting, teaching is an art. The work of a master teacher is immediately evident (though unfortunately, not as highly valued as an oil painting), and it is my hope that I can collaborate with my fellow librarians to hone my craft, and to create opportunities for our students’ new works to shine. There was treasure hiding in a pile of Scholastic flyers; treasure in a throwaway idea that didn’t quite make it to the trash. Be on the lookout for unexpected treasures in the least expected moments and places. And also for flying lawn darts. Those things are crazy unsafe! And be thankful for those discovered treasures, no matter how small. 

Resources

The Gates Foundation. (n.d.). Teachers know best: Teachers’ views on professional development. Retrieved from http://k12education.gatesfoundation.org/learning/teacher_views_on_pd/

Johnson, K. (2016, June 28). 5 things teachers want from PD, and how coaching and collaboration can deliver them — if implementation improves. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-06-28-5-things-teachers-want-from-pd-and-how-coaching-and-collaboration-can-deliver-them-if-implementation-improves

Lewis, V. (2015, October 25). Why most professional development stinks — and how you can make it better. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2015-10-25-why-most-professional-development-stinks-and-how-you-can-make-it-better

Soine, K.M. & Lumpe, A. (2014). Measuring characteristics of teacher professional development. Teacher Development: An international journal of teachers’ professional development. DOI: 10.1080/13664530.2014.911775