What’s So Hard About the Digital Classroom?

Our lives are digital. The interwebs have changed everything, which sounds like the tagline for a really cheesy film. But in all seriousness, it’s amazing how we are using the applications and tools out there. The podcast “Spark” from CBC recently talked to people who are vision impaired about how the Amazon Echo is making a huge difference to accessibility and speed for them. I was up at a friend’s cottage and watched him set up dimmer switches for lights for his fire pit that can be controlled by an app on his smartphone (that was cool).

So what’s happening in our schools and classrooms? I’m considering how educators are using digital tools across our district. We are entering the fifth year of a 1:1 pilot in seven elementary schools and also in all of our secondary schools. In addition, the vast majority of teachers and all administrators have one to one access to a device. While change is exciting, and we have seen teachers, principals and vice principals embrace digital tech in many ways, there are still many barriers. Educators struggle to figure out how to use tools for more than handing assignments in through Dropbox and Google Drive, simple substitution with worksheets or games or posting the weekly memo on School Sites.

I’ve seen staff meetings where everyone brings a device, and I’ve seen others where almost no one does. I’ve talked to grade 9 and 10 students whose teacher expects the device at every class and uses it, and others where they don’t bother bringing it because the teacher never asks.

I’m left scratching my head. When people post all kinds of updates on social media, send e-transfer funds zipping around and book their vacations through online sites, what’s so hard about using the tools for workflow and to learn? I know we have amazing resources in our district to teach and help, but these seem to go largely untapped.

Please comment or engage in this conversation on Twitter. I’d love to know more about perspectives out there.

 

Getting to “Flow”

You begin and lose track of time. You blink, and one hour has gone by. When was the last time you were “in the zone”? This intense feeling is energizing and happy. Most of us have experienced it through activities that we are good at and that challenge us in just the right way. The happiest people find it in everyday life through focus and determination.

Mihaly Czikszentmihaly coined the term “flow” to describe the state of being fully immersed in an activity with focus (“Flow” in Wikipedia, accessed July 24, 2018). His positive psychology continues to be influential, and his TED talk from 2004 is worth watching.

Mental state in terms of challenge level and skill level according to Czikszentmihalyi. From Wikipedia “Flow”

I experience flow at times, mostly when swimming or singing and sometimes when exploring ideas through reading, discussion or writing.  I’ve realized that this past year of work, which was difficult, just didn’t have enough flow. You know how it is, you go along with the emails and the meetings and the phone calls, and you try to climb the mountain of “Things To Do”. I would go home at the end of multiple days of just that, and wonder, is my work meaningful?

After listening to Czikszentmihalyi’s talk and his description of people finding flow in everyday work, I’m inspired to think more deeply about how I can change. It can’t be up to anyone but me.  In the diagram above, you see various mental stages related to the combination of skill and challenge. If I feel boredom, apathy, worry or anxiety, then the challenge of a situation does not match my skill. When I scroll through the activities that make up a typical day, I can see exactly where this happens.

For instance, I had some tricky and important meetings this past year. I often felt anxiety beforehand which leads me to think that my skills weren’t quite up to handling these sessions. (Or at least I believed they weren’t.)  Now I want to get to flow in these kinds of situations!  I’ll need to reflect on exactly what skills are needed to be successful and then evaluate where I need to improve. Honestly, I’m pretty sure I know already.

I feel energized by this – maybe I’m already experiencing more flow!

On Your Mark, Get Set… Unwind!

And…my vacation starts today!  Whew.  This year was a tough one. I’ll save my reflections for later, but just the fact I haven’t posted in this space for several months gives an indication of where my head has been. (Yep, buried.) But I’m coming up for some sunshine and air and couldn’t be happier. My challenge is getting to that place of rest where my body and mind can rejuvenate.

Photo Credit: 8slowdowns Flickr via Compfight cc

Sherri Spelic, who writes thoughtfully about her experiences as an educator in Austria, recently shared a poem that resonated with me: “A Few Words About the End”. It captures the feeling that so many of us experience just as school ends for the big summer break.

It can hard for me to reach the release into independence that Sherri talks about.  I am so wound up after an intense school year that I feel more of a gradual loosening. It happens viscerally, day by day and little by little until..there it is. I’ve found that three things help move that process along.

  1. Time outside: I sit outside on our back deck. I run along the green shaded trail. I swim in Lake Ontario (or any other handy body of water, pools included!).  I breathe in, breathe out and feel the spring uncoiling inside.
  2. Reading paper books: I hold the book, my hands stretch the cover, and my fingers grasp the page to turn it. Somehow, these physical sensations enable more sustained attention. I see my progress through the book. I sometimes take a pen or highlighter to make a note.
  3. A change in location: Leaving home for a few days helps my brain detach from work and the responsibilities that go with it. I rest. I walk. I realize that there is so much more than my little corner of the world. I feel more free.

It’s time to start.