Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Is Your Learning Space Student Friendly?

Those who know me well are aware of my passion for Fresno State Football. Much of my life has been spent at Bulldog Stadium. Over the past decade, the atmosphere at Bulldog Stadium has paled in comparison to the glory days of the 1980s through the early part of this century. The stadium was usually packed and the crowd was electric. Lately, it's been a pathetic sight to see countless rows of empty bleachers. To make matters worse, the last two seasons have been two of the most successful in school history, yet the fans still aren't turning up.

As we embark on a new school year, I invite you to reflect upon your learning space and how it truly meets the needs of the modern student. Is your space designed for maximum teacher comfort and efficiency or is it designed for that of the students? Is the seating flexible? Are the walls stagnant? Do kids walk in and marvel at the possibilities each day? These questions have guided me in my design of learning spaces. My Google Innovator Project, the Cardinal Innovation Center, is meant to be a model, student-centered learning space. It was designed with the needs of the modern student in mind. Click here for a quick tour.

In the case of Bulldog Stadium, fans complain about the inconvenient locations of restrooms and concession stands. With no tunnels, those sitting in the best seats closest to the field must scale approximately 100 steps to get to the top to access restrooms and concessions. In the Central Valley heat, early in the season, this will definitely make for an uncomfortable fan experience.

Sitting near the field makes for long walk up stairs to get to the restroom or concession stand.
Millenials and younger generations enjoy interacting with the game differently than traditional, older fans. They enjoy following the game stats on their favorite sports apps. They enjoy posting pictures of themselves and friends to social media from inside the stadium. These things are problematic as cellphone reception is extremely poor when 40,000 people are jam-packed into the stadium. The stadium does provide free WiFi, but it isn't a great signal and the bandwidth cannot handle the traffic.

The current state of affairs for fans at Bulldog Stadium, for me, serves a reminder for classrooms and learning space design. Is your classroom designed with your end users', students, needs in mind? Are moving around and accessing learning materials as inconvenient as the restrooms and concessions at Bulldog Stadium? Are you maximizing the use of technology in your room or is it token, surface level like Bulldog Stadium?

These are great questions for reflection. If you feel your learning space is trending towards the current state of Bulldog Stadium at all, contact you friendly, neighborhood tech coach for tips. Giving students a great learning environment is vital to maximizing pedagogy. Without a learning environment that meets the end users' needs, your great lessons and pedagogy will struggle to reach a large audience like the historically successful Fresno State Football Teams of the past two seasons.

Need ideas for improving the "student-centeredness" of your learning space, contact me at goljuarez14@gmail.com or visit cardinalinnovationcenter.org.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Quick EdTech Tips for Starting a New School Year

I hope everyone had an enjoyable summer. I know I did. This summer was probably the most I have traveled ever. Now that summer has come to a close for 2019, the new school year is upon us. Starting a new school year is both exciting and stressful. We are excited to see students and colleagues again, but, at the same time, we can be stressed by meetings, PD and the rigors of curriculum and classroom set up.

Allow me to share with you a few edtech tips I use myself at the beginning of each school year. These tips are Google-centric, but if you are a Microsoft or Apple District, those platforms have similar functions.

Archive Old Google Classrooms

When a new year starts, go to Google Classroom and archive your old classrooms. To do this, on the Google Classroom home page where you see all of your classrooms, click the three dots and select archive. Don't recycle them. If there is an old assignment in an archived class, you can still reuse them in your new classes.

Try One New App/Strategy

If you're anything like me, you're constantly learning through a PLN, social media and conferences. This type of learning inundates you with new ideas and strategies. I advise not trying to implement too many new ideas, apps or strategies at once. Start slow with one at a time. Reach out to your tech coach for support. Once you and your students are comfortable, try another. For me personally, I am beginning the year with a few #eduprotocols and will implement more as the year wears on.

Clean Out Inbox

Early in the year, we tend to get more emails than normal. This can lead to a bloated inbox. Bloated inboxes can result in missed messages. Don't be an email hoarder. Take a few minutes and delete old messages you know you don't need. If there are messages you need to save, create labels (which are like folders) and move them for future reference to declutter the inbox.

Not every communication requires an email. If it can be said via text message, use text messaging instead of email. If you do not give out your cellphone number, use a messaging system like Google Hangouts to keep your number private, but still have a back channel for informal communication.

Clean Out Google Drive

Like the inbox, Google Drive can get cluttered. You may find tons of old files that were shared with you that are no longer needed. Delete them. If you don't want to delete, create an "Old Stuff" folder and move those things there to separate from files you use frequently.  Develop a naming convention system for files and folders. This will help searching Google Drive tremendously.

Unsubscribe from old Calendars

Throughout each school year, we are invited to view calendars from different initiatives, programs, teams, clubs and more. This will clutter your view of calendars in the left side toolbar of Google Calendar making it difficult to see and manage the calendars you need to see this year. If you hover your cursor over an "old" calendar, an "x" will appear. Click it to unsubscribe.

Add Bell Schedule to my Calendar

When working with kids in our classrooms, it is easy to lose track of time. As tech coach in my district, I have added the bell schedule to Google Calendar and shared it with the schools I serve. This was a little tedious, but now the calendars sync to my phone. I set each period to have a 3 minute notification before the end to remind me to start wrapping things up. This notification comes on my phone and my smartwatch. If you don't have a coach like me to set this up for you, feel free to message me and I can give you a hand (goljuarez14@gmail.com).

Set a Simple Reflection Challenge

Reflection is important for educators. The more I reflect on my practice, the better educator I become. This year, I have set a challenge for myself to take pictures of student work every day in addition to pictures of the work I do as tech coach. Each day, I take a few minutes and add those images to a slide. When the year is over, I'll have a 185 slide presentation filled with pictures of the work I have done. This helps me stay mindful to make sure I, the students I work with and teachers I serve are producing quality work. You don't need to do my challenge, but try something like writing a sticky note to yourself each day. Try blogging or even taking 5 minutes of quiet time to decompress.

Make friends with Tech Coach and or IT Personnel

If you're reading this, you have probably connected with this tech coach already. If I am not the tech coach at your site, find that tech coach. Being a tech coach can be a lonely job. We love it when teachers reach out. We have a lot to share and we love sharing.

As a tech coach and teacher, I work closely with IT personnel. This is a hugely important relationship. Making friends with these folks makes my life a lot easier. This relationship means I don't need to wait as long to get things fixed, connected or hooked up. In my experience, a box of donuts goes a long in building a relationship with IT personnel.

I hope everyone has a great school year and hopefully some of these tips were helpful!