Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Innovation fatigue and why your Google+ PLN is invaluable!

tl;dr version: Teaching is a hard gig. There are days your lessons fail, the wifi goes down, students don't do their best work, and parents get upset. You can always turn to your PLN for support, inspiration, and rejuvenation.  This is why Google+ has changed my teaching practice.

Entire version:
I have always tried to integrate technology into my classroom and viewed myself as an innovative educator. I always seem to be a part of educational pilot programs (which I am super excited about and it is part of the most wonderful aspect of teaching) and chosen to be an early adopter in my school for new technology and software.

There have been many times it has been wildly successful. I love the interaction I have with students when we are collaborating mathematically on their Google Doc. The ownership they take and initiative under a new technology can be refreshing and rejuvenate their interest in math. I still remember a class last year when one of my students, who rarely raised her hand during whole class instructional time, was a huge contributor to the online document we were working on and showed a dramatically difference "voice" in the collaborative document. It radically changed my perception of technology and how it can inspire and engage students in an entirely different medium. As a result, I try to get a balance of online work and face-to-face work in my classroom to allow everyone to participate in the manner they feel most comfortable and extend themselves in areas where they don't feel comfortable.

There have been times it has been a colossal failure, like when I prepared all of my classes to run on the Google Wave platform and it was depricated by Google just weeks after the semester started. I spent so much time getting my students Beta invites and sharing them among my other students to make sure the entire class had access. We spent entire class periods getting used to the interface and embedding rich media and working with the bots. Everybody was working and learning a lot in the new environment and it was a huge blow to all of our efforts to know Wave was no longer going to be supported. I can still remember some of the snickers from my co-teachers who were pretty anti-technology and had to repeatedly endure the "I told you so" from others. It was very discouraging and I truly understood what the term "Innovation fatigue" meant.

It took me a few months, but what got me back on the technological horse was Twitter and the math blogs that I read. Google Apps Script came out and I was able to focus on self-grading quiz scripts and automating my quarterly report writing. What also helped me move on was my virtual PLN. No one at my school was really moving in the exact direction that I was, so it was difficult to bounce ideas off people. This is not a knock on any of my coworkers, just a fact of how different teachers use different methods and have different passions.  I was able to find the rare people who were teaching math around the world or trying to use technology in the same way I was. My wife, Deanna, is the best math teacher that I know and is an amazing sounding board for teaching ideas and encouragement, but she can only take so much of me talking about my tech ideas, so it was huge to find other outlets :)

I still remember the day I ran across +Jay Atwood's blog and he detailed one of +Andrew Stillman's scripts. It was like finding out that other people in my educational species existed. That there were other people that "geeked out" on the same things that I did. It didn't matter that they were living on the other side of the world or the other side of the island, but they existed. It reignited my passions and helped me keep moving in the direction I wanted to go.

This is when Google+ came to be the focus of my PLN. I went to the Singapore GAFE Summit from +Michael Wacker 's session about how amazing #AutoAwesome was I was hooked. I found Communities like the Apps Script for Education Builders and Users who sparked my curiosity about the lengths that scripting could take my technology integration and support for my Alpha and Beta versions of my crude scripting offerings.

Now my Google+ feed is filled with the best articles that I want to read and inspire me to do great things in the classroom. Finding out the amazing stuff that educators around the world are doing with GAFE makes me want to keep pushing boundaries and actually contribute back to the community. This is why I started blogging again and sharing what has been working (and not working) in my classroom. Nothing is more invigorating to my practice than seeing and hearing what others are doing and making me want to contribute.

So I encourage you to go out and find your "geeks". I am sure there is a Google+ Community that fits exactly what you are looking for, and if it doesn't exist you can make it and attract your fellow geeks. Teaching is a hard gig, there are days your lessons fail, the wifi goes down, students don't do their best work, and parents get upset. You can always turn to your PLN for support, inspiration, and rejuvenation.