Friday, November 30, 2012

Comfort Zone

For fifteen years, I was a fourth grade teacher.  I came to understand the mind-set of nine and ten year olds and still appreciate their humor, sensitivity and intelligence.  I appreciated that I could have a meaningful conversation with these children who were quickly becoming young adults.  I enjoyed reading certain books with them and delighted in finding new titles as well.  I could probably teach fourth grade math in my sleep.  It is definitely my comfort zone.  As a teacher, I was confident in what I was doing, I had a fabulous teaching partner and I enjoyed my job.  So what pushed me to switch?

I came to realize last school year that I was too much in my comfort zone.  I needed to challenge myself to do something different, really different, to energize my teaching again.  In a nutshell, that was my reason for a big change to teaching First Grade.
How does this story relate to technology in any way?  Well, I made a huge decision to go outside my comfort zone and teach a new grade.  In doing so, I have found that I am open to trying lots of new things in the classroom now that I made that initial first jump.  I think using new technology in the classroom is very similar.  Once you take the first jump (and to make a difference in your teaching, I feel it HAS to be a jump, not a small step) it gets easier and easier to keep thinking about change and challenging yourself.  
As I was planning our Social Studies curriculum this week, I kept thinking about how the iPad could enhance the students’ learning.  They could teach each other things they are learning about the community, not only through a static research report, but through photos and videos.  Other students in the class might be more attentive to a photo or video presentation, therefore holding on to more that classmates are sharing with them.
We tried this with first looking at our school community this week.  After a brief class discussion of what is important to make a school community run smoothly, the students explored our campus and took pictures of what they thought was important.  It was interesting to see what children chose to photograph – people, buildings, artwork, projects in the hall, signs – most pairs took at least 20-30 photos in a 20 minute exploration of campus.

When they returned to the classroom, the real work began.  We had a brief guided exploration of Explain Everything and they were off!  Partnerships showed in a variety of ways what is important to them with their community.  All the projects are unique and very thoughtful.  Everyone had a voice and was able to express their thoughts and opinions.  We would not have had the same results if we just had a class discussion after a campus tour.  All the children were engaged and excited and learning.  What more could a teacher ask for?
Of course, the iPad will not be present in all of our projects and presentations.  We are still working out details on paper maps, clay figures and other “traditional” first grade work.  However, I am so glad that I decided to step outside my comfort zone and see what happened.  I have had to opportunity to try, fail at some things, and get back up to try again.  By taking that first jump, it’s easy to see how we can leap to the moon.

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