Wednesday, June 15, 2016

MES App Challenge

As an eight-year veteran of instructional technology, I've seen many changes over the years. Technological advances have swept the educational realm with warp speed; the traditional tools of the trade have rusted in their metal toolboxes. VCR tapes flattened into DVDs, now we stream from YouTube. Chalkboards became whiteboards then SMART Boards. Overhead projectors were cast aside for handheld document cameras. Floppy disks became USBs and now we store our files in the Cloud. Seven years ago the iPad didn't exist.

All these changes in the tools we use, the manner in which we conduct business, and yet... some things haven't changed. We still work a 10-month contract, still spend countless hours (and money!) outfitting our classrooms, and still do PD the same way as decades before. 

I wanted this year to be different.

I started in September with an interest survey, asking teachers what they wanted to learn about. There was an overwhelming interest in learning more about iPad apps, which was great, but an area I didn't have much expertise. Sure, I knew how to use my favorite apps like Edmodo and PicCollage, but how could I meet the needs of all the different grades? Where would I start? Which apps were the best of the best? How could I transition my teachers from handing students an iPad to "play" and instead make that instructional time meaningful and productive?

I spent a few weeks connecting with my PLN on Twitter, asking for ideas and suggestions. I started making Twitter lists, sorting my followers by grade level and subject area. I read app reviews on Common Sense Media and asked teachers "What do you want to do?" instead of "What do you want to use?"

This was the year to change me.

I wanted PD to be fun. Engaging. Inspiring. What could I do differently to share what I had learned with my teachers?

What evolved from my quandary was the MES App Challenge. I planned 10 PD sessions for 30 minutes each, highlighting a specific app and its use. The goal was a quick "in and out" intro with time for independent exploration. I also implemented a badging system where teachers could add app icons to a laminated iPad, earning perks in the process.

All sessions were optional, held during the last 30 minutes of the day after students had left the building. I created a Remind account to keep teachers connected with upcoming PD sessions and to send out shout-outs for awesome achievements. I also posted monthly visual reminders around my building about sessions: on lab doors, in the teacher's lounge, and at the sign-in desk.

Best of all, I provided personalized PD on topics of interest. This provided the opportunity to really get to know my teachers and the types of goals they had for their students' learning. I was able to follow-up and provide support throughout the year for classroom implementation and several teachers invited me in their classrooms to showcase what their students could do!

As I reflect on this year, and my first attempt at providing personalized PD, I'm excited! I want to continue to support my teachers' use of iPads in the classroom, but I also want to extend this PD format to other topics as well. My brain is already swirling with ideas to make PD more relevant and engaging next year.

How are you providing personalized PD? Are you using badges as incentives for teacher PD? Do you have any "must have" free apps for the elementary classroom? Comment below and share your expertise! I would love to learn and grow with you!