I am worried about elementary schools. This worry comes from a combination of what I see as an instructional technology specialist, and the experience of my own children. I think there are some deep issues hitting our elementary schools on a regular basis, and in many ways I don't know that we hear enough about them. I think it's time to talk about them, so let's start here
My first issue is one that hits every level, but it hits out elementary schools the hardest....testing. It's ridiculous that we put 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade children through high stakes testing. Testing folks argue that this is a way to measure schools and teachers, but what is this doing to our kids? We put crazy pressure on third grade children, and then we kill their self confidence when they don't do well on that test. We wonder how kids get to a point of not believing they can learn. It's easy when a state test tells them they can't in third grade. The state test is just a small portion of the problem because we also also assess students now on reading level, math level, writing level, and more. These test can be even more painful. They can quickly take a kids confidence away as students quickly know what group is seen as the lower group. It also means students depend on a test to tell them to move forward. My own daughter got caught up in this. She was came home devastated by the level of book she was allowed to get. Why could she not self select her own book? Why can't she push herself?
I am also very concerned with the constant turn to digital resources in the elementary classroom. I am not against digital content tools like IXL, but I think they are easy to use poorly. In fact, I think most elementary school teachers use them. My daughter comes home with three digital content assignments almost every night. It's just to much. I also doubt that the teacher is using these to make data based decisions. If your not, what's the point? I think the argument would be that it's good practice, but after looking at many of these digital content resources I don't know that they are truly good practice. I hate that many teachers just put their students on these, and they say "Well they are practicing, and we are using technology" That's just garbage, and its not truly helping our kids.
Another gripe I have about elementary schools is the lack of challenge for our gifted kids. You can see this easily in the homework they come with. It's all the same, and it's laid out on a monthly calendar. How is this challenging my self starting gifted child. She is just doing that repetitive practice for concepts she already knows. I also see it in what she does in class. Her normal class time is filled with basic practice worksheets that she does in a couple seconds, and then the teachers idea of a challenge is to help other students. I have no problems with her helping, but only if she is getting something that challenges her as the original assignment. It makes me so thankful for her TAG class because if anything it teaches her to think different ways.
I hope elementary schools can change. The biggest thing that could change things is ending our obsession with high stakes testing, but we also need to personalize for our elementary kids. We need to give our elementary opportunities to create and explore. We don't need to over run them with general practice worksheets. Hopefully, things will change before my kids get out.
I have been so busy that I have not posted much to my site recently as I have been incredibly busy. Well since I am at GAETC, here are my random thoughts from the conference so far! There is no order to them, just the things that are floating around in my big noodle.
1. The Coolest Idea I have Heard and one Right up My Ally- I did not see this presentation, but a friend of mine told me about a great idea from Jennie Magiera. It's called app speed dating. Basically, the idea is that you split folks up and they have a few seconds to tell someone about their favorite tool. The other folks have a score card, and whatever tool gets the most point gets a deeper dive. It really is just like speed dating. My thoughts went straight to having student advocates be the ones sharing the tools, and then having teachers do the score cards. This would also be a great way to just do PD in general
2. The coolest gadget I have seen- I have seen Leslie Fishers gadget session a ton of times, and she always delivers. I even have a Myo. The new gadget she showed me that I love is Clocky. It literally is an alarm clock that runs away when it rings. I love it.
3. The best tool I have seen- In Leslie's Smackdown I saw a tool I need. It's called the Hemingway App. The idea is that it is an engine that works to give you feedback to make your writing bold and clear. I think I am going to use it a ton in the future to really make my emails the best they can be.
4. My favorite moment- I was in the middle of doing my Sphero session and I was talking about their new Star Wars connected droid. My buddy Bobby Lewis showed up in just the right time with his BB-8, and the room stopped. Come On Sphero send this guy one!
5. The Size- I think what has shocked me about GAETC this year is the shear size of it. The Conference has added a ton of people this year, and you can tell through all the sessions that are full.
6. What impresses me- The level of featured speaker. This conference does an amazing job of bringing in National Names like Leslie Fisher, Will Richardson, Erin Klein, Jennie Magiera, and others. They do a better job then almost any other conference in the Southeast with is. We are lucky to be in Hoke's territory.
7. The Wifi- I have to write in here that the wifi has been amazing. Bravo GAETC.
8. My Hope for the Future- Honestly, I would love to see GAETC move venues, but I don't think that will happen. I also would love to be on the featured speaker list at some point in the future. Hopefully, it will happen sometime in the next few years. I have been so lucky that all the nice people of GAETC have supported my sessions, and my hope is that will continue for years to come.