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March 1, 2016
Vol. 73
No. 6

The Techy Teacher / Modeling Lifelong Learning

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I grew up in an era when information was harder to come by. If I wanted to learn something new, I had fewer options. I could go to the library, find a book, and read it. Or I could ask someone I knew—a teacher or parent—to explain an unfamiliar concept or show me how to do something.
Today, our students live in a world where information, answers, and tutorials are just a Google search or YouTube video away. Our challenge as educators is to teach students how to find, create, and understand all that information.
But too often, schools still expect students to be passive recipients of knowledge. I frequently have students who look to me the moment they have a question. Instead of just giving them the answer, I might respond by saying, "Figure it out." I want my students to use their digital devices and one another to solve problems, thus boosting their curiosity and interest.
I also want them to learn how to use technology to connect with others, learn from multiple sources, and share content with a global audience.
But to encourage students to use technology tools for lifelong learning, I need to embrace these new avenues for learning myself. Here are a few ways technology can help all teachers expand our own learning—and that of our students.

Creating Networks with Social Media

In 2010, when I signed up for Twitter, I had no idea how much I would learn from engaging online with other educators. I began by engaging in weekly #edchat conversations on Tuesdays to build what would become an incredibly powerful personal learning network. I followed interesting people who posted comments and links to resources that made me stop and think about my own teaching.
Because I work in a budget-strapped district where formal professional development opportunities are few and far between, I've relied on social media to continue my education. If I have a question about a teaching strategy or web tool, I send out a question or request for information on Twitter. For example, when my students were designing their first digital stories, I tweeted "Need recommendations for free apps and online tools to create digital stories. Suggestions?" Within minutes, I had dozens of responses, suggesting apps like Animoto and iMotionHD, as well as online resources like iMovie, Movie Maker, GoAnimate, and WeVideo. I passed the suggestions on to students and allowed them to select the best tool for the devices they were using and the style of video they were creating.
Although I've chosen Twitter to continue my own learning, I know other teachers who connect through Pinterest or Facebook. It doesn't matter what platform you use, as long as you get connected.
My positive experiences using social media have motivated me to incorporate these tools into my classroom. I've designed Instagram scavenger hunts to embed research into field trips and used Instagram sensory walks to encourage students to write using rich sensory descriptions. For example, after reading The Joy Luck Club, I took my students on a field trip to Chinatown in San Francisco that began with a two-hour, docent-led tour. To ensure that my students would stay attentive and engaged, I designed an Instagram scavenger hunt with 25 items for them to find. They had to take a picture of the item and include a fun fact about it they learned from the docent or found by doing a quick Google search. Students worked in teams, so even those without Instagram accounts could participate. I was amazed by how excited my students were to engage with the activity!
I also encourage students to reach out to experts on Twitter when they're writing argumentative essays or working on research assignments. I want students to know they can use social media to continue their own learning. It's easier to teach this lesson if I'm also using social media to pursue my own learning.

Sharing Our Thinking Through Blogging

During a training, one teacher commented, "I don't see any value in blogging." I was thunderstruck. I've been writing my own blog for five years; it has not only been an invaluable reflective practice, but has also given me a platform to share what I've learned with other educators—and, in return, learn from the responses of my readers.
I also follow several blogs. Some, like FreeTech4Teachers.com, are fantastic resources for learning about the newest tech tools and online resources. Others, like AliceKeeler.com, provide specific instructions for using Google apps. Having a collection of go-to blogs where I can find inspiration or clarification is incredibly helpful.
To impress on my own students the value of both reading and writing blogs, I have them write their own "passion blogs" on a topic of their choice. My students have selected a wide range of topics, including surviving high school, professional soccer, playing the ukulele, Pokémon, and antiquing. When grading their blogs, I focus on one element for each blog. For example, if I've asked them to embed a photo and provide photo credit in their blog, then I assess that element. If I've asked them to write a "how-to" blog post describing a process and using original photos or video to support their description, then I assess their posts on the clarity of their description and the quality of their media. I keep the scope of my assessment narrow to provide focused feedback.
When I decided to get my students blogging, I asked myself, "Why do I want my students to blog? What do I hope they'll gain from the experience?" I identified the following goals: create a positive digital footprint, use media strategically, produce well-written posts, capture audience interest, generate a readership, and build knowledge on their topics.
When students write a blog post every week or two on a topic of their choice, they end up learning a lot about that topic. They also learn how to explain concepts and processes in detail, they slow down and reflect on their topic, and they learn to engage with an audience to improve their communication.

Learning in New Ways Through Videos

YouTube videos and tutorials are changing the way children learn. I watched open-mouthed as my own daughter, then age 5, taught herself to design and create rubber band bracelets by watching YouTube videos. She would select a video tutorial, prepare her loom, count her rubber bands, and press play. She would watch a section, pause it, mimic the actions of the girl in the video, and produce a beautiful bracelet. This is not unusual for kids today. They know that a detailed explanation is just a YouTube video away.
In my class, I use videos to flip my vocabulary, writing, and grammar instruction. Students watch videos at home where they can control the pace of their own learning. This practice reinforces the value of using videos to gain information. It has also forced me to learn the nuts and bolts of creating videos, editing them, and posting them to YouTube—knowledge that I pass on to my students to help them produce their own video content. My students create everything from how-to videos to TED-style talks and post them online to share with an authentic audience. Every step of this process, from designing the presentation to establishing how viewers interact with their videos, helps students hone life skills needed for success in an interconnected society.

Teachers Who Learn for Life

In my 14 years in the classroom, my perceptions of what it means to be a teacher and what it means to be a learner have changed dramatically. I no longer feel it's my job to give kids information. I realize now that my job is to teach them how to find information, produce content, and become capable and confident learners. By using the many technology tools available to expand my own learning, I can inspire my students to do the same.

Catlin Tucker is a Google Certified Innovator, bestselling author, international trainer, and keynote speaker. Catlin is currently working as an education consultant and blended learning coach while pursuing her doctorate at Pepperdine University.

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