It was a Friday morning, and I had simply been too busy during the week to arrange a time to test out the technology. I was scheduled to give a presentation to the 140 elementary students in the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades at our Advanced Learning Academy (ALA). The trick was that students would be located in 6 different classrooms, and I would need to broadcast my presentation to all classrooms simultaneously. The goal was to have an engaging, thought-provoking interaction with the kids, and I had 60 minutes to work with.
I was nervous. Of course there was the content of my lesson about what it means to be a “pioneer.” Certainly the students and teachers at our Project Based and Blended Learning focused ALA qualify as pioneers, and I wanted to explore some of the history of pioneers and the emotional challenges associated with doing something first. Yet here was a situation where I wasn’t just using technology as an add-on. I needed it to communicate, and the kids would need it to wade into the internet search waters to learn about pioneers in ways that interest them individually.
The trick in these types of situations is not expertise – it’s having a team that is willing to experiment and learn together. Luckily, the team of teachers at ALA are some of the most flexible, willing-to-experiment-and-learn professionals I’ve had the opportunity to work with. So I arrived a little early, hoping I could make Google Hangouts work for my simultaneous broadcast. We spent 15 minutes running around from classroom to classroom, double-checking invitations and coordinating start times. Somehow, by 8:15, we had all 6 classrooms broadcasting.
I was in one of the classrooms with an in-person audience of 5th graders. The other teachers were texting the teacher in the classroom in which I was stationed. “We can barely hear him!” Within a minute, the school program coordinator came into the room with a mic from her purse. “Try this,” was her invitation as she passed it to me. Later into the presentation, another message came that they wanted to try having me ask and answer live questions with students in other classrooms. So we tried. The teacher quickly figured out that the interaction was easier if she had the student walk up next to the large screen from which I was being broadcasted. The student waved into the screen as the image rotated amongst the 5 other classrooms.
60 minutes later, and feeling relieved, we had been successful. Students had watched video shared from my computer about Jackie Robinson and Marie Curie, they had refined internet search terms using their Chromebooks to define what it means to be a pioneer, and they had written and reflected on how they themselves were pioneers as the first cohort of students at the school. Not only did we learn together, but we had some fun doing it.
It’s easy to simply keep doing what we’re comfortable with. It can be a bit frightening when others look to us as the experts, while we ourselves are trying something new. Quite frankly, sometimes we’ll fail. Regardless of the risks, there is a thrill that comes with pushing ourselves to learn something new in ways that enhance student learning. Hopefully we are surrounded, as I was, by a similarly flexible-minded team who can give us formative feedback and support as we move forward together.