Jumping Off the Digital High Dive This Summer

kids_cusp2I’ve been dipping my toes in the technology pool for over a decade. I purchased my first cell phone in 2001, very pregnant and suddenly realizing the need for remote access to phone service. I made a rule that day. The cell phone would be used for emergency purposes only.

I learned how to text in 2006. Times change.

It’s now 2014. The beach is calling. It was a long, busy school year – a good year. July is a time for reflection and evaluation. I do this best in a summer setting.

The realization that there is a need for me to become more technically savvy has always been met with my tendency to snuggle down in the old ways of doing things. Old ways are more comfortable. They’re hard to let go of. Diving into new things often requires me to toe-dip for a time in fearful contemplation. In this case, it’s taken 13 years.

Perhaps this summer,  I can find the right balance of beach and life in the fast-paced world of cyberspace.

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20187_walkingclassroom_lbl_nodieOur school year ended on June 23rd. That was the same day I sent out a “Welcome to the Walking Classroom” email to the participants who had signed up to work with me online, as we develop new lessons and extensions to use with a program that is near and dear to my heart (this seems to be a requirement for my ultimately jumping into anything).

After a few years in development, The Walking Classroom has become yet another way to incorporate something unique and valuable into my growth as an educator (and busy mother of two who needs summer vacation time with her kids).

I’m still a little ashamed to admit how much I used to judge “those women always on their cell phones.” My smart phone and my laptop have become new-found springboards off the diving board into on-line learning. They have enabled me to multi-task in cool, refreshing water or while lying quietly by the pool or on a beach (or while sitting in an air conditioned home, for that matter). I can learn at a slower pace in a high-speed world.

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I don’t know many teachers who get the summer off. As a matter of fact, until recently at least, I only really knew teachers I worked with on a day-to-day basis and enjoyed brief chats with by the copy machine or in the Teachers’ Lounge.

But the Teachers’ Lounge is changing. There’s a new group of teachers involved in the conversation. They aren’t eating lunch with me, but they are sharing their experiences and ideas.

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I never really thought about the people who create and share all of the on-line learning materials that I have Googled and utilized throughout the years. Now, I’ve been given the opportunity to be one of those people, to work with educators across the country. We will collaborate together in a different kind of teachers’ room. It’s called an online forum (and it is a new concept for me, even though it’s probably been around since I bought that first cell phone back in 2001).

Pool DiverHowever digital it might be, the concept itself isn’t new. It’s simply the sharing of ideas about the challenging and invigorating work we do. But the way we interact — the methodology — can at times be intimidatingly technological.

The good news is that I finally dove in. Since school ended, I’ve managed to meet and share some very cool ideas with educators in the West, Midwest, and Eastern parts of the United States. These are people I never would have enjoyed knowing had I stayed huddled within the walls of my school.

It turns out that many of them are new to technology as well. We’re going to learn together and share our experiences online…and we earn professional development hours for it, professional hours that are meaningful to me (and hopefully to others).

* * * * *

My high dive has required me to facilitate a four-week, online course through LEARN NC, a program within the University of North Carolina’s School of Education in Chapel Hill. According to its description, LEARN NC “finds the most innovative and successful practices in education and makes them available to the teachers and students of North Carolina – and the world.” (Here’s a sample.) I’m interested in talking to other educators about innovative practices. I’m sure glad I chose to dive into this pool!

learn-nc-fbOur Walking Classroom course asks its participants to review the science of physical activity and cognitive function; examine the childhood obesity epidemic and its effects on kids today; review different learning styles and their impact in the classroom; and create and share lesson plans with extension activities and materials directly related to podcast content.

A trip at the end of June to Chapel Hill to work with Laura Fenn, Co-founder and Director of The Walking Classroom (Nice Q & A with Laura) and her incredible support team has me treading water with a decent amount of confidence. And the people at LEARN NC, who know a great deal about teaching and facilitating online, have helped give me the tools I need to keep my head above water.

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So the remainder of July will be spent learning how to use a new platform (I only learned what the word platform meant three weeks ago!). It will be a time to enjoy my two kids, who will both be in middle school in the fall. It will be a time to reflect on my teaching, develop some fun activities to do with my students, and be contemplative with myself and others about new ways to teach (and learn).

Fun day at the beachThe fact that I can do this from a remote location far exceeds the expectations I had for incorporating technology into my life. From my cell phone, I will be able to access and read the notifications that indicate someone has added a comment or submitted a lesson idea or resource to the course forum. I can read these on the beach or I can wait until I get back to the house. Regardless, the setting will be far away from the velocity and bedlam of my classroom.

The speed at which information can be exchanged these days still amazes me, but I sure am enjoying the conversations. And…just like so many summers before… I can still hear the sound of the waves when I take the time to sit back and relax. With my cell phone turned off.

Mary Tarashuk

Mary Tarashuk teaches 4th grade at Woodrow Wilson Elementary in Westfield, New Jersey. Mary has been an educator for 17 years and trying to balance her old-school teaching style with New Age methods that integrate ever-changing technology keeps her on her toes. She is also a consultant and online facilitator for the national non-profit initiative, The Walking Classroom, and believes that fresh air and exercise enhance learning and engage students of all ages. Check out her Kids on the Cusp Facebook page.

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