A while back, I did my first post on an experiment that I did, which I called "Geek on Demand" (which has since been renamed due to concerns about the ever-popular educational habit of acronyming) in which I described the day I went and planted myself in an elementary school building for a full day, bombarded the staff with "helpful" emails, and made myself available for troubleshooting, problem solving, and support in answering (or identifying!) their questions. At that time, the venture was merely a trial; I wanted to see if something like this would work. I felt like there were still people in my district who didn't know what I did all day, and those who weren't aware that this position of Technology Integration Specialist exists for them.
Fast forward to two months later, and I have just completed my 10th Geek day. With the end of the year fast approaching, and 6 Geek days yet to go, I thought I should do a little brain dump of how this fast and furious form of on-the-spot PD has grown and changed.
How it Works
First, I choose a school. Knowing I won't have time to fit in all 22 elementary schools by the end of this year, I have tried to select buildings where they will either be inundated by devices next year (mainly due to Project Lead the Way) or where they have a solid number of teachers who are ready to make the leap from tech users to tech integrators. Next, I send an email to the principal to make sure it's ok for me to visit - I have yet to hear a "No!" I let them know that I just need a place to set up shop and that I will take care of the rest. I find a date in my calendar, then invite the staff.
About a week before the big day, I send an email out to the staff to let them know I'll be on site and what I'll be doing there. It generally eludes to the fact that the event is already in their calendars, and gives some suggestions of what we could talk about while I'm here. This message was born from the fact that I've heard several teachers say, "I know I have questions for you, but I don't even know what I don't know!" Finally, two or three days before I hit their location, I send one last reminder, asking them to send me topics, questions, or ideas they may have.
Once the questions start rolling in, I start making a list. I have a tab for each school, created in a spreadsheet inspired by Alice Keeler's Template Tab script. In the "Requests" column, I make notes about the big ideas from teachers' email replies, then I start composing my messages based on those. I begin plotting out an email schedule, with the most requested topics set to "hit" at the most readable times of day - first thing in the morning, or right before lunch (I have learned that teachers are apt to check their email more frequently throughout the morning - must be the post-lunch slump). Once I have filled in the slots with topics addressing the questions I received in email, I begin looking for themes based on what they have, what they need, or what they want to know.
Using my spreadsheet, I map out messages that will be scheduled to send every 30 - 45 minutes beginning at 8:00 am. I use the Active Inbox (a paid Chrome extension) to schedule my messages, but Boomerang for Gmail would work well for this, too. These messages range from how to set up contacts lists and filters to using iMovie for iPad; all of the topics are generated by requests from teachers and staff. Here is the list of messages so far:
When teachers get the opportunity to read their emails, they frequently write me back with follow-up questions; more often, though, they send me a message saying that they "haven't had time to read all of these messages yet!" but that they'll come see me when they get a chance. Perfect - I simply want them to know I'm in the building. Many will come to whatever conference room, office or closet in which I'm posted, armed with their iPads, Chromebooks, or computers and questions. We chat, we work, we problem-solve (yes, sometimes unsuccessfully), and we eat cookies. I always bring bribes... er, treats.
When I am not with "customers," I venture out into classrooms, popping in to introduce myself, just say hello, or even ask what the students are working on. Many times, the class is doing something that can benefit from a dash of tech. For example, I visited one class where the students were scanning their eyes around the room in search of geometric shapes. Since I happened to have my iPad in my hand, I modeled for them how they could use the Google Drive app to create a shared folder, then how they could take and curate an easily accessible collection of photos. I passed my device around to each student, as well as the teacher, to show them how easy it was to make a collection of images that fit their topic. The teacher was able to pull up the folder from her computer, project the images onto the screen, and show the images of all of those shapes for identification and discussion.
What followed was a rich discussion on how different shapes can represent different properties, and how geometry is everywhere!
What I've Learned
First, teachers are busy. They have a huge task, the least important of which is checking their emails every 30 minutes to see what I have to say. Besides that, many of them are overwhelmed by technology. No, not just by technology. By new. By different. SO, when someone looks at me with an exasperated expression and says, "I'll read your emails later," I smile and say, "Perfect!" This just tells me that what I'm doing in these buildings is worthwhile, and that the next time I am back there, I will make sure to block out a little extra time with that person.
Second, I will get around to every school next year, and I will be making these rounds 3 times throughout the year. Yup, it will take up a lot of days in my calendar, but that's why I'm here, right? Two days per week is plenty - some days, I leave a building feeling like I worked REALLY, really hard because the questions are tricky or the teachers get so excited! Plus, all of this does take some planning and preparation and I need that extra cushion (not to mention making time for all of the other things that happen in a typical week). At two days per week, with 22 schools (half of which can be taken by another integration specialist!), I can make it through each round in 6 weeks.
Finally, I have learned that there are some incredible things already happening in these schools. It's not that they need me or my colleagues to teach them what's new; it's that I need to help spread the word and encourage them to share themselves that what they are already doing is new to someone! There are geeks in every house - I'm just having fun being the one who gets to bring the cookies!