This guest blog post was written by Rachael Coultart, Computing Subject Leader at St. Nicholas Church of England Primary School and Nursery, in Stevenage.
From ‘Technophobe’ to ‘Digital Pioneer’…
This is how I introduce myself on Twitter (@rcoultart ) and if anyone had told me that I would be tweeting and blogging by Christmas 2016, I’d have said “impossible!” Technology has never been my best friend: indeed it has been the source of much frustration and anxiety in my life. And yet, somehow, I’ve gone from being a technophobe to someone who wins an all-expenses paid trip to Chicago for her “innovative use of technology in the classroom” and called a ‘digital pioneer’ for Discovery Education.
Throughout my 25 years of teaching, computers have both made my work life more streamlined (goodbye Banda machines, hello beautifully presented worksheets) and more stressful (no, I didn’t have a back-up and no, I can’t make the data look any better in Excel). I recall going home in tears in my second year of teaching after my Head Teacher put a new Apple Mac Performa 6200 in my classroom and expected me to use it with my pupils. I couldn’t even turn the damn thing off. Years later, the arrival of an interactive whiteboard in my classroom, courtesy of the Tesco Computers for Schools scheme, had me wanting to throw my laptop out the window as I couldn’t get it ‘orientated’ and I cursed the ‘Easiteach’ software that seemed very inappropriately named! I resisted getting a mobile phone until January 2011 when our son started school because I didn’t want or need that constant ‘connectivity’ that everyone else seemed to crave!
So what happened to change things? How on earth did I find myself being called a ‘digital pioneer’ in July 2016? Well, nothing has really changed. Technology is still the source of much frustration and anxiety in my life, but this is tempered by my determination to be the best teacher I can be and my resilience to cope with failure. When my Head bought that Apple Mac, I went out and bought exactly the same model so I could learn to use it in the comfort of my own home. I went on interactive whiteboard training and began to see how it could be used, first as a projector of interesting things and then as a tool for captivating and engaging in a way I’d never seen before – and I wouldn’t be without it now! Looking back, it has always been that first step that was the hardest to take because I knew it would be time-consuming and may well end up being completely unproductive.
Then in 2011 I was asked to take on the role of Computing Subject Leader.
Me, exploring the delights of virtual reality
My husband nearly fell off his chair when I told him I was the most technically competent member of staff at school! Talk about a ‘steep learning curve’ and a ‘journey of discovery’. In my quest to improve my subject knowledge I started seeking free professional development wherever it was available, which is when I found out about Discovery Education’s ‘Days of Discovery’. I attended such a day at Thinktank in Birmingham and this is where I heard about the Discovery Education Network Summer Institute: DENSI 2016. There was an opportunity to win an all-expenses paid trip to Chicago to attend – all I had to do was complete an application form and upload a video to YouTube talking about myself and my use of technology in the classroom to be in with a chance of winning! The video element nearly put me off applying, but how often do you get the chance to attend a week long training event for free in the USA? So I persevered.
‘Elated and nervous’ sums up how I felt when I discovered I was going to Chicago to attend DENSI 2016. I knew it would be good – Discovery stuff always is – but I didn’t know just how awesome it would be! Travelling with eight other teachers from the UK, we started sharing stories and expertise immediately and after only two days it felt like we’d known each other for months. There were about 200 delegates from all over the world; mainly the US, but also Canada, Sweden, Mexico, Egypt and Antigua. I met some truly inspiring educators and hope I can meet them again one day.
It was exhausting and exhilarating. My brain was full of stuff.
The administration of it all worked like clockwork and we moved seamlessly from one workshop to another, from a keynote to a meal, from a team meeting to a Q&A time, from 8 in the morning to 9 at night, and then some. The selection of workshops to choose from was immense and I attended sessions on green screening, mystery Skyping, Web 2.0 tools, SOS strategies, digital literacy, flipped learning, Rick Rolls and memes, QR codes, making international connections, stations based classrooms, using puppets to inspire, apps to develop collaboration, Google Classroom, virtual reality, and coding. And because we ate together, the discussions and the learning continued outside the sessions. I did a Wild Goose Scavenger Hunt, a flashmob dance, mixed gloop, got locked in a room for an hour solving mysterious clues in a ‘breakout’ session, made a puppet out of a swimming noodle and a bag out of an old T-shirt, went on a virtual reality tour of someone else’s classroom, swam in Lake Michigan at 7am and sent more WhatsApp messages than I thought possible. And much of this I was able to relay to the children back at school through our Virtual Learning Environment, which they found amazing. It was exhilarating and exhausting.
My brain was full of stuff – and I’m still processing some of that stuff now. At times I did feel a bit daunted because there were people there who were so much more capable than me, so much more enthusiastic than me and so much more ‘into tech’ than me. But it was inspiring and invigorating to be surrounded by them and I came away more determined than ever to embrace the ‘digital age’ that I find myself teaching in. I also came away with a much better understanding of why it is important to encourage our children to think about the problems they can solve through their use of technology because this will drive them towards being creative users rather than passive consumers.
Jumping for joy on the edge of Lake Michigan
My motivations are the same as before: I still want to be the best teacher I can be and so I want to understand as best I can the world I am educating children in. I still find technology frustrating: I had to watch the same YouTube video five times before I could get Padlet to work for me, for example. But looking back over the years I can see that how one baby step at a time I’ve gone from being a technophobe to a digital pioneer who has now written her first blog post.
So how about this for a new year’s resolution…
“Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” Francis of Assisi
…it’s working for me!