Happy Accidents and Turtle Steps

A Guest Blog by: Liz Bennett

Overwhelming—that’s what most teachers say when new technology comes their way. It’s as if the to-do list—the ever-growing monster of responsibilities and obligations—has quadrupled in mass. But that’s not actually true, or at least it doesn’t have to be. In a guest blog, Kim Murphree mentioned that it’s ok to take “turtle steps” and that’s exactly what I’ve done!

I consider myself an intermediate tech user—not quite intimidated by using new tech, not 100% convinced of my own expertise.  New technology turns me into a kid (like in those old cereal commercials; you know the one). I become curious, unfortunately my adult awareness also makes me cautious. Can I incorporate this in the classroom? What if I get it wrong? Will my students still respect me if I make a mistake, especially if it’s something they do with a casual wave of the hand?

I can pin-point the exact moment I bought into the iPad: flipped classrooms.

At the thought of flipping the classroom my eyes grew three times their natural size. Until this moment the document camera was my best friend. I modeled six different times in one day and was exhausted each time a lesson required hands on modeling. Now images of handy, edited videos floated across my mind. I could record a lesson on writing effective thesis statements. I could record a guided model approach to unpacking a prompt, writing an essay, a short answer—the possibilities were endless! I would become a video sensation…well…maybe not a sensation, but I couldn’t wait to get started!

With the exuberance of a new teacher, I put a sticky note on my door that read, “recording in session” and plunged into this unfamiliar world. Forty-five minutes later I had a twelve minute video. And I was exhausted. And slightly frazzled. Did I load the video correctly? Could students see it? Would they? Did I sound ok? Did I use the right app? Was there a better app? I could’ve graded two classes’ worth of quizzes in the time I spent recording, which begged the question: was I wasting my time?

The answer became evident the next day when I assigned the video: students could see it, but didn’t want to. They groaned about wi-fi issues at home, about already having to watch a podcast for another class, and so on. They wanted to come to class and be taught live, under document camera, so they could ask questions. There was something about that live lesson that a recording couldn’t replicate (like addressing questions I hadn’t actually thought about). I was crestfallen. I’d spent so much time recording the darn thing and half of my students came to class unprepared. The rigor in my course whispered that I should hold them accountable, draw a distinct line, then they’d watch my masterpieces. The realist in me was thankfully louder and wiser. After all, the students had brought up some valid points…

So I taught, under document camera and then an idea hit me upside the head! This was an important lesson, absent students would have to come to tutoring, struggling students would most likely need re-teaching, but I did something that changed my teaching forever: at the end of the day, I put my sticky note on the door and recorded the day’s lesson while it was still fresh on my mind. I uploaded it into iTunes U and made a note for absent students. And it worked!

Little by little, lesson by lesson, I collected recordings. I got good at them. I left the bloopers in and laughed because if I were live under document camera, we would all laugh together and there was no reason to create a video persona that was perfect (that would be boring). I learned how to add a few special effects at the end, like an Easter Egg (check out Action Movie FX) and the kiddos were talking about them. They were encouraging their friends to get to the end of the video!

Whenever I met with a parent of a struggling student I showed them this treasure-trove of recorded lessons. They weren’t just for absent students. These lessons were for students who felt I was going to fast, who had missed that one step, whose notes were incomplete. They could go back and hear the same lame joke, see the same anchor image being redrawn, and have another shot (or seven chances) to grasp the information. I didn’t need to change my lessons due to massive school trips (like band going to UIL Regionals for instance)—the solution was so easy!

I wanted everyone to see, so I shared the videos with new teachers, so they could see the lesson and give it a try. They could share the video with their students too until they grew more comfortable and made their own!

When I sat in iPad training, the analytical learner in me was looking for the one right way and the one right answer. Of course there isn’t one right way or one app to use. So which apps were my favorites for recording? I began with Educreations. I’d take a picture of the document we’d used that day and then record myself teaching (you’re going to want a decent stylus). But the downside to Educreations is that it’s a one shot deal. If you make a mistake and want to fix it you’re going to be starting over. Recently I paid for Explain Everything. It’s a more sophisticated app: I can rewind it a little and rerecord a section if I really, really messed it up and it has a laser, which sounds silly, but I use it a lot to point things out the way I would use my finger under the document camera.

I think Kim Murphree nailed it when she said we need to move like turtles (and I agree with her—they’re cuties). I think sometimes we need to be told what a turtle step looks like and we need to take credit for happy accidents. I may never flip my classroom completely, or become a video sensation (which is actually ok with me), but for my students these videos will always be there to support their learning and it’s making a difference.

Happy videoing!

Thank you- Liz Bennet for sharing your insights and thoughts.  Follow her writing blog: Journey of a debut author


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