A moment of reflection...
As I sit here at the conference room desk on the last day of the Curriculum Pathways Summer Teacher Institute, I’m reflecting on what an amazing summer this has been. A time full of laughter, innovation, community, growth, and learning. There is no possible way that all the work we completed together as a team was done in the nine short weeks since June. But the reality is that it’s over, for now. The friendships and professional connections that I’ve made this summer will last for a long, long time. My experience brought me so much joy, and I wanted to share it with you all so here are five things I’ve learned in my summer working at SAS/Curriculum Pathways:
Just like we want students to have real life connections to learning, teachers should have real life opportunities to connect with businesses and corporations in their community. The symbiotic benefit is twofold: first, teachers get to be expert consultants as to what actually happens in the classroom while providing valuable feedback on product function and usability. Second, businesses help teachers know and understand what real life skills students need to make it in the 21st century job market. By organizing and setting the stage for the collision of worlds of education and business we can finally get to what students need to know and be able to do beyond their high school years.
Hearing SAS V.P. Dr. Oliver Schabenberger speak at the Summer STEM workshop sparked many thoughts on the role of data and analytics in the world today and what we need to be doing in the classroom to help prepare students. There were several things he said that sparked my interest, but one of the thoughts he put forth was that “the future is driven by the data of the past. The jobs of the future will be centered around data collection, analyzation, curation, and engineering. Also, while technology will replace some human jobs, it will never replace humanity.” Our role as educators, no matter our role or capacity in education, is to make sure we are encouraging students to take risks and step out into the field of computer science, all the while taking the plunge ourselves. Schabenberger made the point that “the key to staying relevant is the willingness to change.“ I’ll never forget that, and I feel it is so important to bring other educators into that knowledge and understanding as well.
I would say that one of the largest benefits of the summer was being involved in the ins and outs of the software development process of Curriculum Pathways tools. Having been a teacher who has used CP Tools in my classroom and having endorsed them for nearly 10 years, my interaction has only been one sided. After being invited to work with the CP team this summer, I have a brand new appreciation for what happens on the opposite side of this amazing set of of over 1,700 resources. My students have greatly benefited from this product but I honestly never understood the work that went into innovating, designing, developing, and curating the tool. An old English saying that has been tossed around for centuries is that “necessity is the mother of invention.” That is the foundation of every product that CP puts out. They as an organization/company want to honestly be a group that is a resource and aid to students and teacher at the heart of what they need.
The Agile Process is the organization model that the team uses to stay on path and pace with the vision of the product or tool they want created. According to cPrime, “Agile methods or Agile processes generally promote a disciplined project management process that encourages frequent inspection and adaptation, a leadership philosophy that encourages teamwork, self-organization and accountability, a set of engineering best practices intended to allow for rapid delivery of high-quality software, and a business approach that aligns development with customer needs and company goals.” Agile is the umbrella that houses several parts, or micro processes, that lead to the ultimate production of quality software. The micro process called SCRUM is the one that made the most impact on me and one that I think should definitely be used in every school, PLT, and classroom. specifics of the process here; however, the three pillars of SCRUM are: Transparency, Inspection, and Adaption. Based on those three words alone, I definitely feel that that is something we need more of in education.
It was so fulfilling to me to be both a fly on the wall and an eager participant in the design process of a software company that I have been on the User side for and have believed in for so long. As a part of the teacher team we were invited into the process of creating our own and updating existing interactive lessons, I was fortunate to work alongside Molly Farrow, a Social Studies Content Specialist, and create/re-design some lessons on The Revolutionary War Battles, The Daily Lives of Slaves, The Emancipation Proclamation, and the Characteristics of Civilization. It was great to see the process of collaboration as an idea was put out there. Molly and I had to reach out to the legal team for appropriate copyright permission, then discuss back and forth changes with the designers and then review the lesson with the other content specialist for their critiques, etc. At first this process was kind of scary and frustrating as is anything new. However, through the power of communication and collaboration, by the end of the summer we were able to follow the Agile process mentioned above and get things done. Working with content specialist, researchers, designers, and developers this summer has truly helped me understand that it takes a village to develop software… and everything else for that matter.
Sometimes it feels that in education spheres, people aren’t talking at all and working in silos or are simply talking too much and not listening to the ideas and contributions of others. I was so privileged to work with 4 other educators this summer where that was definitely not the case. Our work area was a communal conference room and even though none of us had ever seen or met each other before, by the end of summer we were all best friends. What I enjoyed the most is being able to work in a close knit collaborative community of professionals who were all working toward achieving the same thing: a quality and engaging, educational resource. What made this possible was the fact that we had time to listen, think, speak, create, write, and understand both individually and collectively. We need this desperately to happen in education. In the last 15-20 years there has been a huge push on teachers and educational leaders to produce, produce, produce. But how can we be expected to produce when we do not have time to adequately communicate, collaborate, think critically, and create together? Being in the environment where it was so easy to just ask everyone at the table what their thoughts were on what I was working on, display it on the projection tv, and briefly discuss and move on was amazing. We need more of that in schools. Not just a once a week or monthly meeting but rather have some time daily to participate in a 4C community of learners and leaders.
Speaking of a community of learners, professional networking was another benefit of working at Curriculum Pathways this summer. I was able to meet the amazing team of Content Specialist, Project Managers, Designers, and Developers at Curriculum pathways and ask them questions and discuss ideas that led to understanding and further opportunities. In addition to the professional network connections made by physically being at SAS, I was also able to network with various local organizations over the summer with Curriculum Pathways #codesnap events, the Wake Ed Partnership Summer STEM Program, and also partner with the CP Content Specialist at the ISTE Conference in San Antonio, Texas. Furthermore, through engagement on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets I was able to meet so many amazing educators and educational leaders through Curriculum Pathways.
In all of these instances, I was amazed at the power of networking and connecting around ideas, products, and tools for growth. One example was a teacher I met at ISTE who actually lives and works in my same local school district and in the same county where Curriculum Pathways offices are. Even though she was a neighbor to me and Curriculum Pathways, she had never heard of the product. I was able to talk her through the 1700 plus resources that CP had to offer and hope to connect with her sometime this school year to collaborate on some things. Another example is the launching of the #MyNextLesson Chat, something that myself and Molly Farrow just launched on August 16. This twitter chat is something that came out of a desire of myself and Molly to connect with teachers and educational leaders and talk about what they are doing next in the classroom. Had I not had the opportunity to connect and work with Molly this summer that may not have happened. It’s the power of networking that helps foster collaboration and creativity.
For over ten years I’ve been an advocate for Curriculum Pathways and the free, quality resources they have to offer. In 2016 when I heard that they were going to begin the Summer Teacher Institute, I was filled with excitement but unfortunately was not chosen for the program. However, I applied again, which I strongly advise anyone who wants to be a part of the program to do, and this year I got in. To be completely honest, I had no idea what to really expect coming into the experience. As stated previously, I knew a lot about Curriculum Pathways because I worked with it in my social studies classroom. However, I did not know the depth of the 1,700 resources that they offered.
Admittedly, I had some doubts as to if I would be able to speak to evaluating some apps and grade level resources. But with the Agile process and the collaborative atmosphere mentioned above, the CP team listened to everything the Teacher team had to say and took it to heart. Honestly, what I loved about working in the corporate environment of SAS and Curriculum Pathways the most is this: they want to know and understand the needs of teachers and students in order to make a product that is effective and quality. As an educator, this motive makes me love Curriculum Pathways so much more. It’s not about sales or hits on a website. However, it is about ensuring that the product helps teachers teach and more importantly, helps students learn. Knowing that my voice as a teacher in this process mattered truly helped me feel comfortable and empowered.
Finally, I was nervous about working in a corporate setting in general. Why? I don’t know. I guess my ideas about the corporate world were framed by Hollywood and what a professional looks like in that environment. I think every person has those feelings in your gut when you are facing something new: “Do I have it takes? Can I make a real difference? Will people listen to my ideas?” The answer in my experience from this summer is undoubtedly yes. There were several opportunities for me to practice creativity and innovation over the summer such as the Lunch and Learns, The Dolphin Tanks, and the Weekly Social Media meetups. It was refreshing and empowering to me to be able to share my ideas and see them take flight and even the possibility of future production at Curriculum Pathways. The Dolphin Tank is a much friendlier and inviting version of the television show The Shark Tank where entrepreneurs come to pitch their new business/product ideas to the “Loan Sharks”. In the Dolphin Tank all ideas, even those only half thought through, are welcome. You receive immediate feedback and stimulating conversation around additions to or take aways from your ideas that will help them become realities. One idea that I had was called the “Slingshot” which is a single page, interactive digital lesson on a particular historical person, historical event, or historical theme/concept. Everyone in the Dolphin Tank gave me feedback on the idea and ways that I could make it better. From that conversation, I was able to make it happen and produced a Slingshot lesson on the Characteristics of Early Civilizations that will be available to use in the coming weeks for teachers and students. This process was extremely validating, and I truly believe that it should be happening in schools with teachers and students.
“Go where you are celebrated, not where you are tolerated”
My summer working at Curriculum Pathways was challenging but very uplifting. One of my favorite life quotes is this, “Go where you are celebrated, not where you are tolerated”, and that is exactly how I felt everyday going into work. Now, as I am making my plans to go back into the school building for the beginning of the school year, I’m ready. My mind is swimming in the truly amazing ideas of my Teacher Institute friends about engaging students and teachers in meaningful growth. That is evidenced in the awesome video made by one of my fellow Teacher Institute friends, Laura Croyle, found here. I can look back with a feeling of accomplishment knowing that I have actually published interactive lessons for a major EdTech company that engage, enrich, and educate and also have the potential to reach millions of users globally. Additionally, I know more about a product that changed the way I taught significantly and that I am able, through professional development opportunities, be a spokesperson for it ultimately helping other teachers and students grow. Personally I’ve grown as a professional and am more confident that not only do I have the power to know, but I have the power to communicate, collaborate, think critically, and be creative in the 4C’able corporate world. The thing that has been most special to me, however, is that I’ve met and deeply connected with many new lifelong friends who are just as excited and committed to making the journey of growth in educational excellence that I am. For that I’m truly forever grateful.
David Balmer serves as an Instructional Technology Facilitator at Heritage & Wake Forest High Schools in Wake County, North Carolina. David graduated from Appalachian State University with a degree in Secondary History Education and recently completed his M.Ed. in Digital Learning & Teaching from North Carolina State University. Additionally, he serves on the board of Safe Schools NC. David is passionate about making sure that all students voices are heard in education in North Carolina.