Where Are You Making?

So my job is changing again this year. And again this year it wasn’t by my choice. That makes it difficult. Having to plan something that you didn’t get a choice on can really mess with your creativity. We know this, as teachers, we see it every day in our classroom. Luckily, my change is to a subject I do feel very passionate about. So I have that going for me.

Next year I’ll be teaching middle school STEM. If you are someone who flows me on twitter or read my blog on occasion you probably know this is a huge passion of mine. STEM, MakerSpaces are something I see as game changing in education. But every time I sit down to write my curriculum (yes I have no curriculum -nor money- for my new class) I start feeling kind of hypocritical. And there is something that really starts to bother me.

All summer I have presented, written, or had conference calls about how to use STEM across the curriculum. The focus on how to not make it separate, but how to blend it with what you are already doing. So when I start writing my curriculum as a separate “subject” I start getting frustrated about how hypocritical I am being. I’m separating the STEM thinking from math and science classes.


The more I reflect on this, the more I wonder if STEM classes and MakerSpaces are our way in education of taking something great and “doing it wrong.” I’ve been thinking a lot about MakerSpaces and wondering if making them something different than part of the typical classroom is negating the whole purpose. When I speak of STEM and MakerSpaces I tell teachers these are so important because students can see “why” they need the problem solving skills, how science affects us everyday, and it answers the questions of “when am I really going to use that?” that are often used in math class. You see, using STEM as part of those, as well as other subjects, shows the students the “why” and “how” behind using these skills as well as increasing understanding. If we have a STEM or MakerSpace class, we are still keeping them separate. We aren’t allowing them to take the skills of the subjects we are teaching and adding that real world experience to it. It is just “play” or “create” time. While, yes, they are using those science, math, engineering, tech, and design skills it is not organically becoming part of the learning that is already taking place.

I know I can’t fix this for me. I was asked to teach the class. I am looking forward to it, I’ve decided there will be a lot of play and have a pretty exciting project coming (more as the year progresses, so stay tuned) Yes, I will be emphasizing the science and math curriculum as we build and create this year. But to the rest of you, especially classroom teachers, librarians, and tech coaches, if you have these MakerSpaces in your library or school figure out a way to make it part of all classes. Use these spaces and materials as part of your lessons. We have to stop separating STEM if we really want to make an impact on student learning. So don’t assume others will teach STEM for you, it will not make the difference that we need in our society that way. My former principal used to say “every teacher is a reading teacher,” for our students to make a real impact on our world, every teacher needs to be a STE(A)M teacher as well.

Lastly, I have been sitting on this post for about a week now and the lovely Rafranz Davis wrote this blog post today “The Undefined MakerSpace” about a part that I couldn’t figure how to add to this. I wanted to add how not only are we keeping STEM/MakerSpaces separate but we are limiting them to specific “making.” So I took out the parts I wrote about that, now the post flows much smoother, and she does a perfect job saying exactly what I was thinking, so no need for me to repeat it, now go read her post!! Definitely worth your time.

photo credit: Chris Devers via photopin cc

Are You a Connected Educator or a Connected Person?

So this post is one that has been on my mind for about a week now. Today I was having a conversation on Voxer, an extremely inappropriate conversation to be exact with a group of girls, well professional educators. (If you know me personally, you are probably not surprised and can probably guess that I started it.) This conversation gave me the laughs that I needed to get through the day. Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of post about how we can use Voxer as a professional development tool. I’m sure a lot of awesome ideas has come from conversations there. Just like on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and Pinterest. We are so connected and we are so passionate, we flock to social media to connect with others like us.

But here is my worry, are we too connected, are we too serious? I remember years ago when Twitter was new. People didn’t have 10,000 followers because there weren’t 10,000 people out there. It felt like one big Voxer where we could bounce around ideas in a small and safe environment. Back then I would make a joke or off the wall comment and get DM’s from people saying that it was a place for learning and if I wanted to be taken seriously I needed to tone it down. Yeah, whatever. I’m going to be me so move along, please. But I would worry about those people. I would worry about their passion overcoming their lives. I also worried that they were missing out on a huge part of social media – the social part. We see a new platform and immediately think we have to use it for professional purposes, because that is what is expected of us as social media experts, that is great, but we need to remember that we need a break from work sometimes.

Try not to use social media as a place for only seriousness. Think back to when you were in school, you did not learn as much from the teachers who never shared anything personal about themselves. You learned from study groups with whom you became friends and learned about the interest of those in the group. I’m sure college was not all studying and classes, there was time for fun. So when you are using social media, don’t forget there is fun to be had. Don’t forget to turn off social media and be present with those around you in person. Don’t get obsessed with your profession. Your job is not who you are. Your job should not take up more time than time with your loved ones. Your job should not come before your health, I hate to hear colleagues put off doctor visits because of work. Stop doing that. It is not fair to you nor your family. I hear so often of my coworkers and my PLN going through depression and anxiety (myself included) and I worry if a lot of it is because we don’t turn our jobs off. Being connected keeps it on longer than we have in the past. We have to remember to live life. To laugh. To make friends, not just colleagues, friends we can laugh and cry with.

My challenge to you, chose one social media platform this month and use it for YOU. Either for entertainment or to connect with others on a personal level. Choose one, instagram, Pinterest, Facebook (that one is hard for me because so many of my friends are my PLN), a chat app whether Voxer, WhatsApp, Messenger, heck Snap Chat if you want, something you have wanted to try for FUN. Don’t feel bad about it. Don’t get sucked into work on it. When I joined Pinterest (over 3 years ago) I promised myself it would be for ME. I promised I would never use it for education. Now I do follow a few educators on it, but if I click on the links, I save them to bookmarks not to my boards. I always giggle when I see an educator follows me there because unless they like cupcakes, pretty fonts, and shoes they are going to be very disappointed. So find your place for you to be you. You are everything that makes up you, not just your profession.

So be a connected educator, but don’t be an obsessed educator. Use your connections to make deeper friendships based on silliness or hobbies not just on education. Be a person, not a just teacher or parent, be you! Hi, I’m Amanda Countryman Dykes, I love baking, creating art of any kind, and have an addiction to shoes. I am a parent to 2 brilliant yet hilarious kids and a spoiled rotten dog. I’m an educator who has a passion for seeing technology used correctly and while being invisible in every classroom. I’m a connected educator who learns how to be better at what I do every day. That’s who I am. Not just a middle school teacher. You are so much more than your job. Kids of America (or whatever country you serve in) deserve leaders who know themselves first. Be YOU first. Isn’t that what we tell the our students every day?! Take your own advice. Enjoy the good things in life as well as what is going on around us. Lastly, I’d love to hear what platform you used for more than seriousness this month!

Where Do You Go From the Soap Box?

So it happened. Now what? When we push for things for years and all of a sudden it starts to become the norm, what are our next steps? Do we move on to something else “new” or still stand on the “soap box.” Or are there other options? I think there are other options and that is where I will head next.

Let me explain what the heck I am talking about. Five (almost 6!) years ago I joined Twitter. It took me about 4 or 5 months to really catch on but once I did my teaching and learning changed forever. Since then I have been on a mission to teach others about the power of being a connected educator. It has been a long road, I can remember doing a session on using twitter at a conference and only 10 people showed up. Even worse, one of the 10 was a principal in my district that called my principal to complain I was telling people to meet strangers online. I remember my first ISTE and clicking on the hashtag #ISTE10 and knowing every single person posting in the search. Not so much anymore. It is the norm for districts to have “chats” and have leaders online connecting with others. I read a report from Twitter the other day that educators make up the largest group on twitter (once I find that link, I forgot to bookmark, I’ll post it), we are to that point that we have preached about for years. But now what? I really miss that intimate space I used to have on twitter but I like that education is moving forward quickly.

Another soap box I have been on for about two years now is STE(a)M and Makerspaces. I wrote this post in March 2013 about the need of these in school and how this will get STEM into the schools and classrooms. While at ISTE this year, Makers and STEM were the key words I heard over and over. Last year I had to search for sessions on these topics and this year I had to decide which one I wanted to go to. It is fantastic. I am so excited and relived that this is something that others are now seeing the importance of. I love hearing how others are using this across the curriculum, something I have been talking to teachers about all spring and summer.

So what now? My two big soap boxes are no longer needed. What I have been pushing for and have worked so hard to get the word out on is now the norm. Where do I, and the so many others like you who have been pushing for things we know are essential to education go from here? No where. We are still the experts. We are no longer just passionate about this, we are experts. So now we need to take that expertise and guide the others. We know where it leads, they are just putting their toes in and wading around. We need to be their tour guides. We need to give advice, hold their hand, listen. We need to learn from those who are new. We need to tell others we are here for them when they do mess up or need that advice. So often I worry about those that are only a year or two into social media and have jumped to “twitter fame.” Without connections, it will fizzle out pretty quickly, I have seen it several times. We should be there supporting and connecting with them before that happens. We also need to keep moving forward. technology and social media are changing every day. Those of us on Twitter 4 or more years ago have seen this, those of us who had people look at us like we are crazy for pushing “making” in an everyday classroom understand pushback. Lets use those leadership skills as well as our knowledge of this for moving forward.

I don’t know what the next ‘soap box’ will be and I may be too tired to jump on, but wow it is incredible to see that soap box I was on so long is no longer that, it is now the ground floor with everyone else. It is awesome that movements that my friends/colleagues and I have have pushed for so long be something that is accepted and popular. Gives me hope that when something is right, it will work if we keep believing in it. And if not, we all learned something from Google Wave, right?

Hope y’all are having a fantastic summer!