Sunday, April 3, 2016

Without Normal Limits

Dear Teachers,
I have a friend who is fighting a very courageous battle with a not particularly friendly kind of cancer. She keeps us updated on Facebook and recently reported that her current labs are all "within normal limits," and I'm so grateful for that news on her behalf. That's doctor-speak, of course, for "everything is pretty much okay": you want your blood pressure, your temperature, your weight, your bone density, etc. to be within those normal limits that the medical profession views as healthy. It basically means there's nothing out of the ordinary, and when my friend sees her doctor, that's what she hopes for; it's what I hope for at my doctor's office, too. People with illnesses, or with ill loved ones, want nothing more than for someone to say the test results are within normal limits.

The term "within normal limits" has kept coming back to me, though, and I try to pay attention when a word or phrase challenges me as this one did. "Within normal limits" in the context of education connotes comfortable and safe; it's good enough, an average, what is expected. We likely want our students, though, to be more than average and more than they themselves often think they can be, or we wouldn't push them so hard. Are you challenging yourself as well? Because I started thinking that as teachers, maybe "within normal limits" is no longer the kind of standard by which we should measure ourselves. My brain kept riffing on the phrase and came up with variations: Outside normal limits. Not within normal limits. Unlimited. But "without normal limits" is the phrase that stuck.

When I think of a class without normal limits, as a technology geek, I first think of all the opportunities that technology can provide to students. I had a great conversation yesterday with an acquaintance, a non-teacher. As we were standing around chatting after yoga class, I told her what I did for a living, and she expressed a bit of concern regarding kids and their overuse of technology. I absolutely agreed with her that it is a disturbing sight to see kids with their noses pressed up to screens when they could be playing outside, or to see a mom distractedly shove a smart phone instead of a book into her baby's hands. However, so many technologies offer incredible opportunities for our students to truly become digital and global citizens; to be without the normal limits of their classroom walls.

Without normal limits, teachers and students can...
  • learn the computational thinking that is involved in computer programming
  • create meaningful artifacts using 3D printers
  • have videoconferences with authors or subject matter experts
  • use augmented reality to experience 3D renditions of artifacts
  • use Twitter or Voxer to connect to other classrooms or industries
  • when using Twitter or Voxer, practice digital citizenship skills in real-world situations
  • identify digital literacy skills that they will need for the rest of their lives
  • participate in Hour of Code or Global Read Aloud

The list goes on and on, but I hope you get the idea. If you need any ideas on how to get going on these limit-expanding suggestions, give a shout to an Instructional Technology Specialist near you! (Have I mentioned we love to help?)

My friends, as you think about expanding the walls of your classroom through the wonder of technology, I know you will continue to excel in patience, encouragement, belief in your students' abilities, and most of all: love. You've likely never had anything close to normal limits on those qualities anyway. What are some additional ways that you are leading others in a life without normal limits?



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