Educators often find it difficult to unwind from the accelerated pace of the end of the school year. I wonder what to do once summer becomes a reality. Non-educators pose this question in a different tone, what do you do all day while the rest of us work? I thought I’d actually present an insider’s look into my summer plans.
Who in their right mind would start the first week of summer with an essay grading? Me and approximately 1,000 History (private, public and charter school) teachers who join forces with graduate students and college professors to score 240,000 essays from students all over the world for the AP Collegeboard. We migrate to the central location in Salt Lake City, Utah. We march daily from our respective hotels a mile to a convention center to form assessment teams that read and reread essays from 8:00 to 5:00 each day. Two 15 minute breaks, an hour lunch each day are usually spent evaluating trends or patterns noticed in student writing. We discuss pedagogical practices or rush off to finish grading exams from home schools. I do have some luxurious time to myself. Each morning I go for a run at 5:30 which is the time I cannot afford at home with other family responsibilities. Many teachers are awake at that hour enjoying similar solitudes, walking, reading a New York Times or FaceTiming with family. Admittedly I enjoy liberties after the 5 o’clock alarm. A troupe of us met for hikes in the Wasatch. Other evenings are spent with the Collegeboard who provides us with a Q&A debriefing, a guest lecture and a preview of anticipated program changes. We become local faces at pub and breweries for an hour or so at night but the thought the next 150 essays awaiting us each morning keep us sharp and sensible. It isn’t too far-fetched to see AP readers typing furiously into mobile devices while enjoying a brew or two. We are sharing lists of ideas and resources that work in our own classrooms. See? Even our free time becomes an unwarranted professional development opportunity.
While others head to work this summer, I will be spending days on my iPad gaming. Understanding the educational possibilities and the excitement of the gaming world takes time and summer is when I can be invested. Gamification encourages students to bridge the gaps between the non-digital worlds. Gamers are excited to explain what they do, how they do it and the rewards that follow. While some teachers were ending the school year worn out by the work that piles on at the year’s end, I was testing a new game experience, Classcraft. Students engage in regular classroom activities that transfer into the design of Warcraft like avatars depending on the XP value their attendance, class participation and behavior. Tweeting about our experience with Classcraft brought us face to face with the game designer, Sean Young. Sean video conferenced with my students, answering questions, and showing the upcoming changes to personalizing the Warrior, Mage or Healer avatars. More importantly, he explained how his interest in design and use of social media led to business and team collaboration. Students left class envisioning their own ideas turning into reality, a segue to summer self-exploration.
Being married to the tech integrationist means spending hours discovering, planning, and designing similar engaging experiences like Classcraft. While it may seem like we are having fun we will actually be spending time collaborating. And we are not alone. Twitter and likewise social media keep me informed. A tweet from Classcraft, new followers, shared articles from TER colleagues, Edutopia or the New York Times keep me positive about investing time. Although this is the first summer in 10 years in which I’m not taking or instructing courses I am devoted to colleagueship, experimentation, and possibility. MOC (Massive Online Classes) intrigue me but I do believe that it is hard to learn what you yourself are capable of if committed only to constructed environments. It is time to head into the unconstructed unknown.
Today, on these first days of summer, I’m enjoying my identity as a modern cowgirl journeying on a trip with my husband. I have thrown my iPad into my mountain bike saddle bag and ridden into the unknown territory of Provo, Utah. After riding some jaw-dropping, epic single track I veered down a short trail to a campsite while my husband and a former student, currently a doctor, finish Trail 157. Education should mesh routine with unknown territories as well. Inspired by this metaphor, and this picnic area as a perfect office space, I finished an energy bar and began to write. It’s curious how the iPad allows me to channel exhilaration from an epic ride into that quick thought about educational instruction before heading out on a second journey. I don’t know if I should be delighted or embarrassed that my career in education is always with me.
Summer for me is measured by the time it takes to make a cup of coffee. I awaken at 7:30 instead of 5:45. I make a slow drip pot instead of an instant Keurig. I spend time with my daughter instead of rushing us both out the door. She wants her father and me to plan a week long adventure for her. We plan to bike on the Canadian Route Verte to a state park with five or six kids, a camp for a few days and bike home. It’s a different kind of classroom and it is the kind of planning I look forward to doing. It is nearly impossible during the school year to get her friends together. And since many of her friends’ parents are working it is a safe adventure that I am happy to provide. Maybe I will throw in a few books to read on histories related to the social studies content I cover. It’s possible to catch me napping while I do so. But don’t worry. I will back to fast-paced work days longer by the third week of August. Until then, I need to hit send and ride off into this sunset.