Technology Educator Encourages Teachers to Create Experiences, Take Risks in Classroom

Challenging, exhausting, eye-opening and long. Those are some words that participants in educator Carl Hooker’s interactive keynote address used to describe their lives since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

But, despite the unprecedented times, the past 10 months have also been enlightening and full of opportunities for those same participants. Educators in the Hudson Valley were engaged with Mr. Hooker’s presentation, “Reboot 2021,” which was the Lower Hudson Regional Information Center’s most recent offering of its TLI Virtual Keynote Series on Jan. 29. The TLI series boasts high-level events and conferences that feature instructional technology-based thought leaders and influencers.

“There is opportunity for change,” said Mr. Hooker, a K-12 education consultant and former Director of Innovation and Digital Learning for the Eanes Independent School District in Austin, Texas.

With virtual learning, it is often difficult for students and teachers to connect on screen, and there is not much time for children to interact with one another. Methods of learning that can assist with student engagement are the use of polls, interactive activities and allowing children to spend time in breakout rooms. Mr. Hooker offered examples during “Reboot 2021” by conducting thought-provoking polls and even allowing participants to choose the ending of his presentation.

“It’s not about teaching a lesson – it’s about creating experiences,” he said. To illustrate, he recalled a colleague who engaged teenage students during a lesson about women’s suffrage by bringing in a burned bra. “It got kids to lean in.”

Educators need to encourage children to take risks and potentially fail. “We need to be OK if kids get questions wrong,” said Mr. Hooker. “Not every answer is in the back of a textbook. Not every answer in life is going to be that way.”

Teachers also need to take risks and be creative: “It would be easy for me to repeat the same thing I taught for 25 years,” he said. “It’s a lot harder for me to try something new – like a poll, a Padlet wall or something digital – that I’ve never done before. A lot of us are all out of our comfort zone right now.”

Mr. Hooker showed a photo of his three daughters, the youngest of whom will graduate high school in 2031. “Think about what’s changed in the last 10 years of our lives and how much it’s going to change for them in the future,” he said, noting that his eldest daughter has not lived in a world without smartphones.

Technology will continue to have a massive impact on education, Mr. Hooker said. Ten years ago, few schools had robots; now, even elementary schools have robots like Spheros and Ozobots to learn coding. Over the past year, the pandemic has accelerated the pace of change and innovation. 

“It’s a big disruption and we had to have this big shift that’s happened to us,” said Mr. Hooker, who has worked in education for 22 years.

He shared data from the 2020 World Economic Forum, which predicted that more than half of all jobs will be automated in four years’ time. “If we know that there’s this automation of low-level tasks, what should we teach our students to make them stand out above the robots?” he asked. Participants contributed answers like grit, resiliency, collaborative skills, creativity, problem-solving, patience, adaptability, critical thinking, empathy and the ability to innovate. 

Mr. Hooker asked participants what educational practices that were implemented due to COVID-19 should be kept after the pandemic. Responses included the virtual-learning option, 1:1 technology devices, more convenient parent-teacher meetings and a full day of planning each week for teachers. Mr. Hooker also asked which practices should be thrown out; answers included low-level learning, digital worksheets, chalk-and-talk, drill-and-kill, and being slaves to the bell schedule. While many practices are not often controlled by teachers, there are some that they have the power to change on their own in their classrooms.

At the end of Mr. Hooker’s lecture, he asked participants to select the “red pill” or the “blue pill,” allowing them to choose the ending of his presentation. The group favored the “red pill,” which prompted Mr. Hooker to discuss a virtual travel experience that he gave an infirm aunt who was unable to travel. He said that life as an educator is a 24/7 job and involves providing education not only for students, but also for family members, friends and neighbors.

In addition to encouraging risk-taking and allowing failure, “we need to make sure that we’re creating a generation of empathetic risk-takers,” Mr. Hooker said. “It’s not just about taking those risks and failing. It’s about why we are doing it, why it is important and who’s on the other side of that screen.”

For those who were interested, Mr. Hooker provided a link for participants to view the “blue pill” ending of his presentation. He spoke about the time that his former kindergarten students fondly recalled classroom experiences years later on social media. One thing they mentioned was when the class turned the room into a habitat and students dressed up as animals. They did not talk about reading tests or math worksheets. “The key to relationships is trust and connection,” said Mr. Hooker.

The next TLI event is Active-Con, which will take place on Feb. 26, featuring a presentation by education thought leader Dr. Robert Dillon, titled “Designing Learning Spaces for Health and Wellness.” Click here to register for upcoming events.