Valuable Time

Tuesday, September 23, 2008 | , | 1 comments »

This post may sound like a huge plug for Discovery Education. It's not meant to be. It's meant to share with you some information I feel is going to enhance my teaching and hopefully enhance the learning of all of the students I work with.

This past weekend (yes, Saturday and Sunday), I participated in the Discovery Education Regional Conference. I thought it was a lot of fun, but most importantly, was a positive learning experience for me. I recently purchased DE Streaming for my school and am looking forward to not only using it myself to liven up lessons, but I really want my teachers to take advantage of what I think is a great resource. My principal will allow me to use some faculty meeting time next month to show our teachers what this is all about. I've ordered my training materials and am anxious to get things rolling.

As teachers, we often don't get opportunities to be wined and dined. This weekend, however, was a little different. Although I had to get to the conference, which was about a 90 minute drive, and a hotel, the rest of the conference was taken care of by Discovery Education. Breakfast and lunch both days of the 2 day conference were catered for us. In addition, dinner and beverages were also included Saturday night. This was a nice change to what I've previously experienced. Usually, it's up to me to take care of all costs associated with a conference, but not this time. Sure, I have a connection with Discovery Education because of my subscription to their service, but that wasn't a requirement of this. It was open to anyone who wanted to learn more about integrating technology into classroom instruction. We learned about Discovery products, but there were also plenty of non-Discovery products shown to us as well. One that I thought was pretty cool was Blabberize. While this web 2.0 tool is still not perfect, it certainly is fun and could have a place in the classroom. Also, if you haven't seen Spell with Flickr, check it out. There was quite a bit of discussion about Web 2.0 tools, including this information from Brad Fountain, one of the presenters.

The Discovery Education team who put on this event did a very nice job. One thing I didn't know about these guys until the weekend, was that they were teachers prior to joining Discovery. To me, that adds a lot of credibility to what they are saying. They bring an educational background to what they are talking about. I've been to other conference where companies have people trying to get you to use their products, but those people haven't been in the classroom. I don't know about you, but I think someone with a clue about what teachers do can relate to us much better than someone who has never stepped foot in a classroom. If you haven't checked out Discovery Education, I recommend you do, especially, the DEN (Discovery Educators Network) - it's a great online community of teachers who are willing to share great information about teaching and learning. Even if you're not interested in any of the products Discovery Education sells, there are a lot of free resources for teachers that I've used for years - long before my recent involvement. I've met a lot of great people and learned quite a bit through my short time with the DEN, I bet you would too.

A Lot of Learning

Saturday, September 20, 2008 | | 0 comments »

I'm in the middle of a weekend in Illinois at the Midwest Discovery Education Regional Conference. Wow, what a ton of learning going on. As someone who recently purchased a subscription to DE Streaming, I am thrilled to have a lot of time learning about this product (and a ton of other stuff) from experts who are using the tool I've just purchased. I've learned a ton so far, and the weekend has only just begun. I really am looking forward to learning more AND using what I've learned with the kids. While this weekend is certainly a huge learning opportunity for me, the end result will be more learning and more fun for the students.

As educators, we're always looking for new tools to use. Whether we are looking for new tools to use in our personal lives, our professional lives, or with our students, I feel we always have our eyes and ears open to something new. Last week, I saw a tweet refer to Google Forms. Maybe it's not even called Google Forms - maybe it's the Forms section of Google Docs. For now, I'm calling it Google Forms. I had heard a little about this and thought I'd take a peek at it. After discussing it a little on Twitter, I figured out I could make up a quick survey for my staff and let Google take care of the rest. Even though Google didn't accept me to the Google Teacher Academy coming up in Chicago, I wasn't going to hold a grudge. I like a lot of Google products and I use many of them on a daily basis. I wondered what I'd think of this new tool. What I didn't realize right away, was that it was part of Google Docs. I thought it was a separate program, like mail and calendar. Once I figured that out, I went to work creating a technology survey for my staff.

I'm planning on holding after school technology learning sessions for the staff in my building on a monthly basis, roughly. I thought I could use the survey as a way to find out what my staff knew, what hindered them from doing more with technology, and what they might want to learn. After getting some help with ideas for questions from several people in my PLN, I came up with a brief survey and created it using this new tool. Once I had the survey they way I wanted it, I sent it to myself to see how it would look and how the results would be tallied. Wow, was I impressed. With the exception of a few snags in formatting and rearranging questions, I really liked what I saw. I proceeded to send the link out to our staff and wait for the answers to roll in.

I had no idea how or if I would be notified when people completed the survey, which disappointed me a little bit. I had to check the document to see the responses. Perhaps there's a setting where a notification can be sent, but then again, if you're sending a survey out to a lot of people, do you really want an email every time a person completes it? That might drive someone a little crazy! Anyway, as I was checking responses, I noticed how easily the information was displayed and how it could be sorted. This was pretty impressive. I'd use this again anytime I needed a survey. I'm sure there are people out there who have more experience with this than me, but after my first attempt, I'm really pleased. If you have any insight to share about Google Forms, please leave a comment.

I do want to share some of the information I've gained from my little survey. I did make a mistake when creating the survey and didn't realize it until it was too late - I forgot to have people put their names on. Now, maybe people will be more honest on an anonymous survey, but I guess I wanted to put data with bodies so I could tailor the classes more appropriately. Oh well. As of this post, 15 people have taken the survey. This number is a little disappointing because it's less than 50% of our staff. The survey took about 2 minutes to complete, but I'll make another push in the next few days to see if more people will respond. Of the 15 people who responded, only 4 have heard of the term "Web 2.0" - this surprised me, even though it probably shouldn't. When I listed a few Web 2.0 tools, the one that most have heard of and some even used, was YouTube. Others that people were aware of were blogging and FaceBook. No one mentioned Twitter or Plurk. All but one showed interest in attending the sessions, which I'm sure depends on the topic, but the initial interest is very encouraging. There was a wide variety of things people were looking to learn - from creating spreadsheet in Excel and newsletter in Word to learning about SmartBoards (we have none) to digtial video production. We'll have our hands full, but I think it's going to be a blast. I think my first session, which will probably take place the week after next, will be delicious! (and I'm not talking about the snacks I'll be providing!)

Do You Feel Like This?

Thursday, September 04, 2008 | 1 comments »

This post is basically going to be me rambling about the beginning of the school year. I've got a lot on my mind and I'm just going to throw some of it out there.

It's the beginning of the school year again and I'm feeling a little overwhelmed. Perhaps it's just the idea of getting back into a routine - which includes getting up earlier and getting my own kids ready for school, but for whatever reason, I feel a little stressed right now. The beginning of the year is a little crazy at school for everyone. For me, part of it deals with the fact that I'm working on getting user ID's and password information ready for our second through sixth graders and getting other technology stuff set up and ready to go for the year. Once this is done, which should hopefully be by the end of next week, things might calm down. Oh yeh, NWEA MAPS testing begins next week so I'll be in the lab helping administer the test to all of our kids. I guess I'll be waiting a few more weeks for things to settle down.

This year we have more new staff members than usual. I feel like I haven't done a very good job touching base with them regarding the technology in our building. I haven't discussed our network drives and where things are on the server or simply checked in with them to see what they need. I'm sure they are working hard getting adjusted, so it may not be a priority right now for them.

New students. There are plenty. Beyond the kindergarten students, we always have quite a few kids who move into our school area and join us. Today alone we had 8 new students enroll. It's the 3rd day of school and it's the 4th of the month. Where were they until now? Did mom/dad/guardian forget about school until now? I don't get it.

My class schedule this year is awesome. I have huge chunks of time without formal classes to complete library work or to collaborate with teachers and students more. I really hope to do more fun stuff with the kids that will lead to more excitement and more learning. Once everyone gets settled I hope to meet with teachers to plan some collaborative lessons.

That's it for now. It's late and my battery is running out on my laptop. Have a good week.

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