Trying to "One Up"

Thursday, November 27, 2008 | 0 comments »

Each month at School Board Meetings, a principal from one of the 16 schools in my district, makes a presentation to the Board about their school. They usually go over some of the programs that are unique to the school as well as information on what is being done to improve test scores. Our principal, who happens to be new to our school this year, is presenting on December 8th. He attended a previous meeting to see what other schools were doing for their presentations and to get some ideas on what he needed to do. What he saw was both good and bad. He saw a presentation by a principal who is pretty tech savvy, works at a pretty tech savvy school, and is pretty tech savvy (yes, I said that again.) This was good because he saw multimedia tools he was unfamiliar with. He saw a good presentation. Well, needless to say, we wants to create a presentation at least that good, he wants our school to stand out. Here's the problem, he's not that tech savvy. Luckily, he does know someone who, and he came calling.

We had some discussions on what we could do to make his PowerPoint stand out a little bit and really show some of the neat things we do at our school. At the least, we could make our basic things seem cool by simply changing the way we present them. It was time to infuse some easy "cool stuff" into the presentation. I put together a couple, okay 10, Animoto videos with pictures of our students and our school and asked if he thought we should include one. He really liked the videos, so we added this one. I used GarageBand to create an audio file of some of our students reciting our school pledge in Spanish and added that to one of the slides. We had a teacher interview students using a Flip video camera about what they liked about our school. I edited those and we added that presentation as well. By the way, thank you Zamzar for helping with some of the the file conversion! I think he really likes the final presentation with the things I helped add. I know he really appreciates my help because he's said so many times.

I think he also realized that the things I did weren't really that difficult. On some occasions, he said, "That's it? That's all you have to do?" I think you can guess what my one word answer was. This is what most people don't realize about some of the new tools that are out there. They are not difficult to learn, but in many cases, people just don't know what can be done or don't know where to find some of the fun applications that exist. He asked me how I learned all "this stuff." I told him through classes, trial and error with programs, and through my PLN. I was telling my wife that story and she told me I should have told him I knew how to do all of it because it was my job. Why didn't I think of that?

Generation We

Tuesday, November 18, 2008 | 0 comments »

I first saw this on the blog of Angela Maiers. It made me think. It might make you think, too.

Generation WE: The Movement Begins... from Generation We on Vimeo.

I Just Don't Know

Monday, November 17, 2008 | 3 comments »

I've been generally pleased with the willingness of the teachers at my school to learn more about technology and to take advantage of the computer lab we have. Now, is our staff leading the way with technology integration? No, they're not, but they are also not dragging way behind. While just about every second through fifth grade class comes into the computer lab once a week, in addition to their scheduled time with me, I really think we could be doing even more.

For the most part, I see students working on websites to reinforce ideas taught in the classroom. Many of these sites are "drill and kill" type websites. I have to admit, that in many cases, I'm doing the same. These are the types of activities chosen for a variety of reasons, including limited availability of the one coomputer lab in our building of almost 400 students. Our district has purchased math software to go along with our math series and some of our teachers take their students in the lab to work with this software, which I don't think is a bad thing. However, this is usually the only thing the students do during their time in the lab. In other cases, students are word processing some type of assignment or working on keyboarding skills. Our school is going to have a difficult time meeting the NCLB benchmarks this year, which is putting a lot of pressure on our school and district to meet AYP. I believe this is one of the reasons teachers are using the lab to reinforce skills our students need for the tests. We have a lot of low performing students and they simply need the basics.

On one hand, I don't really think there is anything wrong with this. On the other hand, I know there is so much more we can be doing with our students. I see the possibilities that many of our teachers do not. I see the creativity our students could show. I also see the pressure NCLB is putting on our staff and students and wonder if that is contributing to our technology use (or lack of).

I wrote earlier about our LAN Party and how I thought it went. I decided to survey the participants to get their feedback on the event and to find out whether or not they thought it was as good as I did. Their responses supported my thoughts on the conference, but a few stuck out.

I asked teachers how the information will impact their instruction, here are some answers:

1. I want to try out some ideas with kids at my school. Some ideas will be instantly motivating. Some ideas will take more planning.

2. The suggested websites and different online tools alone were fantastic! I think I'll use most of the ones that we talked about in some form or another.

3. I'll take one step at a time and try to make my learning more engaging to kids.

4. I am more willing to take the risk to explore sights on the computer. I look forward to using chat rooms or ???? spaces that I can ask other educators questions/ideas for working with a particular group of students.

I think these answers are pretty good and show the willingness of these teachers to step out of their comfort zone and try to enhance their teaching with the use of technology. It's encouraging to me that they are interested in learning and want to take the next step.

I also asked teachers to describe the evening in one word. Here's what they said:

Informative, Stimulating, Worthwhile, Engaging, Eye-Opening

When I think about professional development opportunities, I'd consider the session successful if I left feeling informed, stimulating, and engaged. Needless to say, I'm pleased everyone felt their time was not wasted. I'm looking forward to providing more opportunities like this in the future.

Friday night marked the first LAN Party at my school. Our Learning At Night get together was centered around the K12Online Conference. A number of teachers from my school were willing to stick around on a Friday night, including several classroom teachers, a reading specialist, and LD teacher, a district physical therapist, our building substitute and one library media specialist from another school. We were to take part in something new to everyone. We planned on spending 2.5 hours viewing presentations from the K12 Online Conference, both as a large group and also individually. We certainly planned on having discussions as well about what we learned.

Preparing for the event was fun, but a little stressful. I wanted to use laptops so teachers could move around the library and not be confined to our computer lab. Since about half of the teachers attending didn't have their own laptop and we don't have laptops at our school, I needed to find laptops from another school that weren't being used and have them sent to my building. I thought this would be easy, but it turned out to be more of a challenge than I thought. Regardless, the day prior to the event, we found a cart at one of our intermediate schools and it was shipped over. I also wanted to provide our teachers with the opportunity to participate in a backchannel discussion while we were viewing a presentation together. I was hoping to use uStream, but due to firewall issues at school, we couldn't access the chat feature, which is what we needed most. I was hoping to work with our network technician on Friday to get everything set up, but I found out he was out of the district that day and couldn't help me out. I guess this serves me right for waiting until the last moment. I had to find a Plan B, and that's where Twitter and Plurk came in handy. The district wouldn't allow me to download Skype or any other program to the laptops, but Anne Thorp suggested DimDim, which was completely new to me. DimDim worked extremely well. We were able to provide a live video feed of the presentations, take part in a group chat, and the only person who had to sign up was me, the host. DimDim simply sent a link to the meeting to people I set up and they received an email with a link to the meeting - no sign up or anything for them. It was a very nice site that worked great for us. We could have recorded the presentations and I wanted to save the backchannel discussion, but I forgot.

Our planned agenda didn't exactly go as scheduled, but that was okay. We had planned on watching one presentation together, several individually, and then plenty of discussion. I tossed the offer to join us out to my PLN on Twitter and Plurk and Stacy Kasse, a teacher from New Jersey, joined us for much of the evening. Her comments were excellent and the teachers were very pleased we had someone else joining us from "the outside." Thank you, Stacy. After watching the Getting Started Keynote together and discussing the session, we decided to take a look at some of the Web 2.0 tools mentioned. I demonstrated Twitter, Plurk, VoiceThread, and others. We had some great conversations about how these can be beneficial, all of which were new to most of the other teachers. We then decided to watch another session together, rather than move on to individual viewing. This was fine with me because we were able to continue our discussions. Finally, we broke out to view a session on our own. A few people watched sessions as pairs or small groups, but we were able to learn more. At the conclusion, we touched base again on the evening, discussed the next step, and headed out. Some of us ended up getting some dinner and drinks together, which of course led to more discussion about the event.

Overall, I thought the night was a success. There was a lot of learning, a lot of good discussion, and a good time. Most of the people said they would participate in something like this again, maybe not on a Friday night for 2.5 hours, but perhaps after school for an hour or so - just enough time to view a session or 2 and talk. I'm open to this and hope to set up something down the road because what we did this past Friday was the beginning for many of our teachers. Integrating technology into the curriculum and your teaching is not an easy task, but these teachers were willing to take the first step. I hope we all continue moving forward and learning, it's the best thing we can do for our students.

I hope to provide a follow up with specific comments and plans from the attendees over the next few days.

Tomorrow marks a Friday evening of professional development that the staff at my school has probably never been a part of. Taking an idea written about by Jeff Utecht and Dean Shareski, we will be having our own little LAN party centered around the K12 Online Conference. I put together some information about the conference and emailed the staff at my school about staying after school to participate in a unique learning opportunity. I think there will be ten people from my school participating. To me, it really shows the willingness of these people to stick around for about 2.5 hours on a Friday night to learn something new. Sure, I've encourage them with food and refreshments to make the evening a little more fun, but I think they realize the true value will be in the conference itself. We may try to uStream parts of what we're doing, but we've had some trouble with the chat feature due to district firewalls. I would love to have a backchannel chat going on as we view one of the keynotes together. If we can't do it via uStream, perhaps we can load Skype on the computers and give that a try. I don't know if this will work out or not, but if we do get it up and running, I'll post the link on Twitter and Plurk. I really hope people get something out of the time they will be putting in. I hope the teachers involved will see an example of how they can guide their own learning in ways typically not thought of. I hope they share the info with a friend or colleague who didn't attend.

I wonder if this type of learning will be the future of professional development for educators. Basically, it's On Demand learning. Teachers find the time to figure out what they want to learn, find the resources and connections to make it happen, and then learn. This is very different from what professional development has looked like in the past. Typically, teachers attend some type of conference, usually on their own time and out of their own pocket. However, these types of conferences obviously have time and location limits. School districts will also bring in speakers, probably at a high cost, and make teachers sit and get. But offering teachers opportunities to choose the topic of their choice, and learn at a time that is convenient for them, could be more beneficial. Districts can still make sure the topics are related to initiatives and standards. Is the fear that teachers will waste their time? Not take part? I would argue the opposite because the learning could be more meaningful. As hard as it is, districts need to let go of the control and give the reigns to the teachers when it comes to professional development.

I'm looking forward to our event. I hope teachers not only walk away with something they've learned, but also discover a new way to grow as an educator. Perhaps it can lead to more time viewing K12 Online presentations down the road - maybe another LAN party later in the year. The more the merrier, right?

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