Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Power of Advocacy - part 2

After meeting with the district level of our technology team, which I discussed in my last blog, I decided it was time to talk with my building principal. This was a result of not only attending the Keystone Summit but being involved with Classrooms For the Future (CFF) and the emBedded Learning Academy associated with it.

Having been involved with all of these, I began to recognize the need for some wide-ranging changes in my building, and amongst those was the fact that too few teachers were being exposed to the transformation happening with education in the 21st Century. How could the word be transmitted to the masses? How could we work to get everyone on staff on the same page so we were all working towards the same goals? My plan when meeting with the principal was to introduce the idea of having an educational component to monthly faculty meetings; in other words, make the meetings less informative and more didactic.

We were on the same page! Based on his involvement with CFF, he had reached the same conclusion. We’ve already scheduled a second meeting, this time involving the assistant principals as well, and I’ve suggested some topics for the first couple months. I suspect we will also branch out to address some Learning Focused School issues as the school year wears on, but we’ll definitely be moving the faculty and staff in the direction of 21st Century education.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Power of Advocacy

Returning from the Keystone Technology Institute (KTI), I had a renewed energy and excitement about teaching. I came away with many new ideas and thoughts about where we could take technology in my district. Before I even got home, I’d been invited in for a conversation with Jill M., one of our technology directors and a true educator. I went in with an agenda since I’d been thinking about so many things. My main focus: how we could use technology for professional development and to improve teacher-student interactions.

Our wide-ranging talk resulted in several immediate outcomes: the filter on the district network was opened to allow teachers greater access to Internet resources. For example, Twitter has been opened to teachers, and I hope to show my colleagues how they can use it not only for social connections but also for professional contact. (I know I’ve learned a lot from the small circle of people I follow on Twitter!) Because of mentioning the work of Kristen H at the Summit, Skype had already been opened up as a potential avenue for video conferencing.

On another front, I brought up the idea of using some flavor of instant messenger to keep teachers connected with their students. Why do this? The kids of today are connected, and one of those connections is IM. Why shouldn’t we connect with them in a way they are accustomed to and comfortable with? Anyhow…quite frankly, it seems like there’s a fear on some fronts about doing this, and I can understand that. It opens up a whole new form of teacher-student interaction, and what happens if there is an accusation of inappropriate contact? I’ve suggested, and am willing to be a part of, designing a district policy that would support this.

Finally, I brought back the idea of technology mentors from KTI, and Jill seems receptive to the idea. She brought up the idea of using a group called Cadre that we already have in place to help teachers new to the district become familiar with our technological policies and practices.

All in all, it never hurts to take ideas to the folks in charge, especially if they are open to team work and dialogue. Next up...what happened when I met with the building principal.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Persuasive Games

I heard about Persuasive Games on the replay of Tuesday's The Cobert Report, so I decided to check them out. Basically, the premise behind the games is they make people more aware of world issues through on-line interactive simulation game play. Some of their games are offered for free via Shockwave, there's another over at CNN (Presidential Pong), and a number which apparently appear next to editorials on the online version of the New York Times (a TimesSelect subscription is required). Several others, when clicking the 'More' button tell you to contact the company for additional information. Real world issues of today seem to be the main focus of the games.

Can't think of any direct applications in my English classroom...yet. Perhaps just a good background on current events to help the students be more world aware.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Tag...I'm it!

8 Random Facts

Much to my surprise, I found out I was tagged this morning. I'm not sure why, but Kristen
tagged me. So, even though this is outside the scope of my normal blog and even though I'm a relatively new blogger, I'll play along with this meme. While I won't be able to tag 8 other people, I'll try to get a couple more people involved.

Anyway, here are the rules:
  • Post these rules before you give your facts
  • List 8 random facts about yourself
  • At the end of your post, choose (tag) 8 people and list their names, linking to them
  • Leave a comment on their blog, letting them know they’ve been tagged

My Facts:

  1. I drove a diesel locomotive near Waterbury, CT in June of 2007. I was at the throttle for nearly an hour and for about 20 miles.
  2. In my first 13 years of teaching, I directed or supervised at least 39 productions. Yes, that's three a year. I retired from that to help teachers in my building learn to use technology better.
  3. There are 5 nieces and 1 nephew in the family. The men are losing out.
  4. I love attending professional Broadway productions, whether locally or in NYC.
  5. I never had a pet until January 1996. The cat adopted me.
  6. My first computer at home was an Atari 800; at school TRS 80.
  7. I have dinner with the same group of people every Thursday night, and have been doing so for nearly 15 years.
  8. It was easily this century before I had my first cell phone.
Again, I'm a relatively new blogger, and I don't even know 8 other bloggers yet. But I'll still tag a couple people and see if they are up to this challenge.

Dianne (come on, you've been tagged twice)

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Shift Happening in Dubai

Jim Gates over at TipLine blogged about this earlier today:
TipLine - Gates' Computer Tips: [TIPS] Look at what's happening in Dubai

This is one thing all KTI Summit attendees and others concerned about the transition to a 21st Century model of education need to be thinking about. We need to make sure our students are getting what they need to be competitive in the world in the coming years.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Inservicing teachers of tomorrow

I taught an in service academy today...was one of three presenters. Our topic: Digitizing Your Classroom. We had about 45 teachers in for the day, and we focused on uses of social networking in the classroom, creating electronic charts, and creating dynamic, non-linear PowerPoint Presentations. My focus was PowerPoints.

First off...don't ever try to use a laptop as a file server for a folder 100+ MB in size! I learned the hard way. I'd used the Mac file share feature in the past, but not for anything that big. Get 5 to 10 computers trying to get it at the same time (or whenever the computer maxed out), and everything ground to a halt. Thank God for a back-up plan...USB drives to the rescue! (In hindsight, I should have started a wikispace with the resources. Of course, I didn't realize that until about 5 a.m. yesterday and the academy started at 8:00. Oh, well.)

The technique I was trying to teach was to use buttons for navigation so the kids can jump around as they wish and to embed rich forms of media within the PPT. Why these technique? Student pacing was my big selling point. Are there students who need more time to process the provided information? Absolutely! This kind of PowerPoint allows for this kind of pacing. Students can read at their own rate, take notes at the level they deem necessary, and even replay the embedded videos if they missed something. On a rudimentary level, this a simple way to handle differentiated instruction.

Anyhow, I used plenty of hands on instruction after providing that 100+MB play file: taught a small part while having the group follow along with the provided files, let them practice on their own, give another segment, practice, and then extended practice at the end. Towards the end of the session I provided a take-away: a PowerPoint with embedded screen shots and videos (thanks SnapProX!) to refer back to later when the teachers are creating their PowerPoints.

The feedback when the day was over was what I had hoped for. They liked the chunking and the hands on approach in not only my session but all three. Most felt they were exposed to so much new today. Overall, it was extremely satisfying.

What was my "take away" for the day? I got to interact with a bunch of eager teachers from veterans to some who haven't set a foot in the classroom yet, and I found out that most are all in the same boat: they want to connect with the kids on their level as 21st century learners and are just looking for how to do it. (There was a naysayer in the crowd who tried to tell me we needed to focus on the basics and not worry about the process too much. He said we were trying to scare them with all our talk of how we have to interact differently with the kids in the 21st Century.) It's gratifying to see that so many of us are on the same page and moving in the same direction.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Online Discussion

Discussion groups. Blogs.

Online discussions were my first venture into Web 2.0 applications nearly 3 years ago. What prompted the move? Students who were shy about participating in the classroom. I wasn't hearing their voice and thinking. Their classmates weren't either. In my mind, it was a necessity to get these students involved: they had to think, and they needed feedback on their thinking from others. I set up a group at YahooGroups, allowed the students to choose their level of anonymity to the other group members (but not to me), and I was off and running. The students could read, respond, and (hopefully!) dialogue.

What's the key to a good discussion? A good question is the start. The question must be open ended and has to allow for some latitude in thinking. Preferably, there are many angles to the question. Anything less, and you'll just get a lot of, "yeah" and "me too." Don't get me wrong, even with a good question, you'll still get a lot of "I agree with 'so-and-so.'"

However, there's more to it than just having good questions. At first, even with the best questions, the students will only want to talk to you, the teacher. While that's fine, where's the interaction? The challenge? The analysis? The depth of thought?

Things really start to groove when they really discuss and talk to each other: when they ask for clarification, ask questions, and challenge assertions. How, though, can you get the kids to that place? The only answer I've found is this: with time. But I'm impatient. How can I get them to move there more quickly? Hmmm...