Saturday, September 20, 2008

K12 Online Conference

Hey there. I've been gone for the summer and am hoping to find some time to keep up my blog as the school year wears on, continuing to talk about technology integration in the classroom. Along those lines, I would like to take a moment to talk about a great education conference that will be taking place during the last two weeks of October, the K-12 Online Conference.

The conference explores many aspects of education and teaching with numerous individuals sharing 20 minute presentations on a wide range of topics. This year's conference strands include the following: Getting Started, Prove It!, Kicking It Up a Notch, and Leading the Change. Each strand will be keynoted by a leader in the field, and then each day the stand is active, presentations will be released in both video and audio formats for individuals to download and consume at their own pace. A culminating live conversation, a Fireside Chat, will take place at the end of both week 1 and week 2 of the conference.

I was honored to be selected to present as part of this year's conference in the Kicking it Up a Notch strand. Sometime during week 2 of the conference, my presentation on Backchanneling in the Classroom will go live. I invite all of you to check out not only my presentation but also all of the presentations in all of the strands when the conference kicks off.

For now, here's a teaser for my presentation.

Check out K-12 Online Conference page for more information about the entire conference.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

CFF Legislative Day

Below will be the live blog for Classrooms For the Future legislative day. Continued coverage will depend on Internet access and its stability as the day wears on.

See the live blog window below for coverage.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

CFF Legislative Day - Tomorrow

Classrooms For the Future (CFF) Legislative Day is on Wednesday, June 18, and I'm going to attempt to blog it live as it unfolds. This will all depend on Internet access and its stability as the day wears on.

You can sign up for a reminder below. Check back to this site at the scheduled time for full, live coverage.

Friday, April 11, 2008

CoverItLive in the Classroom

I got a chance to test out another chat room like utility tool this past week: it was CoverItLive. CoverItLive is considered a live blogging tool. However, recently, an option has been added to embed HTML code on any kind website. I had an activity I wanted to run with my level two English class. (I've blogged about my experiences with them before here and here.) I've been using with my Advanced Placement class, which is an un-moderated solution. However, I had particular concerns about opening up an un-moderated chat room for any kind of post to go up with this group. So, when I heard that one of the technology coaches in my district had played with the ability to embed this tool on a wiki, I decided to go ahead and give the moderated CoverItLive a go for a chat room like activity.

I was wrapping up my project on The Crucible and had a movie that takes a CSI type approach to looking at how science might explain the events that happened in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692. I wanted to have the kids watch this movie. However, I did not want them to be passive participants in the activity. That is and has been one of my complaints about showing movies in the classroom. So I set up the chat room using CoverItLive and introduced the students to what I wanted them to do, what they could write about, and what were acceptable posts in the chat room.

We started watching the documentary, and the comments started to fly. I did receive a number of different comments that were not at all appropriate, but as a result of the moderated piece to the puzzle, I was able to keep all of the inappropriate and off color comments out of the chat room. (Additionally, moderators have the ability to privately message participants, so I used this function to warn students and try to guide them to more appropriate contributions.) This increased the quality of the discussion.

What was cool was the kids could pose questions they had about what they were watching, and they could answer each other's questions as well. We had quite a discussion in the room as you can see from some of the sample posts I've included below.
At the end of the activity, it was incredibly apparent that kids had enjoyed themselves. In fact, having a couple extra minutes at the end of class, I asked them to let tell me what their comments were on the activity, and here, at the left, are some of those comments I received.

I would highly recommend the CoverItLive moderated discussion room feature for any educator who wants to increase the conversations between students in the classroom but who has concerns about what might be said or shared that might not necessarily be appropriate for public consumption. It takes a lot of energy and focus on the instructor's part to moderate a chat room such as this, but the benefits, as can be seen from my kids' comments, greatly outweigh, in my opinion, any negatives.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Collaborative Work Groups

I ran an interesting activity in class the other day. It started and evolved around this question: Why do students have to work independently on projects? I got to wondering that the other morning as I was getting ready for school. So, I thought, what the heck? Why not let them work on a routinely independent project collaboratively? It was a research based project, and what the kids needed to do was to find some information in three different areas to get them thinking about a novel we were about to start reading.

Typically, I would have had the kids research, finding facts related to the issues. Each fact had to be found in and corroborated by two different sources before it could be posted for the public or classmates to see. This time, though, I let them work in a group. Each group selected its own group leader, and once they started finding facts that answered the questions that I had posed, they were allowed to turn to their teammates and ask them to help them find the corroborating evidence.

The activity worked pretty smoothly, especially with one of the two groups I had going in the classroom. I heard them talking to each other, sharing facts and ideas they had found which they thought were relevant to the questions I had posed. Then, other students were quickly going on different search engines, logging on to our library resources, and visiting other websites to see if they could find that same piece of information listed someplace else. All the while, the project manager was keeping track of all the bibliographic entries and making sure that each piece of information posted to our SKRBL board had two citations to go with it.

Of course, the interactions going on in the activity were higher than when I had the students work on the activity independently. It was really incredible to hear their interactions, to listen to their teamwork, to see their teamwork and to see the results of what they came up with. In addition, the activity mirrored, to a slight extent, a project team like the students might have to work on when they begin the next phase of their life after high school.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Student Voice & the future

Just finished participating in a video conference that came about as a direct result of my involvement in Classrooms for the Future (CFF). Our district was asked by the state of Pennsylvania, and specifically Holly Jobe, to share our findings and insights with a group of educators in the San Joaquin Valley, California, interested in bringing technology into their classrooms, and it was a really interesting experience. Our team decided to have on hand not only technicians, not only our CFF coaches, and not only our administrative team but also a classroom teacher, myself, and a student to the conference, and the student had a big impact on the tone of the conference. It reminded me a lot of Educon 2.0 when students voiced the role of technology in their lives and how it was affecting them in the classroom. Jessica, the student I had with me, very dynamically illustrated to the folks in California the impact the technology had on her as well as very much impressing our state level friends who organized this video conference. (She was congratulated by all the members of the group and personally thanked by Holly at the end!) It turns out California wants to mimic what we're doing with Classrooms For the Future.

The message I want to get out to anybody that might be reading this blog is this: as we continued talking about classrooms of the future, 21st century education, classrooms 2.0, schools 2.0, and students 2.0, we have to remember to bring the students into the discussion. They are dynamic and will be critical at convincing reluctant staff members and education personnel that there is a need for change in the 21st century.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Don't take too much for granted

I had a bit of a let down with one of my classes here a few weeks back. It was early in the new semester, which for us means that we get all new classes on the flavor of block scheduling we operate on. With this class in particular, I'd been working hard to establish a good rapport and get these students to buy in to the approach I wanted to use in class. In fact, I blogged about this class a couple posts back. I'd gotten pretty comfortable with these students and felt I was starting to make some progress with them. So, when it came time to do an activity using SKRBL, I left a bit too much unsaid.

I introduced the activity to the kids, gave them the directions, and sent them off to work. I was on my feet a good chunk of the period, as I'd anticipated, helping kids get on the right browser and log on to the site. As things progressed either our network connection or Skrbl's ground to a halt, and the automatic updates ceased reflecting on my computer, which was also projecting on the main screen.

So, much later in the period when I finally got to a computer that was able to pull a refresh on the page, I was shocked to see a post that referenced someone having a large anatomical part. Without announcing the specific post, I asked what it was all about and calmly expressed my dissatisfaction to the class. I told the kids that I knew it had been one of them that had posted it, and I was disappointed that one of the other students had taken the initiative to take it down. I reminded the students they were a network of sorts and should have been looking out for each other. Well, until things settled down and the service returned to normal, the post in question was gone and no one had owned up to doing it. I was at least grateful for that.

What's the lesson to be learned here? Never take a class's goodwill for granted. Before using any tool, a teacher must remember to make expectations for appropriate use and behavior clear to the students. That way, use guidelines are clear in the students' minds going in to the activity. Additionally, it's an element of teaching good digital citizenship: teaching the students to behave in positive and meaningful ways in all situations they are in on the web.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Professional Development that Works

Did you ever wonder what a good model of professional development might look like? Well, I just had one today. This professional development activity is called Cadre, and it's sponsored by my school district. It's facilitated by Paul, a great guy from Apple Computer.

Paul started out today by asking what we wanted to know about Web 2.0, and we knew just enough to be dangerous when he threw out that term. Minutes later, we had a graphic organizer of about 20 different topics we had heard something about.

We narrowed those 20 topics we have generated into 6 focus areas. Then Paul divided us into groups based on our main area of interest. He then gave us the next hour and a half to just explore that web 2.0 concept or tool and propose potential uses for it in education. It was really a good chance for people who were interested in something they had heard about to dig deeper into that topic.

After lunch, we all presented what we have found. We explored Twitter and Pownce; We explored Moodles, Blogs, and Wikis; We explored and created Skrbls. We explored Friends (Brandon, Elisha, Ann and Mike) tweeted in to help me demonstrate Twitter and the power it has as a network. I learned about a number of modules within Moodle that might address some needs in my classroom as a one stop location, including discussion sections, chat sections, and places to post other content.

As the afternoon wore on, the student became the teacher when I clued Paul in to Jott and how to use it, which he in turn shared with the group, and by the end of the day, many people in the room had signed up for Jott accounts and were already using it to send themselves and others notes. And in the middle of the session, Kristin ran a test session of CoverItLive, which the group got to see unfold.

By the end of the day, everyone had come away with something new to use in either their classroom, and in some cases, people had new personal tools too.

Why was this a good model of professional development? It allowed teachers interested in transforming their classrooms and engaging their students time to explore something they might not have had time to otherwise. The gears were definitely turning all day long as this group of teachers took ownership of their own learning for a day.

Friday, February 1, 2008

My Network

Putting a request out to my network is like turning on the Bat Signal.

OK. I'm dating myself here a little bit, but back in the 1970's when Gotham city needed Batman (aka Bruce Wayne, aka Adam West...yes, that Batman), all they had to do was turn on their trusty Bat Signal, and help came running. I'd been trying to describe what happened when I needed an outside perspective earlier this week. and for me, it was like turning on the Bat Signal.

I had been thinking about one of my English classes a lot this week, especially in light of some discussions I was a part of at EduCon this past weekend, worrying that the honeymoon period was ending. So, I turned to my networks. To my virtual network, I twittered this question:

"Thespian70: Network: What do you think? Would it work to go to a low level English class, juniors, American Literature and ask, 'What do you need from this class?"

Followed up by: "Some are college bound and some are work bound...very mixed bunch."

At the same time, I turned to my real network. I walked up the hall to talk with Kristie and Wes. The advice started to swoop in like a bat:

  • lorisheldon @Thespian70 Don't know that age/ability group well, but would not hurt to ask, kids tend to take more ownership when involved in dec. making
  • chrischampion @Thespian70 Or "Here's what we HAVE to do.... how do you want to do it?"
  • CohenD @Thespian70 - your approach is exactly what one of my colleagues does with her juniors - open the semester with negotiations, contracts

From my building network, I received similar sentiments including some insights on individual students and thoughts on the approach I was thinking about. I even had one person eager to know how it worked out.

So, I ventured into class and sat the kids down for a talk. I'd looked at the curriculum and had broken it down into thirds: three main skills/areas I had to address during junior English. Then, the brainstorming began. My responses weren't all that surprising, and everyone will be able to satisfy their needs with some activities I had in mind plus I'm going to let them design some of their own activities. They've been really excited thus far when I've let them do that.

My Bat Signal on Tuesday really helped me think through a situation I was struggling with on a number of levels, and because of all the encouragement I received, I've ventured down a path I wouldn't have a few years ago. Thanks network! I'll turn the signal off for now.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Reflecting on EduCon2.0

I'm exhausted. So why am I blogging right now? If you've been following me on Twitter at all this weekend, you'll know I just got home from Philadelphia, PA, and EduCon 2.0, and I just want to share my initial reflections on this experience.

There's a lot of things going through my head as I think about the last two days. The one, my biggest single take away from the weekend is that I have to always remember that whatever I do in the classroom, it's got to be for the best and the betterment of the students. I mean that I need to make sure that everything I do in the classroom has meaning and purpose and is going to make the students better citizen. I try to always keep that in the forefront of my mind as I plan, but it's always valuable to be challenged to re-evaluate where you've been and where you are going.

Another remarkable thing about this weekend was that every single conversation I was part of, no matter where it took place or what session it was in, always came back to the issue of learning networks. Not necessarily social networks but learning networks. Who are you going to network with to better your education, to better your learning, to continue to be a lifelong learner. This question was raised with teachers to answer for themselves, and teachers were challenged to ask themselves how they could assist their students in learning to do this. What can you do?

I'm sure I'll have more to say as I look over my notes and digest everything that I was exposed to. There's so much running through my head right now, but I need some more time (and sleep) to reflect.