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 del.icio.us. 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.