Thursday, April 22, 2010

Step Aside

We are all guilty of it. Whether we are parents, teachers, presenters, etc. we have all done it. I know that I am guilty of it and am learning from my errors with a new focus on what is important, stepping aside, and keeping it in perspective.

When we adults prepare for a presentation of any sort we want it to look G-O-O-D. We want it perfect. Colors, graphics, audio, spelling - everything should shine. And now with all the creation tools that are available in the school setting we are asking for students to create too. When we see what they make we are so proud of their work that we want to share it with others - to publish their work globally. That is when we start meddling too much. I think educators and parents need to remember whose work it actually is. If using something child made, that end result should look like a child's work - glitches, over the top animation, etc. If your own child needs to create for a school project be aware that it screams "Parents helped!" if it is polished too the point that edges are cut beautiful, colors all match, etc. And as you help look to see what interaction the child has during the creation of the project. Is he/she sitting there annoying you because he/she wants to do something while you do it all? Or is he/she the leader in creating it while you sit back and help lead him/her to an end product?

I believe that it is time for teachers and adults to step aside and allow for student creations to look like the creation is done on that age level. Embrace the silliness, the errors, the crinkled mess, and allow them to own their work. They will stand taller, feel the accomplishment, and have that experience to grow and use later in life.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Connected Conferences

In the past month I have attended and presented at two education based, technology conferences and couldn't believe how different they were. One conference was a quickly put together, no cost conference. The IRW (in real world) turn out was tiny. The second conference was very organized, catered nicely, just a different level all together and had a very nice IRW turn out. Both conferences people chose to attend and were not forced so the moral was great. But there was a HUGE difference that I now believe that every conference should have. And that part is the global connection. The tiny, free conference connected to so many different places and people that brought an excited energy to the conference. It was amazing to see the virtual turn out. And then still, 3 weeks later, it is still being viewed and discussed. So even though the conference is over it will remain alive virtually.

To obtain this global connection for conferences you need to use 2 webbased tools. First the use of a Twitter hashtag to tweet and reach other people outside of your conference walls is so easy to create. Just make sure that your hashtag wasn't already taken for something else. Then just start using it. Try tweeting out with that hashtag with other hashtags in your comment so it gets threaded to others. And I would recommend tweeting about the hashtag before the event to start dropping the conference event in others' heads.

To bump up the tweeting aspect, get others attending the conference to tweet. Have them post what they are hearing and seeing, share links, and upload photos. When a hashtag is being used a lot in a day people will notice and start following!

A second aspect of connecting your conference globally is through another free tool called uStream (which is the one I have used, but am well aware that there are other sites that do this same thing.) To set up this you really need a pretty decent microphone so that people at home are not frustrated with the audio, a web camera, and the internet. Once you have the URLs established through uStream, have someone monitor it during the conference to make sure that the virtual audience is being heard. (There is nothing more frustrating than watching a conference virtually and not be heard than represented IRW.) If you click the little record button you would even be able to archive the presentations to share with others whenever they feel like watching!

Here comes my plea to administrators and board members:
With so much online professional development going on via Twitter, Nings, Blogs, etc I am growing professionally every day versus the painful cut out inservice days before the start of school. Now don't get me wrong, I actually liked inservice (once I finally got there and knew I had to sit through the day) and always came away with some useful tip but that "forced to grow on this day" is just a thing of the past. More schools are counting attending online webinars towards PD and I say, "Hats off!" I would like for us global professional developers to start some simple spreadsheet and log what we attend, read, participated, etc. Even if your record is something like "twitter - used through out day and got 3 ideas, or 2 links to use in class" "followed #conference tweets" "watched archived webinar on this topic" "read Mr. Joe's blog post" I bet that your admin team would be floored how much more your are growing now than you ever had in your years on the job. And I think that teachers participation via online education communities should be recognized and rewarded for effort.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Job Desciption

You chose it. You wanted it. It is your profession, and you didn't have to become one. Now do it, and do it with a good attitude.

So what is it that you are really supposed to do? For one, you promised to teach the facts. You know, and are most likely stressed over it, that there are a ka-zillion different things that you have to share with others who don't know yet that numbers represent amounts, that your country was built with laws that have to be understood, that letters form words that must be constructed together in a way that others can read and understand the idea that you are trying to get across, and the many other facts that must be collected and seeded in a brain so that when the brain grows into an adult - those facts and understandings can help you in life.

But what about the other thing that you promised to teach? The love of learning, the need and desire to want to continue to learn and how to learn. That is our other job, the bigger (more important) job of the educator.

So with that task being given to you, that you already accepted when you chose to become a teacher, how are you going to achieve it? You achieve that goal in a way that was never given before in education. You can now, easily, achieve that goal or task through the ability of making learning fun, exciting.
Humans go towards what makes them happy. I feel that with this age of technology and all the tools that are at our disposal (online games, online information, blogs, wikis, Glogs, backchannel, collaborative word documents, movie making software, music making programs that make us be able to produce tunes that accompany our poetry, comic software, colorful and picture rich mind maps, nonlinear presentation software, virtual world building programs, maps that are created with real footage, etc) we are able to finally make learning an addiction, a good addiction.

I remember, as a kid learning, the activities that were fun (like getting to color the worksheet when I was done with the problems, or illustrating the story that I wrote, or making dough shaped people to represent people in history that I studied, or dressing up like the person I researched when I shared my facts with my friends in class). The memorable learning activities, from when I was being the student, are the ones that were engaging, got me participating, made my friends and I laugh, made connections to things that were meaningful to me, built on things that hooked me into wanting to do them.

So why is the integration of technology such a hard thing for teachers to want to embrace? Technology, online games, chat rooms, making movies, creating online interactive billboards, creating tours in Google Earth with embedded images and voice recordings give students the "want to learn" urge that makes them want to participate, want to wake up and join in the discussions, and want to own their learning. So what if it is fun? So what if there is a goofy, noisy, chaotic kid view to how the classroom is being transformed? It is hooking the kids into wanting to learn. It is adding a dimension to education that did not exist. Teachers have been trying to create this dynamic dimension through the use of SRA reading kits, file folder games, thematic units, variety of book report styles, etc. Our job is to sell students on the fact that learning is something that one should do because one wants to do it. And that to truly learn something one has be actively engaged in the ownership of learning. We educators can master teaching this to kids by embracing and using what the kids (young and old) are doing after school, applying tools in our lessons and classroom that they use naturally when they relax and unwind, use what they experiment with, understand, and like on their own.

Then why is it that so many of us are still wanting to lecture to a room of quiet bodies that are to be respectfully listening and soaking up our words. Lecturing and deploying fact after fact is painful for the student and teacher, and is not a natural state of being. Why is it that so many classrooms are still being run this way? The scary reality of that old style classroom/teaching format is now the need for this straight lecture/skill and drill teacher is becoming, not obsolete but, not so direly needed because students can look up the information you are trying so hard to get them to memorize online, any time, any where. Education reform is not the shoveling of information down throats in the 7 to 8 hour school day to regurgitate correctly one day on a three hour state test. Education reform is connecting with kids how to learn and work in groups, how to create content that captures others' attention to want to read, watch, listen, or share it with others. And this reform is fun! If we are truly educators at heart then we too are having the time of our life learning new tools (like how mobile devices connect us to worlds we have never seen, know nothing about us, nor is one that we would probably ever step foot in). Teaching via movie making, compiling photos to tell stories, designing new animations or programs that others want to learn from is making teaching for us fun, energetic.

I can not tell you how much more exhausting I felt after the week of giving the yearly state tests because it was forcing myself to stay alert when I was completely bored. And now I teach and design lessons that cause me to work at neck-breaking speeds, juggling so many tasks that I (the teacher) am frequently overwhelmed. But the great thing is at night I get to rest and go to sleep. Why would I want a job where I stand and lecture the same fact year after year, using the same lesson plan I designed when I first got the job? I don't and I bet most humans don't. That is dull. Humans don't like being bored and disengaged. It is natural to want to be involved, active, happy, laughing and having fun. So let's get on board, change the old way of teaching, and embrace the new classroom's opportunities by embracing technology and all the aspects that we can achieve through it! Let's have some fun at our job and finally fulfill our true job description: to teach the facts and to teach that learning is something that we want to do and need to do for the rest of our life.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Sandbox Time

As I have introduced kids to different applications, websites, manipulatives, books, crayons, rulers, etc the same basic rule applied, you must give them time to play and explore before expecting a child to use it in the way that you have it designed for the lesson. I never dumped out a box of counting cubes during my math lessons expecting my students to have hands off and sit quietly until I had begun to be achieved. Wanting that from the students only leads the teacher down a path of agitated classroom management. Kids are kids and must touch, see, play, and explore before mustering up their self control that we need to have in order for all to hear our words of wisdom and knowledge. If teachers don't know this and appreciate this of children, well, they are in the wrong profession.

The reason I bring this play and explore time up is because it applies to using technology in the classroom. Many web based application developers know this too and have created what is called a sandbox area to let us play, explore, and practice before using the tool in its proper fashion. I have supported many teachers in implementing technology over the past seven years and what I see that frustrates many of them is that the kids play. My advice to any and all teachers is to give students virtual sandbox play time. Allow them to blog silliness, jokes, funny stories about themselves to learn how to write and publish a post. Allow eachother to giggle and leave simple comments to learn how to respond and reflect online. Take them to places like Edmodo, teaching them how to backchannel but create a room (or in this case a group) where they can be goofy. Kids are goofy. That is what makes them kids. If you insist that the only conversations on the teacher directed blog, wiki, or collaborative online work area to be serious 24/7, grammatically correct without any off the topic comments then it won't work for you and your classroom. You will kill the interest that our students need to have towards using technogy and stiffle any secure confident feelings that they have about themselves and their virtual identity.

How quickly time flies for childhood to end, to where they don't get to cut up in silly ways, so give them to time to do it safely, securely, and positively. In doing so, children will develop a confidence and trust in themselves that it is okay to play online while exploring new tools and applications. Teaching them where, when, and how to explore correctly will also give Proxy-Connection: keep-alive
Cache-Control: max-age=0

em the outlet that they need for playing and put an end to any mischeivious actions that may occur if they can only play and test things out in the non sandbox area. You will be cultivating the virtual confidence that students need now to develop before becoming an adult - when then really have to use these tools in a work related fashion!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happiness in my Job

As I approach bedtime thoughts of what I have done with my life and where I am excites me and makes me reflect on the journey that I have gone through so far to a point where I want to put it into words. So here I am writing about my journey.

I come from a long line of teachers. As a little girl I never had to come up with an answer of what do I want to be when I grew up. I always knew the answer...a teacher. It was never a second guess. I was going to be a teacher and I was never worried about it. I was told by my mother and her friends that I shouldn't be a teacher, it wasn't a profitable career. But I let them talk and knew that it was making them happy to say it, but I wasn't going to let them change it because I was a teacher, born to be a teacher. High school came and went. I did okay, struggling with studies because I have a slight issue with reading comprehension. But I graduated. College. Not an issue. I just needed to go and get my degree in teaching. I didn't care where I went, as long as it fulfilled two things: 1. It was close to my mom. 2. I got my teaching degree. During college I had fun seeing music and being around creative people. I LOVE music and the arts. I didn't ever go into either of those fields because I just wanted to be around others that produced it while I got that teaching degree. I fell in love with an artist who is also a musician. I was married right before student teaching and my life plan of what to be when I grew up was accomplished.

So there I found myself, 22 married and a teacher. Happy to be who I always knew that I would become, but some how another realm of who or what kind of teacher I was to become was in the works. "It isn't what you know but who you know" landed me a job in Shelby County Schools in Tennessee.

Blessing numbers 1 and 2 came into place. 1. My team. My first professional team consisted of a group of teachers that ROCK! They knew what team work was, how to help each other out, and even though the ladies were 20+ years older than me, they became true friends. 2. The classroom that I first taught in was a "21st Century Classroom". That meant that it had computers, Macintosh computers and I came from a PC home. My classroom had 5 student iMacs, 1 teacher G4, color printer, software, all networked, with a Multimedia cart that included a big screen television and a laser disc player. I also had a flex camera. This first job was only an interim position. And the lady, Becky Birdsong, whose classroom it was became one of my dear friends told me during late spring that if I wanted to keep this classroom I was going to have to go get certified to teach with all that equipment. So my next goal was lined up...45 hours of technology training would grant me the right to be a "21st Century Classroom teacher for Shelby County Schools." Because at that time we had a great superintendent, Bill Mitchell, Shelby County had established an awesome technology department that held summer workshops in using different tools of technology. My husband worked during the summer, and we had not yet begun our family so I had ample amount of free time in the summer to attend LOADS of technology classes. Before I knew it I found myself in as many workshops that I could possibly sign up for every summer and throughout the school year. Slowly my skills lead me into hosting inservice workshops of my own.

Now the Shelby County School System had what we called CTS (curriculum technology specialists) folks. These were degreed and experienced classroom teachers who were good at using technology in the classroom. I wanted to be one. I wanted to be one bad and I started applying for the job before my 3 year tenure was awarded.

Another blessing occurred because my school was being annexed into the city school system and I did not want to go. Another Shelby County School needed a 2nd grade interim teacher to work for a year in a 21st Century Classroom. I landed the job and found myself in a school where the principal, Brenda Bluestein, was dedicated to her job. It was her mission in life to create a school that was on board with technology rich curriculums. Integrating technology was easy for me. The lessons were no brainers on how to bring in computers. Colleagues came to me for help, ideas, and lessons. I found myself in a definite leadership role in influencing other teachers on how to integrate technology into their classrooms, but deep down every year I applied to be the CTS. Finally, after three applications, I was given the job. I was sad and am still sad at the loss of not being in the classroom for as I have said before, I am a teacher, born to teach and need to be apart of students' lives.

My new role was a doozie. First time motherhood and supporting two elementary schools in the area of technology was a whopper! I learned more than I could have ever imagined. I was apart of the school's decision making team on what to buy, how to train, who got what, and taught the teachers how to use it. I designed lessons and assisted teachers implementing my lessons by modeling how to do it when they invited me into their rooms. I was also growing my skill set at how to troubleshoot, image machines, install software, work on and set up servers, etc. I have never been nervous about trying out stuff on computers and had the awesome support of Shelby County's technology department to help me when I need it. So try, try and fail, and try again were not intimidating.

Budget cuts hurt and my school system attempted to cut my team dramatically. (Though one year later the school system knew its errors and corrected them making an even better technology department and support staff.) But for me I couldn't see myself go back to the contained classroom. I need to be on the team that taught teachers, to influence more than just the 20+ kids each year. With the support and blessing of my husband of seven years, I applied to work at an independent school. This position was that of a computer lab teacher and IT gal. I taught PK (that's 3 year olds - like 20 three year olds at one time in a lab full of Macintosh computers), JK (4 year olds), Sk (your normal Kindergarteners), 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in the lab or classroom on their laptops. I also supported teachers, gave workshops, and did all the stuff I did when I was a CTS. The one draw back, I worked 12 months. By this time my husband found himself as an Art teacher at the high school that I graduated from and we had our second child. Being at home, by himself with our 2 girls all summer was not what we had planned our family life to be like. Summers were not what we wanted with Mommy working.

The golden opportunity arose when once again my friend Becky (whose classroom I took over when I first began teaching, and whose CTS position I filled when she left the county) was once again leaving her school to go home to her family out of state. It wasn't actually her job I took, but she helped me get this new job, where I am today, working as a Technology Specialist at one of the best elementary schools I believe there is in America. I am working at Presbyterian Day School for Boys in Memphis, TN. (Actually this is a school where I got to student teach at back in 1996 and desperately always longed to work at.) I landed this (10 month) position in 2007 and support grades 4, 5, and 6. My headmaster, Lee Burns, is one of a kind. He is visionary, and knows and supports this change in education to one that is rich in technology and completely connected globally. He has created a school where every classroom has their own laptop cart (except for PK who shares a cart between 2 connected classrooms). The school controls their filter on campus and can open or close anything that is needed online. The boys take home their laptops (MacBooks of course!) in 6th grade, and next year 5th grade will too. Every teacher has been or will be sent to Harvard to improve their teaching practices. He supports us all to grow professionally. And if there is something that we need for our teaching we pretty much get it.

Having said all that during my first year I was enrolled in Will Richardson's and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach's Powerful Learning Practice Consortium. Boy I had no idea what was going to happen next. Twitter, wikis, blogs, nings, podcasts, connecting, creating, showcasing student work, web 2.0 tools, and more began flying at me at a neck breaking pace. And I loved it. I can't help it. I am a teacher by birth. What part of all this evolution of teaching is not to love? I can't get enough.

Now I participate in professional development any time I can and many times that I shouldn't. And because of the world that Lee Burns allowed me to learn from during my one year of participating in the PLP, I too have evolved. I am acting (maybe approaching even my second term) as the Memphis Area Independent Schools - Technology Education Consortium's president. I have presented at several conferences. I have attended several conferences, including looking forward to my first ISTE conference this summer (though I attended virtually last summer). I attend conferences online via backchannels, Twitter, uStream, Elluminate. I watch old archived conferences in Classroom 2.0 in my spare time, cleaning house, working in the kitchen, etc. I try to attend conversations in Twitter via #edchat every Tuesday. I have even had the awesome opportunity to attend/be apart of/support - whatever, through Tennessee's first TeachMeet. And due to the support that I have from my school, I was able to bring the technology component to that conference aiding in spreading its wealth of information to that of the virtual viewers. A small, first time conference, with a minimum budget, no conference fee reached 100 or so people F2F, but had 600 viewers watch the streamed feed and over 2000 tweets went out. Talk about taking a conference to a new level. It was thrilling!

I have not burned out. I can not get enough. And my mind hears others share their ideas, lessons, learning, and I start generating all the ways that my boys could use that tool, or ways that the teachers I work with or those that are in my PLN could benefit. Sharing and teaching go hand in hand. I am happy in the job that I chose. I am happy to be a teacher. I could not imagine doing anything more exciting, fulfilling, and meaningful. I have the support of my family and friends. I have the support and resources from the school I work at and the leaders in that school. I have the freedom to be in Beta version and try new things out. I am blessed.

Making it Count for the Kids

With all the different lessons and activities that we ask our students to complete, posting them online adds an exciting dimension that causes the students to do a better job and allows for others to connect with their learning. I try to bring this element to the students that I support by using a variety of free Web 2.0 tools. Most recently I have participated in a 5th grade project where the students were given the task to prove their understanding of Internal and External Conflicts.

The Activity - Easily Differientiate Due to Technology:
The teacher allowed them to demonstrate their learning by choosing what type of end result they were most comfortable with. The options were to make a comic (We use the Comic Life application.), a podcast (using PowerPoint to create the images, iPhoto to organize, and Garageband to create the podcast), or a movie (using iMovie HD or '09, PowerPoints to make the images, and iPhoto). The teacher gave the students a rubric and what content was required to be shown in the end product (such as specific terms, definitions, and examples). The students were then off to work independently, in pairs, or teams - however they chose. I demonstrated a day in their class (50 minute periods) on how to create the Podcast and a little demo on bringing in the slide pictures in iMovie. But because the students were already familiar with iMovie and had already completed a Comic Life project so not much time was given to those applications.

Showing the children what they did mattered and continued outside of the 4 walls of the classroom:
For this activity the students (all but 1) chose to create a movie. When they were done all movies were exported as a .mov. The teacher has her own free wiki through PBWorks. A folder was created to place 4 sheets of "paper" to house the links for each team's Quicktime movie. By uploading the files, adding the movies was simply a click of a link! Now these students, who worked hard on their project, can showcase their work to not only their peers, their families, and now you.

Conflict Movies (scroll down to see the conflict movie links)
Instructions I gave on creating Garageband Podcasts.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Tweet That Got Me to Think

@bethstill tweeted today, "How'd you react if you were told this by admin? It isn't good for students to have 1 standout teacher while the rest are so far behind." About an hour later I was taking a walk in the woods with my family and I saw the perfect response. There in the middle of the brown trees sprouting with tiny green leaves was a beautiful purple tree. Thus, the standout tree. I laughed thinking, "God allows for many different things to standout on their own why not let teachers?" As always the state of how to teach is going through a reform, but this one is different. This reform is taking teachers into utilizing technology in its many different forms, tools, applications, etc. And as with everything in life some teachers are easy about using technology, jumping on board, ready to try even if they fail, and others are nervous and want the security of mastering it all before even attempting to try, thus falling behind. I am proud to say that I am an easy going, try, try and fail, try again type person. I support teachers on this journey, giving them the tools, ideas, and assistance in transforming lessons into technology rich activities that engage students and teach them skills like creativity and collaboration that they will need in life besides knowing that every sentence begins with a capital letter, or 5 x 3 = 15. Schools need these standout teachers to foster growth and the want to change in their colleagues teaching styles. If we don't have these standout teachers we would still be in lecture style teaching, sitting in straight quiet rows, setting our students up to be failures as adults because they are missing the skills that they did not gain because that standout teacher's wings were clipped so he/she would not fly ahead of others trying things out. So my response to that administrator would be, " You don't want me to try and be the best teacher that I can be? You don't want me to grow professionally and learn new things every day to try to use with my students? I am a teacher because I want to teach, I want to help my students grow to be the most that they can be in life. I want to try and reach them in every way possible. I am not in this profession to worry about what my colleagues can and can not do, or are and are not doing. I am in it for the students. Aren't you?"