Sunday, March 16, 2008

What Students Want

It was exciting to take advantage of an invitation on twitter from Ryan Bretag to look in on a discussion with a group of students on the impact of technology in education. It was a broadcast on Ustream TV. During the broadcast there many other educators in the chat room listening in and commenting on the conversation. As an educator who rarely gets the opportunity to have such rich conversations with students (other than my own three kids) I was really interested in what they had to say.

In the broadcast, Ryan introduced them to a few tools such as Twitter, social networking (specifically Ning), and google docs. I wasn't surprised that they hadn't heard of any of these tools. Although we give digital natives a lot of credit for knowing everything, in reality, they only know the tools they use in their personal or academic life. They don't have any more time than us grownup to go out there and seek out what's new and interesting. That's our job as ed-techs. The thing that really impressed me, to the point of smiling from ear-to-ear, was the thoughtful questions and comments in terms of how the tools are valuable. Twitter, for example wasn't met with much enthusiasm at first, as far as a tool that fits in to school. When examples such as being able to use twitter to communicate with others at different schools was offered, then the students were interested. The students really focused on the value for school. How would this be used in the context of the classroom? I was really impressed that the students focused on the value of the tools in their learning environment.

Ning made them nervous. Social networking is viewed as something they do in their free time. Networking with teachers? Not so much. When Ryan made it clear that Ning is a more professional tool, than the students could see the value in using it as a tool for communication and collaboration. They could wrap their heads around the value of the tool as they separated the concept from their own "facebooked world".

Google Docs was really met with a lot of enthusiasm. Many students brought up specific examples of how they would use this tool as they worked in groups. The described scenarios where emailing documents back and forth to team mates really failed, or kept them up until all hours if the message didn't arrive right away.

While I was listening in on this conversation, I was forming a plan to have a similar type round table discussion with the middle school students in my district. I run a risk because middle school students are not quite as focused and insightful as they will be in a few years. The I thought about having this kind of discussion with the teachers. With the teachers, I run the risk of getting a great deal of resistance. "Who has time?" is a question I get a lot. Also, unfamiliar tools tend to get a lot of resistance from non-digital native because we can always find fault with something that seems really new and different. In addition, in the case of elementary school, if only some teachers used the tools and most others didn't, would all of the students get an equitable chance for exposure or utilization?

Ryan blogged about these discussions this weekend. He really hit the nail on the head here:

Bottom line: Despite growing up in a digital world, they aren't as familiar with the tools or use the tools as much as we believe. However, the difference is that they are open-minded compared to some of an older generation.

A lot of time, we give these kids credit for knowing more than they really do, but we don't give them credit enough for having the same kind of sense of urgency and same recognition of value of their own educational experiences.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Personal Learning Networks II

In an earlier post, I indicated that one of my "big three" was to start using twitter. I've been using it regularly for a couple of weeks and through twitter I got a chance to see David Warlick speak at the North Carolina computing educators conference through ustream. Here is a link to his handouts. In the workshop he talked about using RSS to find tools and information that will help one as a professional. In describing how to use RSS to find images and other information that would help put together lessons and classroom activities, David said, "Train the information to find us." I thought that was a cool quote and I understand exactly what he is saying. So much time is spent looking for information, "just in time". If we prepare in advance by setting up feeds, wikis, and other web2.o tools to accept and organize the information, when we need it, it's there for us.

Once again, the impact of blogs as a professional development tool was brought up with his group. David asked his group if they read blogs and then offered a list of bloggers that are widely read by other educators as a way to learn about what is going on in the field. (His blog should be on the top of the list.) As I mentioned before, reading blogs of other educators who are interested and knowledgeable about technology is the single most important professional development activity that I engaged in.

Twitter is coming a close second. Because of Twitter, I was able to attend David's session today. Here's my Big Three for David's session:

1. Set up RSS feed pages on my pageflakes page for topics that I'm interested in including internet safety, blogging in the classrooms, PLN
2. Participate in twitter in a meaningful way, like posting links to good tools and interesting articles - not just posting goofy stuff
3. Participate in my ning networks because I know that the people in my ning group will be knowledgeable and supportive with the issues that I have in my job. I'll learn alot from them.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Lighten Up Francis

Thanks to Four Eyed Technologist, I finally found out where that phrase comes from. When I get all mad and start ranting about this, that, and the other, my husband says to me, "Lighten up, Francis." I knew that line was from a movie, but never knew it was Stripes.

The clip in his blog was fitting. He is really fired up! Ryan focused on his thought, "Learning spaces that live and die with the teacher aren’t Good Enough." The message of his post described course management systems and how teachers utilize various features of the CMS to one degree or another. Since the use of the tools is not consistent, the students' learning experience depend greatly on the teacher and how much effort they put into the course environment . (I hope I got it right.)

I'm going to focus on his other idea, the one he chose not to expand on. I found that it's more what I can talk about, "Pockets of Greatness aren’t Good Enough". Here's my thoughts about this statement:

I agree with Ryan. It's frustrating to see the educational experiences in some classrooms to be technology-rich and using transformative tools. Other classrooms could use their computers as boat anchors. "Pockets of greatness" can also characterize the educational experiences of students outside the use of technology. There are great teachers who demonstrate a real understanding of their students. Great teachers use best practices in differentiated instruction, focus on higher levels of Bloom's taxonomy, and allow his or her students to connect the classroom to the real world. In that "pocket", children experience the opportunity to think creatively and be self directed. Out of the "pocket", students are disengaged and undervalued as learners. With or without technology, there is greatness and not-so-greatness. Within a child's whole 8 years (I'm an elementary educator), he will not always be in the class of a great teacher. It's unfortunate, but let's face's true. What keeps me from "going Francis" is to focus on the big picture. The students will be fine. The students that came out of the school where I taught were very well prepared, and their technology-related experiences were much richer that that students from other other schools. Technology is so much a part of the lives of children outside of school, that they are competent and confident. It would be great if they utilized real world tools in all aspects of school. I really believe that and I do absolutely everything I can to promote the use of technology in meaningful ways. I'd like to expect that every teacher is on the same page. Realistically, it 'aint gonna happen......yet. Reflecting on the analogy that Ian Jukes gives us, a passionate educator with vision keeps "swimming upstream" as a committed sardine. Eventually, the rest will follow.

Ryan's blog post reflected passion and high standards. An influential teacher/leader needs that kind of vision. To keep one's sanity however, sometimes it's necessary to step back and look at the big picture.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Thinkature - a very cool tool

One of my favorite ways to surf the net is to start with the and click on popular. I come across some of the coolest tools that way. I almost always save at least a few of the popular sites on my own list. I have over 1200 links that interest me. Once in a while, I come across something that I feel like I must use immediately. Today it was Thinkature. Thinkature is a really cool collaboration tool where you can create mind maps and brainstorming visual organizers. The other mind map tools that I've found include WiseMapping, Mind42, and MindMeister. Naturally, my favorite will always be the offline version Inspiration. (I wonder if they are developing an online version with all the cool features?) Thinkature's features are really powerful. They include chatting and the use of images, either from your hard drive or imported from the web. Wow! It's so cool! Here are a few ideas on how to use this in the classroom or as a professional tool for teachers.
  • With an interactive whiteboard
  • Recap a field trip
  • Create a timeline
  • Connecting ideas as a study guide
  • Prepare to write an essay or report
  • Prepare a presentation

I started a workspace, just to get a little practice. Feel free to add to edit it.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Pageflakes - the way to keep track of Intentional R&D

I came across a post from a blogger from the Teacher Leaders Network describing the educational use of Pageflakes. I used to have pageflakes set up as my home page, but it was really slow to load. My kids started to complain, and I just set it back to good 'ole Google. After reading Mr. Ferriter's post, I decided to work on my PageFlakes and even copied a few of his pages, like the educational bloggers page and the Accomplished Educational Leadership page.

Like Mr. Ferriter, the single most important form of professional development that I engage in on a daily basis is reading blogs. Creating a visual way to organize my favorites (who are also his) will make it easier to spend a few minutes here and there to read them and organize information that I get from them with flakes like notepad, and delicious.

I think when I show teachers how to read blogs, this form of feedreader will be easier to understand and perhaps I might be able to persuade more teachers to try this when I show them my pageflakes page.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Technology Driven Differentiated Instruction

I've been following Vicki Davis's blog and projects for quite a while. It was really cool to have her present at the Illinois technology conference. The presentation that I attended was Technology Driven Differentiated Instruction. I've done a great deal of research about differentiated instruction. My master's thesis was a study on effective professional development strategies in order to implement DI into teaching and learning. I've read research by Carol Ann Tomlinson, who is the foremost expert on the subject. This workshop presented the content with a new twist. DI is a very complex topic and generally pretty difficult to do well at first. Vicki's presentation provides some very specific recommendations for the use of web2.0 tools in the classroom and how the process, the product, or the content can be differentiated based on the teaching and learning experience. I need to take a look at her slideshow a few more times to get my head around the information. Pairing the implementation of web2.0 tools with DI is so overwhelming. I think that first teachers have to be comfortable with one concept or the other first before the two are paired. Clearly, Vicki has well developed technology integrated classroom, globally connecting her students using blogs, wikis, podcasting, and other tools. None of the teachers I currently work with are using web2.0 tools.

Here's the slide show, and my big three.

  • Find a way to use - I saw this site at Beth's workshop too. It looks like a cool application for interactive white boards
  • Blog regularly - even if I can't implement any of these "big three" lists, continue to write about what I've learned
  • Write a Big Three for the workshops from IL-TCE
  • Organize Intentional R&D - Use this name for the list of stuff I want to look at, learn, implement, inspire other with. This seems like a way to make the time I spend with new ideas and articles much more productive.

Building Personal Learning Networks - Engaging Adult Learners

This is a presentation by Vinnie Vrotny. Unlike other presentations, Vinnie tried to make it interactive by giving the group guiding questions to discuss for a few minutes to get us thinking and talking about personal learning networks. His goal was clearly to get us to network with others around us. The ICE conference is always a good way to network and I like to take advantage of the opportunity to meet other enthusiastic educators. The complete presentation can be found here.

My "Big Three":
  • Set up a social networking or web2.0 application for parent workshops. Include videos, articles, prompt questions. Encourage engagement and for parents to be a guide and a mentor rather than a policeman.
  • Use twitter and the Ning network to extend my personal learning network
  • Facilitate personal learning networks with others in my district. I've discussed this possibility with a couple of staff members and was met with lukewarm response. I need to find a way to show them examples and demonstrate the value.
  • Set up a tool to develop a learning network for our chapter of ICE (ICE-COLD)
Has anyone noticed that my big three is usually more than three?

Welcome to F.R.E.E. Fantastic Resource for the Enthusiastic Educator

From Beth Buke's presentation, which was hilarious. How fitting that it was held in Zanies. Her very energetic presentation had a smattering of technical issues, but she kept it moving. Beth worked very hard to put together an extremely informative presentation. Her presentation wiki can be found here. Her list of resources is very nicely organized and annotated.

Here's my "Big 3"
  • Use googledocs. I already use google docs in a very limited way. My boss loves the idea of posting our curriculum maps to google docs and giving all the teachers access to make them living documents. I want to really develop the use with students and teachers.
  • Animoto: take photos, upload them and animoto - 30 seconds is for free, would be a great alternative to those very hairy iMovie projects
  • Jing: already use Jing regularly for screen shots, but to demonstrate how to do something in a movie, I should use this more often, turn off the mic, since I don't like my voice.
  • - similar to powerpoint not quite as fancy very easy - maybe this would be a good tool to teach powerpoint challenged teachers
  • Screencast-o-matic - you don't have to create an account, record what you want, and download it, check this out!
  • Voice thread - example Mrs. Joe's class. Upload pictures and users make comments, Ridge has to use this!!! The power is the comments (different settings for privacy), public but keep it off of the browse - great idea, students create their identities within identities within her account to keep it safe and controlled, planning is extremely important - use a story board! Focus on the content.

I've heard of all of these resource and even signed up for every one. Beth has motivated me to get moving and use them.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

IL-TCE - a great time!

The best advice from the Illinois Computing Educators Conference was from Vicki Davis. I attended her workshop on differentiated instruction using technology. She recommends that everyone "have a big three" from every workshop that was attended. Write down three things that will be done in the next seven days. That's great advice! After attending this conference for the past seven years, I always feel overwhelmed, excited, energized, and have my head stuffed with new information. It's really hard to process it all and make connections. This is particularly true when I am attending the conference as a professional development coordinator for the others in my district or my school. I not only have to fit pieces in for myself, but I have to have a handle on what the conference can mean to others that I work with - how I can disseminate information for others, how can I spread my enthusiasm for the new ideas, how can I inspire people. Start small. Write a big three for each workshop.