Saturday, October 31, 2009

Building Knowledge and Learning

I'm sitting here early on a Saturday morning taking a look at what's going on in the world through the eyes of those I follow on Twitter.

I've had more questions and more conversations about Twitter recently and I'm asked about how it works and why I use it. Here's why... This morning, I'm came across a tweet from Wes Fryer (@wfryer) about a presentation he's sitting attending in China. (at about 7:45 am my time, Twitter shows that it was posted about 3 hours ago). I now have his notes from the presentation and links to several videos on Edutopia that I hadn't know about 15 min. ago. What's even more important to me is that I can now connect the teachers I support in my school district with this resource. I have some knowledge that connects with my personal learning but can also be distributed so others can gain new knowledge or build new connections in their own learning. I don't know about you, but I think that's pretty cool!

So, here's what occurs to me...if I didn't have a Twitter account and didn't follow the people that I do, how would I have known about this? Why do I use Twitter? Because it helps me to build my knowledge and learning from the experiences of others. As a teacher and as a learner I can't think of any reason more important than that.

Image by mndoci on Flickr

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Creating Conversations

As the school year has gotten under way here, many new opportunities for working in collaboration with teachers have come up. It’s been an exciting start to the school year!

Today I spent some time in another classroom helping kids (and teachers) to understand more about blogs. Last year, some of these teachers had begun blogs but they had had a difficult time sustaining their use throughout the school year. This year, as we talked about starting the blogs up again, I suggested that we work together to present a lesson (or lessons) to the class that would help students understand what a blog is. We talked about some guidelines for safety on a blog and we talked about their “digital footprint”, although we discussed that in terms of “character” or how you portray yourself to others on the Internet.

For the most part, the lessons have been structured in much the same way for both 4th and 5th grade classes. We get them thinking and making connections to their prior knowledge by talking about ways that we communicate on the Internet. When we did this with our first class of 5th graders, we thought that if they could list at least 5 then we would be doing well. Of course, I’m sure you know what happened… We listed probably 12-15 ways of communicating – everything from email to playing online games. They definitely understand the concept of being able to communicate with people in the outside world!

The next part of the lesson is devoted to giving them new information – in this case, the blog which many of them have never used before. Now that we’ve sparked their thinking about communication, we begin to talk about an author’s purpose for writing. They’re well versed in that – inform, persuade, and entertain. Their teachers talk about author’s purpose throughout the reading and writing program. But, we add just one more to the list because it seems appropriate to blogging…”thinking out loud” or reflecting.

We have some blog postings from students who worked with Anne Davis a few years ago and we’re using those as sort of mentor texts for right now (and continuing to look for others). We use these examples and talk about author’s purpose. Students have also pointed out things like mistakes in spelling and punctuation and even one where the student used his full name (we have our students created pseudonyms for their blogs).

We’ve continued on with some guidelines for blogging. While it’s more meaningful for students to create their own guidelines, we’ve found it helpful to use some that were developed by 4th graders in Thailand. (thanks to Kim Cofino for sharing her practices) Since most of our students have had some Internet safety lessons with our librarians, many of the guidelines are already familiar to them in that regard so then we can concentrate on the “digital footprint” aspect a little more closely.

In some classes, we wrap up this portion of our conversation by asking students to write down one question that they still have about blogging. This gives us a little feedback about the lesson and lets them consider what they’ve just learned and tell us what they still need to know more about.

As we continue on, we’re moving into talking about commenting. Keeping the focus on communication and conversation, we’ve pointed out to our students that one practice that can encourage conversation is to ask your audience a question in your blog article. Then we ask students what naturally happens when someone asks you a question? The answer, in terms of a blog, is called a comment. We talk about commenting first in terms of how you would answer a question in a face to face conversation. We’ve given them four reasons to comment:

  • “ I agree with you…”
  • “I (respectfully) disagree…”
  • “ I have some more information I can add to this…”
  • “I have a question to ask…”

Using the blog articles from the previous lesson, we go back to take a look at the comments these articles received. We have one article where the student’s Mom replied to him so now we can talk about how anyone can comment on a blog! We’re comparing the comments to our four reasons and finding that many of them conform to these with some variations.

Today, in a 4th grade, we tried something different because of the time available for the two lessons. Yesterday, after we wrapped up our discussion about communicating and author’s purpose for writing, we had the students start a list of at least 2 topics that they could write about on their blog and note what their purpose would be for writing. Later in the day, the teacher had them choose one idea to write about.

This morning, after our discussions about commenting, we paired up the students, had them exchange their writing and asked them to write a comment. As we walked around to watch their progress we noticed that the students were quite thoughtful in creating their comments. Their comments were positive, they asked questions back to the author and some students had the time to write additional comments.

As we wrapped up today, students were asked to write down two things they learned about creating comments. Each of them were able to quickly write these down.

So…where do we go from here? I’m trying to comment on student blogs as often as I can. A mother of one of the students I’ve worked with has told me already that her daughter was impressed that “that lady” wrote to her. The mom said how personal that was to her daughter. Will I continue to comment? You betcha! How could I not with that kind of feedback. Let the conversations continue!

Image by Markus Koljonen

Friday, August 07, 2009

Brainstorming about eCommunication

Just saw a tweet about this article from eSchools News "Ten Tips for Building eCommunication." (Thanks @kylepace!) I'm thinking about their list and how it could be applied to a school district as well as an individual teacher's website but also about how these tips are really about creating "community." So I'm going to take a stab at brainstorming a few ideas for each of these and perhaps you might add more of your own in the comments.

1. Start Tweeting: We're seeing that school districts are jumping on the Twitter technology and using it as a way of communicating with parents. Wouldn't it be great if the district tweeted to:

  • welcome new teachers to the district
  • keep parents up to date with school curriculum nights
  • reminders about vacation dates, half days, testing dates, etc.
  • congratulate teachers or students on their accomplishments
  • communicate regularly with staff
  • point out outstanding classroom projects
2. Tell stories: We have a staff newsletter that comes out at certain times during the year. Instead of a printed newsletter giving us bullet points about new teachers, why not ask them to write a short story about themselves? Instead of bullet points about teachers retiring, why not have them write about their experiences as teachers and their plans for the future? How about featuring students telling stories about things they're learning in their classrooms?

3. Add more people: eSchool News refers to this as bringing a human dimension to communications. How about creating and sharing a VoiceThread about things going on in the district? It would probably take as much time for someone to record a message as it would to write, revise, print and distribute.

4. Keep it fresh: I think my school district's website does a good job with that but individual teachers don't always. People who are considering moving into the district almost always begin with the district website and then move on to look at what teachers are doing. Simple tools can help to make the updates easy to do and keep the pages fresh. How about enlisting older students (in an elementary building) to buddy up with students who are younger and help them choose pictures or class work that they'd like to display on the teacher's web page?

5. Survey your audiences: While eSchool News points out the use of online tools such as SurveyMonkey or Zoomerang "for less than $50 per year", Google forms provide a free way of surveying people quickly and gathering the results together in a spreadsheet for further analysis.

6. Use new tools in new ways: The article talks about building in feedback loops.
  • Seems like Google forms would be easy to use. It could be embedded in a teacher's webpage for parents to visit with ease. A survey form could be used for gathering names of parents to help with field trips or special events or for students to gather data to be used in Science, Math, Social Studies, etc.
  • How about presenting a math problem to be solved, then have a chat room such as Today's Meet set up for other classes to contribute their ideas and/or chat about the possibile solutions?
7. Start blogging, podcasting and video streaming
  • What if student's doing a Reader's Theatre were streamed live to other classrooms?
  • Blogs are easy to set up. Classblogmeister and Edublogs are pretty standard for classrooms and they're free.
  • Video streaming in-school events, evening concerts and other events would be a great way to bring the school and community together
  • Put a virtual bookshelf, such as GoodReads, Library Thing and others on your blog or website and invite others to talk about the stories you're reading with your students - your memories, what connections those stories have to your childhood, etc.
8. Free control of web sites from IT.
  • Does your network administrator or IT team know what's going on in your classrooms? Now is a good time to help them see what they're supporting. Send them regular emails, tweets or whatever linking them to class projects, blogs and other instructional work where the technology is key.
9. Improve site navigation: I like the site search engine idea...I don't think we have one. That would be a great addition to every school website.

10. Learn from the kids: Many of the teachers I work with have said that they feel like the kids know more than they do. So what? We can take advantage of that. We can create expert groups among our students to buddy up with younger kids or with other teachers for assistance. That would be a great way to promote community in the school.

Well...that's what I've come up with. Anything you'd like to add?

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Art of Possibility

Since attending the Building Learning Communities conference put on by November Learning in Boston last week, I've been working to make some final edits to a wiki I'm working on to support a workshop on Digital Tools and searching for just the right way to present the information. Ben Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic orchestra was the first keynote speaker. His point of view and philosophy about life and work and everything else was refreshing to me and I immediately found the inspiration I was looking for to move on with my workshop planning.

On Wednesday evening of the conference, we were able to see him demonstrate how his philosophy becomes performance when he conducted the Youth Orchestra of the Americas. I've been to a number of musical performances in my life but this one...this one was...absolutely wonderful!

I picked up a copy of the book he wrote with his wife Roz and just finished putting it on my "currently reading" shelf at GoodReads. If you haven't seen GoodReads yet, I'd recommend it highly.

The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Rosamund Stone Zander

I need to give an "A" to more people in my life. Read the chapter 3 to learn more.

View all my reviews >>

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Power of Words

Wordle is such a great tool. It really gives us the power to see the intent of a document. Here, at the Connected Classroom, is a Wordle created from the NETS-A document just released by ISTE. With that in mind, I thought I'd see what Wordle would do with the NETS -S. I removed the words "student", "use", "using" and "technology" thinking that it's a fairly obvious assumption that those words would occur frequently in the document. Here's what Wordle came up with.

I kind of like this: digital, information, and learning - all of those words are important as we help our students use the digital learning tools that are available and that help them locate, organize and use information.

Now, let's see what the NETS-T looks like. Once again, I removed "teachers", "use" and "using" as well as "technology" - again, feeling that those words should be pretty obvious. Here's the result:

Learning comes out on top - of course, that's really what I would have expected to see. But, I'm also noticing that model, tools, and digital are fairly large words here. That is what I hope we can continue to think about in our work in my district next year. Teachers learning to use the digital tools and modeling their use for our students in order for them to begin to use those tools for their learning.

Embracing Imperfect

I'm reading an article today on AssortedStuff titled "Imperfect is What You Want." This is making me reflect back on the work we've done in our school district this year in creating digital stories, having students blog and working with wikis.

It's always been the case that we want our students to achieve some level of perfection before they publish their work.  But, publishing to the walls of the hallway is different than publishing to the world.  It's when we start putting our work and our voice on the web that we begin to be even more afraid of the imperfect.

But, imperfect is the beginning of growth isn't it?  It gives us a chance to go back and look at our work and reflect on what we can improve on or take stock of how far we've come. The web then is the perfect place for us to begin that journey since it provides a way of archiving the work that we do.

As I think back on the work done last year in my district, I keep thinking about the fact that we've tended to use our technology tools too much for just the end product - the "Project."  I worked through this thinking a little bit in a previous post when I was reflecting about how the use of the technology became problematic in some of the "projects" when the inevitable glitches or lack of knowledge on the teachers' part prevented them from moving forward. We waited until the end product needed to be created before we taught students how to use the tools.  I think this makes our work more difficult when we're at a point where we need to come to a finish on something, especially those projects that brings us right up to the end of the school year.

So, next year we should begin to embrace imperfection early on and learn together as we go.  Imperfect is a part of life and a part of working with technology and imperfect means that we're growing.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Technology is Getting in Our Way

Over and over again in the past few weeks, this idea that the technology can get in our way keeps coming up. Let me explain a little further...

This has actually been a really exciting and productive school year. We've had several projects going on incorporating the use of new technologies or software that have been introduced including PhotoStory, VoiceThread, and Diigo to name a few.

But, here's what I'm struggling with right now... It seems that these tools have been incorporated into projects at the point where the students need to be using them to support their learning or for creating the end product. In other words, we're not teaching the tool and refining the skills as we go along with smaller, manageable activities. We're teaching the tool as the learning needs to be occurring or as the project needs to be completed. And, because of this, I'm wondering if, when we wait until that point, the technology is getting in the way.

The tool is never the point, of course, but, the processes and skills needed to use the tool effectively have to be taught. How can we scaffold the teaching of those skills in such a way that, when it's time for that "big" project, our students already have an automaticity with the skills to the point where the technology isn't "in the way?"

Kim Cofino already recognizes this need when she writes:

One of my first tips for any teacher wishing to authentically embed technology into their classroom experience is always to start small. It’s easier to build on a simple, achievable idea, than it is to trim down an all-consuming tech monstrosity.
The automaticity with any tool is what helps us to use that tool to support our learning and to create. This is where procedural knowledge comes in. When what we need to learn involves following a specific set of steps in a process, we need to practice these steps to a level of automaticity then begin to apply the use of those skills to new situations. If we begin with "simple, achievable ideas" first, we can provide the scaffolding of procedural knowledge that will help our students become better users of technology in support of 21st century learning.

Flickr photo by Chrysaora

Saturday, May 23, 2009

No News Makes a Difference

On the way into Panera for breakfast this morning, my husband commented that he'd been listening to something on the radio where they were talking about whether or not we would soon see the end of newspapers all together. Since he's retired, his morning routine begins with coffee and breakfast at Panera along with the morning newspaper. He jokingly said, "What am I going to do when I come for breakfast if there's no newspaper?"

In the last few months, that newspaper that we enjoy together over a leisurely breakfast on the weekends has changed. The number of pages is fewer, the focus of what's printed has changed and frankly, what we pay for it isn't worth the read anymore.

So, in response to my husband's question, I said that maybe places like Panera will have to build devices into some of their tables so that we can get whatever news we want digitally. I can just imagine not having to drag my laptop there but rather being able to just pop up some sort of screen that automatically connects me to the web so I can access the news in any way I'd like. What do you think? Is someone out there already thinking about this?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Create a New Story

This video on Teachertube is a really cute way of conveying a message using the format of a familiar story by Laura Numeroff, "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie." Enjoy!

A technology specialist took this one step further and made it a project done with first graders narrating. Nicely done!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

In the Trenches...

Holy cow! It's been about a month since I've been here to update my blog. I never have set goals for keeping up the writing and sometimes the thoughts don't come when so many and varied things are going on. So...let's see if I can catch up a bit here with the events of life in the fast lane in just the last month!

Technology Site Visit
Each year, the National School Boards Association sponsor site visits to school district to "showcase innovative technology implementation." We attended a visit in Batavia that was really interesting. We saw the use of interactive whiteboards, document cameras, tablet PC's and we got to hear from district staff about how they've funded, planned for and implemented the use of technology in their classrooms. These were two well spent days. The NSBA did a fine job of organizing the visit and the staff in Batavia were very welcoming to those visiting from New York state, Arizona, Louisiana and elsewhere. Oh yeah...and their music groups entertained us all along the way. Batavia can be very proud of their music programs as well.

Five years ago we began a curriculum process in which we created documents that would guide the teaching, assessment and learning in our classrooms. We've begun to take a look back at Social Studies to review the alignment between the documents and our state curriculum. We've found that we're doing well in that area but we need to provide some additional resources for some of the topics. I've had an active role in this process and it gives me a chance to get a better idea of exactly how Social Studies is being addressed by our teachers and to make some recommendations for technology resources.

Collaborative Projects
For the past three years, we've been involved with the PALS project through our regional school library system. PALS is all about the librarian and the collaborative relationships that can exist with the classroom teacher when we all have access to the data that informs instruction and learning. As an instructional technology specialist, it's a lot of fun to help plan this work with our great library media specialists and classroom teachers. But the best part is the problem solving we're doing together as we work through the collaborative process and the implementation of the technology tools that support all of the projects that are being designed. Our work with collaborative projects continues to grow and expand each year.

This year, each grade level has had the opportunity to meet together twice to discuss small group instruction and the use of literacy work stations. As the basis for this, they've talked about the Daily Five (the excellent work of Gail Boushey and Joan Moser) as well as the work of Debbie Diller.

We have an excellent group of teachers who are known as ELA team leaders. They have been charged with helping to facilitate these groups and have done a really spectacular job with it. We have a Blackboard site for Curriculum and Instruction which we're using to support English Language Arts through the sharing of lesson activities and resources. Since I help to maintain that site, I stay involved in this initiative. Again, a great way to stay in touch with teacher needs and a great way to bring the use of technology into the discussions.

Teacher Training
This year, the decision was made to switch our elementary computers from Mac to PC. It's difficult to see this happen for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that we've supported the use of Macs in the district for more than 20 years. Nevertheless, some of our teachers need to learn how to use Word and understand the navigation of a networked PC. In addition, we have computer lab assistants who are learning to use new software tools such as Scholastic Keys. We'll also be working with Google Picasa and PhotoStory 3. These are the kinds of issues occupying a lot of my time not to mention planning for the removal, discard or reallocation of all those computers as we make this switch in stages.

For the past three years, we've slowly been installing Smartboards in our secondary buildings - grades 6-12. This year, for the first time, we're beginning to install them in our elementary buildings as well. Unfortunately, they've just come in - too late in the school year to make arrangements for full training on the use of the boards and the software. So, late this summer, we'll be preparing these teachers to make use of the Smartboard in their instruction to begin the next school year.

Data Analysis
OK...I'm a data geek. We have some cool resources for data in my district and I've been taking all the facts and figures and putting them together for building administrators. I really do like that part of my job but it's really labor and time intensive. And...wouldn't you know it? The data isn't usually available until right about now. First of all, it doesn't come in a timely fashion that allows us to use the data to have an impact on this year's learning. The best we can do is to look at the results, let the next year's teachers for those students see how they did and try to find some patterns in performance that help us to know what kinds of skills in general are in need of remediation.

So, I think that's about it. How about you? Is the end of your school year as busy as the rest of the year or does everything seem to happen at the end? Cheers!