Monday, December 31, 2007

Read It Before You Buy It

Here's something new that came to me today. A website that features picture books that you can read online. This site, LookyBook, is trying to give books a chance to be read that might not otherwise come to consumer's attention - there are also some books here that have been in publication for a long time such as "Corduroy." It's a great concept. With a free account, you can read books, create your own "bookshelf", and comment on the books you've enjoyed. And, if you'd like to promote or share a particular book, you can grab an embed code to feature it on your website or blog as I've done below. If you're an author who would like to have your work placed on this site, you can do that as well.

Right now, children under 13 cannot register at this site but they're releasing a LookyKids version sometime in the future.

This is well worth taking a look at!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

No Such Thing as a Technology Activity

Using Statcounter to track visits to this blog is interesting. I can see where people are from and, if they're doing a search using particular keywords I can see that, too. I've written previously about that feature.

Today, in looking at my Statcounter account, I notice a search for "easy technology activities students can do." My blog is #5 on the list of search results. However, Google isn't taking this searcher directly to the link related to "activities." Instead, it points to my main blog page.

Here's the previous blog post that I wrote about the use of activities versus learning experiences. "Activities" per se don't do a couple of things:
1. They don't accomplish specific learning goals. Any "learning" not connected to a specific goal means that our students don't have much to connect to and to return to in the future.
2. They don't promote thinking. Thinking = Learning When our students have to apply particular thinking skills to content, there is more of a chance that they will retain that information for future use.

"Easy" only gives the teacher the opportunity to say that his/her students are using computers and releases that teacher from connecting the use of technology to thinking and therefore, learning. "Easy" only keeps a student "busy" in front of a machine as a management tool. If we really want to tap in to the power of technology for learning, we need to give our students learning experiences which require them to actually think their way through the information using whatever tool is most appropriate for the task.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Seizing New Opportunities

The Literacy Workshop began this morning as all the other meetings had. An explanation about the intent, an invitation to share and discuss. They began by talking about struggles with literacy instruction – a time to vent, a time to express frustrations and, everyone who needed to say something had their chance. Then came the prompt to think about what successes were being experienced in instruction – now we’re getting somewhere. First, one idea is shared which inspires a connection or comment from someone else, then a new idea is brought up and more connections and comments are there as well. And so on, and so on. Good, inspiring, thoughtful conversations.

The wrap-up: comments all around about the morning’s collaboration, thoughts about the need to get together as a group more often to continue the conversation, someone jokes about having a “group hug.”

Sounds like all the elements of a learning network doesn’t it? Those of us who engage in blogging, sharing Google docs, creating groups in Google, Yahoo or Ning or gathering instant input from Twitter, experience this type of camaraderie, this conversation and professional development on a daily basis. This face to face encounter among these teachers is only the beginning of what it could be. They want more meetings like this but what they haven’t yet realized is that, they need only 5-10 minutes a day using the right technology tools to help them continue these important conversations, to develop their notions of best practices in literacy instruction, share their ideas, gather input from others who are dealing with the same challenges.

They’ve made some positive steps forward today. So, on Monday…comes a new chance, a new opportunity to help them understand new ways of continuing the conversation.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Personal Learning Networks as Systems

There certainly are a wide array of tools out there that help us to communicate and collaborate with others. And there are certainly lots of educators out there looking to communicate and collaborate with each other via those tools. How many new tools have you discovered over the last year, month, week? How many of those tools have you integrated into your personal practice? How many blogs do you read? How many of the ideas from those blogs have you integrated into your own thinking?

The tools and the people that we connect with because of those tools become a part of our personal learning network. They all interact together in some way - and I suppose that makes them a system. So, to continue this line of thinking tonight, I'm referencing back to Classroom Instruction That Works. I'm looking at the thinking skills in Chapter 9 about generating and testing hypotheses - specifically the section about systems analysis. So, in doing a systems analysis, we need to understand the purpose of the system, the parts of the system and the function of each part. We also need to figure out how each part affects others.

Starting with this then: the purpose of the personal learning network (our system) is to support our own personal professional development and our continued learning. The system consists of a number of parts: people first of all and the thought and ideas that they generate as a result of all of their experiences, tools such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, multimedia, and communication tools. How does each part affect the others? As we share our thoughts and ideas via the tools, we continually examine points of view and either reject them or integrate them into our continued thinking or personal and professional practice. As we work with new tools we also either reject them or integrate them into our practices. For example, some of us look at Twitter and immediately integrate it while others reject it as not being of value to their own learning network.

Now, we take a part of that system and think (hypothesize) about how a change to that part might affect the rest of the system. Right now, this system consists of some trusted "authorities" that have been evaluated based on my personal learning needs. If any of my trusted sources are missing, I might hypothesize that the depth of my learning could be greatly affected both negatively and positively I suppose - I would either miss that point of view or be ready to move on to new ideas. This system also consists of tools. Many edubloggers have already been analyzing the changes to their learning networks with the addition of Twitter while others have been examining the affects of using other tools such as So we hypothesize how each tool that we encounter might affect the rest of our already existing system.

Considering a personal learning network as a system puts a different light on it for me. But it also makes me consider how this concept is presented to others who don't yet have this "system" in their own professional practice. We can present our audiences with lots of information about how great it is to have a learning network and how powerful the tools are that help us to develop and maintain that network. However, our biggest challenge is to provide professional development opportunities that immerse our audiences in the information that they need then help them to think their way out - make comparisons among the many different types of tools, construct arguments about the value of one tool over another tool. Without the thinking, it's just information. Period. With the use of thinking skills, we can avoid the effects of "drive by training" and have a more positive affect on the learning of our educator audiences.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

A Little Fun with Dylan

Just having a little fun trying to figure out if I can really synthesize some information into only a few words or a few characters. I wonder what kind of challenge this might create for students?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Activities, Activities....too many Activities

Many of us went through our training as teachers in a time before there were standards, in a time when curriculum documents sat on shelves in our classrooms if they were there and available at all. It was during that time that we learned to create well designed activities. You know what I mean...that "fun" apple unit that you did in the Fall where you pulled together all sorts of activities - the apple poems, the apple songs, the apple art projects. All of that kept our students very busy doing lots of "stuff" but, what about the learning?

Sitting in a meeting this afternoon I was reminded that we haven't quite broken out of this model even while lots of other things have been changing around us - the development of curriculum documents, training teachers to construct well designed lessons, the plans that brought technology into our classrooms to name a few. There were stories being shared today of students using computers to access a website provided by our reading series that contains a set guessed it...activities. There were recountings of literature circle activities that culminated guessed it...another activity. And I began to wonder, with all that we know about the brain and learning, why we can't break out of that mindset.

It's hard work to teach students to think. You have to lay lots of groundwork before students can independently use thinking skills. It takes modeling, practice and time. Unfortunately, this is what we so often overlook or skim over thinking that all we have to do it "show" our students what to do or give them some sort of activity to do and they'll automatically be able to do it.

To use technology to support learning takes lots of modeling, practice and time but instead we're letting ourselves rely on activities provided by websites that involve no real learning whatsoever. Several teachers have been talking about how they set up stations during their literacy time and they tell me about the great activities that our reading series provides for students online. Finally, while other discussions went forward, I logged onto a computer and got into the website to really take a close look at what's going on there. Having heard the claim that "our students need to practice these skills to get better" from so many teachers I was hoping that what I would see would prove to be worthwhile. But no...just a lot of activities. It goes something like this...Read/listen to the directions, go to the first example, choose the answer and move on to the next example and - oh, yeah - no feedback about wrong answers and you get to see how many points you earned at the end. If you're not truly invested in actually reading the material and thinking about the choices all you have to do is click on each possible answer until you got moved on to the next example. I'd wager that the brightest students invest a little time in looking for the right answer the first time - but then again, the brightest students probably don't need this type of rote activity. And, as for those who struggle with reading - is this kind of thing really going to help them be better readers?

A few weeks back, Jeff Utecht wrote about whether or not we really need standards for technology. I've thought about that quite a bit lately and my answer unequivocally is YES! We most certainly do need standards. If for nothing else than to keep these types of "activities" off the list of things our students can do during the instructional day. But even more than just having a list of standards, we need to have an understanding of how standards work and how they break down into specific benchmarks so that we can move into the realm of using technology less for activities and more for true learning experiences. Wikis, podcasts, blogs, VoiceThreads, SlideShares and the like are really cool - but, if it's not about the learning, if it's just an activity we teach our kids how to do, then it's just a waste of time.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

New Tools and the Use of Thinking Skills

Today,Wes Fryer shares his experiences in writing his doctoral thesis using web tools. So, with a little time on my hands I've given Jump Knowledge a try. Here's a sample: (scroll down a bit if you check this out)

Click here to view an annotation of Weblogg-ed

There are other tools that function similarly to Jump Knowledge. One of them is Diigo. I've been using Diigo for a while. I like that I can highlight whole chunks of text then annotate them. I also like that I can go back to my Diigo account to see the chunks with the annotations associated with them. You can then extract the highlights so that you print a page containing your highlighted chunks of text along with the annotations you made. I think this is perfect for student research and for bloggers as well as for creating conversations among groups that you create in Diigo.

Jump Knowledge, on the other hand, seems to only let you print the annotations alone. Without the text that the annotation refers to, I'm not sure how much I might use this tool. If I'm doing research I find it more beneficial to have the original text together with the annotations - for me, this helps to preserve the text and experience based connections that I found while reading.

As I think about writing this blog post, I think about how we use the power of technology for learning. The use of technology is most powerful when we can use the tools to gather and organize the information we need in order to apply thinking skills. While writing this posting, I've used my blog, my email, Jump Knowledge and Diigo but, in order to really improve my learning about these types of tools, I've also used (in this case a very limited) comparison, which is one of the most effective instructional strategies we can use with students and a skill that helps us to process information in order to retain that knowledge for long periods of time. So, it's not just about the tools - it's about the learning that the tools support and the instructional practices we use.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Reading to Learn

"I want my students to use the computers in a way that helps them learn," my teacher friend said to me this summer. "Great!" I said. "What do students need to learn in your classroom?"

So began a conversation about technology use in the classroom. This one, like many, led to exploring option together and working on what we thought might be a viable solution.

The solution: teach 3rd graders to use Word to help them with main idea. Here's how it would go...
Find some short articles from Time for Kids at the 2nd to 3rd grade reading level. Copy the article and paste it into Word, develop a question that would lead students to find information from the article that addressed the main idea, teach students to delete any text that did not address the question - in the end leaving them with the question and a list of items from the article that answered the question. This seemed to us to be a great way to get kids to use technology to help them sift through information to remove unneeded pieces of information and keep the necessary information.

But wait! It didn't work! How could such a simple strategy, such an easy way of using technology not work? Well...the technology couldn't possibly make a difference when the real problem was that students just didn't really understand what main idea meant in the first place. Interesting...because for the last two years, when we done the data analysis on our state assessments we've found that main idea and summarizing were areas of weakness from 3rd grade to 5th grade. So, if the kids don't really get it in the first place the technology doesn't matter.

We've been talking about using technology for years with our teachers. Is it possible that our teachers don't really get the concept in the first place? Do they need that concept first before the technology makes a difference? How do we best approach teaching that concept then?

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What are we searching for?

This morning I'm taking a few minutes to go back through my Statcounter account. It's interesting to take a look at the visitor activity but most especially to look at the search terms that people are using. Overwhelmingly, I'm noticing that people are looking for information about how technology affects student learning. And I'm wondering - what blogs are addressing this question well enough to satisfy those who are looking for that information? I'm pretty sure mine isn't - mostly because I'm not a classroom teacher - I'm a technology specialist so I'm reflecting on the issues that are directly affecting me - issues that I'm trying to work through by writing about them.

In the first session I attended at the NECC conference this past summer, the presenter's main purpose was to talk about things we can do with technology that would affect student learning - but not just the technology. She was also talking about the instruction that supports the use of the technology. I'll admit, the presenter was a little difficult to warm up to, but several people got up and walked out. I considered it myself but stayed anyway and was pleasantly surprised at how the session unfolded. I walked away from that session thinking how smart the presenter was in the approach she took to the presentation. But then, I wondered, why didn't other people stay? What were they looking for that they didn't find in this session?

This question of what our teachers and other staff are looking for where technology is concerned has been bothering me a lot lately. I keep thinking they're looking for the "magic bullet" - that one little thing that they can easily implement that will make a difference in student learning. But, there isn't any such thing really -just as there is no "magic bullet" that will help every student to learn to read and read well. We need to try different strategies and different tools until we find what fits our students needs, interests and learning styles. No amount of talking about all the really cool tools out there will help until we as teachers dig in, do our own investigating and try something new supported by well established instructional strategies.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

The Unexpected

The other day I wrote about a workshop I had done and my thoughts about the two kinds of learners that made themselves apparent via the structure of the session. Another thought occurred today and that was that the structure created "the unexpected" for many teachers.

My usual strategy when introducing new tools or teaching teachers how to use tools has been to provide them with materials, complete with screenshots and step-by-step directions, that they'll take with them to use later on. I'd been doing that for many years because teachers had told me they liked having them to go back to. But, in doing so, I may have been creating too much of a crutch for them to lean on. The other problem, if that's what I should call it, is that it really didn't do too much to change teaching practices. Teachers came, they listened, they asked for a repeat of the directions, they practiced a bit and they took the materials with them. But, in the end, many didn't use what they had learned and they haven't internalized some strategies and skills that they can apply with the use of almost any piece of software or technology they encounter.

It reminds me of the kinds of classroom that many have written about - you know...the kind where the teacher teaches, frantically trying to pour all the learning into their student's brains so they can regurgitate it later and never use it again. :) But, it's the unexpected that wakes the brain up, that intrudes on the ho-hum-ness of the same old thing day after day, that gets those neurons firing away in the brain. That's the kind of professional development experiences that I'd like to provide to teachers. They already know a thing or two about the technology - they just need to push beyond that basic level of knowledge (think Bloom's) and get into applying what they know to new things.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Struggling... think you've got some cool tools to show to teachers. Tools that will amaze them, excite them, get them thinking. So you show them off, you set up accounts, you give them time to explore, you encourage them to interact with each other to figure out all that each tool has to offer. For some teachers, this is their learning style - just point the way and they'll find the right path. For others this creates panic - "You're not going to show us how to use this?" "We don't even get a tutorial first?"

This was my experience today. It was really great! was really a struggle. I set up four tools: Pageflakes, Writeboard, Google (docs, calendar, iGoogle and maps) and Trailfire. Put together a quick intro using Voice Thread, placed that in a wiki that I had set up as a preview to the session (which no one went to as a preview even though it was in the session description). My VoiceThread intro was all about how the web has changed and it talked about each of the tools one by one giving a little background about how the tool could be used- probably could have done at little more with that whole part of the presentation.

Where did I go wrong? Well, I didn't...not really.... It's just that there were basically two different kinds of teachers in the room and I didn't meet the needs of all of them. So, some walked away muttering about the great tools they saw with one teacher who emailed me later in the afternoon with what he had already created and some walked away talking about needing a lot more support for their learning. Hmmm...I guess lots of kids do that too huh?

The next time...
If I ever get a change to do this again, and I hope I will, I would set up the lab with tools to explore but use the wireless laptops in the library (since it's right next door) to provide a tutorial for those who need it. We have to be able to address those learning styles for teachers just as we do for our students. Today's session was only an hour and a half - which was actually cut short because of the length of the keynote speaker's presentation. Instead of the single session - I'd consider doing a double session instead - spend the first session taking more time to talk about the instructional use of the tools and doing that quick little walk through, then the second session could be devoted to setting up the tools for instruction and for sharing what was accomplished as well as providing that extra support that some teacher learners need.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Fighting Another Curriculum or Maybe Not

My school district has been working on creating curriculum documents, using them and making revisions for the last four years. We've made some great progress and some good (though sometimes overwhelming) changes have happened. Conversations about technology in the classroom focus on learning goals rather than cool tools.

Because we've spent so much time on the academic curriculum and because so many changes have happened based on this effort, I've not been an advocate of even creating a technology curriculum. Until tonight...

While relaxing and enjoying a little downtime tonight, I came across something on Doug Johnsons' blog that was actually written in January, 2006. He refers to adopting a philosophy of "AND not OR." My focus has been on technology curriculum or no technology curriculum. I've advocated for NO technology curriculum because of all the other things that are currently pressuring our classroom teachers and because my fear was that a technology curriculum would cause us to just simply teach technology for technology's sake and not for the sake of learning. But Doug has reminded me that this doesn't really need to be an "or" situation at all.

Here's what I'm thinking: let's create a technology curriculum but let's write it as something more than just a laundry list of skills that should be accomplished by the end of some particular grade level - the revised NETS comes to mind as a start. Then let's take that curriculum and view our academic curricula through that lens. Perhaps with the addition of a technology curriculum we could really begin to make some headway with technology for learning supported by some more frequent training opportunities for teachers. Many of our teachers are doing good things with technology in our classrooms, some are still dabbling, while others are begging for the opportunity to have the time and the training that would help them move forward. The time is right to think about technology AND!

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Friday, September 07, 2007

Routines and Procedures

Elementary teachers are amazing! Our school year here began this Wednesday and I marvel how, after only three short (and very hot) days the students have already been trained in some regular routines. It almost seems like they never left the building and we're back to business as usual.

As I think about those routines, I think about some parallels between them and the ways we learn to use technology. Here's what typically happens with these simple classroom routines:
  • Teacher explains what the expectations for performance are (no talking in the hall, walking in a straight line, hanging backpacks up on the appropriate hooks, sharpening pencils before the day begins and whatever else)
  • Teacher guides students through the appropriate performance step by step
  • Teacher helps students practice and supports the learning of those individuals having difficulties with the performance
  • Students are expected to perform independently
  • Teacher shapes further performances as needed
I think about how that applies to the learning of skills that we teach in technology. We follow the same sort of process whether we're teaching reading strategies or teaching technology skills. If we could take students through the procedural knowledge they need for performing with technology tools with the same intent as we teach them the steps in using a particular reading strategy or walking from the classroom to the cafeteria we could save ourselves so much more time in the long run.

One of the primary teachers I work with recently moved from 1st grade to 2nd grade. She spent a lot of time exploring technology tools with her students and carefully helping them to build some basic skills while in 1st grade. Since she has most of her former 1st graders in her new 2nd grade class she can really see how the development of that procedural knowledge is helping her to move into the use of some more advanced tools with ease.

If we could only take a little extra time at the beginning of the school year to establish technology routines, the payoff throughout the school year would be tremendous. Not only would that benefit the individual teacher but it would set the stage for the next grade level and beyond.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

It's the little things...

I've spent many hours over the past few days doing what we do every year at this time - checking out the little things that may have been missed during summer cleaning/reconnecting/imaging or helping teachers with little things like making sure their projectors are connected properly to computers and in working order. We also strive to get those last minute things out to teachers as quickly as possible, in particular the passwords that will be used by students to gain access to computers. But the most important part of all is the interaction with the teachers and the PR that results from responding to their technology needs as quickly as possible. Those initial connections are priceless.

In 8 short years, we've gone from staff who didn't know how to turn on the computers to staff who can't possibly do without their projectors on the first day of school. This comes, in some part, as a result of training that we've done over the years in a variety of ways - everything from gathering large groups together to meeting with single teachers at their convenience to answer the questions that are burning on their minds at that point in time. One of the most significant things that helped us is the interactions among our teachers - the kind that they've initiated all on their own.

We began our technology infusion with a Model Classroom approach where 2 teachers in every building became the first to get multiple computers in their classrooms. Their role was to share what they were doing within their buildings. From there, we gradually added more computers in two more phases until every classroom was equipped. It wasn't just placing a projector in a classroom or providing them with particular pieces of software that made a teacher want to use it. It was another teacher who had found that really great website or who already had had a projector before them who sat in the staff room talking about using that projector to show the students something on the Internet or demonstrating how they would use a particular piece of software. [I still fondly recall the wonders of trying to arrange 22 first graders around a 12 inch computer screen so that everybody could see how to do something on a computer - a far cry from the projectors we have now!]

From our small beginnings 8 years ago have grown some really great and inspiring instructional uses of technology from many of our teachers with new ideas being developed, implemented or considered all the time. We still struggle with all the issues that other schools and districts struggle with [time and training in particular] and I can spend hours talking about all the things that still frustrate me. But the fact that so many teachers spent so much time making sure that the technology in their rooms was set for the first day has been really inspiring to me. I look forward to continuing to provide any support that I can to our teachers and hope that I can provide the leadership that will help them to achieve their objectives for improving student achievement in our district.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Test Scores and Professional Development

Two postings are itching at my brain this afternoon. One, from David Warlick, talks about the importance of teacher's getting up to speed with technology in the 21st century. The other, from Karl Fisch, talks about test scores and what we look for in the schools we send our children to. For me, these two postings have many connections.

When Karl talks about test scores as a predictor of school quality I reflect back to the role I'm currently playing in my school district with data analysis. As the person who gathers the test scores, breaks them down by building and then by state standards and performance indicators, I see the trends in performance for all the buildings in which I function as an instructional technology specialist. But, I've also had the opportunity to sit with those teachers and listen to their discussions about various aspects of the test and why their students did or did not handle a particular skill or question well. I hear them talk about the learning goals designated for each question and then their discussion about the teaching strategies they have used or need to use more specifically in order to meet those goals. Our teachers are really focusing on their practice and what they need to adjust in order for students to improve their achievement.

What's missing from the discussion is the role of technology in helping students to develop skills. I'm not just talking about the skills needed to be successful on the test. What the scores are showing us consistently is that our students have difficulty with questions that involve higher level thinking and broad background knowledge. And, what recent history is showing me is that we don't provide enough teacher training in the instructional use of technology. Yes...I still hear the "digital immigrant" excuse - "the kids know more than I do", "I have too many things to do now as it is" and others. But, I don't really see this as an excuse. I see it more as an indicator of our lack of attention to teacher training. If we want to improve student achievement, we need to turn our focus to producing some concrete applications for technology tools supported by strong instructional practices so that teachers begin to see connections between tools, instruction and student learning. The more we work on those connections, the more successful we'll be in bringing our teachers into a more active role in preparing students for the 21st century.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Reading to Learn

Our work with teachers of elementary students and the students themselves is constantly in development where technology is concerned. Our focus, as the title of this blog suggests, is to empower student learning through the use of technology. We also know that there are certain grade levels where our focus is still on learning to use the technology itself. As their skills develop, these same students will eventually use the technology tools with more concentration on the learning possibilities.

When several of our teachers began to read and implement The Daily Five, we also discussed the role that technology would play in this literacy framework that includes: reading to self, read to someone, listen to reading, spelling/word work and writing. Technology supports these through the use of various pieces of software and web based resources so these teachers have been investigating all the possibilities.

The other day I met with a 3rd grade teacher. Our goal was to take a look at some very specific things she could do to improve the use of technology in her classroom to affect student achievement. We talked about the data analysis work that she'd recently been through, summer workshops and the strategies she'd learned and the technology sources she would have available to her at this grade level. We decided that, in addition to the Daily Five, that she would begin to add a sixth component that we'll be calling Read to Learn which would place an emphasis on working with non-fiction texts.

We want students to understand main idea and details and to sort important from non-important information in non-fiction text. So, we're going to teach students how to use word processing software to do this. We'll begin by taking some short articles from Time for Kids and pasting them into a word processor. Given a question specific to the article and the main idea, we'll model and have students practice eliminating any text that does not answer the question as well as the unimportant words in sentences. By going through this process, students will have created a set of phrases of the most important information. From there, we can begin to help them summarize the articles in a few short sentences.

We've begun some important conversations about using technology to learn here. Using this strategy will help us to better use technology for information. I'm looking forward to working with this teacher and others to continue developing this concept.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Supporting Teachers -Quick and Easy

One of my goals this year is to try to provide teachers with short tutorials to support the use of a variety of tools for instruction. I hadn't had a chance to use Slideshare for this until tonight. It's really quite easy to use! Here's a sample of a presentation I had created last Spring.

Cycling Our Attention

I had a great conversation with someone today who was talking about helping his son to locate some information online. The first part of the conversation had to do with teaching students the skills of the research process. He was amazed at his son's difficulty in dealing with the whole search process but that's another topic for later.

Then he remarked about what else was going on while he and his son were working on this task. He said that while they were working, his son was IM'ing three other friends of his. I said something about multitasking and that brain research tells us that we can't truly be multitaskers because the brain can really only pay attention to one thing at a time. Then he said that his son wasn't trying to multitask - it was more like he was cycling through all of the different things he wanted to pay attention to. The son was working with his dad on the research, then when an IM popped up his attention cycled to that and then cycled back to the research and then on to another IM and another and then back again to the research and so on.

I had to stop and think about that process for a minute. With basically 4 different things competing for his attention, this young man (about 14 years old) was able to cycle through each one paying attention to what he needed to each time it was demanded of him. Would he have stuck with just the research task if IM wasn't open on his computer? Probably, because his dad was sitting with him. But he had 4 things competing for his attention and, by all accounts, was able to handle it quite nicely.

How many times do we cycle our attention from one thing to another whether in front of or away from the computer? Are our brains flexible enough to handle all of that ongoing input/output of information? Or does it depend on the level of engagement we have with all of the things that are demanding our attention? I'm not sure what the answers to these questions are but I think this whole notion of cycling our attention is something we all do more than we realize. Are we/our students developing habits that will hinder learning or skills that will support learning?

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Instructional Practices

The more I read through Strategies That Work, the more I'm reminded that everything we do is supported by our instructional practices. The authors provide several examples of lessons that teachers have done with particular pieces of literature, including quotes from students and teachers taken from the lesson itself. And I think about how the practice, the teacher's support of student thinking, the student input back to the class and to the content are all so important. But it's the instructional practice that will make a difference.

Here's how my brain is connecting with this in terms of helping teachers to use technology: if we don't teach the instructional practice as the basis right along with the technology tools, we're not getting anywhere. If I want students to use Diigo, for instance, I have to have built some background knowledge about research, notetaking, etc. as well as supporting their learning through collaboration in order for students to fully understand the power of this particular tool. If I were just to show students how to use Diigo to bookmark, highlight and annotate online material it would mean nothing because there is no real connection to anything that they already have knowledge of to pull from. But, if I spend time helping students understand the research process and I've worked to give them multiple opportunities to collaborate with each other then these experiences would give them some background knowledge to pull from. In order to learn new skills, we require practice. In order to form new understandings, we need to be able to connect prior knowledge to new information. In our rush to use any tools, whether they are so-called Web 2.0 tools or the kinds of tools of the classroom that we hold in our hands, we must have some knowledge of what it takes to learn the skills needed for these tools or order to implement them for lasting results.

That's my thought for today....and I'm stickin' with it!

I'm going to use this one...

I love quotes! That's why I have a feed so I get 3 or 4 in my Bloglines everyday. Today there was one that I just had to save and I'll be working it into the workshops I'm planning for right now. Here it is:

"The shortest distance between two points is under construction." --Noelie Altito

Sometimes we forget that the learning process is always under construction. It seem especially so when we're talking about technology. Teachers feel that they can't use technology effectively if the students know more than them. Tough position to put yourself in! What about thinking about building connections between your instructional practice and student learning by constructing the best road possible? For some that construction will take a long time and will be filled with many potholes. For others, the work will go smoothly and will take only minor adjustments to perfect. But for all of us, there is a need to keep on working together to find and build the best pathway that we can.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Connecting with Literacy

For me, preparing to teach a workshop for teachers is sometimes a long process. Beginning with a kernal of an idea, I create a description of the workshop that tends to summarize the concept of what I hope to get across. From there, I begin to look at all the supporting skills that will be needed as well as the background information that participants will need. This is where it gets a little messy. Many times I have so many ideas I'd like to convey but not enough time to do so effectively. So, I then begin to refine my thinking and try to let go of some of the content, no matter how cool I think it is, and focus on the simplest, most effective ideas that teachers could begin with - we can always build onto these ideas later.

Knowing about the technology is the easy part - I spend a lot of time trying to keep as current as I can on what's available online. Our district software is also familiar to me so, no problem there. Let's face it - some of the stuff on the web today is just way too cool! You get sucked into it right away and somewhere in your head you're saying, " Wow! I can't believe you can do this kind of stuff! This is too cool!" But, "cool" doesn't last too long when you're a classroom teacher pressured by the demands of the curriculum, the testing and any number of other concerns.

The real meat of the workshop, for me, really has less to do with the technology and more to do with the pedagogy - what teaching practices or research based strategies are teachers reading about, are currently in publication, or support the work I know is going on in our buildings. Even more importantly, what do I think teachers need to be aware of that they may not be aware of (new publications, new research) or that we can draw upon from their background knowledge in order to make connections to the use of the tools that we'll be addressing in the workshop?

The curriculum - research - professional literature - tools connections are important to me for a number of reasons. My job title used to be under the supervision of the technology department. That put me in a position of knowing a lot about the tools but there was also the larger misconception that I was technical support. More frequently than not, I was being asked for technical support rather than teaching support. In other words, no connection to teaching practice.

Now my job title is under the supervision of the curriculum department. That change is about two years old now. Before that occurred, I had begun to participate in the work of the district to construct better curriculum documents. By doing this, I was able to better understand the curriculum that was being established and could make some suggestions about how technology could support student learning in each of the content areas. The more I can engage a teacher in a discussion about their curriculum and their pedagogical practices the better advantage I have in helping to make that curriculum to technology connection.

As I continue to formulate this workshop, I'm using as my prime resource the second edition of a book titled Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for Undersatnding and Engagement by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis. I read the first edition so when I saw that a second edition had been published I was interested to see what had changed. They've added lots of new content and I'm finding myself writing lots of notes about technology connections around the margins of the pages. Because I've been involved in data analysis related to our ELA assessments, I'm also seeing this book as a resource for strategies that teachers can use to address some of the needs we've been identifying. Another way for me to connect with the work of our classrooms!

So, I'm going to go back to work on the reading, thinking and planning and will make myself stop to reflect on my work by writing a little bit more.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Podcasting as an Assessment of the Research Process

I've been thinking about podcasting for a long time - learning the tools needed (easy!) and trying to understand what it takes to really make podcasting a learning experience that makes a difference in instruction (a little more challenging!).

A while back I had worked at looking at what it takes to create a podcast and that brought my thoughts back to Understanding by Design. In their book, Wiggins and McTighe discuss lesson design using what they call a backwards design - establish the learning goals then begin to work on the assessment. Interesting... Most of us were probably taught to design a lesson from beginning to end. The problem became that, by the time you got to wrapping up the lesson, no worthwhile assessment was in sight or the assessment had nothing to do with the learning goals in the first place.

I was brought back to UbD in a conversation with a school librarian who has been thinking about how he could make use of podcasting in his program. As we began to discuss this, the conversation turned to the thought that the podcast itself isn't the point of the learning, it's really the assessment. If we use the UbD idea of lesson planning then, we need to think about the skills that need to be taught or reinforced in order for the student to be successful in completing the assessment of learning. Well...if we want our students to present information orally, then we need to teach them how to find good information in the first place. That information seeking needs some definition - what are we looking for? what questions are going to be addressed? The research process - no matter what the information task is - perfectly supports the process of creating a podcast. So we drew a visual to help ourselves think through this:What do students need to know and be able to do in order to successfully create the podcast? The students will be taken carefully through the skills with the research process.

What's the podcast going to be about? We thought about two things realizing that there are many, many possibilities:
• book reviews (taking a look at the really nicely done book reviews at BookLook as an example)
• content area focus such as Social Studies: take on the role of an early 20th century immigrant and tell us about your decision to come to the US and what your life was like after you settled in this country.

So our information specialist then has his work cut out for him but he also has a very clear focus on the skills that he'll be working to refine with his students. We're also looking at what other technology tools will support this. For example, for task definition and information seeking strategies, we'd like students to know more about using Inspiration for organizing information. For location and access, we'd like students to learn more about using search tools and library subscription sources. Not only do we want them to bookmark what they find for easy access but we're thinking that if we show them how to bookmark using Diigo then we can easily have them gather notes from their sources by using the annotation feature of this tool - this will apply to use of information. Then we'll work with them to synthesize what they've learned - probably taking some wisdom from Tony Vincent's work on Radio WillowWeb and the strategies he shares for structuring podcasts with students. And finally, the podcast! We'd like to employ some learning from 6+1 writing traits and make use of the RAFTS strategy. We'll define a role, give the students an idea of their audience (worldwide and published on the web!), describe and model the format, present the topic and explain the focus, and provide them with the strong verbs that will guide them - describe, explain.

Recent talk among edubloggers has been focused on our thinking about the product as being the end of the learning rather than the beginning of new possibilities, new learning. I believe that, with a project such as this, we'll be forming new thinking about learning with our students and will be giving them a solid foundation for thinking about the creative expression of learning and the process that's involved. This is going to be an exciting project which might also serve to be an advertisement for the possibilities when you collaborate in meaningful ways with your building's true information specialist.

Collaborating with the Most Important Resource in the School

During the past two years, I've been involved in a project called PALS through our regional library system. What's an instructional technology specialist doing involved in a library system initiative? Learning! Learning! Learning! and, I hope, helping to promote the technology tools that can empower the learning of our students.

We're working toward building collaborative relationships with classroom teachers.
Toni Buzzeo worked with us for two days this week. She helped us learn about the different types of relationships that exist between teachers and librarians and begin to develop ideas for getting through the challenges of making changes in those relationships despite the sometimes impossibly inflexible schedules that exist in our buildings. After some learning with Toni, we worked solidly for a full day and a half building lessons and units designed to tap into the expertise of both the teacher and the librarian to affect student achievement. We've also been privileged to work with David Loertscher who helped us explore better ways to write collaborative plans that take learning to a higher level.

Through data analysis, we're working on helping our librarians understand the kinds of skills that students are being asked to use to perform on state assessments. Until last year, the first group of librarians to be part of the PALS project had not been exposed to any of our state assessments. Many didn't know what the test consisted of and hadn't seen any of the sources we have for looking at the data analysis related to these assessments. (OK...I know all about the evils of state assessments. If there's one thing we can gain from them it's the understanding that we're just not expecting very high level thinking from our students on a regular basis.)

We're working on understanding the relationships between the data we get from assessments, the classroom curriculum and how the library program supports the development of skills.
We've been looking at our data for the past two years in terms of the skills needed to answer questions, where that skill is reflected in our curriculum documents and what strategies we're already using to teach those skills. I think it's a good process. In some of our elementary buildings, our librarians are being included in the data analysis process for the first time ever. This is a step in the right direction. Including our information specialists in on the results of an assessment that's all about dealing with information is a step in the right direction.
One thing that makes this process especially effective is that we have some great curriculum documents in my school district. The state standards are way too broad, the performance indicators get a little bit closer. But, by having the documents that we do, we can really focus in more closely on the skills and we've been able to be more specific at each grade level rather than just a general statement that is supposed to apply to the range from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Two things I would recommend to school librarians if I may be so bold. :)
1. Start asking questions about the testing that's going on locally or at the state level. Ask to see a test booklet, think about the skills that students are being asked to demonstrate and begin to examine your own teaching practices where those skills are concerned. Get somebody to help you understand what the learning gaps are.
2. Read the professional literature about instruction and about the brain and learning. Some recommendations:

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Made to Stick

It's been a long time since I posted to this blog but I haven't abandoned it - just needed some time to work through some projects in my job and absorb some reading I've been doing. Some bloggers write in their blogs as they read. When I read a book, I still work through it the old-fashioned way. I spend time with it underlining the ideas that click with me and noting any connections that occur to me. I also keep a notebook close by where I write down longer thoughts or connections to return to at a later time.

My latest book just finished this weekend was, Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. For those of us who do professional development or are teacher leaders, this is one book to have on your shelf.

So many ideas are constantly floating around in my head. They coming spilling out quickly when I come across a situation where the ideas might be applied. The problem is that my background knowledge is much different than my colleagues. As a result of reading the book, I'm trying to develop a very simple core message that will filter through all of my work. For many years, I've filtered a lot of decisions about technology uses in the classroom by asking two questions: "So what?" and "Then what?" Both really center on improving student learning. The "so what?" question means this - if we want to improve student learning what difference will this use of technology make in the learning? This is the question that really makes us justify what we're doing both for present learning situations and future needs. The "then what?" question is all about how students are going to use the technology to make a difference. Many times we might send students to a computer to make a web of their ideas or search for a website - but then what? A web of ideas made in Kidspiration or Inspiration could be the start of a unit of study. A class created web placed into a shared folder can be a resource for students to return to often. As they learn new material they can return to the web to confirm or revise the web or to re-organize the ideas. Personal start pages such as Pageflakes or Protopage provide tools for organizing learning and offer tools for outlining a unit of study which can be checked by students as they progress through the learning.

I supposed these two questions are still simple enough to remain my core message as I work with teachers. As a matter of fact, I first began to use these two questions during training with teacher and still have some of them repeat that back to me whenever we discuss new uses of technology. So I guess it was "sticky" enough after all!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

RSS Made Really Easy

Here's a video courtesy of The Common Craft Show that explains RSS in the simplest terms you're likely to find anywhere. From their site:

"The Common Craft show is a new series of videos done in a format we call "paperwork". Our goal is to make technology easier to understand for the less geeky people of the world."

The video is well worth showing to teachers to provide an introduction to the concept of RSS but is also a really clear explanation that would help students understand it in practical terms. They're looking for suggestions for other videos that people might find useful.

There are two types of Internet users, those that use RSS and those that don't. This video is for the people who could save time using RSS, but don't know where to start.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Simple Shifts Make a Difference

Sometimes, simple shifts make big differences. That's what hit me today when I woke up and it's been running around in my head all day long.

One way that was demonstrated to me was in a conversation with a teacher recently. We had a conversation one day about Pageflakes as a tool for pre-exposure to the learning goals for the day. Typically, this teacher, like many others, would place a list of tasks on the board or on the computer (then projected on a screen) that students must accomplish before the day's learning began. We began to think about using Pageflakes as a tool for pre-exposure to all of the learning planned for the day and she decided to use it for a little while to see what student's reactions would be. When I spoke with her about a week later, she remarked how it was having a positive effect on some of her students who now came into the classroom and saw the entire day's schedule not just a list of tasks to do. Many of these students also have the need to have the day's schedule close at hand to refer back to so they would go to the computer and print out a copy of the schedule and tape it to the corner of their desk. Simple shifts in daily routines had a positive effect on these students. Knowing was what next on the day's agenda provided the big picture that these students needed.

What other simple shifts have gone on that have now become something that we include in our instruction, that can produce powerful results for our students? One simple shift that many teachers made in their classrooms was configuring their desks from rows to clusters. This simple shift meant that students were no longer facing the front or looking at the backs of each others heads. They were now facing each other giving the teacher easier ways of inviting discussion and collaboration. Simple shifts...

Here are a few simple shifts that produce powerful results that I've listed for today - would anyone like to add others? What shifts have you noticed in your own practice? What is the power behind simple shifts? How does intent, value and purpose change as we make simple shifts?
• From full videos that the teacher controlled and showed to the whole class to downloadable video clips that the student can control and access when needed. The impact of this shifts control to the students, enables visual representation of complex concepts and these clips can be embedded into a Word document or PowerPoint for instruction or for individualized use.
• From using crayons, paints, etc. to using software drawing tools to create visual models and simple pictures. The software tools allow many more creative uses to create the visual.
• From surfing the Internet to RSS feeds. When I first started to read blogs, I would go to the links on one person's blog to get to others. Now, I use Bloglines and, at a glance, I know when newly published additions to those blogs have been created. That simple shift has saved lots of time and organized the content that I'm most interested in seeing on a daily basis. In addition to blogs, I also pull in some favorite comics, daily quotes and a feed from a local news station.
• From writing ideas down on pieces of paper to publishing ideas to the web or saving them to my Google docs. Simple I write on the computer and place it on my blog or create documents that I can access without having to have my own personal computer in front of me. Life was often complicated by trying to find those pieces of paper at just the right time. Now, I just simply log in to find it all.
• From publishing to the teacher to publishing to the world. This provides our students with a much more powerful and far reaching audience. This one simple shift is free and can be implemented in about 10 minutes.
• Talking on the phone to talking over Skype with video - this one simple shift made an impact on my youngest daughter who told me one day that she wished we had done this last year, that being able to see us when we talk makes a difference to her and would have helped during her first year away at college.
• From taking notes on paper when using the web to taking notes using Diigo. This simple shifts means that we collect and categorize our notes all in one place and can extract notes from a group of websites easily. I have to keep catching myself when I start to write things down on paper as I visit sites and remind myself that Diigo makes it easier to find these notes later on.
• The NETS standards shifted from beginning with basic skills to beginning with creativity. That simple shift changes the tone and intent of the document and places it squarely in the 21st century.

That's just a few for now. Please add to the list!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Innovation and Creativity

Here's a really neat video from YouTube. When you know your craft and your tools intimately, you are able to be creative in how you use them and can produce innovative ways of presenting the use of your tools.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Challenging Issues

Miguel Guhlin writes today about a posting by Jennifer on her blog My Integrating Technology Journey and he asks how others might respond to the questions that Jennifer was presented with during an interview. OK…I love a challenge! Though this gets long, it was a great opportunity to think through some of these issues tonight.

These questions seemed to fall into some categories so I’ve taken them and regrouped them into the categories that made sense to me. My answers to these questions are in italics at the bottom of each category.

Procedural Knowledge – Skills and Procedures
* You need to spend almost two months teaching how to use all the new tools and English practice will only be possible later in the year?
* How can you be sure that students won’t write dirty stuff (this was the concept they used)
Answer: Yes, I need time in the beginning to make sure that students have the specific skills that will enable them to use the tools efficiently and effectively. Once we have these skills in place, we’ll be better able to use the tools to our advantage for learning. In other words, the procedural knowledge that we build will support the declarative knowledge which is the understanding of the concepts we’re going to learn this year. Since our focus will be on the learning, I’m confident that the students won’t be thinking about writing inappropriate things. However, if they do, we’ll deal with this within the concept of the learning and how such conduct affects the learning of the individual as well as the class.

Instructional Tools/Materials
* What’s a blog?
* What’s a wiki? My question what is the wiki for???
* What’s a podcast? But we can’t incorporate them at school because we don’t have loud speakers.
* What are yahoo groups?
Answer: Blogs, wikis and podcasts are tools that allow us to be creative, collaborative and communicative – all of these are skills needed by our students to be well prepared for the work world of the 21st century. Specifically, a blog is a tool for communication. They provide us with the ability to develop and reflect on our thoughts and ideas and for others to contribute to that development and reflection. Blogs place our written expression in front of a larger audience than what has traditionally been available. Wikis promote collaboration. With their use, students will be able to collaboratively create content and will be able to continually work to edit and refine that content. The wiki, because of its ability to retain the history of those changes, will serve as a way for us to evaluate the progress of our work and our thinking as the content is developed. The podcast serves as a creative means of communicating learning of a concept. In order to create a podcast, students need to have done a tremendous amount of learning and then must be able to summarize their learning in such a way as to communicate this in a brief amount of time. Students collaborating to communicate their learning in creative ways is one way to summarize the use of a podcast instructionally.

Management of the environment
* Kids can never be left alone in the computer lab
* What happens with students that don’t have a computer home how can they follow your subject?
* If computers don’t work what will they do?
* There will be two students per computer-how will they work?
Answer: Management issues need to be taken into consideration whether we’re using technology or not. Can students be left alone (anywhere) if they are engaged in a learning task? The answer here can be yes, especially if we’ve taken the time to build understanding of the goals, use of the tools and expectations for the students’ responsibility in the learning process. The issue of computer access is not just for this class but for our school as a whole. Access at home is an issue that we have no control over and therefore, we will work to be sure that students are working outside the classroom on the planning and organizing needed before we create the product. In other words, they’ll be working through the process prior in order to create the product. Access to computers in school is something we need to consider as a school, as an educational community. In order for our students to be prepared for their future, they need to have access to the tools that they will be using. We need to work closely with our technology department and with all levels of administration to be sure that the 21st century learning tools and resources that our students need are available to them at all times. We need to also consider strategies for expanding access to technology for our students. While two students per computer is not the way that they will work in the real world and it will provide some challenges to us, I’m confident that our students are mature enough or will continually develop the maturity needed to deal with sharing the access. In the meantime, we can work together to plan for expanding access to technology within our school community.

* Who manages and reads the blogs?
* You must correct every blog entry
* I want it to be exam oriented not to be a open classroom.
* What about assessment
* You must support the teacher and use technology as a means of allowing the teacher to improve her students practice for International exams
Answer: The “big picture” of instruction in the classroom has four important pieces. Instructional goals, instructional strategies, grading and assessment. The end result of instruction is the construction of new knowledge. Exams will come and go but what our students take with them out into the world is even more important. If we do our jobs well as teachers, we will design assessments that give us a picture of how our students have achieved the instructional goals and use their learning to construct new knowledge. Our students don’t need to be better test takers, they need to be better readers, writers, and learners.

* Plan your classes very well because if not it will all be a waste of time .
Answer: You hired me because of my expertise as an educator, because I have skills that you considered desirable in someone who is to be responsible for the education of children. Planning for student success and continual learning will always be my top priority. It is the most important part of my job whether I place my students in front of a computer or in front of a stack of books. My lessons will be designed to take maximum advantage of the learning situation and the learning tools. No time is ever wasted if the students are engaged in the learning process.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

All in a Nutshell

Nutshell - Easy to-do list, online notes and a search box Annotated

  • If you used Wallnote before to create notes and task lists you'll love this new version called Nutshell. You can still create notes, you can still create a list of tasks with details. But now, there is an RSS feed to all of your information giving you the ability to use it collaboratively. Nutshell also provides users with a way to search the web while creating your notes and tasks.
    - post by quirkytech
Great improvements have been made here - check it out!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Teaching students how to learn - what a concept!

Brian Crosby notes a really important article recently published in Edutopia titled “Don’t Weigh the Elephant---Feed the Elephant.” (Download the pdf and scatter copies around your school!) The connection here for me has to do with the curriculum work that’s been done in my district over the past four years. Our curriculum consultant, Janie Pollock, came in to the district, not just talking about why we need a well-aligned curriculum but also, what we need to do instructionally to help our students really learn content. Happily, ASCD will soon be publishing a book that Janie wrote about his very thing.

The results of a study noted in this article show that, when students understand what the article calls a “growth model” of intelligence, when it was actually taught to the students, achievement improved and students were more willing to work toward improvement. Wow! What a concept…teach the kids that they really can learn and how to learn!

We’ve been learning a little bit about how a lesson might be designed to take advantage of what we know about the brain, learning and instruction. Students need to know what the goal of the instruction is, we need to help students get ready to connect new learning to what they already know, present the new learning, give them time to apply what they’ve just learned and then, summarize their learning which brings the lesson to a close. This lesson design is totally in sync with what we’ve been reading in the research about the brain and how learning takes place.

I wrote recently about pre-exposure – this is also what we might call using an advance organizer. We have many technology tools that will help students to see the learning goals as a visual representation [PageFlakes, Protopage, Google start page] therefore helping them to see their learning goals for the day/week/month/unit as well as where we’ve connected learning together. For example, we might create an Inspiration diagram showing the major topics, vocabulary and ideas to be taught within a unit of science – BUT leave out the links so that students can create their own connections during the learning. Why not present that at the beginning of a unit? As the unit goes along, the teacher could re-visit this organizer asking students to think about how the ideas, topics and vocabulary link together and create the links on their own copy of the diagram. Hmmm…then, at the end of the unit, have students pull out their Inspiration diagram with all the connections and links they’ve made and have them write about how and why the connections were made – no right answers, just a demonstration of the learning and connections that were going on in their brains during the instruction. Could there be a more powerful way of really getting an accurate and true assessment for learning as well as a look at any misunderstandings that the student may have? If we can only "feed" students with the skills that will help them improve their own achievement, we will become better educators for it.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Responsive Content

I think we all have our “gurus” – our trusted sources who have information that we need or want or will be able to inform us about new ideas, thoughts, concepts. In 1998, as I was beginning my present position in the technology department, we had a “guru” that we talked about a lot as we developed our plans to implement the use of technology in our classrooms. We were paying attention to one guru in particular because he was encouraging us to think in different ways about how we were going to approach this change that was about to happen in our schools. We needed to read and grapple with new thoughts and ideas about how to help teacher learn these new tools and how to implement them successfully. There weren’t that many people around who were doing that in 1998 so we studied the ideas that we found carefully.

Later, our guru turned to the Internet to publish his ideas and we read more - but they were simply ideas on a page. They weren't the kinds of "living" documents that we have today. And, as time went on, we managed to find our way through our previous confusion and questions and, though the writing was still inspiring, we were developing our own ideas and asking new questions.

As time went on, we found new “gurus” who were writing about technology in the classroom and they were asking newer, more important questions. They were reaching beyond classroom research, classroom experiences and into the business world and the creative world for answers. We don’t talk much about our first guru anymore. Today, I’m thinking about why that is.

Our first guru, while publishing his ideas on the Internet, differs in one important way from our newer gurus - and that was in the use of interactive tools that allow for the exchange and working of ideas. In a blog recently, someone used the term “responsive content.” That’s really a very powerful term. The first guru isn't publishing “responsive content.” If you can’t comment on ideas, edit to update or improve on ideas, or know right away when new writings have been published – you can’t respond in a way that adds value to that work or to your own understandings.

This notion of “responsive content” is powerful, not only for our students, but for our teachers as well. Collaboration among students, collaboration among teachers must have “responsive content” in order to be valuable to us. It’s that ability to respond to each other in such a way that we can add value to the ideas of others or to our own content as a product of interacting with others that makes the tools we have today so important in our work as educators.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Updated Technology Standards - Create custom imagesGreater minds than mine have already begun to deal with the update to the ISTE technology standards but I wanted to process this new information in a way that makes sense to me.

A little background first: my state's technology standards don't even come close to being usable in my opinion and so, for the past 8 years,whenever we talked in my district about technology standards, I always referred to those published by ISTE. The problem, of course, becomes that, as time went by and we gained access to a web based more and more on communication and collaboration, these standards became less and less relevant. So, this morning, I located this new draft and began to think about how it's changed and how that will benefit those of us who might use this document as a reference in conversations with both teachers and administrators.

So...a little comparison is in order~

Verbs used

Old NETS: Words and phrases such as "students use..." and "tools" are prominent implying a focus on learning (possibly) isolated skills

New NETS: The language is related to higher level thinking. Words such as apply, develop, evaluate, transfer are used implying that technology is used beyond just merely learning isolated skills.


Old NETS: Mostly focused on learning skills to operate tools.

New NETS: Mostly focused on technology as a tool for learning. Brings in work place skills for the 21st century.

Introductory Statement

Old NETS: Refers to the teacher using the document for planning "technology based activities."

New NETS: Refers to the student and what he/she needs to know and be able to do "to learn effectively and live productively in an increasingly digital world..."

Bloom's Levels (revised version)

Old NETS: Lowest levels: remembering, understanding, applying

New NETS: Higher levels of thinking, analyzing, evaluating, creating.

Standards Titles

1. Basic operations and concepts
2. Social, ethical, and human issues
3. Technology productivity tools
4. Technology communication tools
5. Technology research tools
6. Technology problem-solving and decision-making tools

1. Creating and Innovation
2. Communication and Collaboration
3. Research and Information Retrieval
4. Critical Thinking, Problem-Solving and Decision-Making
5. Digital Citizenship
6. Technology Operations and Concepts

Although I'm just beginning to process these new standards, overall they seem to be a much better indicator of how technology supports learning than the previous document. This is finally a document that I can point teachers to that is more than "one more thing" they have to do in the classroom. It is simply what our students need to know and be able to do in order to survive in a digital world.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Kids, Books and Technology

Matt Callison in California has created a great site called BookLook. On this site, students are reviewing books in the same style that some of us may remember from Reading Rainbow. His site is well designed and is a wonderful example of what kids can do with technology for the "real world." I'm sure these students used lots of 21st century literacy skills in order to produce these podcasts. Have a look at further information about this site at Progressive Educator.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Pre-Exposure from the Beginning

As an instructional technology specialist, I'm trying to figure out how instruction works best in the classroom given the students needs and the tools that are currently available to support instruction. Improving student learning and improving my pedagogy are always my goals whether we're using technology or not. The ideas I'm working through tonight are still in progress - just trying to think through the pedagogy, the tools and the application to a classroom situation. So...let's pretend this is a 5th grade classroom for example. Then, let's add to that some of the circumstances under which teachers can/do operate in my district.

There are 6 computers, a printer and an LCD projector in my classroom and I have access to a wireless laptop cart with 15 computers. There are a number of digital cameras in the building as well.

We begin our day with pre-exposure to the plans for learning for the day. Information access is important to our continued learning so the plans for the day have been outlined on our class start page and are projected onto a screen in the classroom as the students walk in. Students know that this is their first stop once they've taken care of their coats.

So what? Can't we do the same thing with notes on the board? Yes! But this serves as an ever present model for how we can organize and manage information and can be accessed by students at home. Tabs can be added to further organize any content. Under each tab we can add widgets as needed for quick access to RSS feeds, podcasts, or websites specific to what we're studying.

One student each day checks the start page where the current temperature is displayed and uses Excel to track the temperature and weather conditions. The temperatures for the week are converted to a bar graph which is saved throughout the year. These bar graphs are used for a number of math skills such as computing the weekly average and then monthly average. The bar graphs are saved so that we can use them to look at the trends in temperature across seasons which contributes to our learning in science when we talk about the earth's atmosphere and how various types of weather occur. Links under the Science tab take students to websites related to weather such as the Weather Channel, Weather Underground, a local TV station's site and other supporting information.

The other 5 computers are assigned to particular students each day and they can use them to check our RSS feeds to places such as the local news, Word of the Day or National Geographic. They can also explore the other tabs on our start page for specific content areas to see what webpages are currently being displayed or to further preview learning for the day such as this picture of the character web that will be done during our reading time today.

Additonal options for class start pages include:

Pulling Together the Big Picture

It’s my nature to be able to develop a “big picture” in my mind of anything whether it be the concepts behind the curriculum work done in my district or planning for things at home.

And so, as I think about all the issues that I’ve read about through blogs (and other sources) during the past year, I have this “big picture” in my mind about what technology use in a classroom should look like. Sometimes, it’s just difficult to bring all the words together in such a way that I can explain it. But, I’m going to give it a shot starting right now – have to start pulling all of this together in my mind. It’ll help me to get it all written down then look back at it and reflect some more.

The issues… (well…some of them anyway!)
• how to leverage web 2.0 tools for instruction without just doing the same old stuff with new tools
• attention to pedagogy or the tools – which comes first
• changes that need to happen in the classroom to accommodate the kinds of tools we now have
• changes in our students – they have access to information anytime, anywhere but aren’t experiencing the freedom to use “their” tools in school
• preparing students for a future we can’t predict

OK…I’m definitely not a researcher nor do I even begin to imagine that I have the answers to any of these issues but I love wrestling with them anyway. What keeps coming up to me time and again are some of the things my school district has been working on and discussing over the past 4 years. I’ve done little in the way of “technology training” in that time – not like I had previous to this. What I have done is to spend a lot of time working with our curriculum consultant, talking with teachers about their frustrations, suggesting small ways to keep advancing their uses of technology in support of curriculum, and, more recently, being involved in data analysis to see what issues are coming up as a result of state testing. In addition, I’ve been reading anything I can get my hands on about brain research, instructional strategies, assessment, grading, and the kinds of changes going on in the world around us.

One thing doesn’t change though - The single most important influence on student learning is the teacher. From that, what flows naturally to me is that the teacher must have a good set of instructional strategies that he/she can readily apply and must understand how students learn and under what conditions they learn best. The pedagogy will always reign supreme no matter what the “tools” are and no matter how they change and evolve.

Next time…beginning to delve into Eric Jensen’s framework for planning with the brain in mind. Yes! We have the research and we have the tools!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Beginning with the learner...

Brian Crosby reflects in his blog on the work of his classroom where he has access to laptops and a multitude of other technology tools including web 2.0 tools. Once again, my mind is back to Eric Jensen's point in his book, Brain Based Learning that we learn best by immersion - and then thinking our way out. I enjoy the transparency of Brian's writing about his classroom and the learning process that he is going through right along with his students.

Jensen's point that brain based learning begins with the learner not the content is especially relevant as we continue to wrestle with schooling in the 21st century as well as with how web 2.0 tools can be used instructionally in ways that are not just taking the old and transposing it on top of something new. What tools does the learner need when immersed in content in order to think his/her way out? What thinking skills provide the best way out of the immersion of content? Jensen outlines 7 stages in brain based planning. As I look through each stage, my mind immediately connects with the web 2.0 tools that would support brain based learning and with the learning I've experienced in working with our curriculum consultant over the past 4 years.

So...I think I'm going to make that my challenge for the next few postings. If you happen upon any ideas that you'd like to expand on, please leave a comment. I love finding connections and being immersed in learning and I'd love some feedback to keep me thinking and reflecting.