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!

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Spring break...we look forward to it every year as a time to open the windows and let nature remove the stale winter air from the house replacing it with the fresh, clean air of springtime. While many of my colleagues take this time to travel to southern climates (which are not always all that warm at this time of year), we usually prefer to spend this time at home doing the things that we can't always get to when we're working.

Here are some reasons that I'm really enjoying this particular Spring Break.

1. A change from the work routine.
The work routine and time schedule is well established in our household. With the kids gone, we're thoroughly entrenched in our morning routine - out the door before 7:00 am; me to travel for 25 minutes and my husband to enjoy his coffee, doughnuts, morning paper and chats with friends before going to his school. We're into our work for the entire day then back home again - me to go exercise at a local establishment, my husband to work a little extra beyond the usual day and then we're both home to enjoy dinner and relax for the evening.

But this vacation, my routine has been to start the day with exercise then come home and do a little work at the computer - reading blogs, thinking about the tasks to be accomplished before the end of the school year and doing some writing. I could easily adopt this routine forever!

2. Time to read and actually process the information I'm getting.
I do a lot of reading both in and out of my job. The reading outside my job is mostly related to reading blogs, checking in on what those folks are connecting their readers to and sometimes, tackling a pile of books that I seem to find interesting enough to purchase but hard to read on a continuous basis. It's been very rare lately that I start a book and then read it all the way to the end. I guess I find that I read about half of a book and get the gist of what the author's thesis is then move on to something else. After all, it's going to be sitting on the shelf waiting for me if I ever have the need to go back to it.

But, what happens, no matter what I'm reading during the school year, is that I feel this rush to move on to something else. I log in to my Bloglines account, click on the latest updates, save some for "future" review, sometimes make a comment but, mostly I just skim through for new information that applies to my own work. Under those conditions, there's not really a lot of time to process what I'm reading - to think about it more deeply, respond more clearly, make clear connections to my previous learning.

So, on this vacation, when I come home from the exercise, I get my breakfast ready, fix a nice cup of tea and go to my computer for my reading and thinking time. I can spend all morning here if I want or I can spend a little time now and a little time later. I'm already feeling lots of cobwebs being swept from my brain as I replace them with the freshness of new ideas.

3. Make new connections for creativity and innovation.
I'm reading a book right now that I've vowed to read from cover to cover. It's called Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration by Keith Sawyer. I've kept a notebook at my side while reading this book.

A couple of quotes I've written down from this reading:
"The engine that drives collaboration is conversation." When make connection between this and my own learning, I think about the blog reading that I do on a daily basis. Whether we all know it or not, we're engaged in collaboration all the time with the end goal being to improve our schools and our students' learning. Blogs provide the conversation [no matter how many comments you're getting]. It's a conversation unlike the face to face discussions that we engage in with our work colleagues. This conversation is free for you to engage in or not - but the engagement in the conversation is where the learning really occurs. Comment on a blog, read what other people's reaction are. Frequently, I've written a comment on a blog then wished I'd stated my position a little more clearly or I've read someone else's point of view and a different side of the issue becomes more apparent than before. All of these interactions, whether we know it or not, contribute to our thinking in some way that may not become apparent for a while and, even when they do resurface, we may have no idea where the connection came from originally.

"Today's pervasive and high-bandwidth communication and social networks give us the potential to be far more creative than human beings have been at any time in history."
Both the synchronous and asynchronous contributions that we all make to the "conversation" have an impact on someone else, somewhere whether we know it or not. The tools we have on this day in 2008 are the most powerful we've ever had for communicating with other. It's that ability to communicate our ideas to a wider audience that inspires creative thoughts and new ideas.

The book begins with an explanation about the inner workings of improvisation and groups that perform improvisationally. We've been to see some performances ourselves and are constantly amazed at how these people manage to create something from a single word, song title, or small suggestion. One of the things that Keith Sawyer points out is that these performers frequently use "yes, and..." as they work through the improvisation. "Yes, and..." keeps the performance following and keep conversations evolving. Makes me think about those meetings where someone inevitably begins a sentence with "yes, but..." - stops the conversation from evolving and the creativity from flowing every time doesn't it?

4. Read books that have been stacked up and waiting for a very long time.
My book buying decisions are usually made in at least two ways - by wandering around certain sections of my favorite bookstore or on the recommendations of others. I came across Group Genius via the wandering method. Using this method, I also located The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, From Edison to Google by Nicholas Carr as well as Five Minds for the Future by Howard Gardner. Both of these books are loudly calling out to me, just the titles alone made me buy them and make me want to delve into them - but that would mean I'd have to break my "read it cover to cover" vow. For now, they'll have to wait though because I have to find out how Group Genius ends first.

Image: The Purple Invasion of Spring

Monday, April 14, 2008

Reading Books Online

A while ago I posted about a site online where you could read children's book before you buy them. Thanks to an anonymous comment to that posting, I've been exploring another site that allows you to read books online - both fiction and non-fiction. As I peruse the site this morning, I notice that there are some great non-fiction books that would support topics that teachers are addressing in content areas so I'll be recommending this to them.

In addition to reading books, you can also easily create your own books. Read the Terms of Use carefully if you sign up for an account and intend to create a book.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Who Made You Think Today?

It's become my nightly ritual to open my laptop, log in to my Bloglines account and read through the new postings for the day. Sometimes, I even sneak a look during a few minutes break at work. And, I believe I'm addicted because it sure is hard not to see what's going on every day.

It's not just that I want to see if anything at all new is posted. It's that I'm looking for new thinking all the time, new ways of looking at the issues that I deal with, new ways of approaching common themes that come up about technology and instruction. Sometimes, I store what I find in my brain's memory, sometimes I use my Diigo account to bookmark what I've found with a note to help me remember my thinking later. Other times, I comment on a blog or I send a link to that blog posting on to someone else who I know will enjoy the reading.

So...who made me think today? Well, it started with Miguel Guhlin who wrote in reaction to Ryan Bretag's article on the Techlearning blog. Here's what I'm thinking...

Yes! I can raise my hand. I spend time every day trying to enhance my professional practice, trying to learn something new. Does this take place in "a collaborative context with other professionals?" If you count reading the blog, commenting, or posting my own reaction on my blog then...yes! I can raise my other hand. But, I wish I were raising that other hand because those "other professionals" were the colleagues with whom I work each day. This is not always the case and it's where I struggle each day on the job.

Maybe instead of holding on to what I've learned or passing on those links to only a few people, I should instead borrow a little wisdom from Ryan's action items. So, here's what that might look like:

1. Dedicate a portion of each day to send out messages to teachers about what's going on in the web 2.0 world. Providing little tidbits of what's out there and what I've learned from my own involvement in my personal learning network might inspire more of my colleagues to ask questions and begin to raise their awareness of the possibilities that exist.

2. Encourage others to establish a professional learning network. By following step #1, this is possible. By helping teachers to connect to the best resources this is possible.

3. Establish and maintain a virtual professional learning space that fosters shared knowledge and resources. Just creating another blog space to feature what others are writing about or to point to good examples of what teachers are doing with web 2.0 tools could help to establish that space in the professional learning practices of others. Last week, I spent some time with a small group of teachers who learned a little bit about Diigo, Google Docs, and wikis. That was just a quick introduction. The professional learning space can be the follow up to that conversation and many others.

4. Make professional reflection and scholarly work a priority and make it public. We already have some instances of teachers using wikis (mostly in collaboration with their library media specialists) and we have some teachers who have started blogs with their students. Through our professional learning space teachers could engage in conversations about the use of these tools for instruction.

5. Model professional learning for colleagues. There are about 125 teachers with whom I can share what I've been exploring and learning about. Time to get busy and open the doors to a learning network!

Thanks to Miguel for pointing to Ryan's article and thanks to Ryan for making some very bold statements that we should all take to heart.

The more it's used, the more it grows

"More than any other commodity, information is everywhere. Not only can almost anyone access almost anything at almost no cost, but, unlike corn and wheat, information doesn’t have to be consumed to be used. Quite the opposite: The more it’s used, the more it grows."

Think Better by Tim Hurson ©2008

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Using Technology in Teaching is an Act of Declarative Knowledge

Over the past few years, we've been learning a lot in my district about procedural and declarative knowledge. Do a Google search for these terms and you'll find more information about them. Basically, procedural knowledge is a set of steps in a process. We learn the steps, we practice the steps, we apply them in new situations. In terms of technology training, my main role in my district, I've recognized for a long time that this is how we learn to use computers. We learn where to click and when to make certain things happen. And, once we know the steps about where to click to make certain things happen, we can apply that to other technology tools. But, I've also recognized that, to follow steps and to act as if the procedural knowledge is all we need, pretty much defeats the purpose of using technology as a learning tool.

Declarative knowledge, on the other hand, is facts, generalizations and principles. We need to process declarative knowledge. That's what I'm doing right now. I've been reading through several blog posts this afternoon and now, by writing this post, I'm processing the information that I've read. So, as we process declarative knowledge, we can do that in a number of ways. As mentioned, we can write about it. Blogs and other online tools that allow others to create conversations around what we're thinking about our learning are important in declarative knowledge. So, we gather the information, we process the information in a variety of ways and then we construct a new idea - think Bloom's taxonomy.

This is, I think, where professional development for technology needs to reside. We've spent lots of time and effort in teaching the steps. Now, we need to teach the concept of technology in the teaching and learning process. If educators have the declarative knowledge, the means to process that knowledge and apply a thinking skill so that they can begin to construct new ideas about the use of technology, then I think we will have moved forward in a positive direction.

This blog posting was influenced by several things that I've read this afternoon, some of which are linked below. While you, the reader, may not see all the connections that I've found that's all right. The connections come not only from the reading, but from the background knowledge that I already have in regards to this concept. This is declarative knowledge in action.

Developmentally appropriate technology integration PD - Wes Fryer
Internalization vs. Utilization - Scott Weidig
"If the news is important, it will find me." - Mathew Ingram

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

It's Because I Read...

This morning before I went to work I logged into my Bloglines account for a quick check. The first blog posting I read was from Brian Crosby. Today, he was writing about a project that he'll be doing with his 5th graders in collaboration with Lisa Parisi. As I read through the post, I was struck by the number of technology tools that will be employed in the course of this project and how well they fit together to support the intended learning. The project will allow students to collaborate to write original stories based on the illustrations in the book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg. Not being familiar with the book, I went right to one of my super-duper librarians this morning to borrow it.

As soon as I read that post, the contents of a workshop that I'll do tomorrow suddenly crystallized. This workshop will be with a group of teachers that I've been working all year. They wanted to take another look at some of the web based tools that I've been talking about all this year. But I've been struggling with how to present these in some sort of meaningful context. That is, until I read Brian's blog this morning. And, it's because I read that this kind of thing often happens to me.

Tomorrow, we'll start by going to Diigo where I've already set up an account and bookmarked Brian's post. This will get us quickly to that post which I'll have the teachers read. [We'll talk about connections that this project might have to our own curriculum. I'd like them to also take a look at the NETS for students - this will expose them to a document that many of them might not have known about otherwise.] Now that we've gotten to the blog, we can learn how to annotate it using the Diigo toolbar.

Next up is Google docs. Brian and Lisa are going to use this tool as a way for their students to write collaboratively. We'll use it to respond to some questions that I've set up that are related to each of the tools we'll work with.

Then it's on to the concept of the wiki. By way of introducing this concept, I have Wikis in Plain English ready to show. Then we can go to Lisa's wiki page which will serve as one example. There are other samples that I've been collecting as well for us to explore. This will give us some food for thought about how wikis can be used effectively in instruction. We'll return to Google docs to record our impressions.

By exploring these tools within the context of this project, I hope that the teachers will be able to see the connections among these tools, and the value they add to learning. I also hope this will provoke some additional conversations about exploring the use of these tools further.

It's because I read that I learn from others and that I'm inspired by others. I can't imagine how I could do my job without access to the ideas and experiences of talented educators around the world. Thanks to all of you!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Collaborate or Perish

After having read Miguel Guhlin's account of the student who is being charged with academic misconduct, then another article online, as well as a lengthy IM conversation with my daughter this assignment occurs to me:

Students: here is [the assignment] for your homework and it's due by Friday. Here are the expectations...
1. You must arrive at a well thought out conclusion - all answers, if well documented, will be accepted.
2. You must work in collaboration with at least 5 other members of the class. Two of those must be someone you don't regularly work with. Real learning is a social process. So...get out there and learn from and with each other.
3. Record your reflections on the collaboration and the tools you used as well as how you arrive at your conclusion.
4. All of these are required in order for the assignment to be accepted. Good luck!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Winter Fun

The snow has been falling since before we got up this morning at about 6:00am. My husband's school is closed, but mine, only 20 miles away is open. Not a flake in the air, I've heard, and the sun is shining but it's cold and windy. I chose to play it safe and glad I did. At noon today, the local weather report was that we had gotten 38" of snow. It's now about 3 hours later and I'll bet there's at least 6 more inches on the ground.

I've been working steadily since I got up this morning catching up on my own personal professional development in lots of ways: I've checked Twitter a couple of times, read through the feeds in my Bloglines account, checked the Google news, local news and weather reports and answered any email in my school account.

My newest learning for today is using Picasa for Windows. I've had it downloaded for a while but haven't had a chance to really use it. So, I've been taking pictures of the snow events outside our windows and using those to go through the features of the software. One really nice thing is that Picasa has a button labeled "Blog This!" I selected the picture you see above (not a great one, taken from our living room window), clicked on Blog This and it prompted me to sign in to my Blogger account then upload my photo then begin this post. There are also some other nice features - I can email a selected picture, print in a number of formats, create a collage or run a slideshow from a folder of pictures. Many of these features are also found in iPhoto but I'm trying to learn Picasa since my district is switching from Macs to PCs next year (long story) so I'll need to help teachers learn how to use Picasa instead.

What new learning did you experience today?

Posted by Picasa

Defining 5 W's for Technology Learning

Jeff Utecht, in his blog post today talks about "Just in Time Learning." Realizing that there are only so many hours in a day, you just can't know all the tools, even if your role is to provide leadership to teachers in the use of technology. We frequently resort to learning something only as the need arises.

But Jeff brings up a good point: not only do we need to know how to use the tools but we need to know why as well - that's the most important point when it comes to working with teachers and supporting student learning. This point is also made in an article from the Techlearning blog by Ryan Bretag.

As I thought about Jeff's point and read through the article on the Techlearning blog, it just felt to me like there needed to be a little more clear definition put on those "W's", especially when working with teachers who are unaware of the many tools available. It also occurred to me that this might be a great topic for some upcoming professional development opportunities in my district.

So...if we go with the old standard 5 W's (+1) and relate them to using technology to empower learning, here are the questions that I've been brainstorming this morning. By no means perfect, but a start at least - they really all go hand in hand.

Who? Who should know about and use this tool? Who will benefit the most from the use of this tool? Students, other students, teachers, other teachers, the global audience?

What? What is the functionality of this tool? What thinking/process skills does it support?
(communication, collaboration, creativity, research/information fluency, critical thinking)

Where? Where in the curriculum does the use of this tool make the most sense and provide the most support for learning? (state, district, ISTE, AASL, etc.)

When? When would I choose to use this tool instead of something else (including paper and pencil)?

Why? Why should teachers be using this tool in our instruction? Why should students use this tools for their learning?

How? How will my pedagogy support the effective use of this tool? How will my pedagogy need to change in order to use this tool effectively?

Those are my about you?

Powered by ScribeFire.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Focusing on Connections

This morning, after enjoying a few moments with the Sunday paper, I started doing a little cleaning out of my home office space and came upon a piece of paper from probably last year some time. I had drawn a web called Social Software and as I looked it over, trying to recall my thinking at the time, it occurred to me that this might be useful for some work I'm doing right now so I recreated it in Inspiration. After that, I set it aside on my desk, opened up my computer and signed in to Twitter, my email, iChat and Skype. As I read through Twitter I noticed that David Warlick had posted a new article to his blog - "Is Pedagogy Getting in the Way of Learning?". Catchy title...not sure what my focus is for to see what others are thinking early in the morning...why not?...let's go see what's up with David this morning.

As I read through this blog article and the comments, a few things started brewing. First of all, those involved in these "social technologies" such as Twitter, Skype, UStream and whatever else, are strong advocates for their use. After all, they connect us with others, they help us make connections between our knowledge and the knowledge of others, they connect us in ways that are new and exciting and weren't in existence when most of us were in school. These technologies really reflect a lot of what you might read about in books by Eric Jensen about the brain and learning. So, therein, lies my connection between David's post and the piece of paper I found while cleaning. This web that I drew was my attempt to begin understanding how the social technologies intersect with what we know about the learning process. As advocates of social technologies, how many are considering the way that learning takes place and how many are considering that kids, even though they take to these tools easily, really deeply understand the learning aspect of the tools? Are we as educators, being explicit enough about the learning when we advocate for or use these tools with students?

I'm finding, even at the elementary level, that these technologies [and the learning skills they support] need to be taught and the best ways to teach them will only come as a result of good pedagogical practices of teachers. I'm not so sure that technology is the platform as David suggests. We may be thinking about technology in a very limited scope here. When you mention technology to any teacher, I'm sure that the picture in their brains is a computer but computers are not the only technology we possess for helping our students to learn.

The definition that I'm working with right now is this: technology is an innovation that brings about a desired change. [Of course, as educators, that desired change is an improvement in student learning.] With that definition in mind then, pedagogical practices are a technology as are certain instructional strategies, cooperative learning structures, Bloom's taxonomy, habits of mind and many others. As a teacher whose title is "instructional technology specialist", this definition suits me right now. It allows me to approach my role in a different way. Instead of being the one who can figure how ways to use a computer in a lesson, it puts me in a position of being able to work with ALL of the technologies of instruction, seeking to find connections between and among them and helping teachers to understand where the use of a certain computer technology intersects with a particular pedagogical technology to improve student learning. the way, here's the web that I found and recreated in Inspiration. Now that these connections born from Twitter and the blogosphere have me a little better focused for the morning, I guess I'd better get to work!