Category Archives: education

EdCampME

It’s official – there will be an EdCampME (Maine) this March and Waynflete will be hosting!  Our TLC (Technology & Learning Cohort) came up with the idea after a bunch of us attended EdCampKeene in August.  We all enjoyed the “camp” and came back thinking that it would be a great thing to put on at Waynflete.  That enthusiasm did not die so we began laying some groundwork to bring EdCampME to Waynflete.

I had several initial conversations with the Head of School and Director of Finance and Operations and they both gave me the go ahead to find a date.  Finding an open date was a little tricky as our facilities are used a lot on the weekends for Admission events, athletics, and arts.  I found a few options in March which is a good month overall because it is between sport seasons, it is just before the “end of the year” craziness begins, and stress levels seem to be in check.

After a few more conversations, I found a date that would work and got full approval for a weekend in March and reserved the space.  Before I left for the weekend, I decided to post the date on the main EdCamp website and reserve a website wiki - EdCampME.wikispaces.com.  (Seem to make it even more official). On Saturday morning I woke up and checked my twitter feed and found that the “edcamp guy” (@dancallahan) had tweeted that he was looking forward to EdCampME in March (yay – instant press). Then he followed up that tweet a little later telling me to check in with @jaimesteward who (along with @alicebarr) was also planning an EdCampME. I checked the edcamp site and sure enough, she had put an entry in for EdCamp Maine for March 17th.  What are the chances?

So I tweeted @jaimesteward and @alicebarr to see what they had planned and asked if they wanted to team up. They said they were working on reserving a space. We all thought it would be silly to have two edcamps so we teamed up.  Not only that, but in the course of the twitter conversation we had about 3 or 4 other Maine educators volunteer to help us – yay Maine.  Here’s the shortened twitter conversation:

Now we have 10 teachers from Waynflete plus an additional 5 or 6 educators from the whole state working together to plan this EdCamp for March 31st.  Now the fun begins.  To get things started I created a Google Doc to share with everyone to begin brainstorming some ideas for the day.  Once we get the big picture down, we can begin to assign jobs.

We don’t have the details worked out yet but stay tuned to twitter (#edcampme) and to our website (http://edcampme.wikispaces.com) for more information on:

EdCampME

Saturday, March 31

Waynflete School, Portland ME

We hope you can join us!

What a Start: Day 1, TLC

(I thought I published this weeks ago, but found it in my drafts!)

Whew. I just finished three intense days with the new Technology & Learning Cohort – a group 10 really smart, fun, and insightful colleagues of mine brought together by our interest in and pursuit of good teaching practice. The teachers are from a variety of grade levels from Early Childhood to 12th grade. There are four math teachers from Upper and Middle School, a spanish teacher (upper/middle), science teacher We spent the three days learning tools, discussing pedagogy, watching TED talks, discussing tools, and collaborating on projects.

To prepare for our year together, each member received an iPad to play with over the summer and we all read, The New Culture of Learning by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown, which served as a backdrop to our conversations over the the three days. In addition, seven of us went to EdCampKeene in August and that help get our ideas bubbling.

On our first meeting day, we began with some iPad app sharing. Lots of good interesting apps came out of it, Puppet Pals, sync pad, iChirp, owl pellets, and many, many more. We came to the conclusion that Syncpad would be a good app to invest in to help create interactive whiteboard functionality with the ipad.  So much potential for kids to interact with each other and the teacher.  Another app we decided to invest in is Pages.  We were still drawn to a document creating app and that one seem to work the best in our desktop/laptop world.

That sharing lasted for at least an hour so we decided to put down the electronics and move outside to have a discussion about the book, A New Culture of Learning and what we hoped to get out of our year together.  There was a lot of talk about being given some dedicated time for experimenting with technology, thoughtfully planning for technology, and having support through adopting technology.  The other theme that popped up in this conversation and in a few that followed, was the tension of changing your curriculum to be more project-based, group-oriented, etc. while teaching at a “college prep” school in which the parents and students expect the kids to do well on college board tests, get “good grades”, and get into a good college.  At a private school, you don’t have to worry about the “standards” and state tests, but you do have more pressure in preparing kids for college.

After a yummy potluck lunch and birthday cake, we watched Michael Wesch’s TEDxNYED talk from March 2010.  I really enjoyed the talk for two reasons: 1. he stresses that technology changes us and we have no choice in it; we change, like it or not.  2. We need to work on helping kids be “knowledge-able” not just knowledgable.  In case you haven’t seen it, here it is:

The end of the first day, I introduced the group to some tools to help them cultivate their learning community or PLN – Twitter, blogs, Diigo.  We easily tied this in to the book and in our discussion about how to keep up with all of the resources and learning.  It was a great first day – there was a lot of energy and enthusiasm and I went home really excited to be working with this group for the year.

Google Docs on Campus

I ran a few Google Docs workshops this week to help some teachers and administrators get a better handle on how, when, and why to use Google Docs.  They seem to go well (even though some arrived asking “will I need my laptop for this workshop?”).  Overall, there are a lot more people (faculty, staff, and students) using Google Docs these days.  It’s great – students are “losing” fewer papers; faculty and staff are doing more collaboration online; faculty are sending out more Google Forms to collect information from the community.

This entertaining video came across Twitter yesterday – made entirely in Google Docs.  It’s pretty impressive and a nice response to those who say the Google Docs is not a robust enough editor.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth the 1:30 minutes:

Professional Development When You Want It

Time, time, time. That is the word that comes up most often when talking about how to bring more technology professional development to teachers. During the school year, teachers just don’t have enough time to learn about new technology, get comfortable with it, and figure out if it fits into their curriculum. And we, as schools, are not good about making enough time for it.  Educators therefore have to make their own time and fit in their learning where they can.

The K12 Online Conference is a nice way to get professional development when and where you want it.  I just loaded up my iPhone with 10 podcasts downloaded from the K12 Online site on iTunesU.  The K12 Online Conference is a collection of podcasts given by educators and, this year, students from around the world.  Each podcast is a presentation on teaching and tools and how they help improve learning.  This year’s conference, that went live during the last two weeks of October, had two themes – “Leading the Change” and, for the second week, “Kicking it up a Notch”.  Among the podcast presenters are well known names like Dean Shareski, David Warlick, and Darren Kuropotwa as well as students like Ben & Ben from Yarmouth High School who talk about their own podcast show, and middle school student, Nicolas Gutkowski, who talks about “Learning on my Own”.

No matter what level or subject you teach, you can find a podcast that will fit your needs at the K12 Online Conference. I have just started to listen to these presentations and there are many good ones to choose from.  I enjoy that I can access them when I am at work or as I make my commute home.  This is just one way that you can make professional development fit into your busy life.  Check out the offerings from the K12 Online Conference; they are most easily accessible on the Schedule page or from iTunesU.

More to Share

I have some more things to share as leftovers from my “tab clean up”.  This one is a great video of a homemade science project.  Now this is project-based learning at it best. Now, can we work something like this into our classrooms?  Think of the questions that can be asked, the hypotheses that can be stated, the stories that can be written, and the calculations that could be run?  Wow.

Playing Catch Up

I have been a bit behind the eight-ball since the start of school. There is no way around it – there is lots to do between troubleshooting network troubles (or in our case dealing with a network outage), databases to update, getting teachers ready to print grades and comments, the list is endless. But as I was finding myself with a little time in between projects, I began to clean up my browser window. I am one of those users who has a gillion different tabs open with the hope of going back to read each of the websites that I was referred to by Twitter, or listsservs, or Facebook, or email. In my little bit of time I began going through those tabs and bookmarking the sites, or reading and deleting the sites, to get my browser down to a neat and tidy 10 open tabs.

I came across a few that I didn’t know what to do with. I wanted to share them, but I didn’t feel the need to book mark them, so I thought I’d share them here, on my blog, which has been woefully under used lately.

The first site is this – Ten Things Teachers Should Unlearn – this is a post that I came across right at the end of summer and I thought a good reminder of assumptions that many teachers come to class with:

10 things I think teachers should unlearn…

1. Teachers know all the answers.

2. Teachers have to be in control of the class.

3. Teachers are responsible for the learning.

4.  Students are obliged to respect teachers.

5.  Learning can be measured by a letter or a number.

6.  Teachers should plan activities and then assessments.

7. Learners need to sit quietly and listen.

8. Technology integration is optional.

9.  Worksheets support learning.

10.  Homework is an essential part of learning.

I think most teachers know these things, but I think that when school becomes crazy and busy we often forget the fundamentals and we rely on old habits and may resort back to some of these things.  It’s an important list to keep in mind (or maybe inside your gradebook, if you still have one).

 

I Went to TED (xNYED)

Last weekend I made a trip to NYC (with fellow Mainer, Alice Barr) to attend the TEDxNYED conference.  When I signed up (or should I say “applied” – I have never had to “apply” to a conference before) to this conference, I wasn’t sure what kind of conference it would be.  As the date got closer, the speakers were chosen and there became a lot of twitter energy around “TEDxNYED”.  I, too, got excited to listen to these speakers – most of which I have never heard in person – and I was very interested in what they had to say as I have followed their words in the digital world.

I was not disappointed.  The speakers were terrific.  When I first looked at the schedule I wasn’t sure if I could handle the format – each speaker presenting for 18 minutes, one after another, with several breaks in between.  But I have to say, it worked.  The organizers of this event did a great job with the conference – from the schedule, to the food, to the number of attendees, and of course, to the live video feed which I heard was flawless. (The recorded video of these talks will be posted in a few weeks).  It was also the first conference in a long time when I didn’t pull out my laptop.  Sure, I was checking Twitter, etc on my iphone from time to time, but for most of the day I scribbled notes with the pen and paper they gave me when I registered that morning.

In reading some of the redux of the conference these last few days I am disappointed in some of the quibbling going on.  Some people had a problem with the conference format – that it was against what we are all striving for in the classroom (lecture) and that there was little time for conversation.  Yes, I agree to some extent but I thought it worked because we all connected with the speakers and were engaged with the content. (And who doesn’t liked to hear passionate speakers like Lawrence Lessig, David Willey, and Jeff Jarvis).  For me, it was reaffirming to hear these messages at this time of year.  Yes, they were preaching to the choir but sometimes I need that continued inspiration to remind me why I am pushing for change.  Each speaker had a different message (and maybe slightly different solutions) but to me the theme was the same – we need to push education forward, out of the 19th century where it has been stuck since the industrial age.

Here are some takeaways from the day (there were so many great one-liners, I could start a bumper sticker enterprise):

Andy Carvin (NPR) started off the day with the right tone.  He spoke to the increased ability for people to organize and rally behind a cause/disaster.  He showed the “power of participation” in the newly developed “Crisis Camps” that emerged out of the Boxing Day Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina and more recently the development of openstreetmap.org from the earthquake in Haiti.  All fantastic resources.

Michael Wesch sent a great message (one I plan to share with some Administrators) that people cannot “opt out” of the changes brought about by technology.  He told a wonderful story about living in a remote village in New Guinea and how that village (its culture, the relationships, and its people) was transformed by the development of the census – houses/huts were knocked down and reconstructed in rows to correspond to “numbering” and people were forced to have a “fixed” names.  After setting this stage, Wesch moved on to talk about how this translates in his classroom through several projects: a documentary, where each student is responsible for a small part of it and instead of a syllabus, the students are involved in creating and constantly revising a “research schedule”; in another project,he has students working on a world simulations game where each student is responsible for becoming an “expert” in a region of the world, then they are responsible for coming up with the “rules” of interaction between these countries and cultures.  Wesch described teachers roles as helping students move from becoming “knowledgeable to knowledge-able“.

David Willey (of BYU) gave a rousing call for “openness”.  He said openness and sharing is a must in education and the best educators are the ones who share the most successfully with students.  Right now, we have very powerful technology (technology that makes it extremely easy to share) but we have very outdated thinking.  He stated, “(if there is) no sharing, then there is no education”. His notes on his talk can be found here.

Lawrence Lessig hit the stage with a call to enable sharing in a way for people to have a “freedom to create while still maintaining a respect for the creator”.  I can’t possible do respect to his presentation by paraphrasing so visit his presentation here.

I enjoyed listening to Jay Rosen’s message from journalism that we “learn best by doing something that is difficult and that knowledge comes out of difficult problems”.

Jeff Jarvis took the stage by storm sans projection/presentation and (after berating the format of the conference) called for us to “move students up the education chain”.  Jarvis thinks teachers need to “do what they do best and link to the rest” – we should be using/curating the resources online for our students and turning our schools into incubators rather than factories.  Jarvis shares his notes from his talk here but wait for the video on his session, it’ll be worth it.

After lunch there were some great sessions on “practice” by Dan Cohen, Dan Meyer, Amy Bruckman, and Chris Lehmann.  All great messages especially Dan Meyer who encouraged the teaching of “patient problem solving” and he summed up his remarks with five suggestions – use multimedia, encourage student intuition, ask short questions, let students build the problem, and be less helpful. I think everyone left wishing they had Dan as a math teacher.  Chris Lehmann presented a passionate plea for change.  In it he expanded (in a way only Lehmann can) on Alvin Toffler’s statement,  “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn”.  What better way to end the conference?

What now? Well, I have returned to work as usual with no magic bullet for change but I have been recharged with words, wisdom, and connections from this weekend.  I will continue to make baby steps toward change, engage in conversations, and keep pushing that rock up the hill!

Facebook for Parents

FBI recently gave a presentation to middle school parents about Facebook.  The goal of the evening was to get parents on Facebook to show them how to sign up, how to set privacy settings, how it works, and why someone would use it.  The ultimate goal of the evening was to give parents the tools necessary to have informed discussions with their children about Facebook.  The night was a success.  I had about 20 parents attend and, though some parents could not get on (because of the confirmation email problem), they all engaged in conversation around middle schoolers and Facebook.  Out of the 20, only 2 parents had existing Facebook accounts – and the range of the other parents varied from no interest in online social networking, to conservative Internet use, to full embrace of the Internet.

One of the issues that came up was, what is the appropriate age for kids to join Facebook?  There seems to be plenty of sixth graders who are on Facebook right now even though the TOS requires kids to be 13 years old.  I like to adhere to the TOS as a good model especially for students who are often tempted to misrepresent themselves online.  Though I am no expert on the middle school aged brain, I tend to think 11 and 12 year-olds are too young to fully understand the complexities of online socializing; they have a hard enough time face-to-face. To me, 13 seems young enough.

The other issue that came up was, should you friend your child?  People seem to be split on this one.  I think kids need their own place to socialize.  I equate friending them with sitting in the room with a bunch of kids – the dynamic of the situation changes. Now that we are teaching kids how to set their security settings and using groups to filter news, parents may not be able to see as much as they want to see. I don’t think parents should get a Facebook account to spy on their kids; I think parents should get accounts to understand the medium and they just might find it useful in their lives.

There is a lot more to talk about and I am excited that our Middle School Director has decided to make technology a “theme” for next year for parents, faculty, and students.  We will be working together with our school psychologist to really take a look at technology and how it fits (or doesn’t fit) into a middle school brain.  Parents already seem more at ease now that they know we are talking about technology and that we have already begun to plan for workshops and parent evenings next year.  We have started a Facebook page for our parents and we encourage parents to follow us on Twitter.  This is just the beginning of a conversation that I hope will enrich all who take part in it.  When it comes to social networking and technology, we need to educate our students (and our faculty) as well as our parents in order to have full success.

I have embedded the slideshow I used with parents below – please take what you need from it.

“Speedy” Professional Development

I’ve been thinking about summer lately.  Mostly because we still have some snowbanks that haven’t melted and I am longing for the warm sun these days, but also because I’m starting to summer wasting...plan for technology workshops for teachers at the end of the year.  I came across this post from Kim Cofino, from the ISB (Bangkok), about “SpeedGeeking”.  What a great idea.  She, and her technology team, ran a professional development workshop like a speed dating set up.  They had 12 tables, each teacher rotated around each table and heard about a technology project for four minutes, and then moved on.  It gave teachers a brief introduction to new things going on in their own school.

The buzz in the room was amazing! Teachers were visibly excited and energized by the discussion and it was obvious that everyone found at least one thing that sparked their interest in the 30-minute session.

What a great idea – I hope I get a chance to run something like that here.  Thanks to Kim for thoroughly capturing the day in her post (as usual).

Photo credit – “summer wasting…

“It is incredibly empowering”

This morning, this blog article by Gary Hamel of the WSJ, “The Facebook Generation vs. the Fortune 500“, caught my attention.  Even though he wrote this list in with a focus on the management of companies in the coming years, one could easily adapt this list for education. Laura Blankenship had the same thought and posted her take on Hamel’s list in the context of education.  It’s a good list, I’ve pasted in below.  Item #8 is one that is rattling around my head this morning: 8. Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it. As far as teachers go, I think they are not necessarily hoarders but if they aren’t connected to other teachers online, they haven’t seen and experieinced the power of sharing content and ideas – it’s fast, it’s easy, and it works.  Read this great post by one pre-service teacher who experienced sharing through her blogging and twitter – here’s a great quote:

I have never learned so much in my entire life until taking this class, and it was through sharing. Just like teaching, learning needs to be wide open and full of networking. Instead of handing in that assignment to one teacher, I am handing it in to the world and saying, “Take a look at me and what I think”. It is incredibly empowering when you think about it.

In addition to encouraging our teachers and students to share, schools, specifically independent schools, need to become more transparent to parents, faculty, and the community.  In the past, schools have tried to limit parent contact with teachers and administrators to certain times and certain avenues of “appropriate” communication.  (It took our school a long time to agree to post faculty email addresses on the school website).  Reasons for these limitations were to prevent the “helicopter parenting” syndrome, to help the students become self-advocates, and to prevent parents from questioning the ways and means of the school.  These are valid reasons but limiting communication and sharing is not the only way to achieve these goals.  If schools provide parents with more information and ask for more input, they become more transparent and provide parents less opportunity to question because the answers are all there.  Schools should provide more forums for parents to share and connect (this will help build and sustain the school community); they should have a informative website that is easy to navigate; and they should provide curriculum descriptions and assignments so parents can keep up with what their kids are doing at school.   The communciation needs to be “wide open” and I think schools will find that “it is incredible empowering”.

Here’s Laura Blankenship’s list and comments – see which ones resonate for you:

1. All ideas compete on an equal footing.

Instructors should value what students bring to the class and try to create an environment where the teacher isn’t the only expert in the room.  Both student and teacher bring value to the class on equal footing.  I try to point out when someone posts something interesting on our class blog that I didn’t know about or has an idea that didn’t occur to me in order to encourage the idea that student ideas are as important as mine.

2. Contribution counts for more than credentials.

The teacher at the front of the room obviously has more credentials than the students in the class, but teachers can work to encourage contribution from the students so that that is what’s valued in the class.  This is similar to #1 above, but  can be harder to overcome since students often look at credentials as a way of authenticating that the teacher’s contribution is more important.

3. Hierarchies are natural, not prescribed.

Again, because of the received dynamic of the teacher as the expert, this is a hard one to aspire to, but it is true that certain students seem to rise to the top of in-class or online discussion.   The thing to watch out for is that the ones who don’t get an opportunity to contribute.  I think in a classroom, one actually wants to eliminate hierarchies as much as possible.

4. Leaders serve rather than preside.

Approaching teaching as something your doing for the students rather than as some kind of power mongering (I’ve seen this very rarely anyway) can really make your classroom a thriving place for your students.  Offer articles for papers, offer to meet to discuss ideas, and come to the classroom expecting to learn something rather than teaching something.  There’s a balance to be struck, of course, in that you have a limited amount of time, but being generous with what time you do have can go a long way.

5. Tasks are chosen, not assigned.

I actually try to do this in most of my classes.  I don’t give topics for papers and sometimes give rather vague directives about page length, about image inclusion, etc.  I simply ask that it be argumentative and lean toward the academic rather than the casual.  This is very difficult for most students.  They’re used to doing what they’re told.  While assignments are generally necessary, giving students as much freedom within those assignments can help them learn how to choose tasks for themselves.

6. Groups are self-defining and -organizing.

Anyone who teaches has watched groups of students form–those who sit together every class, who comment on each other’s posts or in-class comments.  One can capitalize on this by assigning those students to group projects.  I’ve heard feedback from my students about our small groups that they like to choose their groups.  Sometimes it may be necessary to organize groups for a particular kind of experience, but consider at least trying to let groups form on their own.

7. Resources get attracted, not allocated.

In a classroom, this probably doesn’t apply, but in the larger context of an institution, it would be nice if resource allocation were open to an extent that allows people to gravitate toward interesting ideas.  Instead, there’s still a top-down allocation process.

8. Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it.

In the classroom, I always try to be as open as possible and I encourage my students to be as well.  That’s why we blog in public.  I think it’s important for students to see each other’s work and ideas.  At the institutional level, it would certainly be good to have that kind of sharing of information.  Technology could help with this process, but most institutions I know of haven’t yet gotten to the point of being able or willing to share information across the institution.

9. Opinions compound and decisions are peer-reviewed.

I’ve done this in many classes, posted potential readings and assignments and let students choose.  I’ve also allowed them to change the direction of the course by voting on it.

10. Users can veto most policy decisions.

I’ve done this in class too.  It’s great when the students feel some ownership over the class.

11. Intrinsic rewards matter most.

This is a value I try to impart, but it’s very hard since many students are used to external rewards such as grades.  I, myself, like external rewards, but those can be very simple and usually I receive the greatest external rewards for projects that have had an instrinsic value for me.  I don’t have grades on individual assignments and I have students evaluate themselves, mostly focusing on what they learned from the class.

12. Hackers are heroes.

I celebrate the student who presents a contrary view–as long as they do so without hurting someone.  Class and blog discussions are most interesting when someone says, “I disagree and here’s why.”