Monthly Archives: August 2007

Retreat Reveiw

It’s been a whirlwind few days with not much time to sit but I just wanted to write a few notes about our faculty retreat on Monday. Overall, a success. First off, the “technology” part of things went without a hitch – the network, the laptops, the email server. I had to do little or no tweaking along the way – major relief. Secondly, the day was received very well and most comments from the day were extremely positive.

It started with “Dialog A” – a conversation about Ken Bain’s book, What the Best College Teachers Do – we had that conversation in three different modes: a live, f2f conversation; an online chat, fishbowl style; and a group of “bloggers” responding to prompts on a blog.

In the second part, “Dialog B”, we had a live, f2f conversation with five people involved in the chat and five bloggers and they were talking about their experience in Dialog A. The rest of the group was split into 2 online chat groups, fishbowling that conversation.

Finally, in the last session, we had a live group talking about good teaching and how technology supports it while the rest of the group was blogging response to a summarizing post from our Head of School who had observed all facets of our first 2 dialogs. whew.

You can imagine the chats were a little chaotic – faculty members who had never been in a chat, trying to type and process all at the same time. They did well, some were frustrated and just sat back to observe; some tested the waters a bit and admittedly got better at it by the end. Those that happened to be in a chat group back-to-back said it got a lot easier by the second chat. I have to admit that we made the chat groups too big – there were about 9 or 10 in a group – there probably should have been 4 or 5.  Those that blogged really liked it and immediately could see it’s benefit in the classroom.

Of the comments we received at the end of the day, one really struck me. Part of their comment read:

I somewhat resent the fact that I read and underlined the d–n book and never got an opportunity to discuss it!

I guess for this person the day went right over their head – their idea seemed to be that if they weren’t involved in a live dialog, then no dialog occurred.  Oh well, I guess we can’t hit everyone the first time.

We had a wiki to record the day and serve as a resource for the school year.  Our hope is that the “good teaching” blog we set up for the day will serve us all year as a place to continue the conversation we started.  Take look.  We welcome and encourage outside voices to join us in this conversation.

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Downeast article

There was a good article in Downeast Magazine about the MLTI program in Maine. Jeff Clark did a good job emphasizing that training and professional development made a difference in the implementation of the program. Real results were seen in classes that used the laptops for more than just a “finishing tool”:

Silvernail compared students in classrooms where laptops were used as a working tool to those in classrooms where the computer was essentially a finishing tool, used as a fancy word processor rather than an integral part of the writing process. “Kids using them as instructional tools significantly outscored kids who were not using them that way on the Maine Educational Assessment test,” Silvernail concludes. “The powerful thing is that they are becoming better writers, not just turning in better [papers] because they happen to be using a laptop equipped with SpellCheck.”

Silvernail is also working with math teachers to help them learn how to use laptops more efficiently. Compared to teachers who don’t receive the training, “the differences in math scores are significant,” he says. “It really emphasizes the importance of professional development for teachers, and it reinforces the idea that the laptop is a tool and needs to be used wisely.”

This can’t be said enough to the nay-sayers who are canceling laptop programs or prohibiting student use of laptops during classes.  Computers are tremendous tools that can help teachers create and extend a learner’s experience in their classrooms.  A laptop can’t do that alone; a teacher needs to be innovative and adjust their pedagogy to take advantage of what this tool can provide.

Horse before the cart?

I haven’t had much time to write these days. I’ve been knee-deep in preparing for the return of faculty (and students). Lots of technical work – hanging projectors, reimaging computers, turning over databases. Not really the most stimulating work but I have had a lot of time to think. I’ve been focusing on our upcoming retreat for Upper School faculty. The form of the day has changed slightly but the approach is the same — get faculty talking about what makes good teaching and how can web 2.0 tools help promote it. The day will be mostly conversational using three different modes – live f2f conversation, online chat, and blog/reflection. We will use these conversations to kick-off a “good teaching” blog which we hope faculty will contribute to throughout the year. We will also use a wiki to archive our chats, notes, and other resources from our retreat.

I am looking forward to the day (Monday). I think it’s a good way to start the year. The book we read (Ken Bain’s, What the Best College Teachers Do) was interesting and affirming. I think it will really help drive the tone and content of the conversation. I do wonder whether there will be enough of us with knowledge about these communication/web 2.0 tools to talk about them and get others interested in using them to promote “good teaching”.

Introducing technology to teachers in this way is unique.  We have tried to do  skill workshops with departments and small groups of faculty, but only the interested attend.  If we require everyone to attend, there are many that just don’t get it – too abstract.  In this model, we are trying to get to faculty through the idea of best practice. Will they go for it?  Not sure, time will tell.  But my guess is that we may intrigue some members that were not interested by the skills based workshops.

I  am interested in everyone’s posts about their professional development experiences at the beginning of the school year – Jeff U., Karl F.Stephanie S., just to name a few.  We all are working on something a little different but our message seems to be the same – “It’s not about the technology, it’s about the learning”.  I hope this is a good start to the year for everyone and I hope little by little we get our message out.

College prep, required skills, and other results

“We have to prepare our students for college work.”, “These students are not learning how to take notes.” “These tools undermine our study skills.”, “Are students achieving more as a result of learning with these tools?”

These are just some of the comments and questions I have run into again and again as I promote more use of technology in the curriculum. That’s why I was intrigued by Will’s post last week on web 2.0 making it’s way into colleges. I often wonder how much current high school students will use these new technologies in their classrooms at college. My impression is that certain college professors are embracing these technologies but, like the k-12 arena, it’s hit or miss.

For now, we still have to prepare our students for exams and term papers but I think we can mix that in with new pedagogies which embrace the use of a technology integrated curriculum. Over time I hope to see this divide narrow and there be a more consistent set of skills between high school and college and life, for that matter.

I really like the new NETS (National Educational Technology Standards) for Students developed by ISTE (in collaboration with many, many people). I hope these 21st Century skills can be embraced by educators of all grade levels as a good road map for looking forward in education. David Warlick framed it nicely when talking about a recent presentation he made:

In it, I suggested three converging elements of what we do, and how, through the shared electrons of those elements (if I might carry the metaphor a little further), we might generate the energy that we need to drive learning in flat classrooms, turning them into learning engines.

Those elements are:

  • We are preparing children for a future we can not describe
  • We are preparing children, who as a generation, are enjoying a rich information experience outside-the-classroom.
  • We are preparing children within a new and dynamic information environment with new qualities that seem ready made for teaching and learning.

Well put, David. As educators, we need to understand and experience these tools that our students are growing up with. We have to be willing to learn about them and to use them. After that, we can choose not to use them but that choice has to be made after learning/using them.

Eight Random Facts

I was tagged by Diane Hammond from Ontario –

First the rules:

  • Post the rules before you give your facts
  • List 8 random facts about yourself
  • At the end of your post, choose (tag) 8 people and list their names, linking to them
  • Leave a comment on their blog, letting them know they’ve been tagged

Now the facts:

1. I am the mother of 2 wonderful little boys

2. I’m not normally a junk food eater but I am a sucker for french fries

3. First concert I attended: Duran Duran

4. I don’t enjoy public speaking

5. I’m a Survivor fan

6. On a cold, winter Sunday afternoon, I like to watch the NFL (go Eagles)

7. I’m not good with idle time – I need a plan

8. I was a rugby player in college

Now for the others (I’ve had to comb my aggregator to look for those who have not been tagged yet and I’ve chosen a few fellow Mainers):

Alice B

Cathy W

Sharon B

Cheryl O

Alex R

Patrick H

Rethinking Professional Development

In digesting some of the summer blog posts (too many to name at this point – but Scott McLeod may have started the conversation about a month ago with this post), I have realized that I have totally failed in part of my job. I’ve been quite focused on getting the teachers and students to utilize the new web technologies but I have not pushed these tools with administration and business side of the school. And now I understand these tools (especially RSS and social networks) are extremely important in doing their jobs. They are the key in making connections and networking. When you are the only business manager, development officer, or whatever manager in a school, you need to go beyond the walls of your school to find people who have similar days to you, who think like you, who solve problems like you do.

I have put administrative training at the top of my to do list this school year. Specifically, I want to introduce them to RSS and blogs.  Of course, (ideally) this will serve two purposes: One, help them network, learn, and make connections.  These tools are becoming increasingly more important in professional development.  People who do not tap into these technologies may fall behind those who do.  And at a time where going off-campus to meet other colleagues f2f at conference becomes harder to do, we need to embrace these technologies that help us do just that from our desks.

Two, once administrators begin to use these tools they will begin their power and their potential when used in the classroom, which can only increase the awareness around campus.  I know that one workshop will not be enough – it will probably take several follow-up sessions for some. I think even after that some will still not understand the power of these connections.

I had a conversation with a colleague last week who said of blogs, “what do I have to say that others would want to read?”  He had missed the idea that blogs are conversations, not soapboxes, and through these conversations we make meaningful connections.

So, as I look to the fall (which is not so far away), I begin to gather pieces for some professional development workshops for administrators. If you have suggestions out there, please send them my way.