Category Archives: professional development

Have you tried Voicethread?

I’m working on an agenda of workshops for the rest of the school year. One tool that I’d like to get teachers excited about is Voicethread. I’ve now seen it used in a number of ways with a variety of grade levels and it seems that it can be a tool that can be added just about anywhere. I’ve been reading about many teachers using Voicethread successfully (and enthusiastically) with their students:

Jeff Utecht talks about Voicethread in Art classes.

Wes Fryer post about a Voicethread project in an elementary school in NY

This post using Voicethread’s commenting feature to gather ideas on how to use Voicethread

I think the classroom opportunities are endless:

  • In Lower School, classes can use Voicethread with their own class pictures to create a audio/visual newsletter. Especially in the younger grades where students cannot write yet, this would be a great tool for the kids to use in order to better express themselves.
  • In Science classes, students could use Voicethread to document an experiment – a kind of visual lab report.
  • In Math, students could use Voicethread to narrate their way through solving a math problem in order to demonstrate their understanding.
  • In English class, they can put original poems or short stories to pictures.
  • In Art class, Voicethread can be use a tool to reflect on their work.
  • In Foreign Language, kids can create stories or tours using Flickr images and narrate them in their language.
  • In History, they could use use flickr images in a digital narration of a historical event.

I am looking forward to teaching some teachers about this wonderful tool and getting some kids excited about using it.  What are some ways you are using it?

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21 C Learning Goes Mainstream

Recess in the SnowA recent article in Time Magazine has brought the idea of 21st century learning to the mainstream media. The article raises the idea that the traditional school learning – in rows, listening, note-taking – is a very antiquated one, preparing individuals for an industrial world. The article goes on to say that schools need to adjust their expectations in order to produce global learners. This article is not news to many educators (especially those of you who read blogs), but it is a refreshing piece to see in a mainstream magazine – it caught the attention of some of my administrators.

But that article got me thinking: when I try to bring these ideas into my school, there are several obstacles to overcome (just to name a few):

1. Acceptance. Teachers must understand (and accept) that this is a real issue. They have to let go of the fact that the way they were taught is not necessarily the best or the only way to teach. I am constantly amazed by this attitude – I have found it in teachers of all generations.

2. Who should change first? As a college prep institution, we feel we have the responsibility to teach kids skills, habits, and techniques that will help graduates go on to college. This is a good theory but many college and university are teaching kids through lecture style and not incorporating any global learning/21st century skills. If we blink before colleges, will our students have trouble succeeding in college?

3. Transition. Once teachers accept that 21st century learning is important, how do we help teachers change their curriculum and pedagogy? Do we give them some sort of map that will help them begin to move their classes to the 21st century. Do we let them discover this? Whatever the answer, it will take time and that’s something we don’t have enough of in school.

4. Leadership. I fully believe that in order to make some of these changes, I need buy in from our administration (and I am not there yet). I don’t need a cheering squad – administrators that tell me I’m doing a good job and say they understand the developing 21st century skills – I need administrators who use this stuff, actually experience the importance of them first-hand.

The last obstacle is one that I am focusing on this year. I have requested some time with our administrators to do some trainings (or at least one) on tools that will help them with their jobs – RSS, GoogleDocs, Skype. I’d like to give them some tools to try and use and see the value in their own jobs so they can then see how they can contribute to student learning. I have yet to get that training time but I’m still working on it. Until then I will keep working with individuals on the faculty as they request it.

photo: “Recess in the Snow” (CaptPiper on Flickr )

It’s time for k12Online

Next week the k12 Online Conference will begin (October 8th).  I hope to steal away a little time to take part in this great opportunity.  Where else can you listen/watch/read keynotes and presentations by David Warlick, Clarence Fisher, Jeff Utecht, Dean Shareski, and more all in one place?  There is a lot there; a little something for everyone.  If you haven’t taken part, I encourage you to check it out.

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.

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.

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.