CUE 2007

Highlight of this year was "illustrating" a teacup with Peter Reynolds, author/illustrator of The Dot and Ish, who added watercolor to my "masterpiece". He is always inspiring creativity through his stories and his company FableVision. Check it out, he has some of his illustrated stories available (free):)

I survived giving 2 presentations, Lively Lessons for the 21st century and Tech TIPS (materials available at techtips.wikispaces.com

I learned a lot of cool tricks. My favorite 2 are Option/Apple + for zooming and Option/Tab for switching applications
Some cool widgits to download are the 3-2-1 Timer Countdown

My favorite sessions were
Kathryn Odell who talked about free internet resources for the classroom, lots of things that will need to be put on the wikispace.
Hall Davidson showed us Cosmeo, a home version of united streaming that is a fundraiser. It costs $9 a month and your school recieves 15-25%.
And I really enjoyed seeing iWeb. I know we have other free tools that do a similar job, but I think teachers would use iWeb more. A .Mac account is $99 a year, you could have your parents pay $5 each (totally resonable) and have a very useable, private webpage/blog/multimedia production.

Some cool projects I would like to try are:
Making a riddle book about famous americans and have the person's portrait reveal a little at a time for each clue.
Podcasting my Back To School PPT
Using Excel to create pictographs and pop-up pictures


Lessons from Level 1

Our site has recently gone through the painstaking process of becoming Level 1 Proficient. Hypothetically, the benefits of Level 1 is that the district will give us funding for technology and we will all be able to say we have a common knowledge/ability to use computers, esp. in the areas of email, word processing and internet use. All very valuable I will admit, and I am pleased to say that in the process my staff was exposed to blogs, teacher webpages, podcasts, educational powerpoints and the like.

A potential pitfall is that they complied with creating these technological masterpieces because the were expected, or as some see it, forced to. And as it is there is nothing in place to "keep the magic going". I am considering restructuring our staff development program to address this need so that all our hard work doesn't go to waste. Even if its only 15 min out a month, just to let them make a new post or update a page. But as important as that is, I still see it as an "outside technology", something teachers can do without the students being in the room. So how do we bridge the gap, and bring the technology "inside" and make our classrooms more engaging and interactive? Baby steps, yes and see my post on First Steps (coming). But a change at the core of who teachers are is necessary to make this happen on an epic level.

I realized this as our teachers were transformed during this Level 1 process from capable and confident adults to whiny, complaining, insecure kids. Suddenly teachers who are used to having all the answers, are students without a clue; and they pick up quickly if they are the lowest in the class and they give you hell. Not all teachers responded this way. Some were able to ask for help with confidence, many worked outside of school to polish their skills, but all (including myself) felt some level of anxiety during our test out.

I believe this is a reflection on our teaching philosophy more than our personalities. Yes there are the perfectionists and those who are laid back. But I think our level of panic is directly related to how much we value risk-taking, real-world purpose, and collaboration. And those 3 things directly influence how you run your classroom and how much you will value and be able to utilize technology. Those that could see the benefit of creating communication through blogs, websites, powerpoints and podcasts instead of seeing it as a hoop to jump through, most likely plan activities in their classroom with real world purpose like student run newsletters, class books and performances. Those that saw their test out as a chance to assess or showcase their skills and although may have felt nervous were also grounded in the confidence that failure is as much a part of learning as success, understand the value of risk-taking and most likely plan opportunities for their students to run the show, plan and assess their own learning. Those that enjoyed working with and learning from others, even if it meant admitting that they were weak in certain areas appreciate collaboration and probably allow their student time in class to do the same.

The basics of a constructivist philosophy, collaboration, risk-taking and real-world purpose, is an open door for technology. Those teachers will see the immediate value of technology, be able to make connections and see how it will fit into student learning and have the kind of classroom structure that allows for easy integration (given the proper support of course:)

So what do we do for teachers who work from another philosophy, traditionalists, behaviorists, objectivists?
Invite them into our classrooms.
Invite them to be a part of our classrooms.
I think once you see it work, see students engaged, excited and learning, you get it.
And once you are a part of it, you won't want to go back.


Take What You Can Get- Technology Integration comes in all shapes and sizes.

I have a feeling the words “Technology Integration” are a lot like the word “God”.
Into the hearts of some, hearing these words strike fear; Others joy and elation; And for some its a mix of both while others experience ambivalence. But like “God”, I’m sure it means different things to different people. And some believe there is only one right way and others believe there are many paths. But since the fate of our souls is not dependent on the solution to this argument, as a technology coordinator trying to spread the “word”, I say, I’ll take what I can get. Don’t be misled, I do have a Nirvana of tech integration clearly defined in my head (definition to come) but if a teacher is using technology to enhancs the lives of his/her students on ANY level in ANY way, I say applaud their efforts loudly and quietly nudge them further down the path. So I have found there to be 3 basic milestones in the road to Technology Integration Nirvana, not that everyone stops at each one or arrives in the same order, but teachers are currently using technologies to replace the pencil, communicate, collaborate and those that don’t stop there are using technology to have students communicate, collaborate and think with real world purpose.

Replacing the pencil, using a computer to do something that could be done just as well with traditional paper pencil method, should not be looked at, necessarily, as a bad thing. It’s not a total waste of time. Teachers and students who are in an uncomfortably new environment (ie. The computer lab) sometimes need to do what is familiar first before they try any fancy new tricks. This might look like the following:
using the internet to download worksheets, printing out their emails, having students simply type out stories to print them out, letting the kids play any game in the computer lab so you can grade papers, having kids practice using tools in a drawing program by making shapes.
Now I hear some people saying, “well I do that, there’s nothing wrong with that.” And you’re right, there is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it’s like using your legs for walking ALONE. There is a whole world of running, jumping and skipping out there. It’s good to walk too, but not all the time. So beware, for some stay far too long in this stage.

How to move beyond this stage might be easier than you think. Ask yourself, is doing X with a computer any better than doing it the traditional paper/pencil way. The answer might be yes or no.
If you are using the internet to download worksheets, I might say no: it might be cheaper than purchasing a workbook, but not better because its still random drill and kill. If you are using the internet to download worksheets that another teacher created specifically to enhance your program and that are not available elsewhere, I might say yes this is better than paper and pencil. I would definitely say yes, if this resulted in a dialogue between two collegues, esp. if it resulted in both teachers sharing and posting their work.

If you are printing out your email, I might say no. Actually I can’t think of why I would ever say yes!:)

If you are having students just type out their stories, I might say no. If students type their stories in word processing to help them edit (those red and green lines are great!), I might say yes, this is utilizing an advantage not available with traditional paper/pencil method. If you are having students type their story and then email it to a peer or older buddy who highlights areas to be changed or makes notes on the side (in Word try Insert-Comment), I would definitely say yes.

If you are having students play random internet games in the lab, I would definitely say no. This might be more dangerous than a paper/pencil method. If students are playing carefully selected standard appropriate games, I might say yes. If the games are differentiated for the students (based on content or skill level), I would definitely say yes.
If the teacher monitors their progress by wandering around the room and asking students to identify and communicate what they are doing and learning, I would say Hallelujah! If students are involved in the process of choosing the games or even creating games themselves to share with other students, I believe the heavens would part to shine a ray of sunlight while angels sing in chorus.

The point is that using technology to its fullest potential doesn’t mean doing crazy fancy stuff. It’s a matter of taking your lesson just a baby step farther. Taking a walk and lifting the knees higher until you find yourself skipping. By focusing on using technology to give the teachers and students opportunities that don’t exist with paper and pencil alone, by taking advantage of the communicative and collaborative properties of many technologies, you move yourself farther down the path.
Can I get an AMEN!


Making Technology Work For You

With the best of intentions, I often hear teachers, administrators and tech coordinators asking “how can we integrate technology.” This unfortunately is a dead end mindset. The how can we integrate technology implies that technology is just one more thing on our ever-full plate. And even if you know it’s an important piece, thinking this way, is doomed to fail. Technology in of itself is not a reason to use it, just as every internet sight isn’t fantastic and all software isn’t right for you and your curriculum. We have to stop working for the technology and start making the technology work for us.

A better question to ask is “how can technology help me accomplish _______?” “What technology can help me teach _____? Or help my students learn ______” Focus your attention on your intention. Instead of approaching staff development as “Let’s train all the teachers on how to make a web-page” think,“Let’s help teachers find the best way for them to communicate with parents.” That might be a blog, a podcast, a webpage, a wiki or email. This of course implies letting teachers choose what technology to use, and while there are obvious limits in regards to purchasing software and time spent in training, this approach empowers the teacher, respecting his/her individuality, by putting them in control of their learning. More on how to get this done later, but for now let’s focus on making technology work for us.

One thing I hear a lot, from all levels of technology users, is “I just don’t have the time.” Even when teachers see the value of technology, they can still be overwhelmed with what’s already on their plate and so in a time crunch the thought “well, I guess we could skip the computer lab today” comes creeping in. Again, we have to stop working for the technology and start making the technology work for us. If technology is helping teach history standards, assessing math, or best of all integrating a whole slew of standards while helping kids grow socially as well as independent thinkers- it’s not something that’s going to get skipped. I suggest two ways to make this happen.
1. Think about a subject that you just don’t seem to get to year after year-like social studies, or one that requires a lot of work-like science, or one that you don’t look forward to because it’s boring or pick a few standards from different subjects that often get swept under the rug. Planning for these is difficult, so why choose these to integrate technology? Because technology can help bring you resources, ideas, a sense of community so you don’t feel like you tackling it along. And best of all, the product your planning produces can most likely be easily stored and used over again next year or even used in another classroom.
In Kindergarten, our reading program had a phonics lesson every week that used the letter of the week and previously learned letters to sound our works in preparation for reading a story. The material for the lesson was letter cards. You pulled these letters from a box (10 min of prep), tried to balance them with your TE on your lap while you put them in a pocket chart or set them up in advance (5 more min); you did the lesson (10 min) in which the kids inevitable got restless and then put the letters away (10 more minutes). You did this 25 min prep ritual 2X a week for about 20 weeks. And if anyone was absent or needed a review, let’s face it, they were out of luck. So I designed a presentation through Keynote (Apple’s Powerpoint) which probably also took me 25 min. But it was enhanced with pictures and transitions, so way more engaging. It put more kids in the teacher roll as someone could control the slide show, someone could point on the board where it was projected. Best of all, it allowed my attention to be on my students. Instead of looking at the cards I was looking at the kids, to see who was participating, who wasn’t, who was pretending to be participating. It was easily played again and again for absent kids, or as a remedial (and being pulled out of centers to be on the teacher’s computer is way cool for the kids). I put it on my website so its available to all the teachers and next year it will be there for me again.
Make the technology work for you.

2. Another option would be to choose a subject or standard you love, and a technology that you value but need a little more time to figure out. Choosing a standard/subject that is already “under your belt” will give added enjoyment of purpose when taking the time to master the technology and give you the confidence you need to try something new with your students (always pressure). Obviously choose a technology that will enhance your curriculum.
Every year my Kinder students have a Community Helper Fashion Show to culminate a unit on community helpers. They dress up like a community helper of their choice and tell us what they do. I thought a podcast might make this feel more real and therefore more important to them, because they could watch it at home. I also wanted to try pre-recording their stories, because some of them get so nervous they freeze up or worse, cry, on performance day. But I had never made a podcast before so I was a bit nervous. I pre-recorded their statements about what their community helper did and set it to “cat-walk” music using GarageBand (Apple). I played this in the background while they walked the runway and took digital pictures of them striking a pose. Then added the pictures to the sound and published as a podcast. Because I have done the fashion show for 4 years, it was a lot less stress to use this as the subject of my podcast instead of trying to do something totally foreign and new. Not only did the podcast make an easily shareable product but also made the fashion show day more enjoyable- no tears:). And for one little boy who had a dentist appointment and missed the show, it was easy to add him in so he didn’t feel left out. Make the technology work for you.