Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Some Ways to Support Teachers Learning Technology by Laura

Earlier this month, I was invited to spend the day with a team of teachers that has volunteered to be their school district's technology team.  They are committed to working together this year to learn more about teaching with technology and to begin to implement more technology in their classrooms.  The district has contracted with the Hudson Valley Writing Project, which asked me to spend some time with them.

I coined the term "Dream Team," after working with them for just a short time.  These teachers were excited and a bit nervous, but each one had hope, curiosity and enthusiasm for what the future might hold.  The day led me to be thoughtful about what can make the adults in a school embrace the incorporation of technology, and here are some ideas from my own experience and from my experiences working with other teachers:

Working with a small, eager group is a great way to build enthusiasm and support. 
My own school piloted its 1:1 laptop program with the 7th and 8th grades, and many teachers of the other grades became enthusiastic about adding laptops to their students' lives as the 7-8 team met with success.  Being part of a pilot group meant the teachers could easily find each other for support and ideas.  That first year, the technology support staff really had the piloting team as a priority and we were able to set up routines and troubleshoot without stretching that personnel too thin.  Teachers and students were excited and, felt special and supported.  Together we helped to create a buzz about the future during the first school year of the program.

Student work is the best promotional material possible. 
With all due respect to innovative blog writers, educational theorists, and the  21st Century booster club, good teachers will understand why they should add new methods to their classes when they see student work with their own eyes.  Whenever I present, no matter what I say or how many times I manage to make the audience chuckle, the light always begins to shine in the participants' eyes when I begin to show student work.  Teachers are professionals and experts, and we like to make up our own minds.  Showing student work makes this possible.

Classroom management with technology isn't what teachers seem to worry about.
This has been a happy realization.  I have heard teachers, who want to include technology more, agonize over restrictions placed on them by school administrators.  Because of this, I had the impression that teachers must have concerns about student behavior.  It's not the teachers who are concerned, though!  Teachers that do professional development are good teachers.  They understand how to manage a classroom and they understand how to keep students focused on the work at hand.  Because their classrooms are well run, the presence of laptops rarely encourages students to stray off task more than they would given any other type of material or equipment.  Professional development that is focused on how to assign meaningful student work using technology takes care of almost all the classroom management issues.

Honesty is the best policy
Every group of adults I have spoken to, formally or informally, seem to eventually ask the question, "How do you have time to learn all of this?"  The honest answers:  I take the time.  I do work outside of school hours (don't all teachers?)  I do sometimes give priority to learning a new technology instead of, say, responding to student work super fast.  I also get help from others, and from my students.  And, I can honestly guarantee that for every new technology a teacher learns, learning the next one is faster.  Being a life-long learner means plunging in, and that is well worth modeling for students.  Learning something new makes my whole life better, not just my school life.  So, the time I use is as much an investment in myself as it is an investment in my students and my school.

The trials and successes in the adult community of a school certainly set the stage for the experience of the students. My own experience, and likely my whole career,  would have been different if I hadn't been in a school that values professional development tremendously.  So, my last BIG point:  Find good professional development, cultivate a support network, and support teachers who do so.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Teaching, Changing, Doing - by Shirley

As a 6th grade humanities teacher, I am always thinking about my curriculum, my teaching and my students. Questions are always flying through my mind and making me think more about my teaching and what is important to me. Here are a few random thoughts…

What can I do better? What adjustments should I be making? Are my classes interesting? Do I create fun projects and activities?  Are my students challenged in as many ways as possible?  Do my students make their own decisions? How important is the content curriculum? The questions are never ending but always evolving.  I have come to some conclusions that I would like to share….

Teaching is an ever-changing profession and it is essential that we as teachers keep up with everything new, thought provoking, interesting and challenging. How do we do that and stay abreast of this rapidly changing world of education? We need to be following the paths of really great educators but doing it in a way that does not take hours more of research, planning etc. The first step for me is the building of a useful Personal Learning Network (PLN) involving my colleagues, my Google reader, and my Twitter friends. A few minutes a day and my network continually grows as I learn about new web 2.0 tools, read about useful ideas from other teachers as well as sharing what works for me with fellow educators all over the world.

As the world changes, so do the expectations and goals for students and educators in this 21st century of learning. The differences are vast between what I thought was important over 30 years ago when I began teaching, and what I believe in now. I wish I knew then what I know now...

The following poem, written by Lee Crockett, Ian Jukes and Andrew Churches and found on Tony Gurr's All Things Learning blog has given me more food for thought…

                                                      What is a Teacher?
A guide, not a guard.
What is learning?
A journey, not a destination.
What is discovery?
Questioning the answers, not answering the questions.
What is the process?
Discovering ideas, not covering content.
What is the goal?
Open minds, not closed issues.
What is the test?
Being and becoming, not remembering and reviewing.
What is learning?
Not just doing things differently, but doing different things.
What is teaching?
Not showing them what to learn, but showing them how to learn
What is school?
Whatever we choose to make it.

With this poem in mind, this is what I will strive to do this year…
  • Talk to my students about everything under the sun and get to know them better as individuals and as learners
  •  Listen to what my students have to say. That means making time to listen not just in the classroom but in the hallways, in the lunchroom, outside at recess, etc. etc.

Students Speak out about what they need in education –

      • Be very clear with my goals and expectations for every project, activity, homework assignment or class work 
      • Give more decision making, choices, planning, sharing, teaching over to the students 
      •   Do Not talk too much and have the students dooooo more

            • Continue my technology journey with the students and learn and share together
                •  Give more time to asking the students what it is I can do to help them
                    • Involve and educate parents more in what goes on in my classroom 

                    What are you as an educator striving for this year ?


                            Thursday, September 1, 2011

                            Decisions to make......by shirley

                            Vacation is over and another new and exciting school year is about to begin. For me this has meant reflecting, rethinking, planning and organizing for the coming year.  My classroom consistently changed this past year as I introduced daily use of laptops, went almost paperless, encouraged my students to reach out globally and handed much more planning, creating and teaching over to the students themselves. I have been thinking carefully about the pros and cons of these changes so I can plan for a productive and stimulating year of Global Medieval Studies for all of my 6th grade students.

                            Most of my 6th graders owned their own laptops last year and those who did not had access to a laptop cart. This was the first year of our school using a Google platform so everyone had access to a Google Email and many Google Apps. It was the year to try some new applications and web 2.0 tools.

                            The year began by spending time setting up iGoogle for each student with Email, Calendars, Sites and Google Docs. The students enjoyed being able to chose what to have on their pages and arrange their different choices. Email worked well for whole class or individual student communication and for sharing last minute changes in schedules, homework questions etc.  It tended however to be a one to one communication tool and rather clumsy for collaboration between groups of students. Google Docs on the other hand worked very well for everyone and students loved having all their writing in one place either to share with their group members or me.  It was so simple to edit, comment etc using Docs and quite fun when students would see me writing a comment while they were working at home. They could also share their work with other students and work collaboratively with each other.  After over thirty years of teaching using paper journals I made the switch and student journal writing was also created on Google Docs. Many of my students stated that Google Docs was the most favorite and useful tool they used last year. This coming year I want to expand and include Google Reader for each student, and take the next step in working towards students building their own personal learning networks.

                            Having all this great writing led me to create a class blog so students could publish their work for a global audience to read and comment. Instead of printing copies and sharing within our own community students decided to publish most of their work on the 6th grade blog. We used Edublogs and participated in the Edublogs challenge.  What a wonderful learning experience for all of us as we created guidelines, pages, categories, added widgets, pictures, videos and slide shows. We experimented with Vimeo, Animoto Voicethread and Vokis to share our thoughts, information and ideas in a variety of ways. Students were delighted when others commented on their work. We had great communication with Turkish university students learning English through our blog and met some new friends from The School at Columbia. Our cluster map grew rapidly as we read and commented on students’ work from around the world and they replied to us. I can’t wait to begin again with a new group of students, try some more new ideas and help guide them towards being competent bloggers.

                            Our studies last year focused on Ancient Greece and some of the students asked if they could share their knowledge and projects with other students globally, so we decided to create a class wiki. Students worked collaboratively on different units of study to plan, create and share their knowledge, not just with their classmates but also with anyone globally who was interested in their topics.  Groups could create links to each other’s pages, give advice on each group’s units and work on editing together. A wiki is a wonderful social media tool for real collaboration between students and gives a great sense of independence and responsibility. I will certainly continue using wikis next year to create a variety of projects.

                            Skype was a tool we used often with several schools around the US and also as far afield as Scotland. Students began to see themselves as ambassadors of their school, their class and their learning.  They learned a lot about the difference between rural and urban schools and about how students love sharing many things about themselves. Communication skills became very important and it was essential to prepare before our online sessions. We also used Skype for students who were out sick or on vacation. They could continue to participate in discussions, group projects, partner work and individual writing,
                            Skyping with Bill Boyd in Scotalnd

                            Edmodo was a both successful and disappointing social media tool. Many students loved the look and feel of it, as is it similar to face book in its format.  We used it on snow days when school was closed and we wanted to continue our learning together. We decided on a time for each class to meet and I set up group pages. The format was not great to use with so many people at a time and I think I have to rethink if this is the best platform to use. If I can work out the kinks, perhaps the second time around will be smoother.   

                            So what did I learn through this whole process??

                            1.     Technology empowers students (all students at different times, using different tools that they can choose)
                            2.     Students learn best by taking on more of their own learning (decision making, planning, creating and sharing)
                            3.     Listen to your students…they know themselves pretty well in many areas of their learning
                            4.     You do not have to be an expert to be successful with technology, just a willingness to try some new things
                            5.     Learning alongside your students is a great experience
                            6.     Real life learning gives students the desire to excel in many areas
                            7.     Collaboration helps all students become more independent and responsible learners
                            8.     Technology does not take more time, it is just a different style of teaching

                            I certainly changed my style of teaching by trying out these new ideas and I think it was well worth it. I learned a lot about my students and myself. I saw engaged, enthusiastic and empowered learners. When I look back at the standard of writing and the passion to succeed I saw in my students last year, I am convinced that last year’s changes were positive, rewarding and the way I want to continue my teaching.

                            Monday, August 29, 2011

                            Seeing Technology as an Equalizer Allowing Pride and Power, by Laura

                            Blown by the winds of Irene, we are back to school--or at least the faculty are. It seems as though we took a summer hiatus from blogging here, though I did blog about my family trip to Australia, if that garners any interest. Before the days grow too much shorter and too much fuller with the new school year, I want to share some thoughts about the equalizing and transformative effect of technology on some students that I worked with this summer.

                            One professional activity of my summer was piloting a summer writing program for middle school students through my local Writing Project, The Hudson Valley Writing Project. The program was hosted by Poughkeepsie Day School, which graciously let the program's participants use space and school equipment for the week.

                            My co-teacher and I worked with the most diverse group of students, by almost any demographic measure, that I have ever been privileged to teach. We worked together to build a class community right from the first day. Every student had access to a laptop, whether they owned one or not. Every student was given an account, through the school, for the week, so that they could access the Google apps that worked so well for collaboration and editing.

                            With Google apps equalizing the participants, everyone had a voice right from the start. Which type of computer and how old it was became of little interest to our students as the community moved on-line.  We kept them busy with different prompts and different applications, and moving to new on-line environments refreshed the writing process in much the same way that changing physical location can help generate a writer's new ideas.As they shared work on-line, students were freed from some of the self-consciousness that can make middle school such a harrowing time.  The young writers naturally focused on their own and each others work.  Technology smoothed some obvious differences in language ability and maturity levels, and our class grew close by the end of the very first day.

                            When we took a field trip to nearby Vassar College, we provided students with cameras so that they would be able to use their photos as prompts, and perhaps as a basis for digital photostories.  Their excitement was powerful.  In less than three days of working together, we could see students begin to compose their photostories as they took pictures. Technology made it possible to quickly add the visual, an important literacy for students to develop.

                            Although we used some programs, like Photostory and iMovie that were on the computers, we also introduced on-line applications.  A few chose to use JayCut, an on-line video editing program.  [I was terribly dismayed to read on Richard Byrne's excellent blog Free Technology for Teachers, that JayCut has been bought by RIM and may not be available in the future.]  This program was a great equalizer since any student who did not have a laptop, had the chance to work on movie editing wherever and whenever they did have access to a computer.  Some of our students did not have computers or internet access at home; but as one boy enthusiastically told me, "I know!  I can go to the public library!" 

                            The programs and on-line applications added polish very quickly to the pieces that our students chose to share on our last afternoon together.  Everyone had an audio and visual component to their presentation.  Everyone was able to share work that had both substance and style-- in the best sense.  It made them powerful and  it made them proud.

                            I saw transformation in the space of five days with our students.  They grew into a community of young writers where the diversity in the community was a strength, and through the use of computers, we were able to minimize differences that would have made inequities more pronounced.  Because I teach in a 1:1 laptop middle school, it can be harder for me to see a profound "transformation" on a student by student basis over such a short period.  While I am proud of my school year students' work, I don't witness the technological world opening to them for the first time, simply because by middle school, each of my students has almost always had plenty of access to the internet and  many applications.

                            While I was listening with enjoyment to the summer writers present their work last July, I also grew wistful.  Some of them have probably not had access to a keyboard or the internet since that week.  I wish that the creativity and thoughtfulness that they showed during our time together, will influence their new school years.  I wish they had daily access to the technology of our week together.  I wish that any teacher who can give technological access to students this year, will give access to students this year.  I wish that these students, as well as the ones I will begin to work with in the new school year, will have many more opportunities to feel pride and power.

                            Friday, July 8, 2011

                            Finding Video to Use as a Writing Prompt by Laura

                            Next week I will be leading a  Young Writers Institute for middle school students under the auspices of The Hudson Valley Writing Project.  My co-teacher, Eric, and I have a goal of taking the students from being writers on paper to being digital writers during our five days together.

                            For our first day, I want to have students do some writing using sound and visual prompts.  It is common for students to write using the written word as an inspiration, but less common, to use sound and visuals.  For one prompt we will write after just listening, a second after just watching, and the third will have both audio and visual.  Digital writing has many features to distinguish it from paper writing, but one feature is the addition of sound and visuals.  I passionately believe that anyone who teaches writing needs to consider how they will deliberately include these two aspects when teaching 21st century writing.

                            I gamely, though perhaps naively, plunged into YouTube for and searched for "quiet," and "no audio."  Somehow this search generated a lot of video of the moon!  I also searched for "writing prompts."

                            Feeling as though I could spend all day screening, I decided to search Google to see what was posted under "video writing prompts."  I found two enthusiastic posters.   Karen Janowski wrote a nice entry in 2008 and had a few videos embedded.  A second was a long list on a wiki, also from 2008, called One to One Thousand.  While many of those links are not available anymore, it was still interesting to see what a couple of other teachers thought would make nice prompts.

                            My current soundless video choice (if my co-teacher likes the idea) didn't come from either list.  But--without having a chance to look at their ideas, I don't think I would have thought to search YouTube for my current favorite.  I hope this will be an inspiring few minutes for our young writers:

                            Next up--inspiring audio.

                            Tuesday, June 7, 2011

                            Meterology Media Projects by Laura

                            One of the ways I ended the year with my seventh graders was to have them work to produce a media project about an extreme weather phenomenon. I have assigned media projects before, but this year I think I gathered the best way to frame the assignment and I was very proud and pleased with the students' work. Here are some  tips I can share from whatt I have learned:

                            1. Don't worry about the tech parts right away.
                            I do explain the assignment by telling the students that the end result is media project. I generated a list of possible Web 2.0 media formats they might use and put it on my class site.  I didn't worry about the production. My experience has taught me that this generally works out, and, that I don't need to know very much--or even anything at all, about how to used the media program. Once students have an idea, they are willing to work with a program to get the project to to look and sound right. With so many choices, students can even change the media along the way. If you look at my class site you will see that I even recommended programs I had never tried before!

                            2. Start with sources.
                            Even I used to be so excited about the media production that I didn't enforce the research stage very effectively.  This year I asked students to find five sources, annotate and post them to a Wikispace so they could serve as a reference for future years. Having the students evaluate sources made them slow down, and read carefully and responsibly.

                            3. Don't skimp on the script.
                            I get much better products when I focus the students on the writing.  I asked every production team to write a script in two column format--the first with the words the "narrator" will say  and the second column describing the visuals the audience will see as they listen.  Sometimes students are so excited about the media they can be a bit light on the science.  By not letting teams go into production until the script was edited, I more often avoid having to tell students with a glitzy production that they haven't included enough content.  Students were so eager to start production that they worked diligently to improve their scripts.

                            4. Don't worry that some projects take more time.
                            I gave class time to productions, but this didn't mean everyone finished in school.  I turned the responsibility for finishing over to the teams.  In some cases they divided up work. In other cases they figured out a way to collaborate virtually (my favorite solution to the finishing problem.)  I also realize that in some cases the work load was not divided evenly.   I worry about that less now than I used to.  Now I find that as long as the hardest working, most productive students feel acknowledged for their work, they are happy and even proud to carry out their vision of the project.

                            Many of these project can be viewed on my class site. I intend to write about a couple of the Web 2.0 media sites my students use in a future post.  You are welcome to take a look.

                            Wednesday, May 11, 2011

                            Can a Student Science Symposium be Techie? by Laura

                            Our annual science symposium was held last Friday afternoon.  Students in 6th grade worked in teams to program a Lego robot for a mission and also research and plan an innovation around the theme of robots of the future.  In 7th and 8th grade, students do an independent research project  based on our science theme of the year.  They begin in November with research questions and work to complete the research and the writing in phases right up until the May event.

                            Technology plays a role in every aspect of the process.  I wrote a Science Symposium Handbook several years ago to guide the students through the process and particularly the genre of science research writing.  This year I published it both in hard copy and on Issuu: Science Symposium Handbook 2010-2011.  Naturally students do background research and their writing on laptops.  Some students used Vernier Probeware for their research this year.This year I would like to publish student papers online as well. And of course they do their data analysis on their laptops.

                            I used Google docs for some aspects of editing. One winter's day, when school was canceled for a snow day, students posted their Materials & Methods section on a common Google doc.  I sat on my couch and read and edited each one, leaving comments for each student.  They had a chance to benefit by reading each others this way too.  I always have students peer edit sections of the paper before they submit to me, and this was sometimes done through Google docs.

                            Finally, students reflect about the process by filling out a Google form.  The responses fill in a spreadsheet that makes it easy for me to see them all in one place.  Forms have become my favorite Google app.They have reduced the amount of paper in my life even more than Google docs have.    I love being able to analyze responses both student-by-student and question-by-question.

                            I have grown very thoughtful, though, about where technology is not seen.  It is not seen in the afternoon presentations and the final paper itself.  I teach at a technologically innovative school, and I can see how the event looks the same as such events have for decades.I have hesitated to have students talk from presentation on their laptops because the screens are small and not as conducive to face-to-face conversation as traditional posters are.  My fantasy would be to have a projector for every student and use the boards as the "screen" but that is too expensive and running power to fifty projectors at once would not be possible.

                            The professional scientists who have attended the event over the year have always found it to mimic their own events.  This may not be valued by my students or the majority of their parents and the other adults in our school community.  So, I will continue to explore and mull over how science symposia in middle school should fit into the 21st century.  As always, I would love to have ideas from readers.

                            Sunday, May 1, 2011

                            Student Led Conferences By Shirley

                            Most schools have parent teacher conferences throughout the school year and most teachers and parents seem quite happy with the outcome. What is wrong with this event? Only that the most important person, the student is missing during these dialogues. Why would we not include the students? How can we ask students to be creative, collaborative, independent learners if they are not present for this important event? A few schools have changed to student led conferences and I would love to know how teachers feel about this process compared to the outdated parent teacher meetings.

                            For many years I invited my students to be present during parent teacher conferences to listen and participate during our discussions about their progress, strengths and weaknesses.  It was important to me that their voices were heard and I felt it was important, especially for 5th and 6th graders to know what was being said about them, both positive and negative, and usually behind closed doors.  How can goals for the year be set without student participation? For the students who did not or could not attend a conference, I would have a quick update meeting with them the following day and go over the main points of our conversation. This way everyone was on the same page. Not perfect but at least inclusive.

                            I was therefore delighted when a few years ago Poughkeepsie Day School decided to implement a student led parent conference day for all students in middle school.  Lots of research went into this project and we came up with a preparation plan for this new event. The process has evolved over the years and we have tweaked our reflection process several times. Preparation begins a few weeks before the conference date and takes place in advisory groups. Students are asked to really look at themselves as learners not just in each subject area but as overall learners and reflect on their progress, achievements and challenges throughout the year. Each student is given one half hour to present to parents and the adviser, who are asked not to interrupt until the student is finished (probably the most difficult part of the process).  Students prepare and handle this event in many different ways, yet It always amazes me that even the quietest and shyest child somehow feels comfortable enough to sit for one half hour to talk about himself/herself as a learner in a positive way.

                            Our conference day was yesterday and I felt elated as students came in happily with their parents, well prepared and ready to begin to present themselves. Having used a variety of web 2.0 tools this year in class, most students chose to use their laptops to share from…we saw many Google docs, power points, blog posts and wiki pages.  Not one student needed help or guidance and the half hour was barely enough time to complete each presentation. I heard honest, passionate students reflecting about themselves and setting realistic and challenging goals for the rest of the year. I haven’t had feedback from the parents yet, but plan to send emails this week to find out their responses.. 

                             Some interesting thoughts and resources about student led conferences….

                             Some observation I have made….
                            ·      Parents really listen
                            ·      Kids stay on agenda items and do not veer off the topic
                            ·      It empowers the students to take charge of their own learning
                            ·      Students are very honest about their work, learning styles, homework and strengths and weaknesses
                            ·      They set realistic goals for themselves
                            ·      Students feel good that they have accomplished something when finished

                            "We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience." John Dewey.

                            I would love to hear from other teachers and students about what they think the ideal conference would be like…please leave a comment.