Monday, June 16, 2014

Sharing is Caring

Tonight, on this evening prior to the official start of summer, I'm feeling inspired.  Ironically, it has to do with a staff meeting!  (You weren't expecting that, were you?!)

This afternoon, I attended a building staff meeting where we were asked to reflect on the school year and discuss our thoughts in small groups.  Here are some of the questions upon which we reflected:
  • What are some of the things you have accomplished this year that you are proud of?
  • What is something you found particularly frustrating this year?  How would you change it if you could?
  • How were you helpful to your colleagues this year and who amongst your colleagues was most helpful to you and why?
  • What is one way that you grew professionally this year?
  • When was a time this year you felt joyful and inspired about the work you do?
It was nice having the time to reflect with colleagues!  Everyone had so many things to share, and it was rewarding to be present to hear their accomplishments.  Teachers clapped for their peers, gave each other compliments, and shared success stories.  Finally, a chance to celebrate our hard work and dedication to students!

Here's my question - How can we continue this sharing year round?  It shouldn't have to wait until the second to last day of the school year.  Yes, schedules are packed, meeting agendas are too long, there are too many items on the "to do" list and we barely have enough time to scarf down lunch.  But we need to find time to share our successes, our struggles, and our appreciation for one another.  It's through these moments that we grow closer as a community.  What ideas do you have for supporting this type of sharing throughout the school year so that we can continue to inspire one another?

Monday, June 9, 2014

My PLN to the Rescue!

Recently, I've been working with a fourth grade class on a Google Earth project.  Students were tasked to find two landmarks in the country that they had just finished researching.  They had to gather information about these landmarks and locate them in Google Earth, creating a virtual field trip for their classmates.  Despite my preparation and troubleshooting prior to introducing the project to students, we experienced some difficulties along the way.  It was difficult for students to locate landmarks in vast areas (i.e. Amazon Rainforest), explore locations in Pakistan and North Korea, and even view locations in Disney World!  Overall, we had trouble obtaining and viewing the images we needed to create an enticing virtual field trip.  I tried to explain these problems to the fourth graders, but I was unsure myself as to whether or not I was providing the right information.  I looked online for video explanations of how Google Earth gathers data and imagery, but I was unsuccessful in finding something that was suitable for fourth graders.

Enter Twitter!  I put a call out to my PLN to ask if anyone had enough Google Earth expertise to assist my students.  I received a response from John Phillips, asking how he could help.  (Note:  I had never interacted with John before). After describing our situation, he agreed to join us via Google Hangout to answer our questions about Google Earth.  We chatted briefly on Sunday evening and I sent him an email with speaking points that I wanted him to address.

As soon as the Hangout started on Monday afternoon, I knew that we were connected with a passionate educator who wanted to ensure that my students learned from this experience.  He interacted with my students as if they were his own, questioning their statements and assessing their knowledge along the way.  He prepared over a dozen placemarks in Google Earth and shared his screen so my students could make sense of why they were experiencing trouble.  He spent 30 minutes with us...30 minutes of his planning time...and I'm sure he spent just as much time preparing for this session.  To top it off...he ended the Hangout by giving hints about his city in Michigan, promising that he would send a souvenir to the first person who guessed correctly.  How awesome is this guy?!  Can you imagine the excitement of the fourth graders?

Moral of the blog post:  Never be afraid to ask for "help" when it comes to educating students on topics outside of your comfort zone.  You never know who might respond to the call, and what you might learn through the process!  Thank you, @bcgeek, for your dedication to children, both near and far!  You went above and beyond to make this a memorable experience for these fourth grade students. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Power of Conversation

I feel very fortunate to have been selected through a random lottery to attend #edcampUSA on Friday at the U.S. Department of Education.  It was an inspirational day, and while there are many topics that resonated with me, one stands out in my mind when I reflect on the day as a whole.  There is power in conversation, and it is most meaningful when the conversation involves people of diverse perspectives.  

The first session that I attended, "So We're Here....Now What?," involved a passionate conversation amongst various edtech leaders - Tom Whitby, Steven Anderson, Tom Murray, Adam Bellow and many more.  Back and forth dialogue while sitting in a conversational circle encouraged attendees to discuss their beliefs about leadership and motivation.  The important fact is that all voices were heard and people challenged each other respectfully.  Everyone had the opportunity to contribute and together, we continued to refocus our conversation on solutions instead of harping on the problems.

At lunch, I sat with a Superintendent from Indiana, a teacher from California and a colleague in my own district.  We discussed everything from state funding, School Board support, 1:1 and parent involvement.  We can get caught up in the woes in our own settings, so it's important to hear what is going on elsewhere!  These conversations give us perspective, and I don't believe I would've crossed paths with these women or had as in-depth conversations had it not been for the networking lunch at #edcampUSA.

Many people attended a session on Voxer - an application that allows you to connect with people via VOICE.  

Question:  Why is it that we're seeking an application that allows for audio communication?  
Answer:  140 characters is not enough to have a continuous conversation about a topic without having a message get lost in translation!

Voxer allows you to send a typed message or a recorded message to a group, allowing everyone to hear the inflection in your voice, leading to a better understanding of the message you were originally trying to communicate.  There's fluid conversation and minimal misconceptions since you can discuss topics w/o the abbr. that r often requird thru Twitter to mt the 140 char limit.

Reflecting on my role as a regional director in Pennsylvania's ISTE affiliate, PAECT, I believe that we (as an organization) have a commitment to our members to support in-person events that allow people to connect and learn from each other.  We support online communities on Edmodo, Facebook and Google+, and they have value, but we must not forget about the value of face-to-face conversations as a means to build relationships.

The U.S. Department of Education opened its doors to allow teacher leaders and policy leaders to come together and have meaningful, results-oriented conversations about issues in education.  While online conversations can be effective when all parties have the opportunity to participate, periodic face-to-face events that allow for open, respectful, results-oriented dialogue and action also are also crucial in moving forward.  I hope the U.S. Department of Education can influence State Departments of Education to replicate similar events to open the lines of communication and welcome diverse perspectives in the decision-making process.  At a local level, this is something that all leaders can act upon in order to make schools true communities!

Thank you to everyone who played a role in making this event possible!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Starting an Elementary Tech Club

I am looking forward to starting an 8-week tech club at one of the K-4 elementary buildings that I support.  I want to give students the opportunity to choose their own learning path with a guide on the side to assist where needed.  My hope is that by exposing them to various web tools and programs (available via our Windows PCs), they will bring ideas back to their classrooms and ask to incorporate these tools in their projects.

Question:  What is the best way to use web2.0 tools with 9 year-old 4th grade students that do not have email addresses?  If I want to introduce them to tools such as Animoto, Prezi and Voicethread - should I create a generic account and share that login information with the group?  Since I'm hoping that students will work on projects in between our meetings, is it acceptable that they log on with this class account from home?

I'm anxious to hear your thoughts/experiences!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Student Empowerment!

Yesterday during indoor recess, I stopped in a classroom to introduce some third graders to Google Earth (side note - don't expect 3rd graders to get off to learn about a new tool!).  Anyway, when I entered the room, the substitute teacher told me that two of her students wanted to ask the principal for permission to access a certain website.  I approached the students to see if I could assist since the principal was out of the building.  They told me that they wanted to access Minecraft.

At the time, I thought Minecraft involved a download, but they told me that they could log in directly through the site.  So I asked them to take me to the website (which they were SUPER excited about).  Soon, I found out that the website was blocked by our filter.  I asked the two 3rd grade students, "Do you think Minecraft is an educational site that can be used in school?"  They started spouting off tons of reasons, one of which involved "learning about how two animals kiss to make a baby" (what?!?)  After hearing their multitude of reasons, I suggested the following idea:

"Why don't you write a letter to the principal and our tech director, listing the reasons why you think Minecraft should be allowed in school."  The kids reactions were priceless.  "Really!?!  We can do that?!  We can tell them.....<more excited spouting of reasons why Minecraft should be allowed, none of which I understood since I'm just becoming familiar with the game>."

I asked the kids to get a piece of scrap paper (never saw students move so fast to get paper) and wrote in the center, Why Minecraft should be allowed in school, to get them started on their web.

Me:  Do you know about persuasion?
Students:  Yes!  PIE - persuade, inform, entertain!
Me:  Yes, you've identified the 3 reasons why people write.  The purpose of this writing is to persuade.  You can write down your ideas or make a presentation on the computer and I'll help you send it to the principal and our tech director.

With that, indoor recess was over and the kids didn't have time to work on their web of ideas.  I will check in on their progress next week and encourage them again if needed.  I wish I could have captured their excitement when the students found out they could impact the allowance of Minecraft in school.  How do you empower your students to take action on something that they're passionate about?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Digital Storytelling with Kerpoof

First grade teachers at one school in my district have been using the KidWorks writing program for years.  This computer program is very child-friendly and helpful in teaching students how to write before they can spell.  Unfortunately, the program developer has not continued to support this product and it's been difficult finding a replacement.  My district moved to Windows 7 over the summer and this KidWorks program could not make the move with us (it IS compatible with Windows 98, if you're wondering!)  For the past year, I've been on the lookout for a tool that works in a similar capacity to KidWorks.  Obviously, I've been looking for something web-based.  If you know of a product or tool, please let me know!

In the meantime, we will be experimenting with various free digital storytelling programs.  The easiest one for the kids to use this early in the year is Disney's Kerpoof.  No log-in is required and kids love creating their story scenes!  The first-graders had minimal trouble resizing and dragging/dropping.  Although the teacher modeled how to type a describing sentence, most of the students were just interested in creating their scenes, and that was okay with us for the first day of independent computer use.  I will say that the text box is not very user-friendly since kids have to delete the "type here" text and it defaults to uppercase.  Also, if the text extends off of the page, it does not wraparound to the next line.  Anyway, I wanted to share one of the scenes that a first-grader created today (see below).  Check out the expression in her sentence!  I can't wait for students to learn about the speech bubbles which automatically appear when you insert a character.  What are other ways that you use Kerpoof in the K-2 classroom?  Also, do you use Storybird, Little Bird Tales or Storyjumper?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

It's All About the Connections

Yesterday was an amazing day at Edcamp Philly.  It was my third time attending, and despite the fact that I'm neck-deep in work for my School Law course, I find it hard to pass up a free opportunity to learn and connect with other educators.  I am still struggling to multi-task on my iPad, even with the 4-finger swipe, so I used my phone to catch the Twitter chat (although I can't say I was an active tweeter during the day). I benefited most from the conversations I had with those around me - some who I met for the first time, some who I "knew" from Twitter, and some who I "knew" from the annual Edcamp run-in (i.e.  "Nice to see you!  I can't believe we weren't in any sessions together this year!").  The after-party at City Tap House gave me a chance to have one-on-one conversations with others about topics that were touched upon throughout the day.

I spent the latter part of the evening going through Tweets from the day (btw - has anyone archived these?) and exchanging messages with @BrdCmpbll about his session (shout out:  THOR).  I'm involved in too many social networks to count, but there's still something to be said for bringing people together in-person for an event.  By establishing face-to-face connections, I feel like I will be more connected with them through Twitter.  It also makes me thankful that I'm a member of PAECT, for it gives me the opportunity to re-establish these face-to-face connections on a monthly/bi-monthly basis.  I'm already excited for our Tech and Tacos event coming up on 5/31 - maybe we will continue some of the conversations we started at Edcamp?  

For me, Edcamp is an invaluable experience that is hard to put into words.  I always leave inspired and full of ideas (speaking of which, how am I supposed to focus on completing a legal summary of a liability case study today?!)  I look forward to bringing these ideas back to my colleagues and staying connected with the Philly Edcampers through Twitter.  Learning is one thing, but implementing is another, and that is when I rely on the support and expertise of my PLN.  Thank you to the organizers and sponsors for making this day possible - I will see you next year!