Thursday, February 26, 2009

Goemetrically Progressing by Leaps & Bounds

A few months ago I decided that I would push much harder into tech exploration, but vowed that as I did so, I would make every effort to multiply the effects of my projects.

For example, when I applied to ADE, I upgraded portions of my curriculum. To do so, I learned new software applications, and then conducted in-services on what I learned. When I conducted in-services I blogged about my experiences. When I blogged, I tweeted my posts in order to build my professional network. These events often occurred in tandem instead of step-by-step.

This approach has sustained me very well. It makes me feel more productive, but more importantly, a single failure or dead end is less likely to make me feel as though I am wasting my time. I also find that after 34 years in the classroom, I get bored pretty easily, so I try never to repeat lessons verbatim. My geometric approach allows me to pursue my own professional development in chunks of this and that as I explore, create, and experiment. For the next few months, I have decided to immerse myself enthusiastically in Apple software. I know this will pay off with my courses and I hope it enhances my ability to move into a staff development leadership role at my school. But if the latter path is blocked, I'll simply branch out in another direction. The ADE Summer Institute has the goal of making me an "Advocate, Author, Advisor, and Ambassador". If this comes to fruition, I should have lots of options. Though it's uncertain which direction(s) my career is heading, I could not be more enthused.

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"Octagonal Star Geometric Progression, (backlit) 3 0f 3" Creative Commons Flickr Photo by EricGjerde

Monday, February 23, 2009

Larry's Adventures in Wiki Land, part 1

I've been eagerly looking forward to my Civil Rights/Liberties Project with my Am. Gov. class. I tweaked it for my Apple ADE application and loaded the instructions with my beloved hyperlinks. In past years I had tried different kinds of research projects on this issue with dreary results, so I have been ready to launch full bore into a Wikispaces collaboration.

First, I presented my 85 students (three classes) with an orientation, let that sink in, and couple of days later formed groups and chose topics. Having been recently tipped off by a fellow wiki geek, that I could bulk load all the student registrations to the wikis, I required the students to format their user names, etc. so that I could easily register all of them with a few copy & pastes . Cool. I also had the students create "action plans" for their group meetings. This was great because the meetings were purposeful-- no aimless yacking.

Well....when we next met, I requested students who had not gotten into the site to email me. Good Gawd! The emails started pouring in. That evening I went back to the wikis and tried to make some general adjustments. A day later, I asked the students to see me one at a time if they were still shut out of the wiki. After a few minutes I had students crowding my desk, holding their laptops, lamenting, "I can't get in, I can't get in." The reasons ranged from the ridiculous to the utterly mysterious (I think our spam filter was intercepting some of the messages). By week's end, I was beaten down, but had worked out the bugs. It occurred to me how happy some of my peers would have been to see Mr. Web 2.0 techie under siege.

As the debacle was ending, I ran into my pal, Alison, who informed me of a much simpler way to register my kids. I should have consulted her, first. Lesson learned and a good reason to further urge administration to develop a plan for creating staff resource hubs to facilitate such sharing.

Any good news? Absolutely. It's simple for a teacher to monitor activity on Wickispaces and when mine got up and running, they really started buzzing. Granted, most of the initial activity was posting messages like, "Woohoo!!!!" on the home page. But I heard some great plans for podcast interviews and videos. Our kids are terrific with PowerPoint and most of the groups were making detailed plans to collaborate in this area as well. I don't anticipate again coming under siege as I was during the registration process. But I'll keep you posted. Check back in a couple of weeks when the wikis will be done.
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"Why Wikis" Creative Commons Flickr Photo by Blogefl

Friday, February 20, 2009

Four Twitter Reads

Curious about Twitter? As I noted in Serendipity , I'm into it for a specific reason. The great majority of my professional reading is derived from "tweets." I dip into my Twitter stream three or four times a day and usually reel in a blog or two. I generally tweet once or twice a day, recommending an article or offering up personal tidbit.

The following short articles are recommended reading for anyone curious about or experimenting with this red hot micro social media phenomena.


Twitter? It's What You Make It . I was amused by this New York Times piece, because David Pogue was as puzzled by Twitter as I remember being three months ago. B
ut Pogue has already correctly determined that Twitter provides different strokes for different folks. If you are patient, in a few weeks, you can easily mold it to fit your needs. It requires far less attention than Facebook, but is a fascinating way to connect to strangers with common interests.

Well Connected Parents W
hile teachers may be able to stave off technology because their job security does not depend upon it, many of our students' parents have become adept at using social media. As this Washington Post article indicates, they are already effectively employing it to lobby the schools. A 21st Century school should be interested in getting ahead of the curve with a social media design which includes parents. Schools should be friending, blogging and tweeting to stay ahead of the curve (see Staff Development, part 3).

GOP Is All Twitter. Anyone who followed the Obama campaign realizes that he absolutely smoked all comers with "Netroots" deployment of Social Media tools. This article indicates that Republican bigwigs already are determined to play catchup. I discussed the article with my AP Gov class and they felt that outreach through Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc. would be absolutely essential to Republican cultivation of youth vote.

Text Remains King For my fellow English teachers out there who are rattled by the tech onslaught, Steve Rubel reassures that "Text is still king of the Web." The kind of text he rates important may not warm a lit lover's heart, but he certainly values facility with words, pointing out that Twitter is 100% text.

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"My Social Network . . ." Flickr Creative Commons Photo by luc legay




Saturday, February 14, 2009

Hyperlink Heaven

I have rediscovered my love for writing. I remember crafting a major paper on the late novels of Charles Dickens during my senior year in college. It was a strangely luxurious experience as I drafted and redrafted my treatise. When I was in my twenties, the principal asked me to help compose our application for "exemplary school" status. I was honored and actually enjoyed trying to find just the right words for this composition.

I'm not sure exactly what "day the music died", but its been at least a thirty year hiatus since I've actually enjoyed a writing project. Oh yes, I have continued to teach writing and I have continually written for work. But it has been work.

Recently, I rediscovered the joy. The key? Hyperlinks! I am intoxicated by the way they allow me to add another dimension to my expression. In fact, though I know I should restrain myself from overusing them, I still compulsively hyperlink whether blogging about vlogs, proposing a staff-development plan, or preparing a collaborative project for my students. I am excited by the way hyperlinks have animated the study guide for my film class. I actually enjoy searching for the links, just as I have done in this paragraph.

Now for the dark side. I have developed a sense of indignation over traditional "research". As I indicated in Oh, How I Miss Ibid. . . . , I can't imagine anything more outdated than "Works Cited" when hyperlinks allow us to jump directly to the source. I also think that presenting research on paper verges on the preposterous. Learning to search, discriminate among sources, and then remix them. At my school, our students have laptops have more access to information than we could have even dreamed of ten years ago, but my department is still paying tribute to the antique "accoutrements of scholarship". It staggers that hours of instruction are still spent on teaching a teaching a traditional "research paper" in the year 2009. Teachers chronically complain that they don't have time to learn about Web 2.0 technology. Well, gang, here's some time for you: chuck the research paper of yesteryear and let your students compose with hyperlinks.

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"Moleskin Concept Diagram 1" Creative Commons Flickr Photo by jazzmasterson

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Blogging on Vlogs

Last year I proudly shared some of the features of my tenth grade online course with my associate principal. He gave me the positive response I was hoping for and then exclaimed something like, "I bet you are really going to town with your AP course." Well, uh, no. This year and last, I've taught four courses, and even though my AP American Gov & Politics class is populated with curious, motivated seniors, I've integrated less technology than my other courses.

There is one good reason for this: The seniors don't have laptops like my other students. But I confess that I have also been concerned that straying too far from a traditional format may harm their scores on the AP exam.

But I made one major tech incursion, last year. I required each student to watch a documentary film of her choice, post a podcast review of the film to Gabcast, and then review two other podcasts. This year the reviews will be posted online.

This year, my most exciting use of tech has involved video. I began by loaning students my Flip Mino. They would go off and record a 3-4 minute vlog. After I uploaded their clip to an Apple me.com site, the other students would view it on their own time. Then we would all discuss it in class on a designated "blowback" day. This was fun, but our big breakthrough came three weeks ago

Inspired by my colleague Steve's successes with blogging, experiments with blogging, I suggested to the students that we blog about the vlogs. iCal and iWeb turned out to be the perfect tools for this. We have vlogging/blogging schedule on our an assignment calendar. Students know when the vlogs will be posted (weekly) and blog withing a prescribed time frame. Our site is attractive, password protected, and user friendly. Students access their links through Moodle.

Most importantly, the videos and compositions have been terrific. I loved the political analogy to our woeful local football team in the following excerpt:

'The significance of President’s Obama inauguration is unquestionable from a historical standpoint, although the public support displayed there will not necessarily stay with him throughout his Presidency. Allegra noted that Obama will have a dedicated following throughout his administration, and there is no doubt that such a following will exist. Even President Bush, who many consider one of the worst Presidents in our nation’s history, had such a following. These people are like Detroit Lions season-ticket holders—they will support the team even when it goes 0-16. However, most Americans are not like Lions fans; they want results, and they want action. Obama will need to act on his message of change in order to maintain the public support that was so apparent at his inauguration."
- Alessi, 1/25/09.

The vlogging and blogging have been a fun change of pace, but they have also provided an opportunity for deeper critical thinking on current events that we ordinarily discuss in a more off-hand manner. I intend to make this a regular staple of this class and would love to know how other teachers have used vlogs, particularly if the students have posted their own.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Staff Development, Part Three

Final of Three Parts

In part one of this commentary I
characterized a typical teaching staff by their receptiveness and integration of new technologies: Pathfinders, Jumpstarts, Too Old / Too Lates, and Naysayers. The research I have down bears out this divisions as typical within any organization facing significant change. In part two I presented a proposal for moving from a scattershot approach to staff training to a more structured emersion in order to create a greater number of Pathfinders.

As Theodore Creighton asserts, "For any movement of change to . . . positively impact teaching and learning, a large number of faculty and staff must be involved in the movement." My school has reached this crossroads. In 2009-10 all students in the school will have immediate access to extremely powerful information gathering and networking tools throughout the school day. We have the opportunity to be in the vanguard of educational change. But a recalcitrant staff has the ability to undermine the best attempts at curricular change, marketing campaigns, and even retention of younger more technology savvy staff. I think all but the least resistant could be enlisted in a team effort to provide better resources for the entire school. After a modicum of training we could participate electronically in building these valuable projects without creating special meeting times and schedules. Staff would engage in the same kinds of collaboration experiences we wish to provide our students. And really, if the school is committed to the program, no one should be exempt throu
gh special pleading of being "too busy." I suggest that after we have reaseched tipping point of pathfinders (see part two) a set of interdepartmental projects be initiated. The possibilities are limitless:

* Creation of a virtual exhibition space for student performance / exhibitions.


* Create a virtual media center of video and podcast resource material collected from "experts" in the school and neighborhood community.

* Collect virtual museums of hyperlinks/videos/photos on subjects which cross departmen
t themes.

* Compile social bookmarks and Dyknow best practices for types of class (e.g., AP) or teaching styles.

* Build a directory of school blogs and blogging resources.

* Create 21st Century research guides and resources.

* Design independent study modules for students with unique interests or needs

* I read with interest "Well Connected Parents" in the 1/30/09. Washington Post. A 21st Century school should be interested in getting ahead of the curve with a social media design which includes parents.

As I reflected in
Tinker Toy Playland, educators must deconstruct old concepts of curricular subjects and units. The interdepartmental projects I suggest could advance meaningful dialogue about research, learning styles, and digital literacy as they apply in a world where Everything is Miscellaneous. Craig McLeod takes his IT blog title, from the following quote: "Our intelligence tends to produce technological and social change at a rate faster than our institutions and emotions can cope with. . . . We therefore find ourselves continually trying to accommodate new realities within inappropriate existing institutions, and trying to think about those new realities in traditional but sometimes dangerously irrelevant terms" (War: The Lethal Custom). With a relatively small investment in human resources a school could guide its stakeholders toward some to some extraordinary experiences.

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"Bruno e Sandra com seus MacBooks Pro" Creative Commons Flickr Photo by Marco Gomes
Thank you, Theodore Creighton for reviewing the full document from which this post is adapted.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Staff Development, Part Two

Second of Three Parts
Nancy Sulla argues that technology integration has to be accomplished "one teacher at a time", hand in hand with "culture building." I completely agree. My two proposals focus on one-on-one training and team building. The goal is to more deeply embed the practice of technology and transform the school learning culture. In my last blog, I divided the staff into four categories of tech practice and receptiveness. Proposal #1 provides deeper involvement for both the top two, "Pathfinders" and "Jumpstarts". Proposal 2 proactively includes the "Too Old / Too Late" and "Naysayer" groups in vital team projects where they will be encouraged by peer influence and motivated by a goal they help choose. In other words we will teach the teachers through the same methodology we adopt for our students, plugging them into a growing network of co-learners.

Proposal One

This proposal calls for a
Flat Classroom staff development course led by experienced Pathfinders. As Dona Hickey points out, "Too much technology too fast overwhelm[s] novices." Instead of continuing to lob numerous, dazzling, apps and tricks at the staff, we would engage them more deeply with selected Web 2.0 applications. They would learn about applications, practice them and begin to network them interdepartmentally.

I stumbled upon one of Scott McLeod's many impressive wiki resources at CASTLE. When I looked through the media collection on wikis, social bookmarking, video, blogs, Flickr Creative Commons, Google Docs, etc.; I realized how close we were to being able to produce some terrific resources and presentations at our school.

A limited set of these Web 2.0 tools could be selected and really taught to a group of "Jumpstarts". Then they and the "Pathfinders" could engage the rest of the staff in interdepartmental collaborative projects. A Curriculum Committee could predetermine the project goals. The development course would look something like this:

*The group would meet an hour a week for 12 weeks.
*Two or three project based skills would be presented such as
video, blogging, wikis.
*Participants would explore and consider each technology for three or four weeks.
*The last 2 or 3 weeks would be spent on laying out blueprints for the interdepartmental projects.
*The projects would then be plugged into department structures and enlist all staff (more on this in next blog post).

I envision a master Pathfinder leading the course. This proposal would initially address the
Pathfinders and "Jumpstarts". It would require the investment of creating paid time for the participants, but it would not require outside "experts". It would exploit the experience of the Pathfinders and give the Jumpstarts the impetus for truly engaging in technology.

My next proposal would engage the rest of the faculty and has the potential for dynamic impact on the learning culture.

Come back Wednesday for Part 3.
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"iPhone...Eye Phone?" Flickr photo with kind permission of John of Dublin
Thank you, Theodore Creighton for reviewing the full document from which this post is adapted.