Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hour of Code

Dear Teachers,

This past week has been "Hour of Code" week, not only for our district, but around the world. I was proud to have played a microscopically small part in a couple of schools' events. One school in particular really went all out; you can read a couple of great birds'-eye reports of their week here and here. Our district's fabulous library systems administrator appeared in person for third graders. My brother-in-law was a great sport and videoconferenced in to a 4th grade class.


But Friday's Community Coding afternoon had to have been the highlight of the week. One of the teachers confided to me around 1:00 p.m. on Friday that she was concerned that no one would show up for the 1:30 event. She needn't have worried; the place was PACKED! It was such a gas to see so many kids showing off their new-found coding skills to their parents. It was a great example of the very best of what public school can - and should - offer to the community.




Many other schools in our district had fabulously successful coding events, too. As I told one group of 5th graders, if you're not going to be a teacher when you grow up, being a coder would be the second best job you could have.

Happy coding, everyone!

Fondly,

Nancy



Monday, December 8, 2014

The Antidote to Humbug

Dear Teachers,

I've been feeling down lately, and it seems like a lot of people I know have been feeling the same way. There is so much to feel bad about, if you let the news convince you of it. Even though I stopped watching the news months ago because I determined that the constant barrage of bad news was just too discouraging, I still hear enough to make me pretty discouraged about the State of the World. People seem to be getting shot or strangled with alarming regularity. American politics has become so vitriolic that it almost makes me physically sick to listen to what's going on in Congress. I read another study about how kids aren't reading books the way they used to. The effects of global warming here in Texas are making it difficult to get into the Christmas spirit. And it's not just the news of the world: I have several friends who are ill or are suffering in other ways, or their family members are. Oh, and shopping. How I HATE shopping. All of these things converging have made me a bit of a humbug lately.

But sitting in church today, I realized that there is something that restores my faith in humanity and the world. Lots of somethings, actually. Well, lots of someones. It's you.

You may not know it, but every time I go to a school, I notice things. I notice things like how dedicated you are to your students. I see how you greet them with a smile and tell them you're glad to see them each day (and mostly, it seems, you mean it). I see when the Special Ed student is giving you hell in the hallway, in front of the principal, and how frustrated you are, and how hard you try to reach that kid. I see you control your temper when that one kid does it again... whatever the "it" is. And on the rare occasions when you don't control your temper, I see you try again the next day, working all the time to try to find the strategy that might work with That Kid. I see the kindness and civility with which you treat one another in a world where manners so often seem to have gone out the window.

I get your phone calls asking me to tell you more about a program that might help that student. I see the emails you send me at 7:00 p.m., or 10:00 p.m., or midnight, and they tell me that you are still thinking about your kids, and about what you can do to help them all or just one of them.

I see you attend all those trainings that take you away from your students so you can be improving what you're doing in the classroom. Whether it's technology training or behavior management suggestions or instructional coaching or textbook adoption, I see you. And frankly, it ought to be enough to move the average sap like me to tears. Because when you do all these things, it gives me a glimpse into your hearts.

Your heart is where you got that calling: the calling to be a teacher, a role model, a person better than you might have been if you hadn't ended up in this profession. You are called time and time again, countless times a day: called to wipe the nose or tie the shoe or hand out the detention or stay late for tutoring. Called to notice the kid whose dad went to jail again last night or to comfort the one whose little brother just got a cancer diagnosis. To try to explain to this one where her mom is, when you're not really sure yourself. To try one more time to explain that math concept or physics principle. To attend the game or the concert for your student who might not have any family representation there.

And every time you do one of these things, large or small? What you do is restore my faith in the goodness - at least the potential goodness - of humankind. That is no small task these days. As the days grow shorter and darker and the news seems to just get worse and worse, know that at least one person notices what you do every day. Know that what you do makes a difference not only to your primary audience, your students, but also to me, an optimist whose optimism needs a little boost every now and then. You are the ones who keep me going, and I thank you.

Fondly,

Nancy

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Adventures at Apple, Part 2

Dear Teachers,

This morning I'll be wrapping up what, unfortunately, appears to be my last visit to Apple in Austin for awhile. There are about 130 teachers from around the state working on the TASA on iTunes U project; my group has been writing course curricula for a new HS electives class caltled "Literary Genres," and it's been great fun - except when it hasn't.


I was pretty proud of myself when I got here yesterday and I had three "posts" (lessons) to show off. The ideas had come to me pretty easily, the writing flowed, and I thought the content was pretty good. Everyone in my group seemed to like them, too. The other three people in the group also had good work to share. So I went in to yesterday feeling pretty good.

But then I tried to come up with another equally engaging post, and I ran up against a wall. Instead of actually getting anything done, I ran down a rabbit trail trying to figure out how a certain web-based timeline maker worked (beautiful results, but not easy to get there) - and after an hour or more of being frustrated by the tool, I decided that a timeline probably wouldn't work in the lesson anyway. So, at least two hours of the day down the drain.

Because I was frustrated, I knew that I needed to change gears, so I decided to start over on a completely different topic. Approximately the same results: I spent a lot of time finding content (okay, that part wasn't all that bad) but struggled mightily with what, exactly, I would want students to do and learn in the lesson. I haven't given up on either of these lessons yet, and I'm assuming they will both come together in time, but it always makes me wonder: why do some projects just seem to write themselves, and others put up such a struggle to be born? Sometimes I think if it's easy to write, it must be the "right" thing to write, and  in some sense that is probably true. But on the other hand, if the only things that get done are the easy-to-accomplish ones, what is the point of ever struggling or wrestling to tackle something that is really challenging?

I think of the teachers in my district who are very tech-averse. If we didn't nudge them along and try to challenge them to take that next step into tech integration, they could stay in that zone that is "easy" for them. Or the students - of course, the students - who don't want to try anything that is going to be hard and involve work and potential failure.

Ay, there's the rub: that potential failure part. Maybe that is what is making these two lessons so difficult for me. By the end of the day yesterday I felt I was scratching and clawing my way firmly to the area of mediocrity, and I like to be in the good-to-excellent zone. But I want these two additional posts to be "as good as" the three from yesterday that I felt were pretty strong submissions; I don't like that they're not there yet, and for me that experience feels like failure.

The second reason I think I'm struggling: I had kind of thought up on my own the topics of the three posts that I was so proud of yesterday morning; They were based on ideas that *I* had. Of the two I'm fighting with now, one was suggested by my team members as something that would be a good complement to what I had submitted yesterday; the other one is a topic that sort of has to be included in our course and no one had taken it yet, so I just kind of grabbed it. I don't feel nearly the ownership or sense of originality and creativity that I did with my first posts.

And this blog post: it has come very easily to me, whereas others lately are just sitting in the queue with that nasty Draft word next to them. For whatever reason, apparently this was the one I was supposed to write this morning. I imagine that my experience today will bring some additional frustration, but I'm hoping that by the end of the day I'll have something good to show for the struggle.

Wish me luck!

Fondly,
Nancy

Addendum: The day did not get significantly better on Friday, and I left Austin feeling very much like a Tier 3 student who had been wrongly placed in a GT class. However, I woke up this morning with an idea for a slightly different approach on one of the lessons and finished up in about half an hour what I think is a pretty strong addition to our work. Hopefully I will be able to do the same for my remaining two pieces.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Worst Technology?

Dear Teachers,

I was at a conference a few days ago and heard a fact that I've been turning over and over in my head. I'd heard it a while back, but for some reason I can't stop thinking about it this time around.
"My iPhone is the worst technology that today's kindergartners will ever use."
http://www.att.com/wireless/iphone/assets/iphone-4s-devices.jpg

Think about that one for a minute. My little device that I can't do without, that I check weather, Facebook, and email on; that I tweet from and play games on; that I access YouTube, news,  and the number of steps I walk each day; that I use to get me from point A to points B, C, D, and E... and that I didn't even have myself until before these kindergartners were born - that is these kids' baseline. By the time today's five-year-olds are in high school, they will likely view my coveted device the same way we now look at  8-track tapes.

My imagination is not nearly good enough to predict the changes that will take place over the next  decade or so. What about you? Do you have any guesses as to what the future holds for technology? And how do you think your ideas will impact education? Leave your ideas in the comments section below.

Fondly,
Nancy

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Me? At Apple? WOW...

Dear Teachers,

Many years ago, when I decided to become a preschool teacher because I just liked those cute little kids so darned much, I would never have been able to predict the trajectory of my professional career.

After teaching the 3 & 4 year old set for just a few years, I was fortunate enough to be able to stay home with my own kids when they were young. When my son entered kindergarten, his school's librarian was the best example of a librarian I had ever seen, and I decided I wanted to try that, so I went to library school. I loved being a librarian and figured I'd probably end my career at that point. But then I applied for this Instructional Technology position, and the world opened up to me even more.

Last week, I got to go to at the Apple campus in Austin. Yes: APPLE. The Steve Jobs one. I met new colleagues from all over the state and we worked - and will continue to work - on writing new courses for iTunes U, a project of TASA (Texas Association of School Administrators). You can read about the project here. I am still pinching myself: Me? At APPLE? How did that happen?

Mostly I am just so grateful - and astonished - at the luck I've had, and at the truly amazing colleagues I meet or get to work with every day.



Fondly,
Nancy

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Cardboard Challenge Reflections Part 1 (because there will probably be more...)

Dear Teachers,
Back at ETSI, we offered a class on the Maker Movement, which included several samples of things you might do in a Makerspace or Learning Commons. One example was the Cardboard Challenge. The Cardboard Challenge is an international movement that sprang from the endeavors of a young man named Caine, who built an entire arcade out of cardboard. You can learn more about Caine at the Caine's Arcade website. Don't miss the movie on that site - I get goosebumps just about every time I watch it. From this chance meeting between Caine and Nirvan Mullick, an amateur filmmaker, the Imagination Foundation was born, and since its inception just a couple of years ago, hundreds of thousands of kids have been inspired to create with cardboard. At ETSI, teachers had a chance to explore with cardboard on their own - and one teacher in particular began to dream.

So today, after weeks and weeks of planning, one of the schools in our district hosted the first-ever Cardboard Challenge in our fair city. It was an amazing day! Over 300 people showed up, representing 17 schools. There were toddlers, college students, and grandparents present - and every age in between. To say it was a success would be grossly understating the outcome.


I could talk all day long about what I saw, like the amazing imaginations or the heart-warming intergenerational interactions, but I thought I would focus instead on what I DIDN'T see at the Cardboard Challenge:

I didn't see anyone not being able to make up their mind about what they wanted to build. I didn't hear anyone say, "I don't know what to do" or "I'm just not very creative." Kids (and grown-ups, too!) just jumped in and started creating.

I didn't see any prizes given for the best or biggest or prettiest creation. The satisfaction came just from the doing, not from any award or prize.

I didn't see anyone being grossly competitive; I didn't see anyone bored or complaining or unhappy. I didn't see a tear shed, or even a small frown. Most people looked like this:




Or, at the very least, like this:


Here is just a SMALL sampling of some of the amazing creations:


And there is a wonderful stop-motion video here (I wish I had made it, but I didn't - thanks to Becca for sharing!)

I am feeling pretty darned good about the state of the world after this event. If you were there, you know what I mean. If you couldn't make it - well, I really hope you don't miss it next year. I have a feeling this is the start of something BIG!

Fondly,
Nancy



Thursday, October 9, 2014

Tech Training (or, Why I Love My Job, Part III)

Dear Teachers,
Once upon a time, in a land not so very far away, my technology trainings would go something like this: I would fall in love with a particular tool (OneNote, say, or Google Earth). I would arrange a lab, schedule a training, and eagerly await the teachers who signed up. "Here is another really cool feature of OneNote!" I would happily exclaim as I got everyone to click here, point there, type somewhere else. Teachers would be reasonably happy when they left because the tool really WAS cool, but I always wondered whether they would ever even look at the technology again, let alone use it in a meaningful way. Something, I began to realize, had to change.

So for the past two or three years, I've tried to focus on my practice and on what I needed to do to make tech training more meaningful. Thanks to Learning Forward, a wonderful organization dedicated to teachers' Professional Learning, I have a lot more tricks up my sleeve and have a better understanding of what adult learners need. Thanks to carefully observing some very gifted presenters, I've made some changes in my delivery method. And because I've shifted my focus to the curriculum and away from the gee-whiz features of some of the technology (because seriously, some of the stuff we get to work with these days is WAY COOL), I have a better sense that teachers are walking away from trainings thinking not, "That was an amazing tool" but rather "That lesson will be so much better because of that tool she showed us." And THAT, of course, is what will ultimately benefit the kiddos.

I have to say, I'm kind of excited about some days I'm scheduling at a few schools in October. I'll be at each school for an entire day, working with grade level teams during their planning periods. Each team will select in advance a tool AND an upcoming unit. One of the principals and I worked out which tools they'll have to choose from. I started to put this information in an email to the principals, one which they could then forward on to their respective staff members. That seemed kind of Old School, though. My second thought was to create a Google Doc to share with principals, who could then, in turn, share it with their staff. But I wanted to do something that would get the teachers' attention, and I started thinking about how I could start generating interest in the tools even before I set foot in the door.

So I used Popplet to create an image that I could upload to Thinglink - Popplet and Thinglink being two of the six tools I plan to explore.


I took a screen shot of my Popplet and pasted it into Word. From there, it was an easy right-click to save it as an image.

Next step: Thinglink (have you tried Thinglink yet? It is ever so wonderful!) - after creating an account, just click that big blue button on the Create page to upload the desired image - in my case, it was that Popplet screen shot. Thinglink allows you to create little hotspots of information on the selected image; it has so many useful applications for both students and teachers.


After that, I added the tags to insert a brief description of each tool and a link to its homepage. 

 

So in doing my promo for the training, I included an introduction and demonstration of two of the six choices, so teachers will get a taste of what those tools are like even before we get started. 

Finally, I created a Google form for the grade levels to record their request. I love Google forms, and I especially love all their wonderful new templates!


The final Thinglink I sent to the principals is here. Check it out! But don't respond on the form unless you're the team leader at one of those schools! ;-)

So now I have the luxury of sitting back and waiting for that form to populate. It will be great to walk into each grade level at each school, knowing that I'm about to help them with an upcoming unit (one that they selected themselves) by using a particular tech tool to increase student engagement and learning for that particular unit. I'm hoping that teachers will leave saying "My lesson about ____ will be so much more engaging when I use _____" - rather than "_____ is a really cool that I will probably never use again. Now back to my lesson planning." That right there is where tech integration begins, folks.

Fondly,
Nancy



Wednesday, October 8, 2014

An Unexpected Technology Interview

Dear Teachers,
I got a call a few days ago from a colleague in another department. She is taking a graduate class, and one of the assignments involved interviewing someone in the technology department of a school district. I was terribly flattered that she thought of me. I answered pretty off the cuff, just in the span of a few minutes on the phone, but I've kind of been mulling over the questions ever since she called, as well as how I might have answered differently if I'd had a little more time to think things over. Here are the questions; how would you answer them?

1. What is the school vision for technology?

Our district’s technology vision statement is “To provide comprehensive, equitable and efficient use of existing and emerging technology to engage, challenge and nurture diverse learners in preparation for citizenship in an increasingly complex information society.”  To make that happen we need more infrastructure (such as faster workstations, support for WiFi, and 1:1 computing), more true technology integration (not just using PowerPoint and presentation software), and more technology in the hands of students so that they can create rather than consume. Our new technology superintendent is very aware of our infrastructure needs, and we are making great progress on better building-level technology integration. Another blog post on that is coming soon!

2.  If technology were removed, what learning would be impossible/impaired?

Think of the global connections that students are able to make now that were completely unthinkable even a few years ago!   A lot of creativity would be lost and impaired without technology. 

But technology merely enhances and extends the learning, and it will never fully supplant good instruction and strong classroom relationships.

3. How do you support professional development?

Our technology professional development sessions have evolved and definitely improved over the course of the last several years. Whereas we used to teach just how to use a tool (remember way back years ago when we offered classes on things like how to send an email?), we now focus on the curriculum, and which of the hundreds of available apps & websites would work best to increase student engagement and learning. Thanks to our involvement in Learning Forward,  we have incorporated many more principles of adult learning when designing training.

4. What is the best “advice” you can give to yourself for moving technology/learning forward in a way that will make more progress for all students?

In our district, there are about 6500 teachers, and five of us in my department, so building capacity at the school level by empowering teachers is critical.  We are so excited about our rapidly developing critical mass of interested, enthusiastic and capable "ed tech evangelists" at each school! Again, more on that in a subsequent post. We also need to be documenting how improved practice in technology integration is benefiting student learning.

What other questions should we be asking about our district's technology use? What would you add to my answers? Let me know in the comments section.

Fondly,
Nancy

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Questions I Wish We Were Asking About Istation

Dear Teachers,

Let me just get my biases out on the table early. I'm a librarian down to my toes. I believe in letting kids self-select reading materials for pleasure, and I don't care if they pick fiction, non-fiction, comic books, magazines, or the phone book. I don't agree with using any kind of leveling system or Lexile scores or Accelerated Reader or any other gimmick or program that limits what children might find interesting on their own. I call this Real Reading, as opposed to Fake Reading (or, not so affectionately, an FR program).

I don't know about your district, but mine seems to be obsessed lately with a program called Istation, and frankly I am baffled by the way this program has been blindly embraced. I am increasingly concerned by the number of frantic calls I get about students not being able to log in to the program; it is as though no child has ever been - nor will ever be again! - taught to read unless they are parked in front of this program. Istation falls firmly in my mind in the FR program category.

In the area of computerized programs that allegedly help children learn to read, I often feel like a lone voice crying in the wilderness, because so many people love these programs so much more than I do. I am very concerned about what I believe to be the overuse of computer programs to teach reading, particularly Istation. I am so very curious about why no one seems to be asking any questions at all about whether Istation is really a good thing or not.

Here are some questions that I wish decision-makers in my district would ask.

1. Who is conducting the research that Istation claims to have about its product? While at first glance the number of studies listed on Istation's website might seem impressive, if you look a little closer you will see that almost all of the studies were conducted by the same entities, and/or by someone with ties to Istation. Almost all of the names on the studies are associated either with Southern Methodist University or with Istation, and the SMU figures seem also to be employed by or on the board of Istation. Should we not be suspicious of a company that is conducting and promoting the research on itself?

2. If Istation is such a great program, why isn't the premier reading association promoting it, or at the very least, discussing it? The International Reading Association is clearly not against technology; there were over ten pages of results when I searched "technology" on their website  However, when I searched for Istation at http://www.reading.org, not a single result appeared. I found this somewhat intriguing, so I took it a step further. Using the search field on the websites of 14 different education-oriented websites, I searched for Istation, thinking that if the program really does do all it claims to do, that at least one would have something to say about the program. Not a single result appeared. A 15th website, that of the National Council of Teachers of English, yielded only one PDF article that only mentioned Istation; the article did not endorse it. See bottom of page for the sites I queried.

Digging a little deeper, I did a Google search for "best practices in reading instruction" (quotations included). Again, the top results don't mention Istation or anything like it. One example is the National Association of School Psychologists/ Best Practices on Interventions for Students with Reading Problems, but there are countless others.

3. Follow the money. Who's profiting from Istation? $17.5 million spent by the Texas Education Agency in the past year and a half is a big chunk of change that could be spent on other items. Someone is profiting big time from the state's expenditure on Istation, and I'm not convinced our students are the ones who are benefitting. Also, let's think about why teachers feel the pressure to use Istation in their classrooms. Typically,
teachers push Istation because their principal expects/requires it. Principals have heard from the Curriculum department that Istation is a great program and assume that people in Curriculum have vetted it, so they insist that their teachers comply with Istation's suggestions/mandates to make students use it a certain number of minutes per week. Curriculum people hear from Istation that it's a great product; it is free to the district, completely paid for by the state, and "research shows" (see Question 1) that students who use it do better on the standardized tests. But of course Istation is the entity that ultimately profits from its own insistence that the program is great and should be used a certain number of minutes per day or week! It seems to me there is a very unhealthy circularity going on here.

I know that a lot of teachers really love Istation and programs like it, and it may do some good for some students some of the time. But I hope you'll start asking more questions about these programs. Does anyone else have concerns about Istation? Please share them in the comments section.

Fondly,
Nancy



On 9/4/2014, entering the word Istation in the search field found on each of the following organizations' websites yielded no results: Association of American EducatorsAssociation for Childhood Education InternationalASCDCenter for the Improvement of Early Reading AchievementChildren's Literature AssociationInternational Reading Association,  Institute of Child Health & Human Development, Institute of Education Sciences What Works ClearinghouseInternational Society for Technology in EducationLearning ForwardLiteracy.org,  National Association for the Education of Young ChildrenNational Education Association,  Teachers of English for Speakers of Other Languages.
A search of National Council of Teachers of English landed one article (accessible only by NCTE members) that mentioned Istation once, but did not endorse it.

Monday, September 1, 2014

123

If you work in a school, you know that there is a huge difference in the air at this time of year as compared with the feeling at the end of May. Right now, principals, teachers, and students are full of eager anticipation; they are positive, cheerful, and upbeat about what the coming year holds. From school supplies and new clothes to the first meet-the-teacher night, there is a lot to love about back to school time.

Today is September 1, meaning that we are two-thirds through 2014. To put it in even more tangible terms, it means that there are 123 days left in this year. How does that happen? It seems like it was just a couple of weeks ago that I was stressing out about the holidays, and now that will all be happening again in the blink of an eye. My stepfather, a math teacher who believed that just about everything could be explained with mathematics, used to say that the longer you live, each passing year gets to be a smaller and smaller percentage of your life, and that's why time seems to speed up so as we age. That explanation certainly seems plausible for me, since every year seems to whiz by a little faster.

I know that as teachers actually get into the school year, the pressure mounts, and that first-day-of-school excitement fades away to practically nothing. Maybe it has happened already, after just the first week! The seemingly never-ending assessment testing and curricular mandates take over, and it's easy to lose sight of goals that are not strictly and expressly related to state testing. Teachers are under enormous pressure these days to show proof of achievement, and so are their students. And time keeps on slippin' (slippin', slippin') into the future...

At ETSI, we asked the teachers to create an action plan for implementing what they learned, and one of *my* goals is to help those teachers discover the ways that they will achieve the goals & objectives they identified. Doing this kind of coaching is a new leadership activity for me, and I hope we will all grow from the experience. I'm so looking forward to getting to know "my" group of ETSI participants, now that our department has decided who is assigned to each school. I want to do what I can to help the brilliant ETSI participants become more effective Ed Tech leaders on their campuses.

I'm looking forward to seeing what the next 123 days will bring.

Fondly,
Nancy

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Change is a-Comin'

Dear Teachers,
I love this time of year. Everything is so full of promise - teachers are in the best mood, kids are excited about school, and oh the smell of those school supplies.

In my department we have been training and facilitating like crazy - first our wonderful ETSI experience, then Google Summer Camp, and last week New Teachers. I love working with the new teachers, especially the ones right out of college. Many in that group could now be my own daughter or son, but seeing them each year always reminds me  exactly how it felt when I graduated and landed my first job. I was going to change the world, and so are the current batch of newbies!

I'm particularly excited about this school year because I see SO MANY examples of teachers using what they learned at ETSI and really being change agents in their schools! From teachers being ambassadors for Genius Hour and BYOD  and Mystery Skype to the first-ever Cardboard Challenge and a HUGE number of new folks on Twitter in our district, ETSI is working exactly the way we had hoped. Give teachers the information and resources they need, then get the heck out of their way. The thing I love most about ETSI is that the teachers who attended now completely OWN it. Three words: A. May. Zing.

The purpose of ETSI was to "develop Ed Tech leadership capacity" at each school. We expected change, but honestly I was thinking it would take a little longer. I am so ecstatic about the changes I'm seeing in schools and in attitudes already, and school doesn't start till Monday! It's super gratifying that our department has been referred to as the spark that is helping to ignite new ed tech enthusiasm in our district.

Each person in our department will be adopting one of our schools and will be working with the ETSI participants on each campus to move teachers forward on their individual ed tech journeys. We've been so busy we haven't had a minute to sit down and flesh out who is getting which school yet, but all five of us are itching to know which will be "our" schools. I expect that our roles will develop into that of ed tech coach, something I've wanted to do for years but really haven't had the avenue to achieve before now.

So today I'm off in a minute to (hopefully) continue to be a spark. I'll be facilitating some learning about Twitter and blogging at an elementary school where the new principal's expectation is that everyone will be on Twitter and everyone will have a blog. Both of those mediums allow for so much transparency about what is going on at the school and in the classrooms, and I hope I do a good job of conveying the benefits of each of those amazing resources. I'll have my ETSI buddies at the school to help!

Isn't it a great time to be an educator?

Fondly,
Nancy



Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Meet My Colleagues

Dear Teachers,

We are now halfway through the second of our "big" summer training events. We named this one "Google Summer Camp," and we have showcased some of the most [insert superlative here] of the many [insert additional superlative here] Google products. I personally don't own enough adjectives to tell you how great I think all of the Google Apps for Education (GAFE) products are! Google Drive & Docs, Google Forms & Sheets, and Chrometastic are among the classes we've been offering, and we have two of these one-day workshops to go. The enrollment for the last two days looks to be down, so we may be modifying the schedule a bit, but we are nothing if not flexible.

As I continue to reflect on this week's participants as well as those from last week's Ed Tech Summer Institute (now renamed Ed Tech Success Initiative), I am reminded of the enormous talent we have in our district. A teacher we were eating lunch with today was talking about her kids and the Cardboard Challenge they participated in last year. She noted that the students far surpassed all the teachers' expectations at that event. My cohorts in Instructional Technology and I feel the same about our ETSI and our Google Summer Camp participants. The teachers in our district continue to amaze and inspire us!

At ETSI and at Google Summer Camp, we had a whiteboard where teachers could jot down their blog addresses, and I decided I'd like to share those blogs with you. You might consider checking out the blogs of a music teacher, a principal, a 4th grade teacher, my favorite coworker, a STEM specialist, an art teacher, and another principal. Each voice is unique, and each has a slightly different focus. I noted that many of our first blog posts included descriptions of procrastinating starting a blog and fear of putting oneself out in a public forum - so those must be fairly universal reactions to the whole blogging process.

In addition to the blogger sites mentioned above, you might also want to check out some other blogs that don't end in .blogspot.com. To wit:  Conway ELA, Kindergarten Super Kids, Evans Art HouseMatt B. Gomez, and Plano Science Tutor.

I hope you'll check out the thoughts of my colleagues, because they are all worth reading. Do you have a local education blog you like? Send it to me in the comments box below - especially if I inadvertently omitted YOURS!

Fondly,
Nancy

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Why I Love My Job, Part II


Dear Teachers,

I just had three of the best days of my professional life! Here's a little recap of our first-ever ETSI.

We started on Monday morning asking you about what you were hoping to get out of ETSI, using an Answer Garden, and then we asked you to talk to someone at your table about what "technology integration" does and doesn't mean. Your first task was to examine one of four different models of technology integration, and then contribute information about your model to a Google presentation. I was expecting that you would take our plain, boring template and add a few bullet points in plain, boring text. What was I thinking? You far surpassed anything I could have come up with and blew that presentation out of the water! Although we had feared you might be a little disappointed to start with the theory instead of something a bit more "fun," you were great sports, and many of you said it really validated things you had already been thinking; we could tell that you were making some great connections. You really got into that Kahoot game, and we learned that teachers can be a competitive bunch!

After lunch on Monday, we heard from some of our wonderful principals about their vision for technology usage and educational technology leadership on their campuses. Matt Arend, Stacy Kimbriel, Sonja Pegram, and Bill McLaughlin had some great thoughts about where our district needs to be heading. We also got to hear from Matt Gomez, a consummate ed tech leader who I'm proud to call a colleague.

We gave you a little time to preview some of the 100+ apps & websites we suggested on our website because we knew it would be more than a little overwhelming to just toss you into that sea of tools on Tuesday. You needed a little time to digest what was there. After a quick wrap-up and an exit ticket activity, we sent you on your way.

Tuesday was a completely different type of day. You started the day choosing from a menu of nine classes, from Google Drive and Twitter to Flipping Your Classroom and Augmented Reality. I loved the classes that I got to teach, and I know that my co-workers felt the same way about theirs. After lunch, you dived right in to our Taste of Technology with the goal of creating something to enhance a lesson in your curriculum. We tried to keep the focus on the LEARNING and not on any one tech tool. You guys came up with some wonderful products!


Just when we thought you couldn't get any better, you BLEW US AWAY in our mini EdCamp this morning! You took over and facilitated the learning for your peers, and you made it look so easy. Sessions on Instagram, QR codes, Nearpod, and more seemed like they had taken hours to prepare even though we knew you were presenting mostly on the fly. AND we had EdCamp cake!

Throughout the three days, we watched as you developed new friendships and met new collaborators for your PLNs. Many of you were figuring out Twitter for the first time (and we are so proud of you for those first tweets!) There were times when you were thinking about something and we could practically see that light bulb come on - a home run moment in the life of any teacher.

Conservatively half of  you came in this morning saying, "I couldn't sleep last night because I was so excited about what we're doing!" or "I kept having more ideas for how I could use these tools" or "How am I going to get my principal's buy-in on this great idea I want to try?" One of you brought us flowers. FLOWERS! And another of you said as you were leaving today, "I've never been to a Professional Development session before where people CRY when it's over!" But some people (including us) did! And many, many more of you said all manner of kind things about ETSI.

This event brought together so many elements that contribute to our job satisfaction. We loved picking out all the tools, deciding the best flow for the event, using as many different delivery methods as we could come up with, and applying principles of adult learning as we put everything together. The fact that everything worked so well, and that everyone seemed to like it so much, was extremely gratifying, I loved so MANY things about my job this week.

But when I think about what makes me love my job the MOST, it's not teaching the classes or designing the website or editing the brochures or coming up with a great schedule or helping people embrace Twitter. What makes me love my job the most is YOU, dear teachers. It's you. Of course it's you.

Fondly,
Nancy

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why I Love My Job, Part I

Dear Teachers,
We are 2/3 of the way through our first-ever ETSI (Ed Tech Summer Institute), and I have to say, it's gone even better than I had hoped! Today was one of the best days I've had in my job; there are many reasons, but I'm just going to focus on a couple in this post.

I taught three classes this morning, each of them something I was very interested in teaching, and the participants were able to select the classes that were of interest to them. The first class was about Virtual Field Trips and MysterySkype, and I have to say it was AWESOME (and I don't use that word lightly).

Twitter is amazing, guys. A couple of weeks ago, I tweeted this:


I was hoping to find a lone teacher in a room somewhere. A teacher I've never met, Cheryl McCrorey (@mcrorey_2nd), tweeted me and said she'd love to Skype with us. And it just so happened that she was teaching a class of teachers at exactly the same time I had MY class of teachers (seriously, what are the odds of that?!) A veteran MysterySkyper, Cheryl talked me through the whole process ahead of time and gave me some great pointers. So today I was able to connect teachers in my classroom in Texas  with teachers in HER classroom in North Carolina. I don't care who you are, that's cool. Not to mention an incredible anecdote for those teachers who are still wary of Twitter or wonder what it has to offer an educator. To say that the teachers on my end were excited about it is, IMHO, a gross understatement. It was so much fun!

I also taught a class on Augmented Reality (IMPOSSIBLE not to be amazed by this technology!) and one on Makerspaces, complete with a cardboard challenge: 


All of these classes today were a BLAST to facilitate. I was interested in the subject matter, and all of the attendees were dream students because they were interested in the subjects, too! 

I can't speak for everyone, but for me? Today I loved my job! More about that in the next blog post.

Fondly,
Nancy




Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Crunch Time

Dear Teachers,

My colleagues and I have been super busy the last several weeks planning what we hope will be some excellent PD days. We are calling it ETSI - Ed Tech Summer Institute - and since it starts on Monday, we are in Freak Out Mode right now. Especially since tomorrow we will be out of the office for the second day this week attending some PD of our own. Thanks to one coworker in particular, we just might pull this off. For a number of reasons, we haven't been able to host an event like this previously, so of course we are all a bit nervous about how things will go.

ETSI is an institute for teachers who are on the tech-savvy side, have been recommended by their principals, and who completed an online application to attend. During the three days, participants will explore models of technology integration, attend classes addressing various trends in ed tech, reflect on principals' visions for tech integration, and participate in a mini EdCamp. There will be lots and lots and LOTS of collaborative activities and use of tech tools. The tools themselves won't be the focus, though; the learning is what we'll be emphasizing. Hmmm... kind of like what we hope these teachers will do back at their schools!

Our purpose in hosting ETSI is to build educational technology leadership capacity at every campus. One of the sessions I went to today at the North Texas Visioning Consortium's conference was titled "Building Capacity through a Different Kind of Coach," and I got some ideas for how we can follow up with our ETSI participants over the course of the next year. One could say that my attendance at that session today contributed to building my own capacity as a district leader.

So, our ETSI website is done, the posters are printed, the brochures just need one final proofreading before we print them on Thursday, and the QR code confetti is ready to be sprinkled. Time is marching inexorably on toward Monday, when we will open the doors to our attendees. I'm hoping that in a little over a week, I will be able to report that a good time was had by all. More importantly, I hope we'll all be able to say that 90 teachers left at the end of the three days armed with new teaching techniques and many of the skills necessary to become even more effective tech leaders on their campuses.

Gotta go. I just remembered one more thing I need to do before Monday...

Fondly,
Nancy

Sunday, July 20, 2014

To Blog or Not to Blog - is that the right question?

Dear Teachers,
I had started a blog a little over a year ago and wrote a few posts, but I never really got it off the ground; I just couldn't seem to find a consistent theme. I've been wanting to get back to it for months, but I've been all hung up on two things. First, a name. What should I call my blog? What eye-catching and/or memorable name could I come up with that would make readers say, "Hey, that’s catchy. I sure want to read that one. Bookmarking it right now!" More importantly, what’s my angle? What topics do I want to cover? What should my focus be? So I just kept sitting on it, knowing that I wanted to write SOMETHING, but letting procrastination win out. I tapped my toe. Thought about it some more. Whistled a happy tune. Didn't want to go rushing into an idea for a blog when I knew I had serious Blog Commitment Issues. But here's the deal. I've been asked to do a back-to-school professional learning session for teachers on blogging, and it seemed like I'd certainly be one big fat hypocrite if I didn't have something of my own making to show as an example;  I imagined the conversation going something like this:
Me: Blogging is easy and fun! 
Teachers: Do you blog? 
Me: Ummm... [crickets]
If I was too phobic and procrastinating and excuse-generating myself to actually do it, how was I supposed to convince others of its value? And what do I really believe about the value of blogging anyway? Certainly there are enough egoists and egotists in the world to go around ten times over; who really cares that much about someone else's opinion anyway?

It was when I finally sat down to write - a huge step from just thinking about sitting down to write - that I was reminded of what I have learned many times before. It is in the simple act of writing that we come to know what we really think about something. We revise and edit and stumble and type the wrong thing and backspace and cut/paste until we find our truth. I didn't know what I was going to write when I first sat down to give this blog thing another try, but it was in the act of writing itself that I came to the idea of blogging as though I was writing letters to friends.

Writing a blog is a lot like “dear diary," or writing letters, and I've gotten a kick out of letter-writing for as long as I can remember. It started way back in the early 70's when I was passing notes back and forth in junior high. I often wrote several letters a day when I was in college to my dear friend Charles, when long-distance was an issue and staying in touch with people via paper mail was a big thing. I enjoyed jotting letters to my kids when they were at camp. And most recently, I am absolutely loving being pen pals with my wonderful (and nearly perfect - but that's another blog post) 8 year old granddaughter. My letters have always been conversational, folksy, and (I like to think, anyway) fun to read. They’re the kind of letters I would like to receive.

So I took Nike's advice and just did it; I decided to stop waiting for the perfect blog title or inspired topic or whatever other elusive thing I think I need to get started. That’s what I’ll be encouraging teachers to do next month. Because I know that once I get past the initial roadblocks that I’ve set up in my own mind and just get down to writing, I’ll enjoy it. Because in a way, I've always done it.
When I actually started to write something a little while ago, it just came to me. I found my truth: I enjoy writing letters to people I like. So here's my first post on the new blog, just a letter to friends, some of whom might be teachers, some of whom just indulge me and read just because they're kind friends. I don't think blogging has to be earth-shattering or life-changing and it certainly doesn't have to be perfect. So jump in, start writing, and find the kind of voice that makes sense for you. My style on this go-round looks like it's going to be letter-writing. Having a wonderful time; wish you were here.

Fondly,

Nancy