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.


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!


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.


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.