Just a Few Thoughts

I’m on Spring Break and have been for two days already. I know this is the time I need to get a new post done. I’ve spent the first two days cleaning and reading twitter, cleaning and listening to EdTechTalk podcast, reading Twitter, following links, bookmarking sites and then oh yeah, doing other domestic tasks. Now I’ll finally take a few moments and write. I can’t decide what to focus on for my post so I’ll just touch briefly on several different topics.

Highlight of the Week

I’m working on a grant with two classroom teachers. Since we have trouble fining time to meet I put the questions we have to answer on a wiki. We were supposed to meet last week but I ended up with a meeting. But they went ahead and met and wrote up what they discussed and placed it on the wiki. This may not seem like much to anyone that reads this but for our school this was a big step forward! I’m proud of them for trying it out.

Diigo

Two weekends ago I spent the weekend filling in report card grades for about 750 students. After I finished each class I rewarded myself with a few minutes on Twitter. Each time I stopped by someone was talking about Diigo. I had signed up earlier in the week but now I was missing some gatherings to learn more. I did well, I kept the report cards as my priority knowing the conversations would be saved and I could go back and view them later. Well, I haven’t done that but maybe someday… Since I’m a newbie I wasn’t in love with delicious. I liked it and joined awhile back after my laptop crashed and I lost all my bookmarks. Then at NYSCATE I learned that it was more than a place to store my bookmarks and started to use it once in awhile to search on specific topics and even joined a few other people’s bookmarks. So, it was easy for me to jump ship and join diigo. I liked the highlighting and sticky note feature. I also liked the groups and discussions although I admit I haven’t really checked that out, my Google Reader is over 600, I admit I’m having trouble keeping up with everything! The best part of diigo for me is that it’s not blocked at school but delicious is. So, when I get to a point that I’m ready to start teaching teachers about social bookmarking at least I’ll be able to show them a site.

WordPresss2.5

I believe it was the same weekend (sometimes things seem to blur together) that there was also a buzz about the WordPress2.5 upgrade. I went to the site and read the 3 easy steps to upgrade. I downloaded it to my computer and then decided, well, it may be easy to someone but it didn’t look easy to a non techie type. So, I put it off. I’ve looked again a couple more times including tonight but still put it off. So imagine my surprise when I finally decided to blog tonight and there is the new version ready to go!

Comments

I’ve read several posts out there this week about commenting. I’ve read it before and I’m glad for the reminders. It’s something I don’t do enough.

NECC

I like the planning page on the NECC site. I have put in some workshops for the first two days. I will be sure to leave time for some unconference events. After reading a tweet from Miguel Guhlin I went back to NECC and signed up to volunteer. I tend to be very quiet when meeting new people. I am going to push myself to be a little more outgoing and try to meet some of the folks from Twitter. I also signed the wiki for Twitter NECC attendees.

Online Classes

I love my job as tech teacher and I’m learning so much from my new PLN but I want to learn more. I would love to investigate taking some online courses towards some type of educational technology degree. I’ve tried a Google search without much success. Anyone out there have any suggestions? I would love to hear them.

NING

Another thought crossing my mind is starting a Ning for elementary tech teachers, the ones that teach in a computer lab. I know there are some great Nings already out there but I haven’t found one just for elementary tech teachers. I found this wiki, by Amber Coggin, recently that is a starting place for sharing lessons. But I think I’d like more. a Ning would be a good place to blog about how specific lessons are going and share advice on the day to day management skills of running a lab. What do you think? If you know any elementary tech teachers ask them to stop by let me know what they think about the idea.

Well, that’s it for now. Comments always welcome.

NECC Advice

flickr photo from Tim Wilson’s photostream

I am so excited that I will be attending NECC this year. This is my first time ever attending a national conference or even a conference more than 90 miles from my house. As a newbie I am looking for advice. I’ve heard people mention that they are giving/attending a poster session, what is a poster session? What sesssions should I attend as an elementary computer teacher? I’m going by myself and won’t know anyone there, what’s a good way to meet people at these conferences? What other advice do you have to make sure this is a great experience?

Teachers and Technology

flicker photo from quatro.sinko's photostreamflickr photo from quatro.sinko’s photostream

As I read through various blogs and tweets I see numerous comments about teachers not using technology and preparing our students with 21st century skills. This includes Will Richardson’s Weblogg-ed where he asks; “Which leads to the second question which is how in god’s name can we talk seriously about 21st Century skills for kids if we’re not talking 21st Century skills for educators first?” Being fresh out of the “regular” elementary classroom and into the computer lab I feel somewhat qualified to enter this discussion at the elementary level.

Time of course is the biggest hurdle. Elementary teachers teach all subject areas and often feel that more and more is being thrown at them every year. So, planning takes up a great amount of their time and in the elementary classrooms there’s very little time to do this during the day. Then add on grading, contacting parents, report cards, progress notes and other various forms of paper work and it does feel like there’s not time for anything else. People that use all the latest tech tools think it’s easy to incorporate these tools into the classroom but if you’re not used to using them they aren’t intuitive and feel like one more add on to an all ready overloaded plate. Vicki Davis addresses the time issue over at her Cool Cat Teacher blog.

Another hurdle is technology ignorance. I will be the first to admit I didn’t know the difference between a blog and a wiki last November, I had a delicious account but didn’t know it could do more that store my bookmarks and I had certainly never heard of an RSS feed or Twitter. But then I had the opportunity to attend NYSCATE and my world changed for the better. If I had not attended that conference, and David Jakes full day workshop in particular, I would still be in the dark. I think it’s pretty safe to say that the majority, if not all, of the elementary teachers at my schools are as ignorant as I was a few months ago. And I am in no way claiming to be any kind of expert now nor is that meant as a put down to our teachers. I try to share some of what I learned and continue to learn by sending out a bimonthly newsletter in which I try to explain some of these tools and give the teachers links to check out. Some teachers are interested in learning more but don’t feel they have the time or aren’t quite ready, I can relate to Ryan Bretag’s post A Letter Asking for Help.

A third obstacle is lack of modeling by administration on the new tools. We do have computers in our classrooms and teachers are expected to check their email several times a day, all memos are delivered through this form. We have electronic report cards and I’m sure electronic grade books will come our way in another year or two. All teachers have been trained to update a web page on the school website. (But since it’s not mandatory many teachers update so infrequently they forget how to do it. I offer a drop in help session each month, so far no takers.) So teachers do have some computer knowledge and the administration encourages us to use the computers but they aren’t out there in front modeling by using blogs, wikis, Google Docs or other tools. I am trying to encourage them and have sent our administrators links to blogs by other administrators. I’ve also invited my building principals to look at Google Doc and add to it, neither has tried it so far. However, the administration is very supportive to me. The fact that our elementary schools have a tech teacher is rare for our area. So far this year they have sent me to NYSCATE, The Symposium-a one day local conference showcasing technology, and they are sending me to NECC. This type of support tells me that they are willing to be open to new ideas and will continue to take babysteps to becoming a district that is preparing our students for the 21st century at the elementary school. I am very grateful for this support.

I agree with Will Richardson that we need to get teachers using these tools first. At my last district tech meeting it was announced that we’ll be writing up a document on minimal competencies for teachers. We have competencies for the students and we want to make sure the classroom teacher has these same competencies. I jumped at the chance to be on this committee. Student competencies are mainly Microsoft based competencies. I hope we’ll have some other competencies for teachers as well and I plan on taking the ISTE’s NETS for Teachers with me to the meeting. Once this plan is in place we’ll decide what type of training is needed to help teachers meet these competencies. I think this is going to be a good starting point to help teachers with technology.

Now that I’m on the other side of the fence I, like so many others, am trying to figure out how to get the teachers to use more technology tools and begin reading blogs. I can honestly say I understand when they say they don’t have time but I have to find a way to convince them they need to make time in their busy schedules. I like Katt’s idea over at the Techno-Rhetoric Cafe. She is hosting a Technology Club for interested teachers. This year I’ve tried drop-in after school sessions on a variety of topics, I think 3 participants is the most I’ve had per session so far. So maybe I’ll try the club idea next year. I know I’ll never get everyone on board but I would love to have a core group of teachers working together to try new tools to help the students. Hmmm one more idea to add to my growing summer to do list. Another way I’m trying to help the teachers is by setting up a wiki with teacher resources and student links. It is a work in progress. I’m also using it as a place to show what we’re doing in the lab. Another area of strength for us is our local Model Schools organization. They offer training on a variety of topics including such things as wikis. I need to find ways to stay updated on their latest offerings and get the information out to our teachers and encourage them to attend and continue to attend workshops myself.

I love my new job and the challenges that it brings. I look forward to learning more ways to integrate technology and continue to support and help the classroom teachers as well.

Meme: Passion Quilt

I’ve been reading and enjoying many responses to the Meme Passion Quilt, started by Miguel Gulhin, this week. I never expected to be tagged but I was! I feel honored and I thank Liz B Davis for the tag. I’ve been a kindergarten, first or second grade teacher for over 20 years and one thing I have been passionate about all these years is getting children to love reading. I strongly believe that teachers need to foster this love by; reading great books to children, teaching them to read with interesting books, filling the classroom with quality literature, giving children time to read, and encouraging them read at home. If we can get our children passionate about reading in the primary grades and then continue to fan that passion we’ll have life long readers and learners. Now that I’ve moved to the computer lab I try to connect what we’re doing to books as much as possible.

Finding a photo was much harder than I expected. After spending hours browsing flickr and not finding what I wanted I turned to an old photo of my children. They are now 15 and 19 and both enjoy reading. By using my own photo I had fun playing around with flauntR.

Here are the rules:

  1. Think about what you are passionate about teaching your students.
  2. Post a picture from a source like FlickrCC or Flickr Creative Commons or make/take your own that captures what YOU are most passionate about for kids to learn about…and give your picture a short title.
  3. Title your blog post “Meme: Passion Quilt” and link back to this blog entry.
  4. Include links to 5 folks in your professional learning network or whom you follow on Twitter/Pownce.

I now tag the following 5 people: Murch, Frank, Frieda, John, and Keamac.

Open PD

Here’s where I sit while attending Open PDI read about Open PD on Daren Draper’s blog. He was inviting anyone to join his class, learning about web2.0 tools, in Utah, for free. I missed the first week but went ahead and joined in the second week. For someone new to online learning it was quite an experience. I stayed for the whole class and went back the next three weeks. At our house on Wednesday nights dinner is served and dishes are done by 6:30 so I can sit down and join the class. I’m thankful my daughter is in high school and has homework to keep her busy. One of my goals for this year was to learn to be a better multitasker. Taking this course is a big help! At times I’m watching the video on UStream and of course listening to the audio, as well as reading the posts in the chat room, on one half of my screen while working on perhaps a Google document with other class participants on the other half of my screen. Oh, and of course some online students are participating via Skype. Robin Ellis, the co-teacher participates in the discussions and monitors the chat room for questions and makes sure they get answered either by someone in the chat room or by Daren in class. I was familiar with the tools Daren talked about but I learned new tips and tricks at each class. I also learned that accidentally opening Ustream in two windows causes echoes and that makes it very difficult to follow the conversation. I also learned that problems with technology can plague anyone no matter how well prepared they are but if everyone is patient things will turn out fine in the end. One night Darren put all the participants in groups and asked them to Skype in and work on a Google presentation together. Some online participants left and others were joining and some of us didn’t have Skype. I felt very guilty not being prepared for class. I was tempted to leave but decided to stick it out. (I had singed up for Skype the week before in class but it caused problems with Firefox so I had deleted it not knowing we’d need it again. I have since reloaded it and it seems to be working fine.) Our group got a late start and ended up not using Skype but we still got the job done. Later that night we had some trolls visit the chat room and they wouldn’t go away so Darren, like all good teachers, had a backup plan and moved us to another chat room but lo and behold there were more trouble makers there. But everyone was patient and finally the trouble maker left and we were able to finish the class. By last night Darren had another solution and things went smoothly. I’ll admit I tend to be a lurker in class, I’m comfortable absorbing everything that’s going on without having to participate in the chat room. However, when I did have a problem and posed a question Robin or someone else was always quick to help me out. Another one of my goals is to use Skype this year. Darren has another class starting in two weeks that will go into more detail about blogs and wikis. Maybe by the time it’s done I’ll get brave and try Skype. For a person that hates talking on the telephone the thought of talking into a microphone online is even more intimidating. We don’t have Skype at school but if we did I’d expect my students to do it so I guess it’s time for me to do something I might expect of them. One of Darren’s parting comments about blogs was to be sure to add pictures. So, I’m trying that out. The picture at the start of this post is where I sit while attending Open PD. Thanks Darren and Robin for providing the class. I appreciate all your hard work that goes into making it successful.

Google Earth

Ok, so the first web2.0 tool I’m going to have the students use is Voicethreads. The first web2.0 tool that I used for my students was Google Earth. Our second graders are learning about biographies and I know as first graders they celebrated Dr. Seuss’ birthday last March ,so they have some background knowledge about him. So, I put together a biography of Dr. Seuss on Google Earth. The students watched the show and took notes on a graphic organizer. (Note: Next year watch the show first, then go back and watch it a second time and take notes.) Now, we’re going over our notes together, discussing good introductory sentences and beginning to write a biography about Dr. Seuss as a partner activity. For right now we’re just typing in Word. The next step will be for each child to do an illustration in Kidspiration2 or Paint. Then finally, we’ll “publish” our story in Mixbook by copying and pasting our text and inserting our illustrations and photographs from the web. Hopefully, we’ll have this done in March and we can invite the first graders in to hear our stories. Only seeing the students once every 6 days for 40 minutes means it takes a long time to complete a project! Any suggestions on other tools I should use or any other suggestions are always welcome!

To view the Google Earth presentation click on View Larger Map and then click on View in Google Earth or it can be viewed from Google Maps as well.

View Larger Map

First Web2.0 Tool

I will admit that at the moment I am addicted to the internet and all the new resources I have found in the last four months. I spend every evening possible online reading blogs, Twitters, listening to EdTalk, checking out NINGS etc. A general piece of advice I’m hearing on Twitter and Blogs for newbies is that we should pick one web2.0 tool and get good at it instead of trying everything and getting overwhelmed. That sounds like good advice. After all this reading I’ve decided to start with VoiceThreads. I’ve selected this tool for several reasons. First of all, I’ve played around with it and it’s easy to use. Only having my class for a total of 40 minutes-easy is important.  Another reason for selecting this tool is that I can see applications in every subject area and every grade K-5.  When I combine these two reasons I think it will be a tool I can get some classroom teachers to adapt. Being free and not blocked by our server are two more good reasons for trying out Voicethreads.

 I’m beginning with the 5th grades in a few weeks. They are doing state reports in their classroom. I plan on setting up a page for each state studied. Then I’ll have all the students that learned about a particular state comment on what they’ve learned on that page. Next I’ll invite others to listen to what we have to say then if possible find their state and share some new information. If you have any suggestions please feel free to share. I hope by starting with fifth grade they’ll catch on to the whole process easily. Then when I do it with the younger students I can have a few of the older kids come and supervise the recording with the younger kids. Both age levels would benefit from the experience.  Please feel free to share which Web2.0 tool I should try out next.