Wednesday, November 17, 2010

To Block, or Not to Block...

It's been a while, but I'm back to blogging again! Many things have changed since my last post. Most notably - my job. When opportunity knocked on my door I answered, and it has worked out better than I could have imagined. I am now working as a technology integrator for our high school and a technology teacher for middle school computer classes. I love what I am doing, and I am working in my home town. I couldn't be happier!

In addition to the craziness that comes with learning two new jobs at once, there has been another reason that I have not added any posts to this blog - it was blocked in my new district! Most of my colleagues and students did not have access to what I was writing and sharing. I say "was" because I think we may have turned a corner yesterday. I am VERY excited at the prospect of using social media and Web 2.0 tools in our high school.

This has been a hot topic for debate. In fact, we had them unblocked for a while before blocking them once again this past summer. Everyone is confused about what to do - from the Superintendent, principals and the technology staff, on down to the teachers and students in the classrooms. While there are many reasons to block or "protect" our students from spending time on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and blogs in schools, I believe wholeheartedly that there are many more reasons not to.

I could write about these reasons myself, but there are great videos, articles and papers out there that do a better job in conveying this message than I would. Here are some examples:

Mr. Administrator, Tear Down This Firewall!
Great discussion highlighting important points

85+ Resources: Educator Guide for Integrating Social Media
This blog post has some great information and links on the topic

EdBuzz Blog Post - "Should Schools Block Social Networking Sites?"

"Why Banning Social Media is Not the Answer" - this video addresses the issue of bullying

In order to follow through, it is necessary to combine the unblocking of social media sites with lessons on safety and good citizenship. Here are some resources and ideas that I hope to integrate into our curriculum:
CyberSmart Curriculum including lesson plans for all grade levels

My Footprint
In a digital world, the question is not whether you will leave a mark.
The question is, "What kind of mark are you leaving?"

NetSmartz Workshop

CAT2-Come Alive with Technology: High School Internet Safety Resources

If you have any thoughts or additional resources, please feel free to comment below. I would love to hear from you!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Migrating to Google Apps for Education

We've made the decision - now it's time to move... Our district has been contemplating the switch to Gmail for some time, but a recent scare with our current email server has convinced our Tech Services department to take the leap. We are now in the beginning phases of deployment. What this really means is that, as one of the tech leaders, it is time for me to do some serious research and planning. While many of our teachers and staff will be excited and dive right into the new system, we all know the other side of the story. There will be a large number of people who won't accept this adjustment lightly, and it will be my job to help them through. Fortunately, that is one of the things I love about my job. While scouring the web and "playing" with our test site, I have found some interesting sites that will help us through.

This seems to be an excellent starting point:

FAQs are always helpful:

Google Apps Education Community, a site to share, connect & learn

Kathy Schrock's Blog - Ideas for the effective use of Google Apps (includes student email permission slip)

If you have any helpful hints, ideas or questions feel free to comment!

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Perfect Storm of Literature - A Book Review of Sorts

I have a really bad habit of trying to read too many books at one time. I have a serious passion for reading, but often leave a book unfinished only to start the new one staring at me from my nightstand just waiting to be enjoyed. The lure of the next book is overpowering! In general, I can juggle two books at a time if one is a non-fiction professional or self-help type of book and the other is fiction novel. Right now I'm in a really bad spot, though. I started reading Stephen King's latest bestseller, Under the Dome, on my Kindle. So far it's a great book, but I've been reading for a long time and am only halfway through. At the same time, I picked up 21st Century Skills by Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadeland, and I've been reading that when I'm more in the mood for non-fiction. This is where it's gotten interesting. Since then I downloaded Born Digital, by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser on my Kindle and purchased Drive, by Daniel H. Pink on the latest trip to my favorite bookstore. Depending on where I am in my house, car or waiting room, you can find me reading any one of these four titles.

While it might sound confusing to keep all of the information straight while reading so many books at one time, it has actually evolved into the "perfect storm" of literature. The one that I'm most intrigued with at the moment is Drive - The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. The book describes human motivation and the different factors that make people do what they do. Motivation 1.0 is biological. We do what we need to do to survive. Motivation 2.0 is the "carrot and stick" philosophy. We do things based upon rewards and punishments. The most interesting and newer idea on this topic is Motivation 3.0. There is a drive in all of us to learn and create new things, achieve mastery and make the world a better place. The teacher in me is longing to find a way to bring Motivation 3.0 into our classroom and schools.

This leads to the next book that I am reading, Born Digital - Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives. The focus of this book is on digital natives and in it the authors "document the myriad ways downloading, text-messaging, Massively Multiplayer Online Games–playing, YouTube-watching youth are transforming society". There is so much talk today of how our students have to "power down" when they come to school. We need to tap into what motivates them at home to reach Motivation 3.0 and technology seems to be the obvious answer. These kids are in the "flow" doing things on their own, but bored and disengaged in school. My two teenage boys use their computers to create videos, music, and computer programs, while networking on Facebook and learning about Renaissance Italy in the latest installment of Assassin's Creed. They impress me more and more every day, and none of these skills were learned at school.

Completing this perfect storm is 21st Century Skills - Learning for Life in Our Times. This book discusses how we need to prepare our students to meet the challenges of our century. We need to do this by changing our schools so that students can apply knowledge to understanding and solving real-world problems using, among other things, digital literacy skills.

The answer is forming in the swirling tornado of information that I am gathering by reading all of these books at once. In order for our students to meet the demands of the 21st Century, we need to tap into the things that bring them into the flow (Motivation 3.0). The best way to do this is to meet them where they are in terms of technology. Allow them to solve problems through social collaboration, using the tools and creative processes that they love. This is why I became a technology leader, and reading these books together is solidifying the things I've been thinking about for a long time.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Are Interactive White Boards What They're Chalked Up To Be?

It’s been an interesting start to 2010 as far as my opinion of interactive whiteboards is concerned. I was lucky enough to begin my teaching career in a brand new school with IWBs in every classroom and I was off and running. I planned all of my lessons using it in one way or another and I couldn’t imagine teaching with out it. Since that first job, I have been a strong proponent of raising whatever money (and it’s a lot!) necessary to get one for every teacher. In my current position as an elementary tech leader, one of my many hats is that of Promethean trainer giving large and small workshops, helping teachers who are new to their board or who have just had one installed. I am very enthusiastic and love to show off what you can do given this amazing piece of technology.

The new year has begun and I have been involved in some meetings and discussions that are changing my beliefs. While there is still no doubt that IWBs have a place in the classroom, I am beginning to see how they, along with many other exciting technologies, are just tools. It is still the hands and minds who are using these tools that are the key to successful integration. Good teaching practices are the key to educating our students, not the tools that are used.

Now, when I'm asked "do we need to spend that much money for interactive white boards?" I waver... Yes, me - the one who would have shouted "YES!" just 1 or 2 short months ago. I guess there are two main reasons why I'm backing down.

One of them has to do with the benefits of having one board at the front of the room that someONE is using. While it brings many new engaging experiences into the classroom, the students aren't really learning some of our most important 21st century skills such as communication and collaboration. I believe that these boards are a step along the path towards 1:1 computing. The real answer is to get some interactive, connected device into the hands of every child. We are currently working on a large grant and have priced out a complete "21st Century Classroom" using Promethean equipment. This would include IWB mounted with short throw projector, speakers, a portable slate and set of student response devices. The cost is roughly $7,000 per room. Think of how many iPod touches, netbooks or even Apple tablets we could get instead!

This leads me to the next reason that I have lost a little enthusiasm for the gorgeous piece technology heaven that I used to get so excited about. There are some really great alternatives now that deliver all of the benefits at a fraction of the cost. There are creative people out there who have rigged Wii remotes and pens into configurations that can make any surface interactive. We have a teacher in our district who even found a way to turn his MacBook upside down and use it as a document camera. I've heard that there's also a new projector that includes the same technology as the Wii remote so you can install just the projector and get the pen and you are up an running. This past week we had a representative from AverMedia give us a demo of their new document cameras and AverPens. Together with their software you have a nice IWB alternative. This set up actually replaces the IWB, the slate or Airliner device and the student response devices for half the price of one IWB. It was pretty incredible! The best part about this option is that you are bringing the interactivity into the hands of all of the students at their seats. Check it out:

It's all very exciting and I am having a great time keeping my mind open. As always, the hardest part is making change happen once people are set in their ways. But it's my job to try!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Diigo May Help Lead Our District Into the 21st Century

This week was spent digesting an amazing workshop on 21st Century Skills with all of the administrators in our district. The participants included everyone from the Superintendent, principals, and curriculum leaders, on down to department heads and technology leaders. The focus was on how kids learn today and how we need to begin to make change happen now. The presenter became my new hero. Everything he said validated my feelings and personal goals for education today. In the days that followed there has been much discussion on where we are headed in terms of 21st Century skills, technology purchases and long-term goals. Do we purchase more interactive white boards, or are there cheaper alternatives that offer the same results? Do we purchase new textbooks or move toward 1:1 computing and online information? Can we really consider 1:1 computing allowing students to use whatever devices they already have access to at home? How much should we block or deny access to our students when what they really need is to learn how to navigate the world they are living in?

I have recently discovered the value of PLNs online and am immersed in the sharing that is going on in the clouds. I could feasibly spend every waking hour following leads to blogs, articles, wikis, videos and lessons displayed for all to see on the internet. Sadly, I now spend most of my free time on Twitter and following everyone else's lead. I have "tweeted" a few things, as I feel it is important to try and contribute as much as I take away, but feeling very inadequate at this point.

Most recently, I have discovered Diigo. I was just discussing better ways to share articles and information with staff and co-workers. Everyone is inundated with emails and the old way of forwarding a link to an interesting article is fast becoming obsolete. I think Diigo may be the answer! I have transferred all of my Delicious bookmarks with their tags and notes over to Diigo and that worked great. I have found a few interesting people to follow and joined a few groups. I can tell that I will soon be addicted. Here is a link to a video that helped me understand the concept.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

This is a Test

I am writing this post from Windows Live Writer. It came pre-installed on my new netbook. Just checking it out…

Computing in the Clouds

I'm finally starting my blog and I'm really excited! I began an interesting experiment and this will be a great way to document my discoveries. I broke down and purchased a netbook over the holidays. I am going to test my hypothesis that students can use just a netbook to learn, create and integrate technology in their daily lives without purchasing any additional software or equipment. Cloud computing for all! I bought a Dell Inspiron Mini at BestBuy and the only thing that I paid extra for was the larger battery. I want this computer to be similar to what a typical student user would buy and use it as is. Stay tuned!