Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Day in the Life of a Technology Integrator...

"Find something you love to do
and you'll never have 
to work a day in your life." 

I've heard that quote many times, but never believed it... until now. I recently turned a half-time position into a full time job helping teachers, students and staff in our large high school of over 2,000 students. We are finally close to finishing extensive renovations, which includes the library. Along with the physical renovation of the room, we have transformed the media center into a "literacy center", encompassing many different resources for staff and students including writing, reading, math and technology. It's very exciting to have a space of my own in there, and to be part of the new environment. 

People often ask "what do you do all day?", and it's a very hard question to answer. Today was such a good day that I feel like I can finally answer by describing a day in the life:

7:00 am - I arrive at school, check my mailbox and go to the library. I still enter each day with a sense of awe at how much-improved our new library is, and how lucky I am to work there. 

I really need coffee, but as I drop my things on my desk I am quickly reminded that the brand new, beautifully prepared student computer lab in the library is opening today for the first time. Students are already arriving before school to log in, print files and check things. They are impressed. I am nervous. I want things to go well and kids to be able to log in without a hitch. I monitor how it goes and breathe a sigh of relief as they happily get to work.

7:30 and I finally sit down (with coffee!) to check my email and calendar before my first meeting. Many new notes, but a quick scan shows that most can wait. I answer a few cries for help regarding the workshops I had organized for the day before, but were cancelled due to an unplanned fire alarm.

My first meeting with a school psychologist and her secretary, where I helped them create a shared calendar and give permissions to all of the right people, feels like a successful start to the day. I am off and running, and they are happy. It feels so good to help!

2nd period is productive. I have some time to research SmartBoard tutorials and handouts from the Internet. I have many teachers getting new SmartBoards installed and each needs help getting started. I update the school technology help page with resources and print some handouts. While I'm working at my desk, I have the opportunity to talk to the kids who are excitedly using the computers near me. I also launch the NetOP Teacher software so I can monitor what they are up to. Everything and everyone is working as planned. 

3rd and 4th period I spend working with teachers during their prep period. Some are excited and some are apprehensive about using their new SmartBoards, but we get down to business playing with them and learning the software. By the time I leave I have a very positive feeling that they might actually use them and call me back when more questions arise. Very rewarding!

5th period is lunch, but first I have to run to the music department to help the band director. He needs some information and a color scan for an upcoming Marching Band trip to the Fiesta Bowl. 

Lunch - finally! I have a chance to take a deep breath and eat with some colleagues. I hang out with a librarian, an English teacher, and the reading specialist. Most of the lunch time is spent discussing the use of iPads and videos for our YouTube channel. I love it!

6th period and I am back to my computer. I check my email - the number of unanswered questions and things I need to respond to is growing fast and overwhelming. Deep breath. Knock some out of the way, before I head upstairs to visit another new computer lab. We just opened this lab to classes and we don't have a person manning it, so I need to check in once in a while and make sure things are running smoothly. I chat with the teacher in there about what the kids are working on. They are using Google Docs to collaborate on a project. I make sure that all of the kids can log in, reset a password for one of them, and move on.

7th period I meet with the Special Ed. department chair about how I can work with all of her teachers and help them with their technology needs. Many of them want to know how to set up for their students and they also want a lot of help learning Google Docs. I form an email to each suggesting we meet when they have a free period. On the way to and from this meeting I meet a few teachers along the way who stop to ask various tech questions. It feels good to be so popular :)

8th period (where DID this day go???) and I am thinking about the fact that I haven't done enough yet to plan for my after school Web Team meeting. I'm hoping I can squeeze a few minutes in to find a good Dreamweaver CS6 tutorial for the kids. I also want to find some web resources to show them. We are creating an online version of our school newspaper and need to get started soon. In between meeting with the librarians about an upcoming Board of Ed meeting where we have been asked to present, helping students on the new library computers, and scheduling meetings for next week, I found some things for my after school club. 

2:30! Web Team meeting and then I'm done for the day. At least at school. When I get home I will update the high school website with the daily bulletin and some other changes, jump on Twitter, read a few blogs, then collapse. 

I LOVE this job!!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Twitter is There When Technology is Scarce

"In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity" ~Albert Einstein

Three weeks into our new school year and I'm finally able to dig in and get to work. "Like new" renovation has been going on at our high school for years and this summer was supposed to be the last phase. Low and behold (things in construction never seem to go as planned), we came back to school to many frustrations: lack of computers in the labs and the new media center, delays on the installation of building-wide Wifi, and delays in ordering iPad and laptop carts for all departments. Everyone in the building is facing hardships, but as the technology integrator for the school, I am feeling particularly discouraged. I have been able to help teachers get up and running with their gradebooks, their websites and SmartBoards. So there's that.

One bit of technology that we do have available to us through all of this is Twitter, so we are on a mission to promote it to the staff and students.

This summer our librarian came up with an exciting idea. The library tweets a question every day on "A Year in the Life of a High School". Responses are collected and he will put it all together into a book. He's been tweeting every day and there has been some response, but we'd love more. Follow us @THStweets and join in the book project!

We are looking at other great ways that teachers and students can use Twitter in high school. Here are some of the ideas and resources I've found in my research:

50 Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom

100 Ways To Use Twitter In Education, By Degree Of Difficulty

5 Tips for Teachers Getting Started on Twitter

NEA - Can Tweeting Help Your Teaching?

Some Educators to Follow on Twitter:

Thursday, April 5, 2012

One Student's View on Cheating, Plagiarism and 21st Century Learning

My thoughts exactly...
A guest post by Kevin, a high school sophomore:

In today's world, cooperation is an extremely important skill that should be taught and developed from a young age. Although students should not be cheating on tests, schools should be allowing more of a collaborative effort on assignments and exams. If a student is blatantly cheating, that should not be tolerated, but enabling students to work together as opposed to isolating their minds will be much more productive when it comes to preparing them for the real world.

Outright cheating is not something that should be tolerated by any means. If it is clear that a student did absolutely no thinking for himself, he should be harshly penalized. Plagiarism is a growing problem in the modern world and it must be stopped at the high school or middle school level before it gets out of hand. Students need to learn that it is everybody's duty to do just as much work as each other, and a violation of that principle should not be tolerated. A student who constantly leeches off the success of others will be far from prepared when it comes to finding a job after high school or college. It is the job of the education system to prepare children for whatever career path they may choose, and it starts with teaching them to take responsibility for the tasks at hand.

Having said that, the examination process in schools today is unrealistic and impractical. The idea of keeping a child enclosed within his own mind for a full class period or more is not teaching the more important skills of cooperation and collaboration. Upon entering the post-education world, the development of these skills will be severely limited. A solution to this problem is to make tests and quizzes a cooperative effort. If a student feels confident that he knows the material, he can fill in the answers alone. However, if the student is struggling to recall a particular detail, there should be nothing stopping him from asking a neighbor to jog his memory, or even pulling out a smart phone or other device to do some research on the topic at hand. Jobs in the real world provide employees with all of these valuable resources and it is just as important that the student learns to utilize them as it is for him to learn and study the material.

Education today is far too focused on the idea of cramming the minds of students with information for them to recall on their own. It is understandable that the students need to work for themselves; if they are not doing so, that should not be tolerated by the school. However allowing students to help each other out and even look up test answers is not going to hurt anybody. In fact, it will only help them to prepare for the future.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Cartful of iPads in the High School Library - We're Ready to Take Them for a Spin!

It's been months in the making, but we're finally ready to place our new iPads into the hands of our students. Back when our library media specialist first suggested that we had the money in our budget for a set of 30 iPads, I was excited… and skeptical. How could that be possible? But upon further inspection, we realized that money from the equipment, subscription, and book budget categories could all be combined to purchase them. We hit the road running!

Our first hurdle was to convince administration that we should be able to combine all of these resources for this purchase. Why iPads in the library? The first, most obvious answer, is that they are amazing e-readers capable of downloading all of the free public domain classic literary works, iBook, Kindle and Nook books, as well as pdf files and magazine subscriptions. Another important use for the iPads is the creation of multimedia projects by our students working in the library. Screencasts, Keynote slideshows, Prezis, videos, music, desktop publishing documents and podcasts can all be created on this one portable device. A third use, though not as exciting - but just as important, is for research. iPads offer instant internet access at the students' fingertips along with dictionary, encyclopedia, and subject content apps ready to launch at any time. 

Permission granted! We placed the order for 30 iPads, 1 MacBook and a Bretford storage cart to store, charge and sync them all. We decided on the 16GB, WiFi-only model. They won't require a lot of internal storage, as we are moving students' and teachers' workflow into the clouds. I envision that students will be using Google Docs, DropBox and iCloud to store their files. They will also be able to email files to another computer if need be. We'll see how this all works as we get using them. The logistics are yet to be discovered.
Excitement mounted as the pallet arrived with boxes upon boxes delivered from Apple - a dream come true! But the reality of unboxing, setting up and preparing them was not all fun and games. Based upon the advice from many blogposts and articles, I came up with a plan for setting them up. (What did we do before the internet?) The final process involved creating a master iPad image by choosing one iPad to set up with all of the apps we want students to have access to. On this image I adjusted the restriction settings, logged in to WiFi and set up all apps that needed settings configured. I also purchased a few apps using the Apple Volume Purchase Program and made sure they were authorized. Once I was sure this was how we wanted to get started, I connected this iPad to the MacBook and synced it. I made sure to check "encrypt backup" so that all passwords were saved in the backup image. Then I proceeded to restore each of the other 29 iPads to the Backup of the master image. 

Wow - what a process! We have learned so much - my head is spinning. I am now ready to see what happens. I am planning a math lesson using the ShowMe app to get started. The students will solve problems recording them within the app and share their solutions when connected to the SmartBoard. The best of these solutions can be saved and uploaded to our Trumbull High School YouTube channel as a tutorial to help others. I hope to find more teachers who want to experiment. I'm thrilled and a little afraid for the first time that we put them into the students' hands, but I feel confident that they will be engaged and excited! 

Here are some of the resources I used along the way:

Setting up a cartful or two of iPads - blog post

Apple's Official iOS 5 Deployment Guide

Ravenscroft Libraries - Middle and Upper School Library iPad Program

Setting up a Library iPad Program

Apple's Volume Purchase Program - Half-price Apps for Schools

Great Blog About Apps in Education

iPad 2 Basics - Learning Tutorials

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Reflecting on our Foundations

The principal of our school started something interesting a few years back, and today I was able to feel the full impact of what he’s been up to.

Reflection Day.

Staff and students are given one day after mid-term exams to reflect on the past semester and look toward the future. Grades are in, exams are over, and we are ready to move on. Teachers are encouraged to use this time in their own way and given the freedom to plan creatively. Some suggestions given were to discuss the midterm, review study skills, gather student feedback, or work out time management issues.  Of course, with any new idea or initiative, there were those that grumbled, and those that doubted. But, there were many who embraced the idea and made the day productive and inspiring.

As the technology integrator in our building I get the opportunity to work with many different teachers on any given day, so today I got to see a wide variety of things happening. Most importantly, I had the opportunity to immerse myself into Reflection Day in our newly created Freshman Foundations classes for the first three periods. 

I am a member of the literacy team and together we spent the summer writing curriculum and planning for this new course. It is a one-quarter mandatory class for all freshman students.  The objective is to lay the foundation for a positive high school learning experience and helps these students prepare for their future. The units include technology skills, study skills, research, and literature circles.

Today we gave the students the opportunity to reflect on what they’ve learned and help us by offering feedback as to how to improve the course. The students responded. And we cringed a little as we awaited the results. It’s hard to hear the truth when you’ve invested so much. While there were some negative responses, and a lot of constructive criticism, much of what they said gave us the opportunity to take a moment and feel our impact.

Here are some of the great things they said:

“Freshman Foundations has helped me stay organized and officially introduced me into high school. It helped me stay on top of my work and maintain my grades.”

“This class taught us study skills, time management and even a way to make applying to colleges easy with the help of an ePortfolio.”

“Google docs helped a lot with organizing essays and online papers for our classes.”

“I tried this strategy (SQ3R) in science for a small quiz and it turned out that I got a 100.”

“The most helpful part was being able to create an e-mail/page for ourselves in order to create a more positive digital footprint.”

 “I learned about the website EasyBib and how it can automatically cite websites and books.”

“Now, I know exactly what I need to do for the next paper I am assigned.”

“We learned how to selectively highlight and write notes that will support a thesis and help write an effective paper.”

“The most helpful part of Foundations was probably learning the levels of reliability for internet websites.”

“I also liked this course because it got me to read Crank and now Glass. This series is my favorite now and I probably would have never read it without this class. 'It broadened my horizons'.”

Today, I am especially thankful for those I work with on this project, those who supervise me, and those who voted to allow this course into our curriculum. The opportunity has been very rewarding.