Out With the Old, In With the New

New computers await set-up

New computers await set-up

Adios, XP

image courtesy of directron.com

image courtesy of directron.com

The past few weeks have certainly brought a lot of excitement and change around my school as it relates to instructional technology. Within the span of just a few short weeks, every computer and printer in the building will be replaced by brand-new hardware. Windows XP has given way (just in time – Microsoft support ceases in April) to the Windows 7 operating system. Gone are the days of cursing the 32-bit operating system for its failure to manage multiple tasks without crashing. No more light-gray start button. No more Internet Explorer 8. No more ____________ (fill in the blank with YOUR least favorite thing about Windows XP). All is grand. The sun dawns on a new horizon. I can hear the angels singing their grand anthem to usher us into this new era of problem-free computing.

Wait a minute…..WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?????

It would be folly to believe that all technology-related problems could simply be wiped away by new hardware and a new operating system. We will still face challenges with whatever hardware our students use. There will still be glitches, missing software, and the uncomfortable feeling that things aren’t exactly how they used to be. Will we let those problems overwhelm us or will we roll with the punches? I know that our students will figure it out, and I hope that we won’t be far behind!

 

Short-Term Frustrations

image from flickr.com - by Sybren Stuvel

image from flickr.com – by Sybren Stuvel

Change inherently causes a certain amount of disequilibrium for those who are used to routine. Missing programs, different desktop icons, and new locations for cable inputs can run the gamut from being a slight annoyance to totally derailing a teacher’s lesson or a teacher’s entire day. Why do we let technology frustrate us so? I hope that our teachers are able to rely on the support of their colleagues and the tech team to overcome those initial obstacles that stand in the way of their successful integration of their new technology. It might require a few days, or even weeks, of discomfort and exploration before we can feel like we have mastered the basics of Windows 7, new printers, and new projectors (coming soon).

Once we’ve moved past this initial adjustment period, what will we do with this new technology? Will we seek out new features and new uses for our students, or will we be overwhelmed by all the different-ness and revert to less student-centered and more teacher-centered instructional strategies? I hope not. I hope that we will start asking questions like “How can these new tools enable our students to do things more effectively and efficiently?” and “How can we leverage these new tools to enhance student engagement, teacher collaboration, and effective technology integraion?” Only time will tell, but I know I’ll be giving 110% to lead by example as we move forward with all of our new “stuff”. I’ve started by creating a presentation to show our teachers some of the new features in Windows 7.

So, What’s New? And How Can I Use It?

new stuff

One of the exciting new features of our student and teacher laptops is an integrated forward-facing camera. I am personally excited to teach lessons in classes using Movenote, a great web-tool (and app) that lets students upload images, PowerPoints, and PDFs and record themselves as they present. This is a great way for students to create a video and to present “to the class” (and beyond!) without having the nerves that come with standing up in front of their peers. Be sure to check out the Movenote tutorial page I created on our Harbins Technology Central website to learn more about how you can use Movenote in your class!

I am quite certain that there are more great features for our new hardware that we will discover as we begin to dig in and explore the differences.  Our students will no doubt figure out much more that we could ever imagine and “suggest” some new uses for us. I’m looking forward to all of the possibilities as we begin another chapter in our tech integration journey. How have you successfully integrated new hardware into your school and your lesson plans? What has worked to help you overcome the “new stuff” barriers inherent in this process?

Sharing Our Journey

Mrs. Smith visits with some 1st graders from Mrs. Wiley's class

Mrs. Smith visits with some 1st graders from Mrs. Wiley’s class

BYOD Visitation Day – February 7th, 2014

Putting your school and your work on display isn’t always easy. When teachers, administrators, and district leaders give up their time with students to be at another school, they want it to be worth their time and effort. They should leave not just knowing more than they did when they came, but also having an action plan to implement change in their own building. No journey can be replicated by others without a map. In much the same way, documenting and sharing a school’s journey can help other schools determine their own path. They may not follow the exact same path as we did, but at least they will have a handy reference guide if they have trouble navigating or if they become lost on their way toward successful technology integration.

It was with these important factors in mind that we hosted staff from several other GCPS elementary and middle schools on February 7th. The experience of preparing for the day, putting ourselves in our participants’ shoes, and reflecting on our own technology integration journey was both invigorating and humbling; it is amazing to look at the quality and depth of our student work and how much we have accomplished in the past few years. At the same time, we also realize that we are at a particular place on our path – we have not yet “arrived.” If we ever begin to think that we have, I hope to find another place to work. Educators must always be willing to reflect and ask “What can I do better next time?” Losing that critical reflective attitude would be the death knell for the growth, innovation, and continuous improvement that we pride ourselves on.

Ensuring Equity

Have you ever been to a theater performance? Have you wondered about how much time and effort went into designing the stage, the scenery, lighting, sound, costumes, so that everything was “perfect”? I have, and unfortunately, I’ve also been to visit other school where I wondered the same thing. Our leadership team was intentional about ensuring that our visitation day was not a production, but a meaningful learning event for teachers. We decided to open every classroom in the school to our visitors to reinforce the message that ensuring an equitable education for our students is our most important job. According to research by Dr. William Sanders and the TVAP (Tennessee Value Added Project), it takes two years for a student to recover from having an ineffective teachers. He also states that students who have an ineffective teacher for two years in a row may never recover. It is therefore incumbent upon us as educational leaders to make sure that doesn’t happen in our school buildings. Each student deserves an effective teacher – we don’t want our future student success determined by the luck of the draw or by a couple of ineffective teachers.

We often joke in our building about putting on a “dog & pony show” when people come to visit. We have seen this in other schools and it is natural to assume that’s what people do when they are in the spotlight. But, nothing could have been further from the truth when we welcomed guests into our building. Our teachers did what they do every day, integrating technology effectively and using it as a part of quality teaching and learning. We don’t do “Technology for technology’s sake”, we integrate when it will help students achieve a specific learning outcome. To do anything less would be doing our students a great disservice and perpetuating an educational myth that we are working hard to dispel. Effective technology integration is about quality learning and teaching. I know, we usually put it in the other order, but I feel like we should list the most important thing first. If learning doesn’t happen, the quality (or style, method, enthusiasm, etc.) of the teaching is irrelevant. We are here first and foremost to ensure that our students learn; everything else is secondary.

Here is a Prezi that we used to share our journey in the opening session.

A Culture of Collaboration

One of the most important things that we can emphasize to teachers and leaders that come to our school is our culture of collaboration. We can do that by telling them (which we do some of), or we can let them experience it by giving them time to digest and plan with their own school teams. With that in mind, we had sessions split by job title (Administrator, Teacher, Technology Coordinator/Media Specialist) and by grade-level interest (K-2 and 3-5) where we shared everything from administrative details to lesson plans to student work samples. Here is a Haiku Deck that I used with the K-2 interest group.

http://www.haikudeck.com/p/55wpoeqVfU

We even had time for a brief app smackdown! I shared quick demos of Write About This, Educreations, Skitch, and Explain Everything from my iPad so that teachers could get a glimpse of how we use them in our K-2 classrooms. Here is a link to our BYOD Visitation Day resource page that contains all of the resources I mentioned and more!

byod_visitation_snapshot

 

We are far from a perfect school. We have technology frustrations like blocked websites, limited access to collaborative tools, no student emails, and a learning management system that isn’t ideal for our young students. But, we choose to focus on “What we can” instead of “What we can’t.” In the long run, it is what our students need. They need to have choice and voice in their learning – learning that is authentic, engaging, and meets them where they are. It was a true pleasure for us to share this with other teachers and leaders in our district. I’ll leave you with a Ticket Out the Door, like I always do with my students.

Where are you / your school in your technology integration journey?

What steps are you planning to take to ensure equity for all of your students?

Self-Paced Professional Learning – Part I

Who Dares to Teach, Dares to Learn

Image courtesy of Ana Cristina Pradas / cristinaskybox.blogspot.com

I have always loved professional learning. I realize that the popular term is “staff development”, but to me that sounds like an all-knowing instructor waving the magic wand and dictating how the staff will be developed. As we move (hopefully) into an era of more choice in teacher professional learning, I have been inspired by edcamps, tweetups, and other events where educators themselves are asked what they want to learn and what they want to share. Although job-embedded teacher learning is an essential element of any successful school plan, many teachers still need time on their own to dig deeper or to experiment with something they have learned.

With that in mind, I have decided to create a website dedicated to teachers at my school in order to give them resources that they can use at their own pace, in their own way. I know this has been done before, but my hope is that this site (it already existed, but I didn’t really have a vision of its purpose at the time I created it) will become a place for teachers to use the self-differentiated resources to learn more about specific apps, web tools, questioning strategies, and creative ideas to use in their classrooms. Enjoy Part I of “Favorite Apps & Web Tools” and feel free to explore the rest of the site!

OUR FAVORITE APPS & WEB TOOLS

 

 

How to Avoid Technology Overload

Image courtesy of bizzuka.com/Paul Chaney

Image courtesy of bizzuka.com/Paul Chaney

 
“Another Web Tool? Seriously? I already forgot about the one you shared last week!”
 
“I have no idea what my password was for that site! I don’t even remember my username!”
 
“Let me do a Google search. I’m sure I can find that site I used last year.”
  

Sound familiar? Have you found yourself saying any of these things recently? Teachers at my school certainly have. We are bombarded daily with new web tools, apps, and technology-centered activities for students, yet we rarely hear about structured ways to organize the “digital mess” that all of this information creates in our computers, tablets, and most of all, in our brains.

Stop. Pause. Take a breath. It’s time to step back from the student aspect and take some time to focus on what teachers need to be able to effectively facilitate instruction with digital content. Gone are the days of the 38-mile-long bookmarks list on Internet Explorer and the passwords piled up on sticky notes. We need modern solutions to the problem of storing & classifying our 138 favorite websites (and the passwords that go along with them), the 347 good ideas we had last month, and maybe even where we put our glasses. Has anybody seen my coffee cup?

As I prepare to lead technology staff development at my school, one central question keeps popping up in my mind. How can I possibly expect someone to remember, let alone use, this next great digital tool.  The answer is, quite simply, I can’t. I can’t ask a teacher to put another tool in their digital tool belt without first offering some solutions to the electronic clutter that we are currently wading through. Here are 3 categories of digital tools that I believe are essential for every teacher. You only need to choose one from each category, but make sure that you do choose one from each to truly complete your digital tool belt.

 

Password Storage 

Keeper Security – Web, chrome extension, iOs, Android, Windows mobile (pretty much anything!) –  free trial, $9.99/yr

LastPass – Just like Keeper security, works on pretty much any browser and mobile device – free limited version, paid for full

 

Online Bookmarking/Note-Taking

Evernote – The go-to app for syncing notes and remembering everything you need. Available on all platforms with lots of great chrome extensions (Clearly, Clipper) as well. Great apps like Skitch & Penultimate can sync with it also. Free to upload 60MB per month, premium plans available.

Wunderlist – I haven’t tried this one yet, but many people I know swear by it. Similar to Evernote, it will sync info across all your computers and devices and also has a collaboration feature. Free to sign up with paid plans as well.

Google Keep – The web version of this one is great, but the mobile apps (iOS especially) still leave a bit to be desired. Still, it’s a great way to make to-do lists and manage tasks.

EduClipper – From our friends at EduTecher (@adambellow), this is a completely free, fully-customizable Pinterest-style website for teachers and students, with a recently-released iOS app. I am still in the early stages of exploring, but it looks like a fantastic way to curate content and cut through the clutter to access what you need to help your students.

Diigo – A great bookmarking tool with a free edition for educators. Diigo sports several great extensions and makes it easy to categorize, curate, and retrieve your favorite websites. On my list to try!

Pocket – Another content-curation and bookmarking tool. I will research this further in the near future!

 

Collaboration/Cloud Storage

Google Docs/Drive – The king of collaboration and cloud storage, all in one. ‘Nuff said.

Office 365 – Microsoft’s answer to the rise of Google Drive. Only $99 gets you the full office suite with a stripped-down version to use in the cloud. Many school districts are more comfortable moving to this than to Google Drive, but I have read many mixed reviews.

Dropbox – Cloud storage at its finest. I have been using this since its early inception – it’s a great way to back up files, photos, and share docs in the cloud with others (hint: invite friends to get more FREE storage!)

Box – Another nifty cloud storage tool. 10G of free storage up-front with nice integration from mobile apps. Give it a try!

 

 

Which of these tools are essential to your daily workflow? Are there any great ones that I missed? I am interested in helping teachers at my school improve their productivity and ability to absorb, organize, and store new information and ideas – to modernize their workflow (more on that in this post).

These 3 categories are definitely first on my to-do list. Now, where did I put that sticky note?