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Archive for September, 2009

Keys by Bohman via flickrSince the beginning of school I’ve run into a few roadblocks that were really frustrating me. I kept trying to figure out how to solve a couple of issues on my own and really wasn’t getting anywhere. I sent some e-mails and asked a few people for suggestions, but still felt stuck. It seemed like I couldn’t get support and my concerns weren’t being heard. Finally on Friday I ran into a wise colleague who has been in the building longer than I have. I summarized what my issue was and how I felt stuck. She suggested I talk to one person face to face. Fortunately I quickly found him and explained the issues. He knew how to fix it and assured me that by the time I get to school on Monday, the problem would be resolved.

Sometimes we rely too much on using technology to address problems. We send e-mails, post questions to a bulletin board or fill out an on-line form. Sometimes, you just need to talk to one key person. I need to remember to shut off my computer and go find people when I get stuck. I have to ask for help face to face. Finding the right person to ask is the key.

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So you’ve been instructed to “tech up” your assignments and you don’t know where to start? You say you have projects and lessons that you’ve perfected and don’t want to give them up? So what’s a teacher to do? Here are some Web 2.0 tools that can help you renovate your existing plans and update your lessons easily.

A poster project? Try Glogster EDU. Glogster allows you to create multimedia posters, quickly and easily. Glogster EDU is easy to use, fun and creative. It is also designed for use in schools – so no ads and student work is easy to monitor.

A slide show? Try Animoto.   Animoto turns your video and photos into a great video set to music. In their words: “Free, fast and shockingly easy.”

A time line? Try TimeToast or Dipity. Both of these timeline builders are easy to use and visually attractive.

A screen capture or demonstration? Try Jing.  I use Jing all the time to take quick screen captures of my work and of class notes. They are easy to save as different types of image files and easy to use. Jing also has a video capability that will allow you to narrate a tutorial of what you are doing on your desktop.

A presentation? Try VoiceThread. VoiceThread allows you to create your own multimedia presentation and record a narration.  Viewers can leave written, audio, and video comments in 5 different ways. VoiceThread is really easy to use, appropriate for all age levels, and adaptable to any sort of presentation or conversation around media.

Do students need to work together on a written project? presentation? Try GoogleDocs for collaborative documents, presentations (similar to PowerPoint), spreadsheets and forms.

Do you need to create a survey or questionnaire?Try SurveyMonkey for a free, easy form maker.

Are you looking for more sources and ideas? Several people have shared resources with me. From @Web20Classroom via Twitter, check out WebTools4U2Use .

From Richard Byrne of Free Technology for Teachers check out his Twelve Essentials for Technology Integration.

N.B. Each of the tools I’m recommending are tools that I’ve used and have a free component. Note that some of these sites may have increased features for a fee.

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Last year I participated in a course called Expanding the Boundaries of Teaching and Learning as part of a district initiative to integrate technology into all of our classes. I was fortunate to be part of that first cohort. It truly has transformed my practice as an educator.  I was offered the opportunity to speak to cohort 2 and jumped at the chance to share an introduction to blogging for educators.  The file was written as a SMART Notebook 10 file, so if the links don’t work correctly or a background was lost in the conversion I apologize. Once I’ve had a chance to go back, I will make any updates that are necessary.  I tried to include complete URLs in order to facilitate the links. Occasionally this made the pages crowded, but I didn’t want the links to get lost when I posted the presentation here.

PDF File
Powerpoint File

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I read too many blogs. I admit that my Google Reader is overflowing. I almost never manage to keep up with everything! Sometimes I only have time to read what my friends are writing. Other times I just want to catch up on sites that offer suggestions and links. Other days I just look for something that will make me laugh. Occasionally I think about wiping the slate clean and starting over. If I ever do get around to cleaning out my reader, here are the 10 sites I definitely will keep around:

Free Technology for Teachers Richard Byrne posts regularly about tools that are useful for teachers. Every update includes “Applications for Education,” where he offers tips and ideas specifically for teachers. This is one of my favorite reference sites, as well. He has gathered an enormous collection of resources that are grouped by subject matter and can easily be searched.

Infinite Thinking Machine is written by a group of innovative educators  sharing ideas with educators. According to the blog, “our goal is simple: to show how today’s digital tools can impact student learning in meaningful ways. The ITM is about learning, thinking, communicating, and creativity – not technology.”

LatinTeach – This website is my go-to resource for all things related to Latin and Greek teaching and learning. If you aren’t a Latin teacher, you still might find ideas here. I include it here, though, to remind you to find a site that is all about what you do.   Don’t think that your subject area is not represented in the blogosphere. Chances are, someone is out there offering ideas and tips just for you and your subject area.

Open Culture – “The best free cultural & educational media on the web.” This is not only about education, but about culture in general. I feel smarter and better informed for reading this.

Practical Theory is written by Chris Lehmann, the principal of the Science Leadership Academy of  Philadelphia, PA.  SLA is an innovative high school opened in 2006 in partnership with The Franklin Institute.  Chris is an inspirational leader and a thoughtful educator. If SLA offered Latin, I’d consider moving to work there.

Teachers Love SMARTBoards has an enormous collection of SMART Board resources that are easily searched by subject area and by type of activity. What really has impacted my teaching, though, are the tutorials. These are really easy to follow and will show you how to improve and update your Notebook files to really make an impact in your classroom.

TeachPaperless – I originally followed Shelly because he’s a Latin teacher; now I read to understand what goes on in a paperless classroom. His students blog their tests, create comics of their translations (using Pixton), and create multimedia projects. He is outspoken on his ideas about education and the use of technology. He also reflects on his teaching and how it has changed. In particular, I’d recommend reading a recent post, Why Teachers Should Blog.

The Official Google Blog – To keep up with all things Google – Docs, Earth, Maps, Apps, Analytics, Search, et al.  This blog shares:  “Insight from Googlers into our products,  technology and the Google culture.”

The Power of Educational Technology – Liz Davis writes about using technology to teach students and teachers. She is active on Twitter and also participates and presents workshops at conferences on a number of tools.

Weblogg-ed is Will Richardson’s blog about blogging and education. His site is full of useful information, links, and ideas. He wrote the book about blogging, quite literally (Blogs, Wikis and Podcasts).

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Last year at this time I was just beginning my blogging adventure. I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to work with a cohort of interested teachers in my district to learn about using technology to expand the boundaries of our classrooms.  Over the course of the year we read books, we took on-line courses, we collaborated and Skyped, we built networks of colleagues from around the world. Of all the activities that I found transformative, blogging by far was the most influential in changing the way I look at my role as an educator.

A year ago I started blogging while sitting on my mother-in-law’s porch looking out over Lake Winnipisaukee in New Hampshire (the image above is a photo I took last fall on a foggy morning from that porch). I sat at the picnic table and wrote about how amazing it was that I could be planning and thinking about my classes while relaxing 100 miles away from my classroom. Slowly I added more – pictures, links, tags, categories. I wrote essays for my course and reflected on my teaching and my life. For the first 6 weeks or so I didn’t really get it. I knew people read me blog, largely because the other members of my cohort were required to follow me. But isn’t the point of expanding the boundaries that I should find a way to have people beyond my school, beyond my district to connect with?

So I started reading more blogs with purpose. I commented on blogs written by educators who seemed thoughtful and innovative. I really looked at their blogs and thought about what tools I wanted to add to improve the look and usefulness of my blog. I thought about what I wanted my blog to be. I still don’t think I could articulate the purpose of my blog in one concise sentence (though it would be a great exercise).  Here’s a start:  I am a Latin teacher writing about using and teaching with technology in an American public high school. From that, I started to think about my audience. How could I find an audience of educators who might find what I have to say interesting?

I’d heard about Twitter for a while and just didn’t see the point. Who really cares what I’m doing? But so many of the blogs that I was reading had the “Follow me on Twitter” widget. There had to be something there. So I joined Twitter in November. I followed some educators. And by Christmas vacation I had really jumped in. I found links and ideas. I learned about the families and activities of educators from around the world. The blogs that I was reading were thoughtful and edited (mostly) and focused on education. But Twitter shared a snapshot, a single idea, a moment. It personalized my network for me. Twitter gave dimension to the people I was reading and following. So I started tweeting about my new blog posts. And I tweeted about Latin and found other Latin teachers. And soon I had readers from far beyond my district.

In the spring I decided to add a ClustrMap and really see how far my blog was traveling. I announced that on Twitter, too. And I shared it with my personal friends on Facebook (I keep Twitter for work, Facebook for family and friends). Within a few days I saw that I had readers from Europe, Australia, Canada, Israel. I got comments from people I didn’t know. And invitations to share my ideas in other places. If you click on my ClustrMap to the right, you’ll see where people have been reading my blog over the past few months.

Over time my little blog became a platform for me to share ideas and found things – not just with the 40 members of the first cohort of colleagues in my course, but with hundreds of educators from around the world. It helped give me purpose in my blogging. It gave me a sense of responsibility to my readers – that I was sharing ideas that would interest them, that I was linking to tools and sites that would be useful to them. I also began to understand my responsibility to the other bloggers I was reading. I might share a link that I find through someone else, but it is important to link to my sources and to write in my own way about these tools.

Latin teaching can be a lonely job. I’m lucky to work in a high school that has two (and in the past three) Latin teachers. But teaching – whether it is Latin or any other grade or subject – should not be confined to your classroom, to your building, or even to your district. I’ve built a network of smart, thoughtful, generous professionals from around the world in only one year. How far can you go in a year?

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Welcome back to work, Mama

I’ve been back at school for over a week. We started off with teachers’ meetings and our students returned last Wednesday. My students have already taken their first quiz. This also means that my 2 daughters have gone back to daycare and school. On Thursday, my 5 year old started kindergarten; next week my 3 year old begins preschool. Last week we had a fairly smooth transition from summer fun back to a predictable daily routine. Last night we prepped the backpacks, packed the lunches, and picked out the girls’ clothes for the day.

But this morning didn’t go quite so smoothly.  My poor husband dealt (admirably) with two crying girls missing their Mama and not wanting to leave this morning (first e-mail came to me just before 10:00). This was followed by the first of many calls we will get from the school nurse (just before noon).  Our kindergartner was running in from recess and fell nose-first onto the sidewalk. There was no major injury, but she’ll probably have a bruised nose and sore lip for a few days.   At my first kindergarten pickup this afternoon I (inadvertently) cut off a row of minivans with cranky moms when I drove the wrong way on the assigned traffic route. (I really did think I had understood the map they sent home!)  As my daughter climbed into our station wagon, 2 of her friends tried to join her.  This led to confusion for the adults followed by tears from my daughter when she realized that their plans of a playdate weren’t going to happen today. By the time I picked her up, my 3 year old seemed to have recovered from her early morning hysterics (though apparently she built a wall around herself with blocks in the corner of the playroom and refused to talk to anyone for the first half hour of the day.) But as we headed out for an after-dinner walk with the dog, she repeated her sister’s playground move and now has a scraped cheek and will probably have her first black eye by morning.

Bedtime tonight meant band-aids for both girls with lots of hugs and kisses. Followed by two trips to the bathroom. And a call for another glass of water. And more hugs and kisses. Tonight I think I needed the hugs and kisses as much as they did.

The first day of kindergarten, 2009

The first day of kindergarten, 2009

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Top down tech?

This school year has gotten off to a running start. My high school is starting the year with a new principal, a new assistant principal, and a new schedule. Many offices were moved from one room to another (attendance, administration, school resource office, technology) and many of the roles that we were familiar with have been redesigned or reassigned to new or different staff members.  In addition, several of the tech tools that we (teachers) are expected to use have been upgraded over the summer. On Thursday, every student was assigned a unique log-in to the school’s network and later this month every student will be assigned an e-mail account through school.

I will admit that I’m sometimes not great at handling change. But change that improves communication or simplifies important tasks is easy to get behind. The new schedule is confusing right now. We went from a 7 period day that (almost) never varied, to a 6 period day with 7 classes, rotating (sort of) each day and dropping one period each day.  This is much more of a challenge to get a handle on since every teacher has at least several sections of one course, some of us have multiple sections of more than one. For so many reasons it is helpful, if not downright necessary, to keep the different sections on the same schedule.  With the new schedule, it is impossible to really do that, although I know we will all attempt to keep our multi-section courses on track.  Interestingly I’ve received 4 different digital calendars created by colleagues who have all attempted to make sense of the schedule. I’m not sure which one will work best for me, although I’m leaning toward the Excel Spreadsheet but will add color coding to help me keep track of which class is dropped each day.  The new schedule was not presented without many months of planning and research. The committee included teachers, administrators, and students.  For more than a year we knew that the schedule would somehow be different from what it had been for so many years. I’m comfortable with the decision to make this change. Even still, until we started using it, we really couldn’t get a feel for how this new schedule works for each of us.

We’ve also been given an updated version of Edline and a gradebook that is now web-based at our high school. These changes I’m feeling a bit more cautious about. I like the ability to update grades from home and have more options with Edline. But each time we get a tech upgrade, we don’t seem to get any additional time or training to figure things out. The technology staff that have brought in the tools are not classroom teachers, nor do  any teachers seem to have in-put on these decisions.  Right now I can’t seem to figure out how to access my old material and in some ways I feel like I’m starting from scratch.  I’m not complaining about having too many tools (I do feel thankful to work in a district that provides so much for us). What I’m concerned about is change for the sake of change. Is it really better to upgrade a tool before many teachers really feel comfortable with the earlier version? Perhaps more importantly, should upgrades and new technology be introduced without reserving time and budget to provide training?  Is the best use of our limited budget upgrading the software or should we be investing in training the teachers to use the tools we have? If teachers are required to use tools, isn’t it in everybody’s best interest to provide training?

As the school year begins, I am optimistic about all of these changes. The attitude in school is positive and my colleagues are excited to be back with students and trying new things. I am hopeful that this optimism won’t be lost as more upgrades are sent our way.

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