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This post is also published at The Professional Learner and has been co-written by Michael Springer and I.

Here are two professional development possibilities that are in the works. Which policy appeals to you the most? If you could write the PD policy for your district, what would you look for?
Policy A:
All teachers will attain certain goals each year of their employment. They will attend prescribed workshops (e.g. blogging, podcasting) with specific targets to be met at the end of every two years. By the end of 6 years in the district, all teachers will be expected to have met all of the PD goals by attending the predetermined workshops. Teachers will be evaluated on their successful completion of the workshops and having demonstrated mastery of the material covered in each workshop. Continued employment is contingent on regularly meeting the goals detailed in the district plan.
Policy B:
As a benefit of employment, all employees will be given the opportunity to further their professional knowledge through participation in workshops designed to increase knowledge and understanding of technologies. These life skills workshops will be offered regularly with a variety of topics to be presented during each workshop period. Workshops will include podcasting, blogging, building a PLN, etc. During each session, educators will have the opportunity to choose which workshop best meets his/her current needs. Each two years the educator will list the workshops attended and reflect on how those tools/skills have improved his teaching/learning. At the end of 6 years all teachers will have had the opportunity to attend all of the district’s workshops.
Which plan would you vote for? Things to add or subtract? Pros/cons?

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This morning I attended an excellent workshop presented by Steve Olivo (@solivo11) and Kathy Favazza (@kathyfavazza) as part of the Blue Ribbon Institute for Academic Excellence. Here are the notes that I took in Google Docs. This includes links to the sites that were mentioned, including Jing, The Edublogger, Blogger, and A Difference (Darren Kuropatwa’s blog).

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In the past I have mentioned that I use VoiceThread with my classes for digital storytelling. VoiceThread is a web-based service that allows you to upload images (a PowerPoint, photos, documents, or even video) to create a presentation. What makes VoiceThread different is that you can then comment on each slide, creating a narration or explanation that is either typed or recorded. Then, depending on the publishing options that you choose, you can share your VoiceThread either with only a few individuals or with the entire world. Anyone you share it with and who has a VoiceThread account can then add their own comments to your presentation.

One of the first projects I used VoiceThread for was a storytelling project with my Latin Studies classes. These students are mostly juniors and seniors in high school who have repeatedly failed in their studies of other foreign languages.
The goal of the project was to review a number of grammar concepts, particularly noun cases. Students wrote their own stories and demonstrated their understanding of the grammar through the Latin writing. They then chose or created images that best told their story. Finally, they recorded themselves reading their story using their best Latin pronunciation. Students viewed each others’ stories and left comments for each other. One example of this story is “The bear who cried ‘boy’” created by two boys in the class. Their story was created in PowerPoint and then uploaded to VoiceThread. In “Sabina’s Bad Day” the student who created it found images mostly from stock photo sources. She then inserted the text using SMART Notebook to create the basic slide show.

In our Latin 1 classes, we start the year by asking our students to find examples of Latin mottos or phrases that are still in use today. This year we used VoiceThread to again add the oral element to the presentation. Most of the presentations were created using either PowerPoint or SMART Notebook. Then the images were uploaded to VoiceThread and students recorded their comments there. Students selected mottos that all followed a certain theme, then chose images that best illustrated the motto. Some examples of this project are: Latin Love Mottos, and Philosophical Latin Mottos.

As these projects suggest, I teach Latin at a public high school just north of Boston. I expect my students to create their own presentations (for the most part) and then we use our language lab to record the comments. Occasionally I’ll use VoiceThread to create projects with my daughters (ages 3 and 5). This fall, on a particularly exhausting and rainy Friday afternoon, my girls were driving me crazy to play on my computer. Together we created Three Lonely Dinosaurs using SMART Notebook and VoiceThread. The girls chose all the images from the Gallery in Notebook and then Bridget recorded herself reading the story. This is when she first began to read, so we shared it with family and friends who might not otherwise get to hear her.

This year my older daughter is in kindergarten. She does well with letter recognition and writing, she is even reading short chapter books. Each week her class studies one or two letters and their homework is to find pictures or draw things that begin with the assigned letter. Bridget enjoyed it at first, but soon became bored looking for pictures in magazines. When I spoke with her teacher, she thought a VoiceThread sounded like a good option. Each week my daughter and I brainstorm some words with the key letter. I then help her search for appropriate images on the internet. We create the “book” using SMART Notebook, inserting the images and choosing the colors for the text and background. Using my laptop and a headset Bridget records the words and the letter of the week. What I’ve really enjoyed watching is her own developing sense of what will make a good presentation. At first, she didn’t care much about the color of the background. But when she saw that some pictures look good with light backgrounds and others look better with a matching background she started to get choosy about what she wants each slide to look like. This week she did all of her own recording and was really choosy about how the final recording should sound. Some slides required five or six takes for her to say it just that way she wanted it. Sometimes she spoke too slow or she stumbled over a word; it was easy to delete the bad recording and do it over. Our first effort was Pajama Party, with more recent projects being Bridget’s R Book and Bridget’s Y Book.

Although I write mostly to share things that I think can apply to educators, I can’t leave out one last VoiceThread we enjoyed making. When Bridget was recording her stories, my younger daughter was jealous of the fun she was having. Together Julie and I created Hiking at Lake Winni using pictures of a recent trip we had taken up to Lake Winnipesaukee. This was a wonderful way to share Julie’s personality with family that lives around the world.

VoiceThread, as with any form of presentation, works best when the project is well planned before the images are uploaded. The images themselves can’t be edited in VoiceThread, although there is a doodle function that allows you to add writing to your comments. If the original images or presentation isn’t very good, you probably won’t be able to make it better with VoiceThread. Having said that, VoiceThread is really easy to use – my 5 year old basically has learned how to do it herself. It is easy to share and it is easy to control who views your presentations. Their education accounts (both free and those with a fee) allow teachers to supervise the work their students are creating and sharing. If you are looking for further ideas for using VoiceThread, check out the VoiceThread for Educators Ning or VoiceThread for Education Wiki.

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It’s been a few weeks since I returned home from EduCon and now that we’re on February vacation I have some time to reflect on what I’ve taken away from EduCon 2.2.  Over the next few days I hope to write some more about specific conversations I had and people I met. It was energizing to spend an entire weekend with educators and students who care passionately about teaching and learning.

This school year has been a challenging one and I’ve gotten frustrated more often than not. Many of my (high school) students are not interested in school or learning; their lives are complicated by illness, financial struggles, broken families, drugs and alcohol. Others are merely apathetic, going through the motions just to earn their credits and move on. Don’t get me wrong, I do have many other students who are interested and motivated. But so much of my energy as a teacher seems to be spent supporting and encouraging students who just don’t care what (any) school can offer them.

What I realized while I was in Philadelphia was that I had been missing the passion that used to drive my teaching. When I spoke with the students of Science Leadership Academy I was struck by how clearly each one could articulate the mission of their school and what that education meant to them personally. They didn’t spout some party line about each having a laptop (though many cited this as a reason for them to check out SLA in the first place). They didn’t talk about test scores or the number of AP classes or the other measures that seem to drive education policy. What excited them was the personal relationships they had with their teachers and the individualization of their learning. They cared deeply about their projects, the choices they had and how they demonstrated their learning. They spoke clearly and confidently about how their school has molded them as learners and as individuals.

My first thought was that it was already too late to make meaningful changes in my classes this year. After all, the school year is half over and we’ve already established our routines and expectations. At least, I had established them. But talking to Liz Davis on the flight home helped me think about things differently. The Latin curriculum and learning expectations were mine – not my students.  When I returned to school, I sat down with my two most challenging classes and spoke honestly about my frustrations and my hopes for the course. I told them they still had to meet curricular goals, but I wanted them to help design how we met those goals for the rest of the year. At first they seemed skeptical, but then they spoke honestly about their learning.

They asked for more independence and creativity in how they demonstrated their learning. They asked for more projects. They still wanted structure, but with the independence to move through the work at their own speed and ability. Every student in these 2 Latin classes has been diagnosed with a language based learning disability and has been with me for more than a year and a half. And perhaps for the first time they were being given an opportunity to truly individualize their learning. I agreed to implement some of their ideas, but only if they agreed to commit to doing the work as well.

The next day I made some modifications to how I present material and what I ask of my students as they come into the room each day.  I committed myself to smiling more and being truly glad to see each one of them every day. I focused on the essential elements they need to learn – to translate Latin accurately and to recognize verb forms, for example. I showed them the big picture and then allowed them to progress through activities more independently and creatively. I offered them choices in how they demonstrate their understanding. I encouraged them to support each other in learning and to contribute positively to class each day. I put on Pandora so they could listen to music as they worked. To be honest, these were small changes that brought about some big results. All but one of my students has embraced the changes. They are working more steadily and translating more thoughtfully than I’ve seen since they started Latin 18 months ago.  They are asking specific questions and participating in their own learning. As a group, they seem happier to walk into my room each day. We still have work to do; this will involve more planning as we move forward. And I have one student who will need to be supported differently from the rest. It has only been two weeks, but I am feeling more positive each day when I see them walk into my room.

Ultimately I’m hoping I’ve rediscovered my passion for teaching and for Latin. I don’t delude myself with the belief that my students will suddenly become passionate about translating Latin or even continue their studies past this year. I do have hope that they will find that putting effort and care into what they do can make a difference in their lives. And that taking responsibility for their work will make the experience of learning more meaningful overall.

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I can’t believe I’ll be heading to Philadelphia in only 3 days for EduCon 2.2! The past few weeks have flown by with the end of the semester at school and sick family members at home (nothing serious, just tiring). I’ve barely had time to anticipate the great conversations and amazing people I’ll be able to connect with this year at SLA. Last year I was fortunate to attend EduCon for the first time. It was by far the most inspiring and motivating conference I’ve ever attended.

On Friday I’ll be traveling with Liz B. Davis, who I met last year at EduCon 2.1. We co-presented a workshop on Twitter earlier this fall at MassCUE but haven’t had a chance to catch up since then. I’ll be attending the conference with 2 other teachers from my district, Michael Springer and Sean Musselman, who have committed to podcasting their EduCon experience to share with other teachers in our district who couldn’t join us in Philadelphia.

On Saturday, I will be co-presenting, along with Mike Springer and Beth Knittle, a conversation about Subversive Professional Development. We’ll be facilitating a discussion about strategies that really work to bring about meaningful professional learning among colleagues and within schools. We’ve been struck by these questions:  Why are there still so many educators sitting in the back of the faculty meeting rolling their eyes whenever 21st Century Skills are on the agenda? How can Professional Development be meaningful, effective and important for the uninterested? We’d love for those of you attending EduCon to join us during the first session. If you are attending virtually, please check in and send us questions and comments.

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Recently I blogged about the Mid Year Exams for my introductory Latin classes.  One reason for my frustration with such a traditional pencil and paper exam was knowing that there are other ways to assess what students are learning, but not finding a way to do that with my classes. I continue to struggle with figuring out how to make meaningful, relevant, and valid Latin exams for students learning basic grammar elements – particularly when the technology that is accessible to my students every day is limited. One of my colleagues, Profe Springer, presented his Spanish 5 students with an exciting and new Mid Year Exam this past week. He and I had been talking about meaningful and interesting ways to assess what his students have been doing all semester – researching, presenting their learning using Web 2.0 tools, and using the Spanish language to communicate their ideas. Here is Profe Springer’s explanation of his Spanish 5 Mid Year Exam:

This is my second year of teaching Spanish in a public high school just north of Boston. I’m working on a Masters degree (in education) but I’m new to teaching. I work in a high school that has allowed me to create a curriculum that interests me as long as it meets the curricular goals of the course; I’m not required to do what has always been done. This semester I jumped into the Spanish 5 course with the goal of trying as many ideas for integrating technology into the class as I can. Since I was as new to many of the tools as the students, we developed an atmosphere of collaboration that is best exemplified by the Ning that my student and I use to assign/present work, ask questions, and share resources. When it came to write the required Mid Year Exam, I was frustrated that the traditional exams that had been given in the past really did not reflect the assignments and learning that had gone on with my students this past semester.

With my principal’s permission, I launched an experimental Mid Year Exam with my Spanish 5 students. Instead of having students do the traditional listening, short answer writing, long essay and multiple choice exam, I designed a project-based Mid Year Exam. Students arrived at the computer lab on Thursday at the beginning of their normal class period. The students didn’t know anything about the central question, or their topics, until they walked into the lab. Upon arrival each one selected a topic out of a sombrero. They then had until the end of class the following day to answer a central question that I proposed to all the students: “Why does Sr. Springer need your product in his house?” In the hat were slips of paper for 2 dozen infomercial products such as Snuggies, ShamWows, PottyPatches and Ped Eggs. Students had to think of arguments for why I should purchase their products and write about it in Spanish. Students needed to do research using the investigation tools that we have practiced throughout the semester. Their final product pitches were uploaded to our class Ning. They were required to include pictures, videos, and an original advertisement that would sell the product to me.

The students were excited to learn something new and found the topics entertaining. The final results were quite funny. The kids found great images and videos to support their products. They uploaded everything to the Ning and organized their sales pitches in a way that critically tied the images and videos to my needs. The original advertisements ranged from pictures of a student with a product, to photoshopped images of a student with a product, to creative Glogs including a variety of media, to personally recorded video advertisements, and to original songs in Spanish.

Overall, their effort was outstanding. Students showed proficiency using our Ning, finding information about a topic and critically relating this subject to a central question. One day a student was absent and another day a different student was traveling on a family vacation, but both were able to complete their exams from their respective locations. Students worked collaboratively to help solve tech issues that came up in class and also at home. I was able to use the chat feature on my class Ning to help clarify directions for some students Thursday night from home.

A Glog advertising the amazing Hawaii Chair!

[Edited to add: Profe Springer has posted another example of a Glog advertising the Ped Egg on his blog.]

The big goal for these high school seniors is to show them how they can use Spanish in different jobs in the future. Most, if not all, of my seniors will not go on to major in Spanish. I feel that if I can show them ways that they can use their Spanish, alongside the subjects they might major in, then perhaps they will have a better shot at getting a job in the future. I want to show them they can include Spanish in any subject that they’re interested in studying. My exam was designed to reflect the students’ ability to learn a new subject, think critically about that subject and then report on it in Spanish. I think that my exam succeeded in this goal and showed that the students are making good progress. How do other teachers feel about their exams in regards to 21st Century Skills?

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For me, professional development is most meaningful when it really addresses what I can and want to do as an educator. Whether I’m learning a new tool for improving projects with my students or better understanding the learning styles of my students or better managing resources or time to improve my instruction doesn’t matter. I get more out of what I’m doing when I choose what I’m learning and not just sitting in the auditorium listening to a speaker whose job it is to inspire several hundred teachers when they would much rather be prepping their classrooms. Even more meaningful for me is being able to seek professional development at a time when I can truly focus on what is being shared. When my classroom needs to be set up, when I have grades due, when my kids are seeking attention I can’t pay attention no matter how interesting the presentation. For all of these reasons, the K12 Online Conference is so meaningful and powerful. This great collaboration of educators is available live and asynchronously as a learning opportunity for teachers and administrators. Workshops, talks, fireside chats, discussions and presentations will begin the week of November 30 and will continue for the two subsequent weeks. Join in when you can – even after the event, since all presentations are archived. Come join me and educators from around the world for this on-line professional development opportunity.

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