Monday, November 28, 2011

A Few More Thoughts About Resources

Today, while I was updating my Instructional Technology Professional Learning Community link page (here), I had a few more thoughts about technology resources for your classroom.  

While searching for FREE resources for the staff I am responsible for supporting, I often get sidetracked by how many cool things there are available.  This inevitably leads to hundreds of integration ideas using these free tools to meet the Core Curriculum Standards that have been adopted in my state.  Which always leads to a panic attack when I realize there is no way to organize, plan for, teach with, and evaluate all of these great website tools in a teaching career, much less a school year.

Teachers get excited about stuff like this...and when you morph a tech geek with a 21 year veteran teacher, as in my case, you can understand if I get twitterpated about stuff like this.  So after I hyperventilated, I realized I need to cut myself a break - and so do you.

It has been stated in many comments on blogs I follow that teaching today, due to the overabundance of testing, necessarily focuses on material that is miles wide, but only inches deep.  In the same vein, all the cool free resources and hardware involved in tech integration can encourage you to do the same.....squish in everything, with no site ever explored in depth.  So let's change that.....

Identify the one or two free resources that you like the most and use them to death, with the kids.  Once everyone is complaining about using it again, and you and the kids have done everything you can think of with the site...find ONE new one.

Some parameters for those web tools:
FREE (Completely!  While trials are good, it's usually just enough time to frustrate you when it ends.)
Cross platform (PC and MAC)
Integrated help (For when the kids try it at home, which is what you want)
NOT CONSUMPTION BASED:  CREATIVE (Ooh, all caps!  My bias against consumption-only sites is showing, but that's another blog topic - coming soon!)

Don't know where to start?  Here's a good first spot to browse.  Comment and tell me what great site you've decided to focus on!

Out on a Whim,

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Why Question

The Why Question

We are often in a rush to adopt new technologies as soon as they appear on the horizon, usually in an attempt to find the magic bullet that will engage and motivate all of our learners.  Most often we find the equipment abandoned in closets, used as "free time" toys to keep kids busy when they finish early, and mostly NOT being integrated into daily classroom learning for students.  

For those of us who are charged with assisting teachers with the integration of technology, these situations cause us to beat our heads against the interactive whiteboard and whisper, "Why, oh why is this the horrid truth?"  I think I know why....

1.  Teachers need ongoing training, and then sustained and regular support if they are going to commit to changing the way they teach.  Let's be honest, to fully wring the potential out of technology integration in the classroom, one must not only teach with different tools, but teach differently.  My favorite test of whether a teacher who is begging for an interactive whiteboard will actually use it is here.

2.  Education facilities are notorious for falling for the "cool" factor.  We buy things because they're cool, because we want to be cutting edge, or because we want to impress other school districts.  Rarely does anyone take the time to find a school district using the technology we'd like to purchase, with kids like we'd like to use it with, even on a "pilot" level.  We buy a bunch of something new (like Mobile Learning Devices such as Droids or iPads) and then discover the wireless access is inadequate, or we don't have a business office mechanism for purchasing apps, or covers, or the teachers don't have the time or interest to implement one more new thing.  When the technology is less than seamless during implementation, you lose the excitement of the "cool" factor, and the device becomes a paperweight or worse, a toy.

3.  Technology changes fast, and schools don't.  Many teachers end up with "new technology fatigue".  Way before they are using any equipment to it's fullest, we've shoving something new into their hands and want them using it immediately.  Honestly, they have other things on their minds besides learning how to use a new piece of equipment, and then figuring out how to use it in their classrooms for real instruction.  Maybe you have a few tech geeks on staff who are into that sort of thing, but I know from experience, most of your staff - whether they graduated with their teaching degree in May 2010, or May 1990, won't be excited.

I could go on and on...but I'd rather suggest how to fight "The Why Question".  It comes down to two things: expectations and training/support.  

First, someone must expect the teacher to use the things we purchase for their classrooms.  Now, my first instinct says the best way to go about this is ask teachers what they want BEFORE the purchasing, but we know that isn't usually how this goes.  In the absence of including teachers in the planning, the principals and Board of Ed needs to expect these things be used, and actually check up to make sure they are being used for more than free time distractions.  Having a clear vision of why the items were purchased and communicating that to the staff is a good start.

Second, and usually more importantly, the teachers need training, and then ongoing support to continue to integrate the technology into their daily classroom activities and support learning.  This starts with small steps and builds incrementally upon itself.  I have previously blogged about beginning tech integration small and personally.  Professional Learning Communities assist with professional development opportunities for your staff.  Staff can start by joining an existing group, and then individualizing it within the school so that it meets their unique needs.

Taking time out to plan both the purchase of equipment and the training and support required for its integration and sustained use will pay off in the least with fewer headaches for your Educational Technology Specialists and less damage to your interactive white boards!

Check out an interesting article regarding mentoring and coaching for Effective Tech Integration here.

Out on a Whim,

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Integrating Technology into Your Classroom -Start Personally

Start Personally

In Transforming Classroom Practice:  Professional Development Strategies in Educational Technology, authors Bowe and Pierson state that when educators begin to adopt technology for use in their classrooms, they begin personally, with classroom housekeeping tasks like lesson plans and attendance, before they begin to use technology with their students.

Keeping that in mind, this inaugural blog is dedicated to all those educators who are just beginning to think about how to begin morphing their current traditional classroom into a digital one, or those who are using technology with their students already and now need to play catch up with their own planning and management practice.

The FREE resources below are a sampling of what is available to begin to move your classroom "into the cloud"....and did I mention FREE?

Record Keeping with Engrade

   Engrade is an online digital classroom space that I am using mainly for attendance, assignment calendar and grading. There are also parent codes for each student, so the parents can see what their child is doing, and what is expected. While it includes the ability to give quizzes and have students turn in assignments, I'm using a different product for that.  If you want to begin to dabble in creating and online space for your classroom, this is a good one to play with.

Online Planbook with PlanbookEdu
     PlanbookEdu is an easy to use and customize online planbook that is a great "green" resource and convenient time saver compared to a paper planbook, or even a Word template.  The free version is limited in that you cannot "share" it with your principal, and you cannot add Curriculum Standards to your plans.  That having been said, it's a great start and well worth a look.  The $25.00 per year price I found to be extremely reasonable and well worth me spending out of my pocket for such a great resource.  

     If they added an attendance and grading piece similar to the one in Engrade, I could stop using Engrade, but I need the attendance and gradebook.  I'm keeping my eye open, and hope they work in that direction!  I'll keep you posted!!

Behavior Management with Class Dojo 

    If you have a projector connected to your computer, or an Interactive White Board, or an iPad or iPhone, you can use Class Dojo to track student behavior, positive and/or negative.  You CAN do this in Engrade, but Class Dojo is much more visual for a class of students with learning needs, or young students.  You can still use this site without projecting it, but I've found students behavior changes quickly when they can immediately see the positive points they can get for positive behaviors, as well as losing points for negative ones - if you choose to use it in that manner.

Online Classroom Environment with Edmodo 

    Once you've begun record keeping online, you may want to begin to expose your students to an online classroom environment.  After personally using Blackboard and Moodle for this sort of endeavor, I find I prefer the ease and look of Edmodo.  The interface is very simple to use, and I find I can create a class and assignments in less than half the time it took me to do the same thing in Moodle.

     The kids have really taken to it, as it looks very much like Facebook, but for the nervous teacher, has way more controls.  The students can only correspond with those in their classes, and no postings are private for the kids.  They can comment on each others work, and with the grading component, can receive and send messages from/to the teacher.  You can add teachers to the group in a co-teaching situation, and can there are parent codes for each student so a parent can monitor their child's progress.

     **A related thought about universal access.  If you require students to login to Edmodo from home to get homework, complete lessons, or access materials, you must be completely sure they have the necessary access to equipment and the internet to make that happen.  Be conscious that not all students are "wired in" at home, and may be too embarrassed to tell you.

Start Small - Move Slowly

      My suggestion, so you don't get overwhelmed, would be to add each piece slowly.  Add one, give yourself a month or so to become familiar with it, and for its use to become a habit, and then add the next.  If by the end of this year - or the middle of next - you've moved in the digital direction, I'd call that success.

      Educators don't have time to ADD one more thing to their days.....but we can substitute old ways for digital ways....and drag ourselves into the 21st Century.

       Please comment and let me know how you do!!

Out on a whim,

Bowe, R. (2008). Professional development in educational technology. In M. Pierson (Author), Transforming classroom practice: professional development strategies in educational technology. Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education.