Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Long and Winding Road

Motivating others to integrate technology...

What began almost four years ago, after attending in an in-district workshop on wikis, is finally beginning to come to fruition. That is, teachers integrating technology that enables them to expand the walls of their classroom, communicate globally, and to inspire and motivate all learners (but particularly, reluctant learners).

While attending this particular workshop I was, at first, contemplating how I could utilize this tool as an administrator. As those thoughts wandered, the instructor repeatedly said the words “expand the walls of the classroom”. That caught my attention and then I had no problem envisioning how the teachers I worked with could utilize a wiki to do just that.

Knowing the many demands already placed on teachers; IEPs, PDPs, PLCs, ADD, ADHD, ODD, NCBL, NJ ASK…and the list goes on. I knew it wouldn’t be as easy as simply sharing a philosophy or demonstrating several of the tools in action. So I developed a plan that would hopefully inspire others to integrate some/any web 2.0 tools into the classroom. I’d like to share certain elements of that plan, which were successful, unsuccessful, and some of the positive results.

The number one component of the plan was to model and lead by example. The nagging question of how could an administrator utilize a wiki was answered. Develop a “faculty wiki” that would expand my walls, serve as a communication tool, and resource for teachers. It still needed a carrot, therefore if information that was normally shared at a faculty meeting could be done “outside of those walls” at one’s own convenience, the face-to-face faculty meeting would be shortened for all and could thus begin 15 minutes later (we have ours before school).

Once again, it sounded great in theory, but not the immediate success one would hope for. During the first year, there were a couple of failed attempts and a couple of success stories as well. The so called attempts (failed, but not really), I must share the blame for and should have seen coming, they were there just to satisfy the principal’s desires and were merely examples of technology for the sake of technology (nothing worse in my mind). However, after discussing this with our technology resource teacher, we both agreed rather than stifling the attempt, we would live with it until we felt the time was right to assist in tweaking it to accomplish our goal; technology integration to expand the walls, collaborate globally, and inspire/motivate. In the end, almost four years later, we have several very successful classroom wikis and this year a grade level of twelve fourth grade teachers created a wiki dedicated to sharing curriculum and lessons. They also developed a Google Site designed to meet the needs of our gifted and talented population (dedicated teacher was cut due to budget restraints) through problem based learning activities, complete with blog, Google Docs for collaboration, and inter-class communication capability. Lesson learned – be as specific and explicit as you can when explaining the goal of technology integration.

Another failure, at first, was the purchase of eInstruction’s student response system, a.k.a. “clickers”. The most attractive aspect of these was to motivate and engage the reluctant participant. There are other benefits, including student assessment, assessing the effectiveness of instruction, and running records.

We solicited teacher interest, provided professional development, and supplied the tool. However, the most attractive tool or numerous benefits are meaningless if the technology simply doesn’t work. It just so happened that the software was never operable on a consistent level on our network. In hindsight, we assumed and were led to believe, that the software needed to be installed on the teachers’ computer in every classroom. In that case, it increased the overall in-house management and possibility of malfunction. After a year of little or no use, a teacher installed the software on her own laptop and connected it to a projector on a traveling cart. This eliminated the reliance on our network, our IT department, and our hardware. Her success spread quickly and interest was once again elevated. Lesson learned – technology that doesn’t work has a negative effect on motivating technology integration. We now have four sets of twenty-eight individual response clickers, on a dedicated cart, with a dedicated laptop (don’t ever think money is an obstacle, just one that can be overcome). Each is assigned to a specific area of the building and reserved through our media center via Google Calendar.

Lastly, how simple and valuable Skype can be in order to collaborate with experts in the field. This one would be an easy sell; it is web based, requires little in the way of hardware, and there are experts who love to promote themselves.

Back to component number one of the plan; model. We had two teachers conducting an evening book chat with parent and student. The chat was focused on bullying and the book they chose was Loser, by Jerry Spinelli. A simple e-mail to Mr. Spinelli and a connection was made. However, Mr. Spinelli was somewhat camera shy and only agreed to a live conference call. Not to be defeated, the grade level was reading Deadly Waters by Gloria Skurzynski and Alane Ferguson, once again a simple e-mail connected us with both authors whom happened to be mother/daughter. Rather than Skype, they suggested we videoconference with them while they were conducting the same at the University of Missouri with another classroom from a local school. It was a simple process, an outstanding learning experience, and a hit with all. Unfortunately, there was not another attempt to Skype or videoconference after that. After two years of continuing to promote these opportunities, we have had some success stories that I am certain will be contagious throughout the building. Most recently, one of our third grade teachers Skyped with her sister’s third grade class to discuss a book both classes had read. When it was over, one student commented that they had missed their regularly scheduled language arts class. The learning process was invisible to him. They had in fact discussed with their Skype mates several skills they had been focusing on; theme, plot, characters…Lesson learned – perseverance.

I hope the experiences I have shared will assist someone through the same process, lift the spirits of anyone that is as discouraged as I was at times, and inspire others to give just one tool a try. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a by-product of utilizing any web 2.0 tool; classroom management made easy. Please visit my blog and view the post on March 1, 2011. During the three video clips you can’t help but notice that all students are participating, none are off task, and the teachers do not redirect any student behavior. Conclusion, when students are actively engaged, motivated, and excited, learning and behavior are natural.

Michael Gregory is the principal of the Alpine Elementary School in Sparta, New Jersey. Due to budget cuts last year, his previous school (grade 5 only) was closed and the district restructured its two remaining K-4 buildings to include a pre K-2 school and his current grade 3-5 building with a population of 850 students.

Guest Post - End of the school year approaches - lesson ideas and reflection

By David Andrade,

We are quickly approaching the end of the school year. Advanced Placement Exams start next week, effectively the end of AP classes (although I do a lot of projects with my AP students after their exam). The student's last day of school is June 21st and teachers finish on June 22nd. Seniors will be finished by June13th though as they then have graduation rehearsals and Senior activities. I teach 90% seniors, so I have to finish up everything by the 1st of June when Senior finals begin. 

As I was looking over the schedule and working on my lesson plans for next month, I was trying to decide what I would do with my students. I use web quests, videos and activities from Discovery Education, and projects to keep my students learning during a time of distraction. Senior Prom, Junior Ring Dance, end of the year, Spring Fever, Senioritis. They all affect schools around this time. So, I use the projects. Think of projects related to your curriculum that would be great to do at the end of the year and use that instead of lectures, problem sets, or standard labs.

The rockets project is my favorite and my students favorite. The web quest incorporates elements from NASA's web site. The students are applying multiple areas of physics during this project: energy, chemical reactions, fluid dynamics, forces, Newton's Laws, and more. They get to work in a group and do something hands-on and creative (they get to decorate the rockets any way they want and they are also able to do different fin designs). The best part is launch day. The students get to go outside and launch rockets. I handle the actual launching so that I can ensure safety, but the students love the countdown and watching the launch. They also have to chase down rockets that drift in the wind. Who wouldn't want to be outside launching rockets on a beautiful Spring day?. Then, they do a web quest on aerodynamics and then design, build, and fly their own gliders. They learn some great physics topics while having a lot of fun.

Another thing I start doing around this time is to reflect on the past year. What worked? What went right? What went wrong? How did I handle classroom management issues? How well did my students learn? Lots of questions to answer and get ready for next year. I do this throughout the year too, but this is the point where I can really plan and make changes for the following year.


One thing I do to as an evaluation of the year is to have my students fill out a survey about the class and their experience. It asks them to rate things such as was the classroom and equipment (labs and projects) adequate, was enough time given for demonstrations and review, how well did the teacher answer student questions, and their thoughts on assignments and work given. It also asks about me: did I set a climate that was conducive to learning, did I effectively communicate with students, did I address their needs and issues, and were the teaching methods effective. I also have space for them to write comments about what they liked about the class and what they think should be improved. They can put their name on it or it can be anonymous.

I do take the surveys with a grain of salt. Some students write all "4" (highest score) and some complain that everything was too hard. But I do get a lot of great feedback and ideas. Some times I am surprised by the level of sophistication that I my students have and how insightful they are about their classes. (I've also used this model with pre-service teachers).

After I've read through all of the surveys and taken notes, I sit and think about the whole year. I try to be critical of things so that I can really evaluate how things went. I am going to implement some of the things I've come up with and some of the things my students noted, but I am also going to keep my lessons flexible so that I can modify them once I've met my students next year and see what they are like and what they need. I believe in constantly assessing how I am doing as an educator and how well my students are learning and changing and modifying things as needed throughout the year. The end of the year and summer are great times to come up with lots of different ideas so that I have a collection of ideas to use next year.

Ongoing Assessment is a term we use in EMS for constantly monitoring our patient and changing our treatment as needed based on the patient. This is also something we do in education. We change things to meet the needs of our students.

This year I've been using the classroom blogs and Google Forms to get more feedback from the students throughout the year. I will also be using a Google Form instead of paper for this year's final class evaluation. 

As I write this, I keep having thoughts about issues I've had and how to change them next year. I'm also thinking about the type of teacher I am and what I can do to improve my attitude and persona to make me better. I think one of the things I'm going to do this summer is to actually relax a bit instead of working to much to recharge myself. I will be attending a few conferences and will keep active with my PLN (Personal Learning Network) to share ideas, thoughts, and resources. I want to come back to school next year enthusiastic, motivated, and ready to have some fun while educating. 

So, let's hear from you:

What do you do in your classroom at the end of the year to keep students focused and engaged?

How do you evaluate teaching and learning in your classroom? 

What do you do at the end of the year and summer to prep for the next year?

David Andrade is a Physics Teacher and Educational Technology Specialist in Connecticut. He is the author of the Educational Technology Guy blog, where he reviews free educational technology resources for teachers, discusses ways to use technology to improve teaching and learning, and discusses other issues in education. 
He is also a professional development trainer and presenter at conferences, helping educators learn new and innovative ways to educate students.

Using teaching as inquiry to guide an eLearning action plan

My name is Claire Amos and I am the Director of eLearning at Epsom Girls Grammar School in Auckland, New Zealand. I lead our ICT Professional Development contract, which means I get to split my time between teaching (High School English) and leading eLearning professional development for our teaching staff.

This year I am working with our teaching staff to develop their own eLearning action plans, using a teaching as inquiry cycle to inform their planning.

'Teaching as Inquiry' is an inquiry cycle designed to support effective pedagogy, which is part of our New Zealand Curriculum. The Teaching as Inquiry cycle is made up of four stages:

  1. Focusing Inquiry - What is important (and therefore worth spending time on), given where my students are at? This focusing inquiry establishes a baseline and a direction. The teacher uses all available information to determine what their students have already learned and what they need to learn next.
  2. Teaching Inquiry - What strategies (evidence-based) are most likely to help my students learn this? In this teaching inquiry, the teacher uses evidence from research and from their own past practice and that of colleagues to plan teaching and learning opportunities aimed at achieving the outcomes prioritized in the focusing inquiry.
  3. Teaching and learning
  4. Learning Inquiry - What happened as a result of the teaching, and what are the implications for future teaching? In this learning inquiry, the teacher investigates the success of the teaching in terms of the prioritized outcomes, using a range of assessment approaches. They do this both while learning activities are in progress and also as longer-term sequences or units of work come to an end. They then analyze and interpret the information to consider what they should do next. (Source: NZC)
When Teaching as Inquiry is used to inform an eLearning Action Plan, the most important thing is that the teacher begins with the student's learning needs (not the eLearning tool or strategy). The four stages stay the same, but the following questions are also asked:
  1. Focusing Inquiry - What is the desired student learning outcome?
  2. Teaching Inquiry - What eLearning tools and strategies will we use to support students achieving the desired student learning outcome?
  3. Teaching and Learning - What are we going to do and when are we going to do it?
  4. Learning Inquiry - What are we hoping to be the results and how will we measure the success of our eLearning tools and strategies?
Below is my EDtalk, where I do my best to explain how we are using Teaching as Inquiry to inform an eLearning Action Plan.

Applications for Education:
I guess the aim of all of this, is that teachers integrate eLearning in a meaningful, strategic and effective way; ensuring that the student (not the technology) remains the focus and the priority in and beyond the classroom.

Other EDtalks you might like to check out:
Crockett - Understanding the Digital Generation
Derek Wenmoth -
Ten Trends Episode 1: The Smart Web
Ewan McIntosh - ePortfolios; just good 'old fashioned' sharing

Claire Amos is the Director of eLearning at Epsom Girls Grammar School in Auckland, New Zealand. She is also the facilitator of the ICTs in English community on English Online. She writes a blog called Teaching and eLearning and is also on Twitter.

Crowd Sourcing Solutions to Teen Pregnancy - Guest Post

This is a guest post from Jim Sill. Jim is a Google Certified Teacher and all around good guy that I had the pleasure of meeting at ISTE last year. Jim Sill is a video production teacher at El Diamante High School, Visalia, CA. Over the years, his award winning students have produced videos that have showcased issues like gang life, teen alcohol abuse, suicide and more. Follow him on Twitter.

We have all seen the telephone commercial featuring a dad typing a mindless twitter post with his phone.  “I’m...sitting...on...the...patio”.  Even though the commercial aired a couple of years ago, that feeling about social networking still reverberates around the halls of education.  Does it have a place in the classroom?  Like many teachers, I have often struggled with that question and how to introduce Twitter and Facebook into my lessons.  I have struggled until now.

Five years ago, my video production students began working with a local non-profit to produce videos about the repercussions of becoming a teen parent.  You should know that our county ranks number two in California for number of teen births and is 31 points higher than the state average.  Every year, my students produce a video that addresses the issue.  This year, they wanted to finally start offering solutions instead of just identifying the problem.  They all agreed that we needed to stay away from statistics and start hearing from real kids. They wondered what kids in areas with lower teen birth rates were doing to avoid becoming teen parents and how do we reach them. Enter social networking.  

Using a Facebook fan page and twitter posts, we recently launched a project called “Remaining Young, Refusing to be a Statistic”.  For the last couple weeks, students and I have been posting the link to the project’s Google Site.  It features an embedded Google Form with survey questions, a Google Map of participants, and examples of past videos.  To continue the spreading the word, we even embedded a Twitter link in the confirmation of the Form (Thanks to Alan Levine for that trick). Using these free collaborative tools, my students worked together to create a one-stop site that enables teens and adults from around the country (and beyond!) to help put an end to this ever-present problem.

The idea is to let the survey answers shape the direction of the video. In addition, they hope that some participants submit a one minute webcam video that can be used in the final production.  In other words, they are crowd sourcing their own video.  

From a teacher’s perspective, this project is bigger than just making a class video.  Using a variety of social networking applications gives students a view of how to use these tools to impact not only their school work, but their community.  It is empowering for them to know that the Google Site that they worked together to create is being viewed by complete strangers, an authentic audience, from around the world.  The idea of mapping participants is a great way for them to visualize that their work is far reaching.  Finally, the responses from participants gives them a broader look at customs, norms, and actions of students from an area outside of our community.  

We hope that you will consider filling out the survey and share the project with your network.  The students are projected to finish the final video in June and will post it to the site. With your help, we are teaching students that these tools are not “mindless” and that they can be used to impact our world.  

Tearing Down Your Classroom Walls

Kara Cornejo-5th grade teacher at Zion Lutheran School in St. Charles, Missouri. 
Skype: karacornejo
Teachers have been using Skype to connect with other classrooms for a while now. However, teachers like myself, have had to use other social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to start the initial conversation with these classes.
The first time I used Skype in my classroom was to bring a Native American in to share more about their culture and traditions with my class. I initially had to use Twitter to find him.  But no longer do you need to search other sites for people/classes to Skype with.
Skype has now launched a new portion of their website called “Skype in the Classroom.”  Skype in the Classroom was started to make it easier for teachers to connect with other teachers or classrooms from around the world. Skype is now making it possible to collaborate with people you would have never had the opportunity to bring into your classroom. Teachers are using this section of their website to connect with other teachers that may be learning the same concepts or searching for teachers or professionals who might be able to bring something new to their students. You are no longer only limited to what is in your textbooks.
And it’s simple to get started. Log in to Skype. The first thing you will want to do is set up a profile. Use this opportunity to tell other teachers what you are studying in your classroom and what subjects you are interested in connecting with other schools. Do you teach Science? Social Studies? Are you looking for pen pals? Or are you open to anything? You will also want to add a location to your profile so teachers can find you by simply browsing a map.
When Skype in the Classroom first started you had to file through all the teachers profiles to find someone who was doing some of the same teaching as you. Now Skype has added an awesome feature to Skype in the Classroom, the Projects section. Teachers can now list their projects that they are interested in connecting with other schools on. This makes it so much easier for teachers to search for projects in their grade/subject level.
Skype in the Classroom is a great tool to build your PLN (Personal Learning Network). I feel that the bigger your PLN is the more people you will bring into your classroom and the more your students are going to learn.
Just recently I was searching for classes all over the world to join us in a “Weather Around the World” unit. After searching for approximately one minute, I found another teacher who was looking for the same thing. We connected and I decided that I wanted more classes involved. I then put on my profile (this was before the Projects section on the website) that I was looking for classes to participate in a weather unit with us. After about 48 hours I had several other schools from Canada to London to right here in the US willing to participate. 
Skype in the Classroom has also featured me and my story in these news articles.
Mashable                                    FierceVoIP                                    Digital Technology

Month in Review - April's Most Popular Posts

Greetings from Omaha, Nebraska where I've just finished a full day of presentations at the Nebraska Educational Technology Association's annual conference. I was totally impressed by the organization of the event and the great people I met here. It was great to see so many people come out to learn about how they can use free technology in their classrooms. If you're within driving distance of Omaha, I highly recommend marking your calendar to attend next year's NETA conference. And if you're a conference organizer interested in having me speak at your event, please get in touch with me.

These were the most popular posts in April:
1. Brainstorming - Google Across the Curriculum
2. Five Ways to Make Word Clouds from Text
3. An Education Playlist - Suggestions Wanted
4. QR Codes in the Classroom
5. 7 Good Sources of Mathematics Videos
6. YouTube Launches Copyright School
7. Google Apps K-12 Lesson Plan Selector
8. HOTTS - Higher Order Thinking and Technology Skills
9. iBrainstorm - Free iPad & iPhone Brainstorming App
10. - Snip and Share the Best Parts of Pages

Thank you to everyone that visited Free Technology for Teachers this month and shared the links you found. With your help this month Free Technology for Teachers surpassed the 34,000 subscriber mark.

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