12.06.2008

Let Me Google That for You

Wow. What a site. It's simple, yet has so many implications. Here is a sample.

Let me google that for you is a site I saw for the first time today, and it has floored me.

This is for all those people that find it more convenient to bother you with their question rather than google it for themselves.
What a profound statement. How many times have you been approached with a question that is so easily answered? If can be quite frustrating. Yet, at the same time, it opens up so many questions in the field of education.

If a teacher has a question, can they not take the time to do a little work first before seeking outside help? I don't know how many times I just typed their question in Google to get the answer for them. Think about it: As a teacher, I'm trying to get my students to realize they can find the answer without relying on me as their teacher, as I won't always be there for them. They need the skill and confidence to be able to know where and how to find answers, be it through Google, looking in books, or trying out a process and realizing patterns. If a student asks me a question that simple, I don't give them the answer. I give them a means of finding the answer.

This site also gets me thinking about tests and quizzes. If I end up asking a question that can be Googled and doesn't provide any higher order thinking, why would I be asking that question? This site has brought that question to mind again, and it's something that really should be shared with teachers. The question is, how do you approach this (possibly touchy) subject? At least in my district, we have had CFF training to help move us in that direction, as well as a forward-thinking staff.

12.04.2008

Cell Phone Exploration: Day 1

So, I began my foray into utilizing cell phones in my classroom. I am starting out with my Advanced Algebra classes. So far, I am only utilizing Poll Everywhere to gather quick responses to short questions, almost as you would with a CPS (but a lot cheaper). Neither myself or my district had to purchase the CPS, as we use either the cell phones students already have or the computers we received through the CFF grant. This allowed for 100% participation, regardless of whether a student has a cell phone or not.

I first asked a review question from the previous day, hoping to see the correct answer. I set up a multiple choice question with four possible answers, and I had all but one student in the two classes choose the correct answer, but I believe that was due to being unfamiliar with the process. It was good to know that I got through to them, and you are not always able to know that until it's too late. It is so nice to be able to receive this feedback as a teacher, as I was then ready to move on to the next topic.

Right now I'm working on a unit dealing with solving systems of equations. We covered the substitution method today. We worked on two problems together as a class, then I set them loose on a third example to do on their own. When they were done, they were to submit their answer as a text answer. Most of the students did the work correctly, except for one step, where they ended up losing a possible solution due to making a very common error. I was somewhat expecting that, which was a great thing that allowed me to review the concept. Had I gone through this problem at the board, I know I would have lost most of the class. By allowing them to make the mistake and then going back over where the mistake was made, we were able to deal with an error that comes around very often, and I had my students' attention when we covered it. The other students that made a different error also were able to determine where their mistake was made, as well.

I think for now, I will continue using the polling option with my classes to see how they further react to our use of cell phones in this capacity. They seemed quite receptive for now, but I will have to continue to grow in my use of this mobile technology if I am going to make a success out of this experiment.

On another cell phone note, I was speaking with my buddy Chris at a retirement dinner last night, and he was telling me how he was using coupons through his iPhone. How interesting. He had been doing it for quite some time, until the other day he attempted to use a coupon at a place of business that he had done so before, and he was told that they needed a paper copy of the coupon. It was no longer good enough to just scan the bar code from the iPhone. How 20th Century. Could you imagine if businesses actually embraced this idea? They could have coupons posted on their sites, and by accessing these coupons, they would be building web traffic, which would help with their advertising revenue on their site. It could be a win-win for everyone involved! This could be something to keep an eye on in the future.

11.28.2008

A podcast

Recently, I participated in a podcast on civil liberties of students as well as technology in education. Check it out here.

11.24.2008

Priorities and Cell Phones (A Two Part Post)

Part I: Priorities

In an effort to try and do a better job in both teaching and CFF Coaching, I have realized that I need to better prioritize what I need to do. My body is constantly telling me that it cannot handle the stresses being imposed on it by the double duty, so I guess I should listen to it and rethink how I am approaching the two positions. So here goes:
  1. My students. They have to come first. That's why I'm here. And as long as I am teaching and coaching, teaching must be the top priority. After all, without them, I wouldn't have either position.
  2. Reflection. I need to reflect better. I have this blog, so I need to take the time to use it. I constantly jot down notes, but often find I don't have the time to do anything with them. That needs to change if I am to grow.
  3. Time for me. As it is, it is now 4:30 in the afternoon, almost 2 hours after the contractual time we are allowed to leave school, yet here I am, still in my classroom, gathering resources and organizing. I often remain here until 5 PM or later, then go home and do more work. I need to tell myself that enough is enough. If I can't get it done during my work hours, I shouldn't kill myself trying to get it done at home. I'm only a half-time coach, so I can only accomplish so much. I have to look at the small accomplishments I achieve as the successes they are. If my district truly wants to get the most out of this position, they must be the ones to commit to making it a full-time position. I'm not a miracle worker. Of course, this will also mean less that I will be offering my district, but again, I'm killing myself right now and that needs to change.
I guess those are the three big goals that I need to accomplish right now to get things back on track for me. My body has been telling me that I'm demanding too much. I need to start listening and get it back in shape. There are some roadblocks, however. I can't always have my students as the number one priority, as there are requirements of CFF that take me out of my district and, thus, away from my classroom. I have seen that it has had a negative effect on them. Grades aren't where they should be. We're a whole chapter behind where I need to be due to having to review what was to be covered when I was out.

In an ideal world, I would be able to be a CFF Coach full time. I would be able to achieve so many of the goals that I have set for myself, and would be able to assist the staff and student body to better understand what the 21st Century skills are and how to include them in their everyday instruction and learning.

Part II: Cell Phones

It's no secret that I am a big proponent of using cell phones in education. I have used them sparsely at this point, and I really want to see if I can fully integrate them as a learning tool, so my Advanced Algebra students have a treat awaiting them when we return from break.

I already have great ideas for using Poll Everywhere (and their web voting for those without cell phones) for quick feedback as to whether they understand the concepts we are covering. I tried it once, and it worked pretty well.

But I want to look at it as something more. How can we use the cameras on the phones to analyze with the math? How can we use calling features to record our thoughts? What about texting to gather information and get quick answers?

It's time to shift into driving the technology to do for us what we want it to do. True, there are many arguments out there for not allowing cell phones in schools. But they'll be there, whether we allow them or not. Why not teach the proper use?

To help me with this, I just ordered Toys to Tools by Liz Kolb, and I am using her blog as a wonderful resource. She truly inspired me last year at NECC, and now is the time for action! Over the coming months, I will be blogging about how the process is going (what works and what doesn't) as an effort to reflect more (see Part I of post) as well as to help share why we should embrace this technology in our schools.

10.17.2008

The Best Conversation at CFF Boot Camp

So far this week, I have had many conversations with many people. I have learned about widgets in wikis, saw model lessons by teachers from throughout the state, demonstrated how cell phones can be great educational tools, and talked about some of the disadvantages of Web 2.0. But the best conversation I had involved someone who had nothing to do with CFF.

We stayed in the Holiday Inn New Cumberland, which is near the Army Base in New Cumberland. As it was, there was a group of Canadian Mounties staying in our hotel as well as many people involved in the Armed Forces that needed a place to stay nearby. One of these gentlemen (a "Buck Sergeant") had been talking with various coaches throughout the week. Last night, he happened to meet up with myself and a group of my colleagues. He ended up engaging us in the best conversation I had while here at Boot Camp (not that the other one's weren't that good).

First off, this gentleman had a true interest in learning, and you could tell with the questions he was asking. He was asking questions that required deep thought, extended answers, and no easy way out. If our answers veered away from the question for just a little bit, he would redirect us to get us back on task. Maybe he should moderate the presidential debates? But one reason he was so interested in our profession was the fact that when he was done with the Armed Forces, he wants to become a teacher.

I wish I could remember his name. I wish I could remember some of the questions he asked. I wish he would come teach at our school when he gets out of the Armed Forces. As it is, between having days that are over 13 hours long and all of the conversations I've had and things I've learned, some of the more important things I want to remember have been lost. I wish our days were longer with chances at having more collaboration. And I really wish I had an audio recorder with me for my conversation last night.

9.22.2008

A "Difficult" Student

I have a student in my low-level math remediation course this year who is attempting to make things difficult on me. Little does he know, all of his difficult-ness will be turned right back on him.

We all know students like this. They haven't done well in a math course for any number of reasons in the past, and now they are stuck in the "Can't-Do-Math" Rut. I wish I could go back to the point in time in each and every one of these students' pasts and find the moment that made them think they couldn't do math and fix it for them. Instead, I have to do it after years of having them tell themselves that they can't do math.

Of course, this student started out the year with the number 1 question all math teachers face: "When will I ever use this?"

Aha! I get to use my answer. I love answering this question, as it gets the kids thinking, as they never have a response to my answer.

"I don't know. What are you doing for every second for the rest of your life?" I ask. I get dead silence. Now I'm all set up and ready to go. "Truthfully, I doubt you'll use many of the specific skills you will learn in this math class."

"Then why am I in here?" he retorts? "This is a waste of my time!"

"Well, let's start with what you want to do after high school." He responds by stating that he plans on entering the fire academy. Now I'm ready to unload. "Are all fires put out the same way? No. When the firefighters arrive at a fire, they have a variety of conditions to consider as to how to attack the fire. They have a huge problem to solve."

There it is. Solving problems. That's what math is. It's not all x's and y's and equations. Numbers are just part of the overall view. Math is problem solving. Math is about taking a situation, analyzing what is being presented, sorting through the stuff you need and the stuff you don't, and figuring out what you can do with it.

I get stunned silence. Every kid in the class is listening (which is a feat in a class like this). I can see the gears churning in each of their heads. They start seeing connections between math and the real world all of a sudden, just from getting this "new" viewpoint. The next week is spent with my class working hard, working together, solving problems.

Then today, the same student tries to be difficult again. Again, it's with a concept that is tough for students to grasp until they're willing and able to deal with the abstract. It's all fine and well for us mathematicians to use x and y as our most-used variables, because we are able to work with them in an abstract way quite easily. But our students see "x." Well, when they see that, they are used to having it equal one specific value when they solve an algebraic sentence for that variable. So when they get to the problems where x is actually just a variable and not a specific value, these students really do struggle.

So, I start by asking, "What is x?" Blank stare. "Ok, I'll take that as you don't know. That's good."

"How's that good? How else am I supposed to get an answer?" (The problem was if x + y = y, what is xy?)

"It's not about the answer. It's about working with what you have. It's about being able to take some information and make something of it." Then I get to my favorite example. "How do you get to Harrisburg?"

"Well, there are many different ways."

"Right. You could take 422 to 322 and I could take 81. Either way, we both get to Harrisburg. But it's not about being there, it's about getting there, and in order to get there, you have to start somewhere. You have to start with whatever information is givn to you."

It's always a mind-blowing idea for kids to begin thinking in a more abstract way. And I love getting these difficult students because they make my job easier. They walk into my trap. They begin to realize that they can learn math.

And some of them even realize that they like it.

9.08.2008

3rd Year and 2 Months Behind

Who would have thought that going into the third year of CFF would require so much work? We have no new teachers to introduce to the program, as all of our core classes have access to the equipment (which is also why we did not get any funding for equipment this year...it would have been nice to equip some other classes, though). With that in mind, you would think that our staff was getting more comfortable with working with the equipment and would not need to call on me as much as they used to.

WRONG!

Since they are getting more comfortable using the equipment, they are working on new ways to integrate it, meaning they need me even more! I have already worked with two middle school math teachers, a Spanish teacher, our librarian, two English teachers, a math teacher, our electives teacher (yearbook, journalism, etc.), two social studies teachers, and our administration. I have a meeting with another English teacher later today, as well.

This makes me happy. It means that CFF is really having an impact. I have noticed that, overall, the students are more active in their learning. Many teachers have that extra bounce in their step from being reinvigorated. I am seeing teachers taking risks where they would not have before. I get emails that show teachers are reflecting on their instruction, learning from what works and what doesn't.

How could I be more satisfied with my colleagues? I wish they they would allow their students even more access to technology. I wish they would share theri wikispaces with their students to allow them to contribute to the learning. I wish they would see the possible benefits of cell phones in the classroom (our student news team interviewed me about that today, as they learned I used Poll Everywhere in class the other week). I wish we had our server set up so that we could access the blogging, wiki, and podcasting features of it.

I can see when many of these wishes will come true in the future. Some might be this year. Others might not be until years down the road, but I can see the shift happening. The toughest part of it all is the time constraint. My number one issue is how do I accomplish that which I have set out to do when I am still only a half-time integrator? How can I help those teachers in my school where I don't have a common time to meet with them? How can I help my colleagues learn how to balance their use of technology with traditional teaching methods, all while determining which will work best?

And of course, I'm working on all of this while I still have to go through information from NECC, sort through email and voicemail, as well as hit all sorts of other things on my to-do list (resource gathering/organizing, anyone?).

Ah, the challenges of CFF. You always keep my on my toes!

7.28.2008

Icons!

Today, I have been working on getting materials ready for my professional development sessions here at school. I was working on a handout, and I wanted to include icons on the handout. I know I can take a screen shot of just a portion of the screen, but I also remembered that I had learned about how to get various sized icons for any application on my Mac through Preview, but I couldn't remember how, at least at first. But now I remember!

I figured, what better way to make sure I remember than to blog it! Not only will I be able to access it later on, but I can also share it with everyone else! So here is a quick tutorial on how to do it!

1. Open your Applications folder. I like to do it through the Go menu, but however you want to do it will work, as well.














2. Choose the application that you want the icon for.














3. Right-click (or ctrl-click) on the icon and choose Copy "Application" ("Application" is replaced with whatever application you're working with, Firefox in my case).













4. In Preview (open Preview if you already haven't), choose New from Clipboard.




















Now you have icons that you can work with! You can take these icons and drag them to iPhoto for use with any of your iWork apps. I hope this helps out anyone who was trying to figure out how to do this.

7.07.2008

Disappointing Article

So I was browsing through recommended articles for me from Yahoo!, and I see this headline: Technology reshapes America's classrooms. Of course, I immediately open the article and begin reading, thinking about how they'll talk about Bloom's new taxonomy and 21st Century skills. I was psyched that the media was finally catching wind of what we're doing in our classrooms.

Then I read the article, and I realized that there was no substance to it! The first paragraph was heading down a good road, but then the author takes a wrong turn. This article ends up talking about how computers are being used instead of textbooks (which is a good use), and then begins talking about charter schools and online classes.

WHAT?!?

Where's all the talk of collaboration? What about getting kids to find information, analyze it, and then create new information? Where's the talk of getting kids to think? "This makes me learn better. It's like playing a game." If all this author got out of technology in the classroom is learning as if students are playing games and online classes, then this guy has totally missed his mark. I think those of us in Pennsylvania should invite Jason Szep into our schools to show him what the 21st Century classroom looks like.

7.03.2008

Going Home Already?

So, here I am sitting in the airport in San Antonio. It's a bittersweet feeling, leaving a city and conference as great as NECC 2008 was. As soon as I got to the airport, I felt the need for coffee. Great, they only have Starbucks (not a Starbucks fan). Oh, wait, there's a Dunkin' Donuts here, too! Awesome. I get a French vanilla coffee and chocolate glazed donut, then notice the sign that says "Grand Opening July 8, 2008." I guess that'll be the celebration. Not sure how many people will come to the airport to celebrate, especially since they'll have to get a plane ticket!

I can't believe how many ideas I got from this conference, with the biggest ideas being for using cell phones in my classes. I cannot wait to see how this experiment will work, and I hope it will encourage others to see the possibilities this technology gives teachers. There are so many teachers that I know that are complaining they want cell phones and iPods banned. Why? Is it so bad that kids listen to music while working on a worksheet? I listen to music while I'm working all the time. And if you're worried about kids cheating by texting answers on their cells, then maybe you're not testing for the right things. No offense, but if I'm only writing a date or identifying a participle (not that I remember what they are) or writing down a memorized formula, am I really being assessed on what I know, or trivial facts I can remember?

True, there are benefits to training ourselves to remember some of these things, and it really does make many higher-order thinking problems easier to deal with. But if I need to know the date of a certain event, can't I just look it up? Shouldn't I be learning how to find the information that I need when I need it and how to analyze it to create something new or solve some problem?

Now, does this mean that we should let kids use textbooks and all resources for tests and quizzes? By all means, no. But it it something to think about when designing assessments and how you're going to deliver content.

In my district, there will be three of us teaching our Advanced Algebra courses. The original plan was to have us all collaborate to create materials to use for this year so we're all delivering roughly the same content. However, I didn't really join in on it, as I don't think I buy into it. I know I won't be teaching the class the same in April as I will be in September. And I won't be teaching it the same as I did two and three years ago. I know what I need to cover. I know what the kids need to learn. But I don't know what new methods and technologies I will be using, so it's time to try new things (again).

Over the next two months, I will be visiting the NECC page to see all of the podcasts and videos that were made available. It's like the never ending conference, and it's great! Between reading what other conference-goers have experienced and communicating with them through twitter, Plurk, email, Skype, etc., I have just enlarged my PLN to a point where the learning will not end.

7.02.2008

Wordle

Jeff Rothenberger shared this one with me from a session he saw. Wordle is amazingly easy to use, and pretty self-explanatory. You enter some words or choose a place to choose the words from. Then edit font, colors, arrangement of letters, etc. Then you're given options to print or embed after saving. Here's the first one I did, pulling in text from an earlier blog post:

Reflections on NECC 2008

Don't worry, the conference hasn't ended yet. There's still the closing Keynote. But I felt I needed to sit down before then and gather a few thoughts, even though they're not mind-boggling.

First, I want to go with some new things I have learned, and I'll do them in a list format.
  1. Pennsylvania is so far ahead of many other states thanks to Classrooms for the Future. I have talked with technology integrators from other states that don't know about so many collaboration tools or Web 2.0 apps that can be useful in education. I am so glad that we have our network of coaches and mentors (with teachers joining in now, as well) to share, collaborate, educate, discover, and everything else with.
  2. Even though PA is ahead of the curve, I have found that there are many things that many of us still don't know and haven't seen. I saw in a session today a way to create a slider in Excel to instantly change values, which can be used in comparing graphs instantly. Now I just have to review the process and learn how to do it myself.
  3. Apple has taken away some of their accessibility. They did not have a display on the floor. They were only running sessions. I've heard reasons as to why they have done this, but I don't know if they're true or not, so I won't list them. However, it would have been nice to have been able to stop by and just talk with some reps from Apple. I didn't need to see any equipment in order to communicate with them. I was able to talk with so many other vendors and create some contacts. I stopped by Apangea today, and the one vendor remembered me from last year! These are the connections we need to make.
  4. I don't like having to sit down at a session at a booth to hear about your product. I don't need to see you play on an interactive whiteboard for 20 minutes when I would much prefer to ask the questions I want to ask about whatever it is I'm seeing and getting what I want to see. Next time, if a vendor says, "Why don't you sit down and watch our presentation? It'll only be 5 minutes," I don't know what I'll do. I much prefer the vendors who are more personal and willing to give me what I want.
  5. The next big thing in education will be cell phones. There are already many great tools that can be used to integrate into education, and as more and more teachers begin to integrate this technology, we will see even more robust solutions showing up. I wonder which wireless company will be the first to push their phones as educational devices? Will they create sites and content for education?
I don't think I'm going to blog during today's Keynote. I'll probably go back and reflect on it afterward at some point, as well, as sit down and go through the stacks of paperwork that have been handed to me throughout these past few days. I hope I'll have time to view other blogs on sessions I wasn't able to attend, as well as read the reactions of others from the ones I did attend. As for now, though, it's time to file into the closing Keynote. NECC 2008, we hardly knew ye. Hope to see everyone in DC for NECC 2009!

PA Advocates for EdTech Funding

Fried Pickles at Hooters?

And they were good! I'm so glad I learned about posting pictures directly from my iPhone to Blogger!

On the Shoulders of Technology

As I walked into this session, the presenter Frank Sobierajski had a video of a first date between and pi, which was interesting. He then showed us how he modeled a problem using Geometer's Sketchpad, where you could determine the minimum and maximum distance to place drinks on the edge of a pool, where the distance is determined on where the two friends are in the pool. It was quite neat.

Frank talked about how he was going to show us many interesting things that we may not know. He begins by showing how to create a scroll bar to adjust values in cells in Excel. He mentions that most of what he is showing he learned by playing around, including noticing that if you change the b value in a standard form equation, the vertex traces another parabola! There are many uses of sliders in Excel. He also shows how they can be used with functions to compare graphs.

He next moves into Geometer's Sketchpad and show sliders as well. This is truly amazing stuff. He started from scratch and ended up with sliders that graph a line in slope-intercept form.

Moving on to Word, we look at putting a grid in and make a triangle in it. In the end, we will have a fractal. From there, he follows the 3 r's of fractals: Reduce, replicate, repeat. Back in Sketchpad, he moves to Sierpinski's Triangle. He breezes through creating it, and it's flooring me. This is such a great constructivist session. With tools like this, you can definitely imagine having more explorations into fractals in today's classrooms. I am so glad that Frank says that we're going to get this information at the end of the session.

I'm sitting next to Pat from West Shore (he didn't even see me when he sat down), and we're constantly turning to each other and saying "Wow!" I wonder how many non-math teachers are in this session. It would be great to get their reactions.

Next is The Chaos Game, back in Excel. Basically, you plot three points to form a triangle. Then, generate (randomly) a fourth point, then plot points that are between there, finding out that if you plot enough points, you see Sierpinski's again.

Next, we see stop signs in Sketchpad. Starting with a square, give the students a chance to turn it into a stop sign, letting them explore how to do so, without previous knowledge of the details.

Moving on, we see finding the angle of descent on Millennium Force, again with Sketchpad. Following that, we see some interesting signing in hotels, schools, and hospitals. Who does this? Obviously not mathematicians!

Next, we see great ways to include photography into math lessons. Take pictures of water coming out of hoses or water fountains and have kids fit curves to it. You can even do it with so many everyday objects and apply so many different mathematical concepts to them. Why don't we all do more of this? If you want to talk about getting the real-world connections for your students, this is how.

Another way to use photography in a math class is to have a scavenger hunt having kids find cases of math in their world. Logos also have many interesting mathematical characteristics, as well.

In the end, Frank gave us a handout with an email address to access to access his content from today. Send an email to fsobierajski@nrwcs.org with subject necc08, and an instant response will be sent to allow you to access the info.

If you know anyone who wants to include more technology in their mathematics, or even if you just want to wow some friends or colleagues, check out his material. You'll see what I mean.

6.30.2008

Exhibit floor at NECC 2008

Cell Phones as Learning Tools

Now here is one of the sessions I have been looking forward to. One of my main goals for this year is to integrate cell phones into my instruction, and here is the first session to do so. We start out with a poll on wiffiti. We answered a question on the percentage of schools that are providing 21st Century instruction (I guessed 29%).

The presenter for this session is Liz Kolb. Visit the wiki for the session here, and her blog and book. All of the activities we are seeing today can be done with any cell phone, so a smart phone is not needed (although there are more ideas for these smart phones).

Liz gives us four reasons to integrate cell phones in learning.

1. The number of students that have cell phones: 76%. We sent a text to polleverywhere to see how polling live can be used.

2. How do students use their cell phones? Communication, texting, and music are big!

3. How do students like to learn? They like to collaborate, they want to get things at anytime or any place, have structured activities, and have relevance to their world. How do you do this? How about ChaCha? Use 1.800.2CHACHA or text CHACHA [242 242] for an almost immediate answer.

There are also mobile blogs that are available out there. News organizations are depending on instant info from normal citizens, and many sites (CNN.com, etc.) are offering places for iReporting. We are going to become mobile citizen journalists for NECC 2008. We're looking at go@blogger.com. This is some amazing stuff. I'm going to be posting photos to my blog like crazy now!

Next is gabcast. You can podcast directly to a blog. This session is so amazing. Why are they limiting Liz to only one hour and only one session? I can't wait to get her book! If you are ever at a conference (or anywhere else) and get a chance to see Liz speak, do yourself a favor and do so! This is giving me so many great things that I can do with my students (and teachers).

We move onto Flickr and their mobile version. Then on to blip.tv. And finally Jott. There's just too much! I wish I could share more, but I was playing. Hopefully we can get Liz to come to our CFF Boot Camp this fall, and THIS is exactly what we need!

If you want more info on a session like this, please check out the links in the beginning of this post. I wish this session had a lot more time.

What's the Buzz about Technology in Afterschool?

This session is being recorded as a podcast, so you can listen as soon as it's uploaded. The presenters are Marilyn Heath and Kathy Dick. There are also resources listed on this page, such as a link to the PowerPoint file. The National Partnership for Quality Afterschool Learning has many resources available. I am taking notes during the session, and posting at the end.

For a quality afterschool program, things that are needed are "safe, academically and socially enriching program." It's not just baby-sitting. There are many students who go home and have nobody there to supervise them until their parents go home. By having an afterschool program, opportunities for technology, the arts, and other activities are made available where they may not have been available before.

These programs do not have to be run in the school, as community groups can run these as well. There are many states who are taking part in investing in these programs, often as part of NCLB. Could this be something that could be tied into CFF, as Marilyn mentioned that many states are including this in their 21st Century initiatives.

As you look into an afterschool program, the idea is to make the instruction somewhat different from classroom instruction. How do you get the kids to benefit from a program like this when the classroom instruction model isn't working for them? This must be different as the students haven't been responding to the classroom model.

Each program offered different things, such as Lego robotics, geocaching, creating music and video, online homework support, and tutorials. There was even a program where students wer taught how to build a computer that they were able to keep in the end! What a concept! A great way to teach new skills, and also a way to help students get their own computer.

One thing that is being talked about quite a bit by Marliyn is that she is talking about looking for more creativity in the afterschool programs, which I agree with. This is a great chance to give these extra opportunities to expand on learning and skills obtained during the school day. This brings up another thought: is there creativity in the regular classroom? There is such a push for hitting the standards during the regular school day, that many teachers have said they don't have the time to be creative because they have to get through the content. We have to do well on the test, right? This is something I have seen a lot when talking with teachers. They will say, "How can I do these projects and be creative when I have to cover the content?" Why can't you do both? Creativity and covering standards are not mutually exclusive ideas. They should go hand-in-hand. Why is it that we have to expand on the school day in order to bring in creativity? Maybe these ideas could be expanded into the regular school day.

Kathy took over and started covering the toolkit and curriculum resources. As she started, she mentioned a way to get audiences (teachers or students) more attentive is to pass out Atomic Fireballs. I'm trying to check out the links they are at in the presentation, and I'm not quite able to access the same pages they are at.

These are some great resources, and they're aligned to ISTE standards, and it's helpful as the instructors may not be certified teachers. I am a bit tuned out of this session now, as it seems to be just covering the Afterschool Training Toolkit. It is nice that these lessons are broken down into fully-planned lessons, but I would like to see more of how to integrate technology in. This is more just a session on the Toolkit at this point that says there are lessons and resources out there.

A video on GPS in an afterschool program was then shown. The instructor talks about how he had to learn the technology from scratch, just like the students will, except they have him as a guide. The students are showing a lot of excitement, and it's great because it gives them a chance to apply what they have learned in geography and math classes. It also helps with extending knowledge, as the activity could be used as an activating strategy.

Watching this video has me wondering why this is an afterschool activity? There are so many possibilities for this to be used in regular instruction as well. The only difference is that there aren't standards and content to cover in an afterschool program, so there is more flexibility.

This session is getting my juices flowing. I have been thinking about starting an afterschool technology program, where I can help students discover more ways that they can use technology to enhance their lives and education. There are so many students that I see only using technology for socializing and entertainment. They don't always see how they can use these tools to create new ideas and concepts and to collaborate to extend their own knowledge.

Marilyn takes over again and offers some challenges: "How can you bring technology to afterschool? Who are decision makers that can help you accomplish this? What are your challenges? What are some solutions or options? Can the National Partnership help?" A booklet was then shared with us that contains information for helping with set up and how to include technology into the program.

In the end, the big idea I am getting from this session is that due to the flexibility available in an afterschool program, there are many opportunities for extending instruction in a fun way. Resources are available, and students are given the freedom to explore and make mistakes, all in the name of having fun learning.

6.29.2008

NECC 2008: Keynote

I'm sitting in the lobby of Ballroom C with Chris Smith, as we were waiting for Laurie Vitale and Pat Galuska to make it in from the airport. Currently, James Surowiecki is speaking on groups and making decisions. There has been much research done on how groups tend to make better decisions than individuals, but there are characteristics that the group needs, such as a diverse group and a group that has independence.

Listening to James led Chris and I to talk about the Central PA CFF Collaboration Days. We were talking about how not only do groups do well at making decisions, but they also will almost always rise to the occasion to offer the best that the group can offer. You often see this with students, as well. They don't drop to the lowest denominator in the group. They will excel to their best, often leaving the stragglers behind.

This makes me wonder about our large edtech group. Not just in our IU's or our states or our country. But everyone who is represented here in this conference. We're the leaders. We're the facilitators. We're the ones doing the collaborating. Those that aren't with us are often left behind. Think about it. There have to be teachers in your district that have just said no to technology in their classrooms. Have you tried hard to change their mind, or are you focusing on those that want to change? I know that I have focused more on those that are willing. I don't give up on those that aren't fully willing, but I don't make myself go crazy trying to get them to change, either.

So how do we advance all of education? Force the change? That won't work. There are so many diverse opinions out there that it is hard to make a solitary change. We still need to give people the choice.

With the independence part, it is important to have a group of people who are willing to do something different. But with groups, there need to be those that are going to move beyond imitation and actually creating new knowledge and new thoughts.

Going back to the Collaboration Days, I feel that our group has done that. When we all starting our collaboration, we did it on our own. We were a small group within a much larger group of CFF coaches and mentors, but we felt independent enough to start out meeting as a coach group to support each other. We all had strengths and weaknesses, and we knew it. And knowing that allowed us to grow and learn from each other. And our collaboration days grew into full teacher collaboration days that have turned out to be spectacular professional development days that have led to collaboration between teachers and classrooms and, ultimately, getting our students to collaborate with not only students in the same school, but with students in other school districts across the state of Pennsylvania.

There are things to look out for, such as talkative people. These people don't just talk a lot, but they often tend to shape the direction of the group. "This would be great if talkative people were smarter." This is James again saying that a group has better wisdom than the individual. We all know who these talkative people are. They are in every group. They will get their name out there. They will add information and talk louder. Yet, often we notice that those that speak less have better information to share. Neither of these statements is always true, but they are helpful. So make sure to spread out where you get your information from. Have a wide network of people with varying levels of experience.

This has me thinking of my twitter and plurk networks (I am misterlamb on both). I communicate with people from all over the country, and many of them I haven't met. Yet I know some things about each of these people, from where they live to who their favorite sports teams are and what they teach. I also know some of their strengths and weaknesses, and that we have helped each other with ideas without even knowing it. And I think that is the strength of groups. Not that we necessarily decide to set out and help in one particular thing, but that we help each other out without often knowing it.

6.27.2008

Here's a scary thought

In a world where we are so worried about hiring "highly qualified" teachers that have such high accountability, we see something like this. Reading this article scares me.

In other words these students will be teachers with their own classroom, their own discipline system, their own grading system, their own set of class rules without ever having student taught or for that matter without being certified or graduated from a university. The competition for math teachers has become so tight that schools are jumping the gun and hiring these students before they even student teach. As a university we are forced to give student teaching credit for the first semester of full-time, paid teaching. Is this the wave of the future for those teaching majors that are in high demand? Will special education teachers and science teachers see the same recruiting pressure in the near future?
I don't think that I would have been able to teach in my own classroom without first done a semester of student teaching. I made so many mistakes, but I had a support system that was in place to help me improve and not just get down on myself. Even now, after five years of teaching, I am still learning so much. I get to see a lot more of education as the CFF coach for our district, so I am able to incorporate so many different methods of instruction into my own. But here, we are giving classrooms to young teachers that are only a few years older than their students without having given them their full and proper training!

I would hope that our district would not hire anyone without the proper preparation and credentials. At the same time, I can see how it could come to be, as there is a smaller and smaller pool of teachers out there, all competing for the the same jobs and different districts. How do we attract and retain the good ones?

6.26.2008

June is almost over?

Who is in charge of time right now? I cannot believe that it's already June 26! I have had such a busy month. Here's a recap:

The first week of the month had the last week of school. Even though it was after finals, I was still making my students work, but not as hard as I do during the school year. I asked my Trig class to fill out an online survey about how they felt I did as a teacher. I got high marks on using technology, although I don't feel I used it as much as I could have in this upper level math course. I do much better at integrating tech in lower level classes, as it helps with motivation. So I know I need to work on that. Hopefully, using cell phones in my Advanced Algebra classes next year will do that. (I'll be looking for ideas on how to do this at NECC next week.) At the end of the first week was graduation. I have to say that I absolutely LOVED our valedictorian's speech, even in 99% of the people at graduation did not understand it. He spoke about inspiration, and it was presented as if it were a mathematical proof. I would love to have a copy of it.

The following week was full of professional development. On Monday we reflected on our day with Ken O'Connor. You can access the live blog of our original day here. We ended up not doing a lot of direct reflection on grading policies, but I believe that we opened a lot of discussion that was necessary to help with the morale of our staff. It is nice to be able to have days like this. As soon as that day was over, I hopped in my car and headed to Washington, D.C. to see the San Francisco Giants beat the Washington Nationals (4-game sweep!). Here is the view from my seat.

The rest of the week had me meeting with our math department and facilitating the second CFF course and showing teachers about the TED Talks and Skype (My Skype name is jimbo.lamb). Following these session, I began a two week tour of duty at Camp Kaleidoscope as a substitute counselor. This was awesome, as it gave me a chance to work with elementary and middle school aged kids. I'm going to miss the camp, as I might not get any more hours there this summer.

The big event for me was when I was on WITF's Smart Talk. I was asked to be on the show as part of a panel of teachers (which ended up being just two of us, as one was unable to appear) to talk about some of the issues that face education today. I was joined by Rich Askey, President of Harrisburg Education Association and music teacher. Among the things we talked about were what teachers do in the summer, how NCLB has changed the classroom, and a brief discussion on technology in education. I think I amazed host Nell Abom when I rattled off my list of what I am doing this summer (attending and running numerous professional development sessions, working two part-time jobs, finishing grad school, revisiting the curriculum for my classes, working on ways to integrate cell phones in my instruction, attending NECC and PSEA's Leadership Conference, hopefully holding open fields for soccer, and many more things). I was glad to have been able to add in some info on CFF, but our time was cut short by the previous segment on the economy. The producers of the show are hoping to have us back on the show in the fall, after the school year begins. I look forward to being on again and sharing what I know about education.

Now I am preparing for NECC. I leave from Philly early Saturday morning and will be staying at the Homewood Suites on the Riverwalk. I am hoping to live blog a few sessions from San Antonio, but I still haven't decided which shows I will be attending live and which ones I will review through other blogs. I do have to say that I am quite impressed and happy with the use of tags for sessions. I hope that those of you who aren't attending are taking full advantage of the blogosphere.

And with that, I will be drawing June to a close. I will be blogging as best as I can at NECC, and when I return to PA it will be July! Where does the summer go?

6.20.2008

Smart Talk

I did Smart Talk on WITF last night. It was supposed to be next Thursday, but they ended up getting Governor Rendell for next week's show. If you still want to see it, it will be re-airing Sunday, June 22 at noon. It was a great experience, and I will add more after the replay airs.

6.17.2008

An interesting opportunity

Last week I received an email from Wythe Keever of PSEA, asking that I be part of a panel of teachers on WITF's Smart Talk to speak on issues that face teachers today. Scott Lamar, producer of Smart Talk had this to say:

"The thinking behind this is that when the public sees or reads about education, often it's from the point of view of school board or government agencies. We thought it could be educational for the viewing audience to hear from the people who are the front lines - in the classrooms - teachers. As I mentioned in my voicemail, I'd like to get three teachers on the show - one each from rural, suburban and urban schools. I anticipate the broad conversation to be:

* Describe today's classroom. How is it different than just a few years ago? What role does technology play?
* Talk about students - how are today's kids different than their parents or the generations before? Similarities?
* What challenges do teachers face in today's classroom?
* Why are smaller class sizes so important?
* How does a teacher teach to larger classes?
* Is there too much emphasis on standardized tests? Do teachers feel like they have "teach to the test?"
* How do teachers deal with problem students?
* What would teachers recommend for improving our schools?"
So, I know what the questions are ahead of time, and I've spoken with the press before about education, so I think I won't be that nervous. It will be a great opportunity to advocate for teachers and CFF, as well as get some good press for our school district after having had some bad press recently. I know that I will have to give some political answers, but I also want to be honest. I have only taught for five years, and I also want to represent teachers as best as I can. If anyone out there has any feedback or input for me, please feel free to share.

Smart Talk will air this Thursday, June 19, live at 8 PM on WITF in Harrisburg, and will be replayed on Sunday at noo.

6.05.2008

Totally All In

So, I made the decision to continue on as CFF coach in my district. I do have to say that my support group did a great job of offering me advice and bringing things to my decision-making process that I had not considered. For the first time in my life, I think I actually took a good, long look as to where I was going in my future. I had figured that I became a math teacher after college and I would always remain as one, and I think that was an idea that I had trouble getting rid of. But when I sat and thought about where I wanted to be 5, 10, 20 years from now, I saw that there was so much more that I could accomplish and impact by continuing on as CFF coach.

Now, here I am, sitting at home after the last day of the school year. I don't have to go to school tomorrow, but I will be there, preparing for professional development that I will be facilitating. I need to get familiar with the course, determine what can be covered, and let our tech director know when he facilitates his course. I will probably have to pull two computers from a cart to help me in facilitating, as I will be working with a few different study groups and will need to be able to move them all on.

But that's not all! I have a list that's two miles long (at least that's how it feels) of things I want to get done this summer, just so I am ready to go in August. I have more professional development sessions to preapare for. I have to keep up on new technologies that surface. I have conferences to attend and present at. And, the one thing that will continue to get me through it is my professional learning community. As I move through the summer and into next school year, I will continue to rely on the Central PA CFF coaches and the coaches listserv, as well as my contacts on Twitter, Skype, the Apple Learning Interchange, and so on.

With that being said, here I am on a Thursday evening where I should be relaxing, but I had a desire to pull out my laptop and scour the web for more resources.

And I like it.

5.27.2008

The Hardest Decision, Take 3

Just had a meeting with our principal, and is still hoping that I will continue as our CFF Coach next year, even though it is only part time. He had a sketch of how it would lay our for the math department, and also had spoken to those that would be effected, in case I were to change my mind.

So, I came back and sent out an email seeking advice from my colleagues. And suddenly, one question came up that stopped me in my tracks: what are my short term and long term professional goals? I know some short term goals. I can keep them no matter what happens next year. I'll still be in the classroom either way. But I have goals that I am still trying to achieve through our CFF grant that I wouldn't be able to see through to completion if I were not in this position. And what are my long-term goals? If this position does become full time in another year, I wouldn't be in the position to be a full-time technology coach if I were to step out of this position. What if I end up wanting to go into administration (here or elsewhere)? How would me stepping down look if I were to seek that out?

Also, I'm worried about the students in my classes. There will be days where I won't be there to assist them in learning math, same as this year and last year. Yet, these students have still excelled in many ways, and they feel much more confident in ways of learning math. But if I step down and the district has to find someone new, what effect will it have on our whole staff? And how will that effect EVERY student here at A-C?

I hope that I can get some good advice from those around me. I'm glad I've already gotten some feedback, as I am now seeing things in ways I hadn't thought about before.

5.26.2008

The Hardest Decision, Take 2

The most difficult decision that I had to make in my professional career came in October of 2006. Our tech director approached me about a new position that was coming into our school as part of the Classrooms for the Future grant. We were one of the first schools to enter into the program, and both he and the rest of our admin team had me pegged for the position. He wasn't looking for an answer right away, and he provided me with some links as to what the position would entail. I checked them out and mentioned that I didn't meet all of the qualifications for the position, especially the one that says I should have a Master's and my permanent certification (I got permanent certification earlier this school year, and the Master's is coming at the end of the summer). He told me that wouldn't be a problem.

I had to think long and hard about it. There were so many variables for me to consider. I ended up emailing a few people who were in positions similar to the CFF coaching role for feedback. They gave me great advice (and I'm pretty close friends with one of them now, as she became a CFF coach for a Cohort 1 school). I talked with one of our math teachers. He warned me that our district had taken stances on similar situations in the past where they put too much work on the person in a half-and-half position, as our CFF coaching position would become. Our tech director said the position would probably become a full-time position in the near future.

Did I want to leave the classroom so early in my professional career? What would become of the classes that I would have to drop partway through the school year? Would there be a large conflict between the two positions? I decided to try out the position.

In the first year, it wasn't that bad. I did my CFF stuff in the morning and teaching in the afternoon. I was able to meet with almost every CFF teacher during my CFF time, and we learned a lot together about implementation. I had a lot of training and was out of the classroom quite a bit, but overall, it didn't have a large effect on my instruction. I learned A LOT about integrating technology into instruction, collaboration between districts, and all sorts of web tools and software. I really enjoyed this new position.

Then came year two. I still only taught 3 periods a day (first, 8th, ad 9th). I had two preps, one of which I hadn't taught before. The other might as well have been a new prep, as I completely redid the curriculum (third year in a row that I did so with this course) and eliminated the use of a textbook for an all online curriculum. So right there was a lot of work. I was my own CFF coach, so I was able to help myself out a lot. This part wasn't really all that bad.

However, year two of CFF was so different from year one, as PDE had learned a lot and was ready to change. Our Coach Boot Camp lasted one day longer than last year. There were more requirements that came about. Our local CFF Coaches group came up with some great ideas about collaboration days for subject areas. These days went off so well that we were asked to present the idea to coaches from the entire state, and now other areas are doing the same. We have 5 collaboration days overall, and I participated in an extra math collaboration day for a group that wasn't ready to collaborate when we had our first one. There were conferences, workshops, and trainings to attend. Overall, I was out of the classroom over 20 days due to CFF, and about 8 more days for non-CFF related issues. That's a lot of time I wasn't there for my students. I was able to still present the content virtually, but I wasn't available to answer questions they had. How was that fair to my students?

Also this year, we expanded from just math and English to including all four core content areas, which meant that there were twice as many teachers for me to work with. However, I could only meet with about half of them, as I was teaching when they had their free periods and they were teaching when I had mine. How could I help out these teachers who wanted to learn how to integrate the technology when there was no time to meet with them? And how was I able to do twice the amount of work with the same amount of time? I constantly had teachers and students stopping in during both my CFF time and my teaching time. I don't know how many times I had to tell a teacher on the phone, "I'm sorry, but I'm teaching right now and cannot help you with your issue."

Between having to turn teachers away and being out of the classroom so much, I felt as if I wasn't doing a good job in either of my positions, regardless of what any administrators, teachers, students, or parents said. I couldn't give either of my positions the devotion they deserved, and it was getting to me. I was having trouble sleeping and eating. I felr run down. I was forgetting things. I wasn't myself. I had to make a decision. And this decision was the second time in my short career that I had to make the most difficult decision of my career. I needed to go full-time as a CFF coach or go back to being a full-time math teacher.

Either decision was going to have a large effect on our district. I knew that I couldn't stay as half-and-half. For my students, for my teachers, and for my own health and sanity, I couldn't continue as it was. I spoke with our administrators about how this year has drained me. How it made me feel as if I wasn't doing my best work. How it was unfair to both my students and the teachers I was supposed to work with. Unfortunately, it wasn't in the budget to be able to make the CFF position full-time, so I am going to be going back to being a full-time math teacher next year. This means that one of our other math teachers will be back to half-time, and it's unfair to her, even though we both knew this was a possibility when the switch was made last year. This also means that our district will have to find another person to be CFF coach, and they will be starting from scratch. I've had two years of training and working in the position. I have a rapport with our staff. This new person will have none of that. They'll be trained from the start and will have to work on building a rapport with our staff. That will be a lot of time and money devoted there.

And I know I will miss coaching. I thouroughly enjoyed working in edtech. I've even had offers to apply at other districts so I could stay in edtech, although they were PC schools. I don't think I could switch back to PC now that I've been in an Apple district for 5 years, and I don't really want to, either. I will enjoy teaching math all day again, and it will be tough to turn people away when they ask for help, but I'm going to have to. Not only do I have a full teaching load next year, but I also have the largest aaverage class size out of all of our math teachers, and I'm sure it's going to grow by the beginning of next school year. Between that and having four preps that I will be working on integrating technology myself, my time will be fully occupied. This will put more strain on our building tech guy (who isn't always around) and the new CFF coach (who will be unfamiliar with many of the issues that would arise, being new to our school).

Then again, there would be many students would would be quite upset if I wasn't teaching next year. I've had some tell me they want to be in my class because they want to be challenged. They know that their grades won't be as high in my class as they would in another, but it's also nice to see that we have students who want to focus more on learning than on a number that's supposed to help them learn. But I digress, and I will be blogging my views on grades in a later posting, when I respond to Ken O'Connor's talk that our district hosted in April.

So, for now, I will be a full-time math teacher next year. I will miss the camaraderie of the CFF coaches. I will miss planning for collaboration days and inservices. I will miss some of the learning opportunities that CFF coaches had. But in the end, this is the decision that is best for my students and myself. The ones who will miss out are our district and the teachers. We will still only have a half-time coach who will only be able to meet with a few of our teachers, but in the end, it works out best for the most, and from an educator's point of view, for those most effected: my students.

5.07.2008

Back to the same old argument

It seems that some conversations that are held with/among my colleagues are somewhat cyclical. An issue arises, we discuss, disagree, agree to disagree, and then come back around to it later down the road.

One of these arguments/discussions that is going on at the moment is about student email. Many districts do not allow their students to access their personal email through the school's network, but they issue student email addresses that allow for only certain domains to get through. Others block all access and do not issue email address. Then there are some schools that allow access to personal email. Who is right? Is anyone right?

In an ideal world, all districts could just open up this access. Let the kids obtain personal email, as they may use it as a way to transfer files from a home computer to a school computer so they can work both from home and at school. It also allows for more open communication between teachers and students.

However, we do not live in an ideal world. When a district opens up personal email, they open themselves up to viruses, SPAM, spyware, etc., depending on filters and antivirus software, as well as the diligence of the teachers and tech staff. However, teachers and tech staff can only monitor so much, antivirus software needs constant updating, and students will always find ways around filters (which isn't completely a bad thing, as skills go, but I'll talk about that later).

Now, with Web2.0 (or is it Web3.0 now?) being fully encompassed my classrooms across the country, there is a high need to have access to email so students can register for many of the tools out there. True, there are many of these tools that have come up with solutions to these problems, such as wikispaces and Google allowing a teacher to contact them with student info so usernames and passwords can be generated. Then again, what happens when a student forgets a password? Does the teacher really need to have one more thing to do?

I long for the day when education drives industry, instead of the other way around. Why is it that we, as educators, often wait for something to happen in industry before utilizing the skill in our classroom? If we know there are benefits to having these technologies available for use as tools for education, why are we restricting these opportunities?

I, for one, am glad that students have found ways to get around the filter at our school numerous times. True, there are instances where I have had to deal with students who are accessing inappropriate materials in school. You will always have inappropriate uses of technology as long as it is around. There will always be games on graphing calculators. There will always be kids texting on their cells while keeping the phones in their pocket so the teacher can't see. There will always be kids who figure out how to override a filter so they can play Tetris in study hall.

My goal for next year is to try and utilize these skills in my classes to help my students achieve. My summer will be filled with researching how to use cell phones and iPods in my classroom. I want to find a grant that might help me obtain an iPod cart for use in our school. I want to continue to find new ways to include various technologies into everyday instruction and learning. And I want my students to help lead some of this. Afterall, it is their education. I am also going to run some technology sessions after school for those interested in learning more about and exploring technology and possible uses. I want kids to think about ways to beat the filter. I want to learn those ways and learn how we can use these methods to improve filtering, but also to get the students to think in ways other than how we've always thought. If we are in charge of moving these students not only into the 21st Century, but to mold them into the leaders and thinkers of tomorrow, I think we better start right here and now.

4.17.2008

A-C Ag Demo: Castration

Due to an issue that has come up, this demo will now be held on Tuesday, April 22 at 11:15 and 12:15. See the post below for more info.

4.16.2008

Castration?!

On Friday, one of my students will be doing a demonstration of a castration on two sheep during school for two of the agriculture classes. This is a wonderful opportunity for our students to learn about some of the things that happen on farms. After all, not all of our Ag kids are on farms.

As soon as I heard this, I thought of what a great opportunity this could be. How many students out there get to see things like this? Plus, with CFF and the opportunities that we have online, why not stream this out to the world?

So, on Friday, April 18, at 11:15 and again at 12:15, we will be broadcasting live (barring any unforeseen issues). The student will be doing the castration, clipping the tails, and also speaking about artificial insemination. This is a great opportunity for this student to really show what he can do with his animals (he has shown many sheep and won many awards), and it also give our ag program a chance to show off a really neat thing. It also allows other districts to witness something they otherwise may never get a chance to experience.

Follow this link or copy and paste: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/a-c-animal-castration

4.10.2008

Collaboration Day

I had the opportunity to speak at a math collaboration day at Gettysburg High School yesterday for teachers and CFF coaches in IU12. At first, I was just being asked to be there as a "veteran" CFF math teacher, being in the second year of the CFF grant. I say "veteran" due to the fact that I am still only in my fifth year as a teacher, and I still think that I have way too much growth to do to be called an expert.

Tuesday afternoon, I get an email asking if I could do a second presentation to the entire group. Sure, why not? I find it too hard to say no when I get a chance to speak about something I feel strongly about. So I stay up till who knows when working on finishing links, etc. for my presentation wiki and also on the Keynote for the group presentation.



It was amazing to be able to have an impact on the teachers that were there. After I spoke, a few came up to me with questions and ideas. I offered encouragement for the ideas, and had to still work on trying to convince those with questions about why we should make the switch.

The big thing to remember is that it won't happen immediately, and it's not something that should be toiled over. Take risks with your lessons and let the students start discovering. You might be amazed with what they can come up with. Isn't that how math was originally discovered?

4.08.2008

Professional Development

Recently read this article, which talks about professional development in today's schools. It is amazing as to how much PD has changed just in the five years I have been teaching (has it been that long already?). These two paragraphs really jumped out at me:

The biggest shift has been away from regularly scheduled professional development sessions to a just-in-time approach to professional development. With this new approach, teachers regularly communicate with an on-site instructional technology specialist, enabling them to quickly and efficiently address any questions or issues. This is the most effective method to ensure that teachers are constantly engaging and integrating technology. The instructional technology specialist's ongoing assistance and support encourages teachers to try new teaching methods and reinforces material taught during more formal professional development sessions.

This shift to accessible professional development can't be emphasized enough. It's no longer sufficient for teachers to attend a workshop, learn a slew of computer applications, and then be expected to use those applications when they return to their classrooms. Educators like Gates are continually making the point that professional development needs to be always accessible and always relevant: The technology is a way to make the instruction more engaging; it's not an end in and of itself. Rother points out: "As teachers become more tech-savvy, professional development focuses on the seamless integration of technology into the daily curriculum, rather than on merely how to use technology."

As CFF coach in my district, I am the one who supplies this just-in-time training to our staff and students in our secondary building. I have so many plans to expand what we do. I am working on a CFF wikipage for our teachers and students to access. I currently have a page that I designed with Nvu, but I like the features and availability of wikispaces more, so I'm working on making that switch.

I am also working on including as many teachers as possible, and each week I see more teachers getting involved. This week, one of our FCS teachers showed me her wiki. One unfortunate thing about her schedule and mine is that we don't have a common time to meet, so I wasn't able to help her out as much as I could. However, since I have a group of students who post to my class wiki as part of their summarization of lessons. This group of students was able to help the FCS teacher with creating her wiki. I was so proud of both the teacher and my students. Then the teacher mentioned to me about how she had learned many of the features of wikispaces by trying things out.

That's also one thing that I have been stressing to our teachers (and students): try something. I can't recall the number of times I have had a teacher approach me saying, "I don't want to break my computer!" I have to tell them that they won't! I have told them that there is an "undo" on their computers for a reason. Still, many are reluctant to take the risks, and that's one of my greatest difficulties. How can I get teachers to take the risks to expand if I may not be available to help them out when a problem arises?

Hopefully, as different issues arise, I will be able to make videos to post as how to's for fixes for when I'm not available. The Central PA CFF Coaches have created a How To wiki to start this out, and as time goes on, we should see more how to's on there. Bear with us, as each of us only has so much time each day. If you have any good ones, please add them!

Tomorrow I will be presenting at a math collaboration day in a neighboring area, and I've had a lot put on my plate. I like the challenge. But I think I'm falling victim to a the feeling that I'm-not-better-than-these-other-teachers and I'm-still-a-young-teacher-itis, and I often feel that I still have so much to learn, and I do. This could be a bad feeling, or it could be the feeling that keeps me growing as an educator. I have to realize that there are things I can share, as there are things I can do and know that others don't. I also have to realize that there is always room for growth, and I need to continue striving to take the next step as an educator.

4.02.2008

Other countries?!

I just checked out the usage statistics on the wiki I use with my Trig class and saw this graphic. There are people from Singapore (SG) and Hungary (HU) viewing what my students are doing? This is something I definitely need to share with them. I know we always talk about how connected (and "flat") the world is, but it's always neat to actually see it!

I wonder how this will effect the posts that they create? Will the get better? How will they feel actually KNOWING that there are people around the world looking at what they're doing?

Reflecting

As a CFF Coach, one of the things we are to encourage our teachers to do is reflect. Yet, here I am, not being able to find time to reflect. There is a lot that I feel I need to get out, but how? This week, I am proctoring PSSA's was out of the district most of the day Monday, we have an adjusted schedule on Friday, and I still have hundreds of emails to read and resources to assess. At the same time, I am looking for lesson plans for a special ed. teacher, creating some usable audio files for the same teacher, being asked to create blogs this weeLinkk by an English teacher (after I let everyone know that due to PSSA proctoring I would not have time), I have teachers coming to me with questions during PSSA testing, notes and resources from PETE&C I still need to go over, grading for my three classes to finish up (including comments), continue adjusting/creating lessons for my classes (one of which is a new prep and the other two being completely redone to be completely online), leaving early to coach soccer, paying bills, cleaning, laundry, working a second job, and maybe sleeping.

Okay, I got that all out and off my chest, now I can do some reflecting.

Many of my students are explaining to me how helpful using my wiki has been for them. Good. I like the feedback, now tell me what else you need of me. I feel so bad for my students, as I am not even here for them over 10% of the school year due to coaching. And that kills me. How can I be there for my students when I'm not there as much as I should be? They have expressed their frustrations, and they know mine, so at least there is an understanding there.

A few of the teachers in my district are not happy that I am not available to them as a CFF coach because I am teaching during their prep periods. And this year, we have twice as many CFF teachers, and the rest of the staff (middle school, non-core curriculum areas) are anxious to delve into the world of EdTech. It's so great to see them wanting to do everything, yet they don't have the support they need.

I have told my administrators that I cannot continue trying to do both jobs half the time, as they require much more attention than I can currently afford them. I have expressed my desire (for my health and sanity) to become either a full-time coach or go back to a full-time math teacher. I cannot physically, mentally, or emotionally continue attempting to find a balance. There is no balance as there is so much overlap. Teachers calling while I'm teaching. Students in and out while I'm doing tech stuff. Piles of paperwork and miles of emails and lists of articles and blogs to catch up on! I've fallen behind and I don't know how I can catch up!

So, here's the dilemma. If I go back to being a full-time teacher, then our one math teacher goes back to half-time, which isn't very fair to her. Plus, we need to find a new CFF coach, who potentially could be someone from outside the district. How long will it take them to become familiar with our district and teachers? How much time and money is lost there? True, there is a $30,000 coaching stipend to help cover that, but it's not enough to cover a full-time coach, as well as benefits from the district. So, we're still left with only a half-time coach, which still only allows part of our staff to meet with them.

If I stay half-and-half, our other math teacher gets to remain full-time, but I go crazy. And, neither my students nor staff get 100% from me (which I cannot do to either group anymore).

What do I do? I have so many plans and ideas that I would love to work on as CFF Coach. But I need the time and support to do them, and our teachers need time and support from a coach, and my students need time and support and devotion from me.

3.07.2008

Don't Study in Ways That Help You!

Wow. I read this link, and it has me quite furious! Here is another link to a CBC article on the same issue.

Basically, Ryerson University is saying that studying with someone else is cheating. Their intent, I believe, is to make sure that students don't abuse the internet and networking, and they are truly concerned over making sure that their students learn the content.

However, how many times have you gone into a study hall in a high school or at a university in any number of areas, and seen a group of students studying together? Isn't that the same? It's just a different forum. It's online as opposed to face-to-face.

Now, I think that this is a GREAT way to use social networking in education. As a CFF Coach, I use my network ALL THE TIME. I don't get accused of cheating. I get thanked for being able to access the knowledge to learn and share with others. Let's face it. Learning IS social. That's why we go to schools instead of learning just by reading on our own. In the 21st Century it's not about knowing facts anymore. It's about being able to find the facts, analyze them, and apply them, and being able to work with others.

Now, there is also the fact that some homework answers were posted online. Now we're in the part where we get to trouble. There is a difference between studying together and just posting and taking answers from someone else. I imagine that is the issue, and that is wrong. But, since there is one small part that is bad, the university is attempting to take away to good with the bad.

The way I see it, this university has two options: The first is to expel the young man that was the moderator of the group, even though he did not post any answers. This will lead to a large resistance by the student body, as they will see this as going against everything they have been learning and how they have been learning. The second option is to work on assessing the problem. All sides need to look at what the pros and cons are of new technologies. Both sides need to work together to reach a compromise. Accountability needs to lay on both the students and the university staff. The students need to make sure that if someone is misusing the technology, they point it out. The staff needs to make sure to lay out the guidelines as to how they expect to see this used. And don't restrict it, promote it. Model it. The more the staff takes the lead in these situations, the better these situations will end.

3.04.2008

From Google Docs and Spreadsheets?

First, they give us forms for spreadsheets. Now this?

Why didn't I know about this a month ago? So I can post a blog directly, through my cell phone (Jott), and Google Docs and Spreadsheets.

This will allow for collection and sharing of data to be even nicer. If I do an experiment where my students gather data and enter it in a form for my Google Spreadsheet, I could just have that data posted to my blog so they can view it? I don't have to have them sign in to anything? Hmm...

Still catching up after PETE&C

What's that you say? It's March 4 and PETE&C ended on February 12? Where has the time gone? I would have loved to have been able to live blog from PETE&C, but I didn't want to have to fight the network, which had to happen quite a bit. On top of that, I had to pick up my materials the first day, and then driving back and forth on top of that made for some long days. I think I might stay at the Lodge next year, which will lead to an even more rich experience for the entire conference.

With that being said, I am going to be getting through as many postings from what I saw as I can, while multitasking at a collaboration day for Science teachers at Warwick High School. Right now, we are viewing an iMovie created by students dealing with the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. I have noticed that they have the Ken Burns effects turned on, but they didn't edit any of the animations. Their content is great, but seeing the same animation over and over makes me a little seasick. That's definitely one thing to keep in mind as you demonstrate iMovie to students: introduce some elements of design into the design of the project. The content is still the number one thing for them to focus on, but the use of the tools will help them out down the road as well.

When working on a project like this iMovie, it is important to reflect on what worked well and what might need tweaked for future assignments. Before working with creation of the project, make sure that research is done, as well as a script. If students get their planning done ahead of time, it will lead to a much smoother creation of the final project. You may want to model this to your students to show them how planning can make a huge difference.

Anyway, I am going to be adding posts about PETE&C as I go until I get them done. Then it'll be back to regular blogginG: talking about other facets of edtech, comics, and hockey.

2.14.2008

PETE&C 2008...We Hardly Knew Ye

Well, PETE&C ended two days ago, and I am still attempting to reflect on it. I learned a lot, but I have not had time to sit down and process all of the great things I saw and learned. I almost wish we would have had a snow day yesterday so I could have taken the time to go through everything I experienced. However, yesterday I came back to teaching three periods, being in an English teacher's room for two, and trying to figure out what had happened over the past two days and reading missed emails over the rest of the day. It was very busy.

Over the next couple days, I should have a chance to gather my thoughts and reflect on what I have learned (21st Century skills, be proud of me!). We continue to stress the importance of reflecting in learning and teaching, and this will be a great opportunity to do that.

In the meantime, you can check Reporting Back to see summaries on the various sessions from PETE&C. I will be adding my summaries on there, as well.

2.12.2008

PETE&C Weather

Ah, the weather at PETE&C...No longer do we see Farm Show weather. For the second year in a row, we have snow on Tuesday, and people are leaving early. At least that means I can get into sessions. However, the sessions this morning weren't all that exciting, so I hit the exhibit hall instead and got some good stuff there. I'll be sharing later when I get a little more time. Check back soon as well for my reflections on the sessions I attended.

2.10.2008

PETE&C: Pre-Conferences at A-C

Today, I asked if it would be alright for me to come to school to get some work done while the building was open for PETE&C pre-conference sessions. Our tech director had no problem with it, so I was quite happy. Of course, I wasn't just here to get work done for my classes, I was also here to help out with any issues that may have popped up during the sessions, especially since I knew how particular our filter could be. Lo and behold, we have quite a few issues with the filter, which has led us to learn quite a bit about how it runs and acts.

Days like this are nice and frustrating all at the same time. It's frustrating due to the issues that the session presenters and attendees encountered. I know the feeling. Anyone who does anything with technology knows the frustrations. Especially educators.

Educators are placed in a tough position. We have to make sure that students do not access inappropriate materials while in the building. Sites such as YouTube, Flickr, and others might be blocked due to some objectionable content on those sites. However, there are many great educational uses for these sites, as well. How is the balance found? How do filters assist or add to the problems? Why do some schools open up access to all, while others open access to teachers, and others yet do not allow anyone access?

The best thing these sites could do is create an education format within their programming, or something similar to Google's safe search. (Can you believe that Google was once blocked in many districts?) Why not have SkoolFlickr? There's already a TeacherTube.

In the end, there will always be a need for filtering. The internet is just too wide open. Yet, even though there is a filter, there will also always be people who find ways around it. There will always be that next great thing that can't be accessed for a while. And, as educators, we need to be patient. We need to educate our students as to why we need to filter and proper uses of the technology, so that the importance of a filter diminishes. School has changed so much in the past decade, and it's only going to be changing quicker and technology advances.