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.


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.


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?


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?


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.


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.


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.