Thursday, January 31, 2008

Teach Web 2.0 Consortium

The session that I most enjoyed at the Educon 2.0 Conference in Philadelphia was the 'Join the Teach Web 2.0 Consortium', facilitated by Wendy Drexler and Anna Baralt.

Their idea was so simple, yet so effective. They are part of a team who created a list of all of the latest web 2.0 applications on a wiki, with the intention of putting links and reviews for these tools all in the one place. It's a veritable smorgasbord, and well worth a look!

Educon and SLA

I've been very slack in adding a post about Educon, but my admiration of the students, teachers and principal from Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia has not dimmed in the slightest. In fact, it's grown.

Chris Lehman generously hosted the Educon conference, and I took away some good ideas from it. However, the biggest bonus was the networking that is now occurring between students from his high school and students from our middle school.

Witnessing these students Skyping, and the SLA students offering their wisdom, was one of the most powerful things I have witnessed as an educator. You could have given these students jobs in the classroom immediately as teachers.

In addition to this networking, I got to enjoy dinner with Peggy Sheehy who described herself as an edutainer, and was espousing the benefits of virtual learning networks such as Second Life. I now can't get this term 'edutainer' out of my head, and would like all of our teachers to embrace it. Engagement is a problem for both teachers and students in mid-winter, but a dose of Peggy Sheehy would pep up anyone.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

841 Are the Best

Currently I am in an ESL classroom at 339, talking with some great students about the rationale behind Google Docs and blogs as collaborative documents. I'm looking forward to seeing their creations.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A little about A.U.S.S.I.E.

In order to set the scene for our Educon 2.0 workshop session - 'A Fly on the Wall' - I'll give you some information about A.U.S.S.I.E.

Australian and United States Services in Education is more than just consultancy and professional development - it's about partnerships with schools. By that I mean, A.U.S.S.I.E. consultants do not walk into schools with a predetermined 'rescue package'. They bring with them many skills and rich experience, but they adapt this to individual schools' needs.

I have enjoyed my work with C.I.S. 339 so much this year because the work has involved innovation. Unlike our many other consultants who all work within the schools, I have been asked by the principal to work from Australia. This sounds crazy, but it makes so much sense as it has forced a change of mindset within the school. That is, in order for me to know what is going on, we need to embrace technology.

This has led to the most amazing acceleration of learning, sharing and improved communication. Ironically, I am more informed about everything that goes on inside the school than I would have been if I was present in the building.

Some teachers have commented that I am the most accessible person 'in the school' - even though I am so far removed.

It is this kind of flexibility that has made A.U.S.S.I.E. consultancy so successful. I work incredibly hard, enduring many exhausting hours, but the intellectual stimulation from the administration and teachers of C.I.S. 339 makes it all worthwhile.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Writing a Book in Google Docs

A tip from Jason Levy brings me to consideration of a new venture being tried by blogoscoped: writing a book in Google Docs.

When you think about it, it makes so much sense, especially when you have the ability to hyperlink not only other pages or chunks of text, but also many other forms of media.

From an application that is quite simplistic in its editing capabilities, you can end up producing an incredibly rich, more user-friendly text.

So why not consider this same concept with students. Our students are already using Google Docs for drafting (and sometimes publishing) shorter texts, but they also have the potential to produce much larger, more complex texts as group projects in any subject area.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

SMARTboard Smorgasbord

Special thanks to Brad Wenger for this tip. Our school is starting to make great use of their SMARTboards, but this should improve even more with access to a fantastic SMARTboard site, full of great applications.

The 339 Kid

Check out the brilliant work from Christina Jenkins and Ben Himowitz below. This level of pride and energy is exactly what is required in our schools, not to mention their great work on the screenplay, directing, acting and editing.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Upcoming Conferences

In addition to the Educon 2.0 conference from Jan 25-27, there are others that are well worth looking into.

The Insight Education Conference offers not only some great conversation, but also the opportunity of soaking up some of the hype of Hollywood. Get in soon to register for the Feb 27-March 1 action.
I also like the look of the Classroom 2.0 workshops in San Francisco.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Great Resource for Teaching Reading

Here's another site that I'd like to add a plug for:

"an instructional technology specialist in Manatee County, Florida...[who] spent 27 years as a high school English teacher...[and has] created a site of resources for reading in primary and secondary. It's not a wiki, but it does provide valuable resources."

Classroom 2.0 has much to offer

A big thank you to the organizers of Classroom 2.0, who have done a lot not only to increase educators' understanding of web 2.0 tools, but also to bring people together.

They're asking for us to plug the upcoming FREE workshops in San Francisco, and I'm only too happy to do this.

If I hadn't been flying into New York just a few days before from Australia, I'd be there myself. Unfortunately, I won't be up to a trip back across the States so soon. However, I'd consider contributing virtually if possible, or waiting for New York-based workshops.

If you want things to improve, get out of there!

Whether you are a teacher, administrator or consultant, the key to improvement is for you to disappear. That's right, get out of there! This might seem like a crazy or even provocative or accusatory notion, but I've given this plenty of thought and a little bit of practice.

I complete about 75% of my consulting work online, and many people were a tad skeptical about how this could be effective. I guess I had to convince myself as well.

However, what has become apparent is that when you are physically removed from the equation (be that classroom or school), you are forced to capitalize on other modes of gathering and disseminating information.

It challenges you, it threatens to bring you undone, but more than anything else, it evokes tremendous growth for yourself and those with whom you work.

In order to provide online, personalized professional development, I have had to draw upon applications that I would probably only have tinkered with if I were still presenting myself daily in the school building.

My advice to teachers and administrators then, is to imagine yourself robbed of physical presence in the classroom or school. How would you get your job done then? How would you find out what you needed to know? How would you pass on what others need to know?

I'm sure that most people won't really give serious thought to this proposition, but until you put yourself in this situation - either imagined or real - you'll continue to fall back on the spoken delivery that has seemed to serve you so well in the past.

After all, explaining things from the front of the room or over the intercom has been the preferred mode of communication for eons now, hasn't it? And everyone listens and everyone understands, right?

If you need a change, take an imagined break from the room and see what wonderful new teaching (with technology) methods you develop. And please share. Good luck.

P.S. I also like Will Richardson's post on Learning Like Kids, which describes a mindset that would complement my proposal.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Year in Review

A Fly on the Wall

Have you ever heard someone decide not to attend the big game because there was a better view on offer from home? This is the situation at a Bronx middle school, where the “big game” is being viewed with bated breath from afar thanks to the marvels of modern technology.

When Mr. Jason Levy, Principal of C.I.S. 339 School of Technology conjured up his vision of the school as an authentic 21st Century learning network, he took the brave move of continuing a professional development partnership with me, an Australian consultant, despite my impending return home with my family.

“How would you like to keep working for us from Australia?” Mr. Levy proposed. “Wouldn’t that be something!”

The Principal’s view was that schools today should reach beyond their walls. He is in the process now of achieving exactly that – thanks to his own passion for technology, and the drive of some brilliant teachers.

Many schools can probably boast of the use of technology somewhere, somehow in their curriculum, but C.I.S. 339 has adopted a whole school approach to technology-enhanced change. The wiki that was used for communication last year has now spawned not only a generation shift for some tech-fearing teachers, but also a more united, collaborative community.

Some school change experts have discovered that technology can increase the rate of change for a school, and that has definitely been the case here.

We started the year with a thematic “spider’s web”, encompassing not just online learning, but support structures and interconnectedness between teachers as colleagues, teachers and students, students and students, students and parents, and teachers and parents.

The explanation that accompanied the “spider’s web” was that if you get stuck, you’ll only end up in a bigger mess if you thrash about. If you help to create and maintain the paths of the web as a team though, you will be part of an awe-inspiring network.

The ‘threads of the network’ are really held together by the formation of teacher-led teams. Instead of coaches as instructional leaders, teachers facilitate their own meetings and record all agenda items, minutes and next steps. This was a daunting experience at first, but it has seen the emergence of teachers confident in their own abilities and decision-making, and teachers who are keen to exercise initative.

At the start of the school year we set up a communications network using gmail, Google Talk, blogs as professional development eportfolios, and Google Docs for shared planning and record-keeping.

Having a common platform of communication was essential, and this has paid huge dividends now, as information is shared and recorded more effectively.

This then progressed to the use of iGoogle for organization of online communication, and Google Groups for organization of resources. After surveying all teachers, we established a PD plan based on teachers’ own S.M.A.R.T. goals for professional development, student growth, and improved communication with parents, students and colleagues.

The school’s technology coach, Ms. Christina Jenkins has been instrumental in running after school professional development sessions for teachers, and now teachers are sharing their expertise by facilitating sessions themselves.

We started mapping initiatives across the school so that instead of isolated ‘pilot programs’, we had shared experience. Our Celebrations Pages are an ongoing record of these initatives.

So far this school year, I have taken on the varied roles of coach, cheerleader, commentator, critic, and cameraman. Teachers have engaged in online professional development through screencasts that I have created, but our intention is for learning to be more self-directed.

Some of the “players” are teaching me new tricks almost as quickly as I can formulate the next strategy, as teachers are teaching each other. One particular team has decided, on their own, to take turns in videoing their own lessons to enable peer review of their instructional methods. This is a startling breakthrough as it personifies both the spirit of sharing and the desire to keep on learning and improving.

Our next step is to draw in students and parents. I am very excited about the potential for us to keep parents more informed than ever before about their children’s education. Our dream is to set up “triads” and “transparency” – online learning relationships between teachers, students, and parents, which are visible beyond the boundaries of the classroom.

When the student work starts emerging online, I think we’ll have many interested ‘flies on the wall’.

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