Sunday, March 30, 2008

Diigo and My Network

Last week, someone (forgive me twitter friend) started a conversation about Diigo, a social bookmarking site. Everyone sort of jumped in and joined. Turns out, I had joined long ago. When I tried to sign up, I was told that my email address already had an account.

So in I went and quickly found myself getting overwhelmed with the power of this site. I made "friends" quickly, finding many twitter friends already had joined. I joined groups, contributed to message threads and conversations, and started bookmarking sites.

I had a great time but realized that I needed to spend time really learning about the site. So I asked if anyone wanted to join me in this learning. We could have a Skype chat and play around.

What started as three people, Karen McMillan, Alice Barr, and me, quickly turned into a large number. I began to panic. I started something that, due to the power of the network, grew way past my ability to handle it. So I turned to the network for advice.

Where would I host this Diigo sandbox session? My original plan would not be able to handle the numbers. People suggested Steve Hargadon.
Well Steve came through with an Elluminate account from Classroom 2.0. (Thank you so much, Steve. Once again, you have made Classroom 2.0 a invaluable part of the community.)

And today, we held our Diigo sandbox session. We were lucky enough to have Maggie Tsai and Wade Ren from Diigo in the session to help us out. And Alice Mercer, teacher extraordinaire, willingly showed us how she uses Diigo with her class, as well as numerous little tricks for using the site.

So for those of you who made it and want a refresher (like me) and for those of you who couldn't make it but want to learn. Here are the links to the session. They can also be found on the Classroom 2.0 wiki.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Best Day Ever!

Today was the best technology day ever in school! We had three Skype calls, all with a purpose, and one was quite exceptional.

The first was with a middle school teacher in Connecticut, named Paul Bogush. Paul apparently has a connection to Ginger Lewman, an online friend. Ginger sent out a twit that Paul was looking for help with a project he was working on in class. She added a link. I followed her link to Classroom 2.0 where I discovered that Paul was looking for elementary students to critique songs his students were creating about the Oregon Trail. How serendipitous it was that we are studying the Oregon Trail now. So I responded that we would be interested.

Today, we Skyped with his class so they could find out what kind of songs our students liked. They were surprised to find that fifth graders have moved past children's songs and are more interested in songs played on the radio. We did, however, find a common interest in the Chicken Dance. A student from our class volunteered to do the dance for them and then two eighth graders performed for us. It was great fun. And we can't wait to see what they create.

Our third Skype call was with my Teachers Are Talking co-host Susan van Gelder. Susan was gracious enough to speak with some of my students who are researching the government of Canada and various provinces there. She explained how the government works and gave a clear explanation of a Parliament. She then answered questions about Canadian homes, her house (she was in her home while Skyping with us) and any pets she might have. She even sent us pictures of her cats. It was wonderful watching the students seriously taking notes while she spoke and respectfully asking questions. All in all, it was quite successful.

But the second Skype call of the day was, by far, the most impressive use of collaborative technology I've ever seen in my room. Today was the day that we skyped with our writing partners.

Brian Crosby and I started a collaborative writing project based on the book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, by Chris van Allsburg. We partnered up our students on individual stories from the book. Their assignment is to create an original story based on a picture and a title. After enlisting Christine Southard for this project, we then duplicated it for 8 other teachers. Each story is going to be written and edited in a Google doc. It will then be published in our Class Booktalk Wiki, where VoiceThreads will be available for the students to compare story versions.

So all week, the students have been brainstorming ideas in the Google doc. It has been asynchronous due to the time differences. Today, we scheduled a time when both classes would work together. So at 1:00, each child opened up their document and found that their partner was editing also. This was exciting enough. But that's wasn't all. Brian and I each set up a computer with Skype that we placed in a corner of the room. One group at a time sat at the Skype computers and discussed their story. They were so excited to see their partners, so enthusiastic about clarifying the story elements, and highly motivated to write. One girl in the class told me afterward that her entire storyline had changed after speaking with her partner. "But," she said, "now it's better."

Our principal was invited in to witness this project. She was amazed at the quality of discussion going on, floored by the technology skill of the students (even more so when I told her this was the first time the children had used Google docs), and inspired enough to say we need to find grants to give us enough money to buy 1 to 1 laptops for our classroom.

I, too, was amazed watching this activity. The children were so energized over writing. The smiles on their faces when they sat down and saw their partners for the first time was priceless.
Overall, it was the best technology day I've ever spent in school!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

More Random Thoughts

A few months ago, I agreed to try to write an article about how to encourage teachers to use technology with their students, preparing them for an unknown future. The article has yet to be written. The longer I wait, the more my ideas change. I think this is because I am still learning, at a great rate. Each time I think I've plateaued or perhaps couldn't possibly learn more, I do. And then the idea for the article changes. So I thought I would use this space to flesh out some ideas. Let me know your thoughts.

Random Thought 1: I used to think that if teachers saw how "cool" new Web 2.0 tools were, they would begin to use them...sort of the "If you build it, they will come" idea. But I keep teaching classes, getting the wows and still...nothing. They just won't use the tools. Or most of them won't. So what's going wrong?

I think two things are happening. One is that I need to stop showing the cool tools. I need, instead, to start showing how easy these tools are to use, how easily they embed into the classroom, and how simple they are for children to master, even if the teachers find it difficult.

But, more importantly ...

Random Thought 2: The administration needs to start stepping in. Many teachers just won't change unless they have to (see Random Thought 3). They were taught this way, they've been teaching this way for years, and this is what they know. Status quo. Administrators have the power to force change. It happens everytime a new textbook is adopted and teachers go for training, everytime a new program is added, everytime a teacher is moved to a different grade. It is time for administrators to insist that teachers begin preparing our children properly. And, in order for that to happen, they need to recognize the urgency of the situation.

Random Thought 3: I hate change. No, really, I hate change. I've been a teacher since I was 21. I've been in the same district for 20 years. I take the same vacations each year. And I love every constant in my life. So when I was told, after being in my school for one year, that I was going to move fr
om fourth grade to second, I came home, cried for hours, and started looking for a new job. But then I realized that moving schools would be even more of a change, so I decided to stay. Turns out, I loved second grade so much, I stayed for 9 years. Then I wanted a change and took my class to third grade. Then asked to move to fourth, then fifth. Now I am looking to move into the technology department.

So what happened to cause me to embrace certain changes? Why have I been able to completely change how I teach, moving from mostly teacher directed lessons to mostly project based lessons? Why have I so willingly embraced technology and so easily embedded it into my classroom? I think two things are important for me.

One, I have always been someone who relished collaboration. I collaborated on
a project with a fellow student teacher when I was still learning to teach. I looked for partners in each school I taught, each grade I was in. When I couldn't find a collaborator in my grade or school, I looked outward - to colleges in the area, to teachers I met at conferences, to my husband, to my mother. Anyone and everyone who would listen to my ideas, brainstorm with me, and move me forward in my endeavor. I fought against the isolation of the classroom. I stayed away from the faculty room with all the naysayers and instead went into rooms with ready made collaborators: libraries, art rooms, sometimes the principal's office.

Two, I went into teaching because I was bored in school. I wanted things to be different for my students. There was no role model teacher who encouraged me, excited me, envigorated me. Only teachers who ignored me (good students too often get ignored) or bored me, accepting very average work from an above-average student.

Now, the second is what got me to attend conferences and strive for better. But the first is what really helped me embrace change. Collaborations give me better ideas and someone to push me when I think, "Great idea but it will be so much work." Collaborators even do the work with me. So much better than working alone.

So the solution for others: Be the collaborator they need. Be the cheerleader, the assistant, the shoulder to cry on, the person to lean on. If I can teach how and then be there afterwards, then maybe more teachers would be willing to use new technologies. And that brings us back to the administrators. Hire an ed tech facilitator. You might just get what you need.

That was a long thought. Here's one more:

Random Thought 4: This one came after a long discussion with Christine Southard, my co-teacher and newest collaborator. I used to complain that I didn't have time to use technology. Now I complain that I don't have time for the technology to be down. Funny how things change. Now the goal is to get all the teachers in my district to feel this way. So much work, so little time.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Celebration of Teaching and Learning Conference

On March 7 and 8, I had the good fortune of attending the third annual Celebration of Teaching and Learning in NYC. This was the second time I attended. Last year started me on the wild journey into teaching in the 21st century, thanks to a session with Alan November. Also, last year, Christine Southard (my co-teacher) and I saw the Chase Multimedia in the Classroom award winners and said we would win this year. And we did, for our Comparing Hemispheres wiki created with Allanah King's New Zealand class. Winning meant, among other things, receiving free tickets for this year's Celebration (worth $450). So we were back.

This conference is so amazing. It is sponsored by Channel 13 (a public service channel here in NY), PBS, and Chase. It entailed two packed days - 8:30 - 5ish - of presentations, classes, round table discussions, and exhibitions. There were incredible people there. We heard
Dr. Jane Goodall and Jean-Michel Cousteau speak about the damage we are doing to our
planet. We watched a panel discussion led by Judy Woodruff regarding America's Schools in the 21st Century. Among the powerful people she questioned was Elliot Spitzer (NY Governor). Later, Maria Hinojosa led a discussion on Women in Education. Some more powerful people were here, including Johanna Duncan-Poitier, the Senior Deputy Commissioner of Education in NYS. We viewed winning videos from Adobe's Youth Voices and saw the documentary 2 Million Minutes, about the 2 million minutes spent in high school in three different countries. I could go on and on and on.

So here are some highlights:

Will Richardson: He was one of the main reasons I was so excited to attend. I learned so much from him. I have pages and pages of notes (there was no internet service so I wrote everything). He made some great points - "We are raising kids to use keyboards and mice when they won't have keyboards and mice in the future." "Literacy is maleable." "(Speaking of Wikipedia) We have to get over the idea that we can't let kids go somewhere because the information might be wrong." "If we do not teach kids MySpace, how to leverage it and use it well, we are not preparing them for the future."

My biggest take: "Tap into the wisdom of people out there." We are not experts in everything. But with today's technology, it is so easy to connect with the experts and bring them into your classroom. I spent the rest of the conference collecting contact information from experts.

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Michael Pritchard: This motivational speaker discussed using laughter and heart to reach children. I again took pages of notes, wrote a ton of quotes, and was very moved and inspired. Among my favorites: "Hurting people hurt people. Sharing the pain divides the pain." "It's not the bullies who hurt us the most. It is our friends who don't stand up for us." -Martin Luther King, Jr. "It's not the package we arrive in. It's the product that's packed inside."

My Biggest Take: Responsive Classroom and Morning Meetings really is important. Take time to learn who your children are outside of school and you will find it easier to reach them in school.

Jean-Michel Cousteau: He has a new PBS show coming on April 2 and April 9. Watch it. We are all interconnected and must relearn how to live with nature not against it. And we must learn quickly.

Jane Goodall: Her program, Roots and Shoots, teaches children to run projects in their community. Three projects - one to help humans, one to help animals, and one to help the environment. Worth checking out.

Dr. Majora Carter: She is the founder of Sustainable South Bronx. She runs a program called Green the Ghetto. She can be found on TedTV. You must find out what she is doing. And get inspired!

There were more presenters but I have written enough for now. Just a quick note:

My student
s, as winners of the Chase award, were given passes to the conference. They came on Saturday afternoon. They loved Jean-Michel Cousteau, the PBS television characters wandering around, and the BrainPop exhibit. (We love BrainPop!) They got to be on tv a few times. The show, which is basically the conference itself, will air on PBS on April 29 and 30 (my birthday! great present!).

But, probably the best for the students was meeting one of the presenters. David Warlick was being interviewed in the exhibit hall and we stopped him and asked him to say hello. He was probably rushed for time, all made up for the interview he just gave, and most likely tired from all the traveling he had been doing the past few days.

But, he so graciously took time to meet our students. They love him, knowing him as the Blogmeister of ClassBlogmeister, where our blogsite is hosted. They asked for, and received, autographs, got pictures of him and with him, and generally just stood around staring. He took it all in stride. Thank you, David. You meant the world to them.