New Year, New Blog

4 01 2010

After three and a half wonderful years of blogging at Edublogs, I’ve finally decided to take the plunge and manage my own WordPress blog on my own domain.

Waitakere RangesI’ve been thinking about it for a while, knowing I really need to understand the process of managing my own WordPress install so that I can help others when they have questions, but I kept putting it off because Sue and James are just so fantastic and it sure was nice to be part of the Edublogs community.

Blogging here at Edublogs helped me find my voice, build my personal learning network, and truly understand the power of the connections we create here on the web. It’s hard to believe it’s almost been 4 years since I started and I just can’t thank Sue and James enough for all of the help and support they have given whenever it was needed (and sometimes without even having to ask – they’re that good!).

But, finally, the time has come. I feel a little bit like I’m growing up, going out on my own into the wilds of the web. I’m a little nervous, to be honest. So if you have any suggestions, please let me know!

And I hope, if it’s not too much to ask, that you will come on over to my new online home with me! I’ve already updated my Feedburner feed, so if you subscribe that way, you don’t need to do anything at all.




Tips for Managing Tech Tools in the Classroom

11 12 2009

One of the things I love about being a technology facilitator is that I get to see all sorts of fantastic management strategies in the many classrooms I visit. Every teacher seems to have a unique way of handling the variety of tools we have at our disposal here at ISB. Thankfully, as part of our CoETaIL course, Jeff and Dennis asked all of the participating teachers to add to a shared VoiceThread about technology management strategies in the classroom.

Check out all of the great tips they shared here:

Do you have any special tips to share about managing tech in the classroom? Please feel free to add them to our VoiceThread!




Making the Implicit Explicit

10 12 2009

One of the issues that comes up again and again in our CoETaIL program is the “essential technology skills” that all of our students (and teachers) need to know. Now, I have to admit, I usually have a hard time with this idea, because it often comes with a list of skills like: bullets in Word, formulas in Excel or animations in PowerPoint. Basically all the things I’ve been trying to de-emphasize in favor of bigger, more wider-reaching concepts like collaboration across distances, communicating ideas to multiple audiences, or creating something new using technology tools.

Sure, you need to know how to add bullets – but you should learn how when you’re writing a list (“just in time“), not for the sake of knowing “just in case” you might need it. So, it was very interesting to me when our conversation in our last course took a turn to something I can really relate to – rather than the list of standard MS Office “skills” that were all the rage in the 1990s (with the previous edition of the NET*S), but those almost unidentifiable skills that frequent computer users just seem to take for granted. Things like:

  • knowing to hold your mouse over an icon or a link to see what it does.
  • understanding that the menus for any program are at the top of the screen, that they are usually very similar, and generally what you find within them (for example: “view” usually means how you see things on the screen and that menu is found in almost every program).
  • recognizing when something is lit up (or underlined) on a website, you can click on it.
  • knowing that the cursor changes when held over different parts of the screen and what that means (the little arrow turning into a hand over a weblink for example, or being able to stretch out a picture when it turns into the double-sided arrow).
  • using tab to move from cell to cell or box to box on forms or websites.
  • being able to recognize drop-down menus – and that they hold additional features.
  • understanding that right clicking on things brings up more options.

These are things that are common from program to program as well as on multiple operating systems. They’re not specific tasks that you only use once in a while, they’re things we do every day, and those that are comfortable with these skills often find learning new technology tools a lot easier than those that are not. It’s like these skills are part of a special language that we can speak in order to understand how to interact in any given technology-based environment.

What’s especially interesting about these little, seemingly meaningless, skills is that they truly are transferrable and haven’t changed much over time – they’re certainly not dependent on a specific version of software. Unfortunately, despite their consistency, they often cause a lot of confusion for people who aren’t really comfortable with technology.

But here’s the thing: how many of these kinds of skills are there? Is there some kind of list? Because it’s almost impossible to think of all of them once they become second nature. Yet it’s easy to see how much people struggle when they haven’t learned them or don’t “see” them when they’re using technology. Even when we support people who are new to technology, we almost expect that they can see these small clues the computer gives us, in fact, they become implicit in our understanding of how to use a computer.

We simply expect people to know why the mouse and cursor change shape and what the shapes mean, or that you can figure out how to do pretty much anything by checking the help menu in any program, or that you need to highlight something before being able to change that item because that’s how you “tell” the computer what you want to change. These have become intuitive skills for those of us that use technology regularly, but unfortunately not knowing them has become an obstacle for others to overcome.

How can we make these simple and far reaching technology skills explicit?

A few weeks ago, I was in a grade 2 classroom demonstrating VoiceThread for a quick and easy science project. Based on our conversation in CoETaIL from the day before, I wanted to see what the second graders knew about these basic skills, so I spent a few minutes of my lesson specifically highlighting the many ways which the computer gives us “clues” about what to do.

First, when we logged into VoiceThread, we looked all around the screen to see if we could figure out how to make our own VoiceThread based on the options. It took them a few tries to understand that the “Create” button was telling us that this is the place where we can create our own Thread.

Once we got to the create screen, I asked them if they could tell me where to start. Again, it took a few tries, but once they realized the Upload button was the only one they could press, I asked them how they could know that in the future. They figured out that it was the only button in color, and it was the only button that, when you moused over it, turned the mouse into the shape of a hand.

We basically went on like this throughout the process of creating a VoiceThread. To be honest, I thought all of those “signs” would be blatantly obvious to these 7-year old students, who have grown up with computer games, but they weren’t. As soon as we pointed them out, it was clear to see that they made sense and that with continued discussion, they would become second-nature. But again, who’s going to be having this discussion with them if their teachers aren’t comfortable with these implicit skills either?

Not that I’m looking to make another old-school list of standards, but what else would you put on the list of implicit tech skills like these? Do you teach them in your school?

Sunflowers by marcomagrini
Key Blanks by Ben Oh
Steps by two more days




Making Change for a Quarter: Re-Envisioning 6th Grade IT

7 12 2009

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been two full years since I taught my own technology classes. Of course I’ve done all sorts of co-planning and co-teaching in the last couple of years at ISB, but it’s certainly not the same as having your own group of students to work with. So, this year, in my new role of Middle School Technology and Learning Coordinator, I am thrilled to be back in the classroom, teaching our one middle school IT class – a sixth grade quarter-long exploratory course – for just one quarter this year. With the end of the semester quickly approaching, we’re almost finished with our ‘big project’, so I thought I’d share it here.

Given that I’m only teaching one section of this class (and my colleagues Ross, Matt and Jean are teaching the others), I felt it was important to keep the content as consistent as possible, but of course, I couldn’t resist transforming the process of how we would learn that content, along with the finished product that we would use to demonstrate our learning. As can be expected, since this is the first time I’ve taught this particular class in this particular way, there are a few things I would change for next time around, but overall, I think it turned out pretty well.

Basically the course is intended to teach the “basics” of Microsoft Office (you know the course, you probably taught it back in the 1990′s like I did when I was first teaching). So, considering the content, I tried to develop a project-based unit that would emphasize independent learning (since so many of the students would probably already know the basics), as well as allow them to share what they’ve learned in an authentic environment, and utilize some new technology tools in a creative way.

As usual, I followed the Understanding by Design model to plan the unit and the MYP Technology Design Cycle to break down the stages of the project into manageable chunks. Basically, what we’re working towards is a shared wiki with student-created tutorials on all of the MS Office basics (inspired by Chad Bates, our fantastic tech director who taught the class last year and experimented with the tutorial idea with his class) and an overview of digital citizenship, which we will share with the entire middle school as a resource for their potential technology needs.

Here’s what it looks like:

Established Goals (ISTE NETS Standards)

2. Communication and Collaboration: Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others. Students:

a. interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts or others employing a variety of digital environments and media.
b. communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats.

4. Critical Thinking, Problem-Solving & Decision-Making: Students use critical thinking skills to plan and conduct research, manage projects, solve problems and make informed decisions using appropriate digital tools and resources. Students:

b. plan and manage activities to develop a solution or complete a project.

5. Digital Citizenship: Students understand human, cultural, and societal issues related to technology and practice legal and ethical behavior. Students:

d. exhibit leadership for digital citizenship.

6. Technology Operations and Concepts: Students demonstrate a sound understanding of technology concepts, systems and operations. Students:

b. select and use applications effectively and productively.
d. transfer current knowledge to learning of new technologies.

Enduring Understandings:
Students will understand that:

  • Responsible digital citizens demonstrated shared characteristics, habits and attitudes.
  • We can work together to teach others what we have learned.
  • We can use web 2.0 tools to collaborate and communicate with a global audience.

Essential Questions:

  • What are the characteristics, habits and attitudes of a responsible digital citizen?
  • How can we work together to teach others about responsible digital citizenship?
  • How can we collaborate and communicate with others online?

Assessment Evidence

GRASPS Task

  • Goal: Your goal is to produce a multimedia handbook about basic technology tools and digital citizenship for ISB elementary students.
  • Role: You are a team of student leaders at ISB.
  • Audience: Elementary students at ISB, and around the world.
  • Situation: You will need to collaborate together to produce a thorough, easy to understand, multimedia tutorial wiki about basic technology tools and digital citizenship for a school and worldwide audience.
  • Product/Performance: Your wiki must demonstrate everything that you have learned about digital citizenship and basic technology tools this quarter.

Six Facets of Understanding:

  • Explain: Produce a screencast tutorial about how to use a specific technology feature in MS Office.
  • Apply: As a team, create a multimedia handbook about digital citizenship for ISB elementary students.
  • Interpret: As part of your presentation to ISB elementary students, write a skit to demonstrate your understanding of digital citizenship.
  • Perspective: Develop and deliver a lesson to ISB elementary students presenting all facets of responsible digital citizenship.
  • Self-Knowledge: On your blog, describe what you know about digital citizenship. At the end of the course, go back to your first post and reflect on what you’ve learned. What more do you need to learn?
  • Empathize: On your blog, write a post in the perspective of one of the characters in the public service announcements. Reflect on the events of that day and how they made you feel.

And here’s how I broke it down into the stages of the MYP Technology Design Cycle:

Investigate

During the first part of the project, we spent most of our class time exploring different types tutorials and determining what the criteria are for a quality tutorial. To get the discussion started, we watched and critiqued the first one (on adding a survey in Moodle) as a class. Then, they had class (and homework) time to watch at least 2 other tutorials from the list below (or a different tutorial that they found and shared with the class):

For each tutorial they watched, they added a response to the Moodle discussion forum answering the following questions:

  • What did the creator of this tutorial do well?
  • What would you change about this tutorial?
  • What aspects of this tutorial would you like to include in your own tutorial?

In the end, we came up with a list (as a class) of criteria for a good tutorial that all students will be assessed with at the end of the project. Then, because we had so many different skills to create tutorials on, I asked students to form groups based on the tutorials we needed (this list was based on the course curriculum I was given). Finally, each student wrote a blog post reflecting on what they learned in that section of the project , which tutorial they had chosen to create and why, and what they need to learn to complete their tutorial.

The next time I teach this course, I would also add some exploration time with ScreenRecorder and MovieMaker (and maybe even GarageBand) since we ended up doing quite a lot more editing than I thought we would. I would also add in brainstorming time for students to create a mini-storyline for their tutorial to help give them focus and to make the tutorials a little more interesting.

Plan

During the planning, students created a storyboard and script of their tutorial, keeping in mind all of the criteria we developed during the investigate stage. We focused on: making the tutorial understandable by anyone (even people who are not in our class), using simple and clear directions, including a basic introduction and credits, and changing the view and “zoom” on the screen to keep the tutorial interesting. Once the students completed their storyboard and script, they posted it on their individual blog along with a reflection on this part of the project.

Create

At this point, students have a good idea of what their tutorial will look like and exactly what steps they need to take to complete their tutorial. They spent a little bit of time exploring with the SmartNotebook SmartRecorder (which happens to be our only screencasting software available to students), after watching this tutorial created by Matt, and then got right down to the recording.

Aside from some serious Windows-related drama about recording volume (oh how I miss working in a Mac lab), it really only took one lesson for the students to record their complete screencast. Of course, they all wanted to add the extra features, so we brought their screencasts into MovieMaker and started adding the finishing touches. Once they had their introductions and credits, it was time to add background music. Since we have access to a smaller Mac lab, we spent one lesson exploring with GarageBand to create simple (and original) background tracks.

As each student finished their tutorial, they did a peer assessment based on the class criteria. Once they had feedback from their peers, they had time to edit and fix any issues with their completed tutorial. After they were satisfied, they uploaded their finished tutorial to YouTube, embedded it in a blog post and reflected on their finished product.

Evaluate

For the last few days of the project, we spent some time determining which aspects of the ISB Definition of Learning we achieved throughout the process of completing our tutorials:

I used a simple checklist to get students thinking about which aspect of learning they met during each stage, then they shared their results with a peer knowing that they would be asked to share 1 or 2 ideas with the whole class, and then we had a whole class reflection. Finally, they wrote a personal reflection as a blog post.

Here are a few highlights from what they shared with me during the whole class-reflection:

  • We learned a lot having to do our tutorials independently instead of being directly taught each skill. This way we learned it when we needed it and as we were doing our project, which helps us remember how to do it.
  • We learned more by being able to test out the tools by ourselves and helping each other than by having the teacher teach us everything together.
  • We would have preferred to do one single blog post at the end of the project reflecting on everything, instead of one for each stage.
  • By writing a blog post at the end of each stage, we really reinforced everything we learned during that stage.
  • We learned a lot about what makes a good blog post from having to write so many.
  • We learned about ISB’s Blogging Guidelines and how to write a blog post with just the right kind of information.
  • We learned how to be independent in our projects, but we liked having the checklists and all the steps broken down for us.
  • We would have liked the steps to be broken down into even smaller chunks so we could meet our deadlines better.
  • We learned that we can use websites and YouTube to learn new things and to teach other people things that we know.

Putting it all together

I waited until the last three weeks of class to have the students start compiling the wiki because I really didn’t know how long it would take to complete the tutorials. So now we’ll spend the next few days putting the finishing touches on the wiki and publicizing it around the middle school so that other students can learn from our work.

We also have a collaborating class in the US who are doing something very similar, except using the Mac version of all of these applications. We’re hoping that they will finish their tutorials before the end of our semester so we can also include them on our wiki and have a brief discussion about the transferability of skills from one platform to another.

We’ll also use this time to discuss digital citizenship and online safety and responsibility to be able to add those sections to the wiki. If we have time, I would love to do something in one or two elementary classrooms to share what we’ve learned  with an authentic audience (that can always use some reinforcement about appropriate online behavior).

Final Thoughts

Considering that I really didn’t have a good idea of how long it would take students to complete this type of tutorial – especially in a PC lab working with MovieMaker (my old enemy), I’m quite impressed with how things turned out. I was so happy to see how much the students learned in this very project-based course. I did very little direct instruction, even though some of the screencasting and editing tools were completely new to most students. It was a pleasure to see how much they appreciated being able to learn independently and to create something new with their knowledge.

Next time I would really like to add a more in-depth collaborative element – having our global partners do the peer assessment instead of simply within our class, potentially sharing more directly via our blog posts, and maybe coming up with some kind of collaborative lesson for our elementary classrooms that could involve multimedia elements (or a Skype connection) from our partner class. Of course, this is all dependent on timing, commitment and logistics. Hopefully, I’ll have a chance to teach this course again to make it even better!




Getting to Know GarageBand

7 12 2009

Musical Composition and Podcasting in the Elementary Classroom

Back in November, our absolutely amazing Elementary music teacher, Vince Bullen, and I led an EARCOS Weekend Workshop on GarageBand. Our goal was to spend two full days exploring GarageBand in a hands-on, project-based environment, tailored to the needs of both music and elementary classroom teachers. Even with this very specific focus, we had 10 international school teachers from around Asia join us in Bangkok for the weekend.

GarageBand Workshop

Thankfully, Vince is a complete expert in all things musical, so he started the workshop off with a thorough overview of pretty much everything GarageBand has to offer: from creating your own music, to editing pre-created tracks, to making “magic GarageBand” songs. Within about 1 minute of his introduction I had learned a number of useful tricks:

After getting the musical basics, the workshop switched gears to learn about easy ways to integrate music, video, photos and voice recordings to make enhanced podcasts.  I started off this session by sharing the absolutely fantastic podcasts our fifth graders here at ISB made at the end of last school year as part of the Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop book club unit (here’s our unit planner), and then went over the basics of recording your voice and adding jingles, images or movies to a podcast. It always amazes me just how easy it is to create a podcast with GarageBand!

Once our participants had the basics, we split into two groups to delve deeper into the ways that teachers can use GarageBand in the classroom. Under Vince’s extremely capable guidance, the music teachers worked together to create their own songs using MIDI instruments and all of the pre-created tracks in Garage Band.

Separately, the classroom teachers worked with me to collaborate on their very first podcast – a multimedia book recommendation they can share with their students in class, which can also be used as a model for student-created podcasts:

One of the things the classroom teachers were most interested in was the process that I use to guide students through a technology-rich project like a podcast, specifically using the MYP Technology Design Cycle. Although it was created for middle years students, I find the design cycle to be an authentic, practical, useful way to tackle technology projects. It’s actually the process you naturally go through when working with technology, but if you don’t break down the steps, you can tend to skip through and end up at the computer before you’re ready.

MYP Technology Design Cycle

So we ended up spending quite a bit of time working through the stages of the design cycle, as I would with a class of students. Here’s how I would break down a podcasting project according to the design cycle:

Investigate:

  • Explore with the software – some time to play with Garage Band to get to know the basics – what are the strengths and weaknesses of this tool, what can it do, with the goal to generally feel comfortable with the tool towards the beginning of the project.
  • Brainstorm a topic for your podcast (even if there is a specific topic, each group/individual will most likely have some individual choice involved. At this stage, it’s important for them to come up with a number of ideas (thought through to a basic level) so they can choose the best one. Have students justify their choice to you.
  • Organize resources: take the time to figure out what is needed to complete the project (pictures, books, cameras, special clothing, etc). Make sure they have a list and it’s clear who is going to bring in each item.
  • If any research needs to be done, this would be the best time. Begin with a focused research question and organize all relevant information in one central place.

Plan:

  • Write your script (you might want to use a checklist like this with your students)
  • Use a storyboard to organize your pictures and audio. (this one is more for digital video, so you may want to change the directions on the boxes).

Create:

  • This stage should be no longer than the Investigate stage (as long as they have done a good job with the Investigate and the Plan). This should be simply transferring all of the work they’ve already done on paper to their finished podcast.
  • Export the finished product into AAC format if you have pictures (without pictures, you can choose .mp3)
  • Publish the podcast on iTunes or a podcasting service like GcastPodBean, or Podomatic. (Usually the teacher will compile all student podcasts into one account so that the RSS feed includes all student work. As a teacher, you can also embed a widget on your class blog or website so parents and students can listen anytime).
  • Create an iTunes channel for your podcast following these steps.

Evaluate:

  • Listen to their podcast, looking for strengths and weaknesses – what did we do well? what do we need to improve?
  • Listen to other group podcasts, looking for similarities and differences, what did we do well? what do we need to improve?

Finally, on the second workshop day, participants had a chance to develop their own GarageBand projects for use in the classroom. Teachers worked on everything from designing a podcasting project from scratch, following the technology design cycle and Understanding by Design curriculum planning process, to creating their own musical compositions, to exploring new ways to integrate technology into classroom practice.

In my opinion, podcasts are a fantastic way to share student learning, allow time for reflection and metacognition and to connect your classroom to other learners around the world. This quick, but engaging, weekend workshop was a great way to get participants excited about this new mode of learning and to put the process of implementing authentic technology projects into practice in a safe environment.

How do you use podcasting in your classroom?




Shared Expectations

3 12 2009

One of the challenges of an integrated technology program is the fact that some responsibility for teaching essential technology concepts is placed on the shoulders of teachers who are not specialists in that field. Although adopting (or creating your own) technology standards is a step in the right direction, those statements are often general enough to leave room for uncertainty, especially for those teachers that don’t have a special interest in technology. This can lead to situations where classroom teachers feel that they lack guidance or concrete expectations about how to authentically and appropriately embed technology into their curriculum in a way that’s relevant to students and deepens their learning, which in turn leads to frustration and confusion.

In schools that are fortunate to have technology facilitators, often this kind of confusion is resolved through conversation and collaboration. However, even in those schools, usually there’s not enough time in the day for the facilitator to be able to support every single teacher. And even if there were enough facilitators to work closely with every single teacher, it’s simply not sustainable or advisable to place all of the essential knowledge about such a critical subject in the hands of one or two specialists. Although many teachers appreciate the personal support of a technology facilitator, it should be possible for individual teachers to get a sense of what they could or should be doing without having to go through a “gatekeeper.”

Having been a technology facilitator for 10 years now, I had always thought that individualized, personal conversations were the best way to help teachers embed technology into their classroom practice. While I still believe that collaborative planning and teaching is by far the most effective approach, I’m also realizing that having a clearly defined and readily accessible set of examples of classroom experiences, alongside a set of standards, would not only help teachers understand what’s expected of them, but would also provide an approachable starting point for conversations with teachers who may be unsure where to start.

So, here at ISB, we’ve decided to adapt and revise the ISTE Learner Profiles so that they reflect specific examples of units being done here at school. Currently, the general profiles provided by ISTE, which are broken down by division, provide basic examples of age-appropriate learning experiences (which meet the NET*S standards) that teachers can use to develop projects at their grade level. Of course, these examples are quite broad and don’t include samples of student work. So, we’re hoping that by documenting, on the ISB21 wiki, these types of experiences that are happening at our school, with links to completed student work, unit planners, and feedback from teachers, our faculty will feel they have a strong starting point for planning new projects (and implementing those that are currently part of our curriculum).

We’re just in the begining stages, but the ISB21 team will start this documentation process by linking and describing the projects we have collaborated on here at ISB, on the ISB21 wiki:

Next, we will ask the CoETaIL cohort teachers to share other projects that they may be working on independently. Finally, we will bring the profiles to the rest of the school community and ask them to contribute as well. In the end we hope to have an easily accessible, frequently updated, relevant and specific list of projects that meet our Technology and Information Literacy standards (TaILs) that all teachers can use to guide their planning, spark their interest, and start conversations.

Do you have these kinds of Learner Profiles at your school? Are they helpful? How do you build or clarify shared expectations for authentic, technology-rich student experiences with the faculty at your school?

signpost mage by will_hybrid
scaffolding image by kevindooley




We Are All Technology Teachers

29 11 2009

Last weekend I was honored to present a session at the Bridging the Gap conference at Yokohama International School in Japan. YIS has hosted this community conference annually since 2001, and the topic for this year was “The Future of Education: Using Its Tools Today.” The three day conference included formal sessions led by teachers from YIS, other international schools and keynote presenter, Chris Toy, as well as a full day of BarCamp unconference sessions. It was a great opportunity to dialogue about the way schools may look in the near future with not only teachers and administrators, but also parents and students.

One interesting topic of discussion came up on Saturday: an administrator asked me if we should be expecting classroom teachers to teach technology, to be responsible for this additional subject along with their standard course material. Basically the question was about the value of technology as an integrated subject (with all teachers responsible for the instruction) versus a discrete course (with one or two specialists responsible for the instruction). Interestingly, I haven’t really had this conversation in a while, since ISB had adopted an integrated approach before I even arrived three years ago, but it certainly was a hot topic in both KL and Munich where I was part of the transition process from stand-alone IT courses to an integrated model.

Having developed and implemented an integrated technology program from scratch in two schools and expanded an existing program here at ISB, I firmly believe that technology is best taught within the context of the core curriculum. The natural use of authentic technology within the classroom setting, just like the way we use paper and pencil without any second thoughts, is always what I’m striving for.

Sounding BoardA good analogy might be the way that over the past decade or two, classroom teachers have become more accustomed to the idea of differentiating for English language learners – especially in international schools, where often the majority of the class are not native English speakers. I have heard many administrators say “we are all ESL teachers,” with the expectation that no matter what subject we teach, we must ensure that all students are engaged with material that’s comprehensible to them. In all of the schools I’ve worked at, we’ve had extensive professional development in this area, and the consensus in education seems to be that if you’re a teacher in a linguistically diverse class, it is your responsibility to employ some of the professional strategies of an ESL teacher, even if you yourself are a Math, Social Studies, Science, etc teacher.  At this point, we’re all comfortable with the fact that we can’t simply give oral instructions, or that new vocabulary should be introduced in context, or that certain students might need more time to understand directions and perform certain tasks.

Maybe now it’s time to say “we are all technology teachers.”

I certainly understand that this is not a change that will happen overnight. Much like the move towards more ELL friendly instruction, teachers will need to learn appropriate skills, strategies and approaches to authentically and successfully embed technology within their core subject. Of course, this will take time, and during this transition, in my opinion, it’s the responsibility of the technology facilitator (or coordinator or integration specialist or whatever they may be called) to help their colleagues build their understanding of successful technology-rich teaching practices.

Often my colleague, Jeff, likes to say that his goal is to “work himself out of a job” by building teacher skill level to the point where they don’t need him anymore. Although I would agree that this is also my ultimate goal, I am conscious of the speed with which technology changes, and I’m not sure that we will ever get to the point where schools will no longer need some sort of pedagogical support in the technology field. After all, most schools still have ESL specialists, even though many of their practices are adopted by mainstream teachers.

Click!Similarly, most ESL programs have a mix of in-class and pull-out support – blending the best of both approaches to ensure that all students are learning and understanding both the language and the curricular content. Although I firmly believe technology should be embedded within classroom practice, I also see a place for discrete technology classes – especially when they are designed with a curricular context that enhances the learning in core subjects, or when they emphasis the process of learning how to learn with technology, or when they offer a specialized skill for students that are highly interested (like graphic design or Flash animation).

The important thing to remember, is that even if there are seperate technology courses offered at a school, that doesn’t mean that those classes are the only place where students learn with technology. To continue to use the ESL anology one last time, a student who has a pull-out intensive ESL course isn’t excused from using the English language in all of their other classes simply because they attend a class that focuses on language. Students and teachers should expect that technology will naturally be a part of every class.

What do you think? Should all teachers be technology teachers?




Going Global: Culture Shock, Convergence, and the Future of Education

11 10 2009

Cross-posted on the K12Online Conference blog

I could not be more honored to be the pre-conference keynote speaker for this year’s K12 Online conference!

I have been participating in this annual conference since its inception in 2006 and every year I am amazed at the quality of presentations shared by educators around the world. The opportunity to learn together over the course of the conference (and beyond) is one of the most inspiring and engaging experiences of the year for me. Of course, this year’s lineup is no different!

When I was asked to keynote this year’s event, I knew right away that I wanted my presentation to have a global focus. Thinking back over the course of my ten years of living overseas, I realized that in many ways my exposure to new ways of thinking about technology has been paralleled by some similar learning experiences in the real world. I wanted to explore those links between virtual and real-world perspective shifts, and in the process try to share what I feel is an interesting and unique perspective in the expat mindset.

I’ve also decided to try to practice what I preach and make this presentation a true global collaboration, and although I will be putting together and presenting the final product, I really wanted to make it based on group input. Thankfully, my personal learning network includes a number of outstanding international school educators who’ve been willing to help me in preparing my presentation (thank you!). Right now I’ve gotten a lot of great input and material from (in no particular order):

While these teachers have already sent me fantastic material, I would love to include other perspectives as well. Knowing that the deadline is just over a month away, I’m beginning to put the final pieces together, and would love to hear your thoughts, include your perspectives, and emphasize the power of global collaboration in the final product.

Here’s the presentation overview:

Going Global: Culture Shock, Convergence, and the Future of Education

Everything I need to know about the future of education I learned, not from kindergarten, but from living overseas. Looking at daily life in foreign lands reveals a colorful spectrum of inspiring metaphors for the shifts we need to make in education. Featuring voices from students and teachers from around the globe, this presentation will start with a look through an expatriate’s eyes at some vibrant details of daily life in many lands. Often what we may find initially chaotic, disorienting and strange in other countries can actually spark new ways of thinking about teaching and learning.

Then, again through the voices and viewpoints of teachers and students from all around the world, we’ll examine the unique aptitudes which allow successful expats to thrive in any environment: adaptability, flexibility, the ability to understand differing viewpoints and constructs, and the communications skills to collaborate across cultural, religious and linguistic barriers. These are exactly the skills that future students and teachers will need to confidently enter the digital, global, converging, collaborative world of tomorrow – wherever they might be physically located.

What do you think? Does this sound interesting to you? Are you an expat or Third Culture Kid? Have you or your students participated in a global collaboration? What did you gain from that experience?




How To Connect Your Students Globally

4 10 2009

Cross-posted on the TechLearning Advisors Blog

Two weeks after returning from the Flat Classroom Workshop in Hong Kong, I am still inspired and energized about what learning could (and should) look like.

The key component for me was connecting students, both face to face and virtually, from a variety of backgrounds to work together to solve a common problem. Although we might not have the luxury of bringing together diverse groups of students every day, we certainly have the capability to connect them using technology. No matter what subject you teach, I truly believe adding a global component is not only possible, but necessary to prepare students for our increasingly connected world.

As Fernando M. Reimers writes in Leading for Global Competency:

Good educators know that the real world is ever more interconnected and interdependent. We all share in facing such planetary challenges as climate change, health epidemics, global poverty, global economic recessions and trade imbalances, assaults on human rights, terrorism, political instability, and international conflicts. We also share opportunities for global collaboration in such areas as scientific and artistic creation, trade, and international cooperation. These challenges and opportunities define the contours of our lives, even in their most local dimensions. Yet in spite of growing awareness of the importance of developing global skills, few students around the world have the opportunity today to become globally competent.

As exciting and enriching as globally collaborative projects are, it can be a daunting task to start one on your own. Even if you have a great idea, you might not always know how or where to find the right partner(s). Ideally you would know the people you’ll be collaborating with personally before starting a project, but sometimes you don’t have that luxury.

So, here are a few ways you can get started:

Window shopping

These social networks are great places to start looking for teachers who have planned a project and need collaborators, or just a place to see other projects and how they work. I always like to start with a little “window shopping” before I jump into my own project – often someone else has already started something that will work perfectly for me!

Find a Geographic Focus

If you’re looking for a classroom in a specific country or city, try exploring the network of international schools around the world to try to find teachers who might be interested in working with you. These schools are often well-resourced, well-connected in their country, and offer a western-style curriculum. Even if you’re looking for a local school in a different country, international schools can be a great way to start making international contacts. You might want to start with this list of international school teachers who are blogging and/or on Twitter.

Ask the Professionals

A few weeks ago I was honored to be part of a panel on Global Awareness hosted by Lucy Gray and Steve Hargadon. I certainly felt like a small fish in a big pond speaking alongside the directors, presidents, and chairs of so many well-respected and established organizations dedicated to connecting teachers and students around global issues. If you’re looking for an organized, formal connection with other classrooms, these would be a great place to start:

Build Your Own PLN

It can be difficult at first, but developing and expanding your own personal learning network may end up being the most rewarding professional development of your career. Connecting regularly with individuals and groups that can push your thinking, support your learning, and collaborate on projects both in and out of the classroom means that you are learning what you need, when you need it.

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in the plenary session of the AIS ICT Integration Conference coordinated and led by Chris Betcher. As a member of the closing session, alongside 5 other amazing educators – Sharon Peters, Matt Montagne, Toni Twiss, Tom Barrett, and
Cindy Barnsley – I noticed that all of us described using technology to make a positive impact on the world.
These are the people I want to be learning with! And it all starts with simple steps – commenting on blog posts, participating in online conferences, joining regular online live events. These two posts might help you get started:

Jump In!

Once you have an idea that will work and a classroom (or two) to connect with, get started! This post outlines the process I go through when beginning a new project: A Step-by-Step Guide to Globally Collaborative Projects.

Final Thoughts

Oftentimes, when I’m working with teachers new to technology, I end up suggesting a project idea which is easy, fast, and convenient, just to ensure that they (and their students) have a successful experience. But, now, after leading the Flat Classroom Workshop, participating on the Global Awarenes Panel, and joining the AIS ICT Integration Conference, I’m reminded that these globally collaborative skills and experiences are critical. Even if global projects are not always the easiest or the fastest to plan, and even if they don’t always work out perfectly, this is what we need to be doing with students and teachers on a regular basis. With the right approach, using technology in the classroom can be about making the world a better place.

Works Cited

Reimers, Fernando M. “Teaching for the 21st Century: Leading for Global Competency.” Educational Leadership, ASCD, September 2009, Volume 67, Number 1.

Peace on Earth image by cayusa




Reflections on the Flat Classroom Workshop

27 09 2009

Last weekend I had the honor of co-leading the Flat Classroom Workshop (pictures here) with Julie Lindsay at the 21st Century Learning Conference in Hong Kong. I have to admit that although I knew it would be amazing after everything I had heard about the Flat Classroom Conference in Doha earlier this year, I had no idea just how amazing the whole experience would turn out to be!

Flat Classroom Workshop

Workshop Structure

The flat classroom workshop is a 2.5-day project-based learning experience for both students and teachers. We had about 30 high-school students and 10 teachers participating face-to-face, and about 20 registered virtual participants. The goal of the workshop is to allow participating students and teachers to experience a flat classroom project in a condensed amount of time. Basically, in the 2.5 days of the workshop, the students and teachers go through almost the entire process of a flat classroom project that might normally take six to nine weeks.

The students and teachers in the workshop are given a challenge (in this case, to develop and propose a solution to the problem of the digital divide). Students and teachers worked in separate teams of 5 (i.e.: teachers worked with only other teachers, and students worked only with other students). All teams had members from a variety of schools, including official virtual participants.

Flat Classroom Workshop

Over the course of the 2.5 days, teams had to research the digital divide, propose and pitch a solution to a small group of conference participants, present more formal pitches to all workshop participants and a virtual uStream audience at the end of the first full day, and then finally the three most-likely-to-succeed ideas were presented to the entire 21st-century learning conference as the final plenary session.

What was amazing to me about this process was the fact that not only did the teams have little to no understanding of the digital divide before the conference started, but most had never met their team members, and most of them were working in a different school with different equipment than they were used to, and they had to work together with virtual participants as team members, yet they jumped in with both feet, producing finished presentations that were absolutely outstanding.

Flat Classroom Workshop

Here’s what really stood out to me over the 2.5 days:

Project-Based Learning Works

It is absolutely amazing what students can do when you give them an authentic and achievable task and then get out of their way. We provided several focus sessions on pitching an idea, a basic overview of the digital divide, the power of visual imagery, and an introduction to digital storytelling, but for the most part the teams were on their own. Of course, Julie and I were facilitating the process, but watching students learn how to learn together and seeing the results of their cooperation was a great reminder for me that this is the way a classroom should be run.

Third Culture Kids

When the students first met each other, it was interesting see that they started their introductions with their ethnic background first. Once they established their cultural history they were able to bond about similar experiences (most of them were 3rd culture kids and many of them had never lived in their “home” country)  and work together in an open and accepting environment. It was interesting for me to see how important it was for them to acknowledge their cultural history and experiences before beginning the process of working together.

Flat Classroom Workshop

These Tools Are Still New

I’ve been working with web 2.0 tools for a few years now and they are starting to seem “old hat” to me, but for most of these students (and teachers), even though were particularly interested in technology, many of these tools were new or they hadn’t used them in this way. Of course, they all have Facebook accounts  and they regularly Skype with their extended families, they really didn’t have an understanding of how to use these tools for an academic purpose, and it was exciting to them to discover new ways to use them. It was a good reminder that the use of web 2.0 tools in education is nowhere near as prevalent as it can seem here in the edublogosphere.

Learning to Listen

One strong difference Julie and I noticed when we were presenting was that I will occasionally ask students to close their laptop lids to listen, while Julie doesn’t. I don’t think that one way is better than the other, but it’s made me wonder: do we need to teach (and model for) students how to stop and listen? I know when I’m working on my laptop and listening to something else at the same time, I am able to stop and listen when I need to, but I wonder if that’s a skill that needs to be taught and learned (not an innate ability that all people just naturally have). Can some students naturally pay attention while others are distracted by the laptop? I know that many of our teachers in the CoETaIL course find it very distracting to have their laptop lids open throughout our face-to-face sessions, but it didn’t bother the students at all, could it be a generational thing?

Overheard at the Flat Classroom Workshop

It’s all about Inquiry and Individualization

When I think of the digital divide, I automatically think about those who have access to technology versus those who don’t. What was interesting to me was that while watching the students try to develop a solution to this global problem, almost none of them tackled the issue of the haves and have-nots. They almost all chose to work on the problem of the “analog” generation versus the “digital” generation. They drew on their own experiences, for example: their grandparents who have difficulty communicating with them online. They focused on the problems of one generation not communicating the same way as another generation.

I was impressed to see that they were not only concerned about the older generation staying in touch with their families, but also about learning from their elders and valuing the input and perspective they have on the world in a format the younger generation understands. The fact that the topic and project given them were broad enough that they were able to find a perspective on it that they were passionate about clearly helped them to be motivated to find solutions that could actually be implemented in their lives.

The Power of Peer Grouping

When Julie organized the groups, she made sure that students and teachers were in separate groups – there were no mixed groups. At first, I wasn’t sure what I thought about that grouping, because I was interested to see how students and teachers might work together to use media, collaborate and find solutions. However, on the final day, when a little more than half of the participants (students and teachers) were working together to produce the final plenary session for the conference, it was amazing to see how quickly the traditional student-teacher dynamic returned. Literally the instant the student and teacher teams were mixed, the students stopped talking and the teachers took over.

After a few minutes, we split the groups, and the teachers and I debriefed for a few minutes about what had been happening and how quickly it happened. Although none of us were surprised to see it, all of the teachers had been consciously trying to step back and not take control, but it happened nonetheless. It was almost as if it were involuntary.

Flat Classroom Workshop

Process Over Product

I started out in an MYP school, and perhaps that’s why my approaches to teaching and learning have usually tended to match that philosophy. Seeing the MYP Design Cycle in action again at the Workshop (after working in Elementary for the last two years) really reminded me that students can tackle almost any technology project, even when starting with little or no previous knowledge, and work their way through it following that process. All the teacher needs to do is provide the framework for the students to lead them through that process of learning. It isn’t about the content, but about the process of learning with technology, and that process can be adapted to fit any content.

Virtual Audience and Virtual Team Members

The authentic task and opportunity for choice were great motivators, but it was especially interesting to see how the students reacted when we emphasized our virtual participants. As soon as a virtual team member was in the chatroom, students would jump in and talk to them, when they presented in front of their virtual audience on the uStream the students seemed to sit up straighter, and when we announced the global (online) vote the students wanted to watch the percentages changing in real time. It seems like this generation is so used to sharing so much of their lives with a (potentially) global audience that doing things without public interaction might not be worth it for them. I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing, but it certainly makes me wonder what they must think when faced with a pencil-and-paper task to be read only by the teacher – when they’re already used to sharing their lives and their work with the world.

Participant Feedback

We’ve asked all of the participants to share their thoughts via an anonymous survey and their blog on the Flat Classroom Conference Ning. You can read all of their blog posts on the Ning, but I thought I’d include a few highlights here as well.

Chris Smith was also very generous with his time and spent quite a while with our participants recording their thoughts and experiences with his handy Flip. All of the videos are available on the 21st Century Learning Conference Ning – they’re all short clips and well worth watching.

From Beatrice (student):

It was a life-changing experience to connect, communicate, and cooperate with people from various cultures. I interacted with people I’ve never met before, and even spoke in front of a large audience; if you know how shy I am, you will understand how meaningful it was to me.

I think that the ultimate goal of Flat Classroom wasn’t to learn about technology, or to bridge the digital divide (although those were very, VERY important objectives!)– It was to Flatten the World.

I believe that when we broke down the walls of the classroom, a small crack was made on the walls of the world. Starting from flattening the classroom through technology, we shall flatten the whole world step by step.  I’m looking forward to the day I’ll be attending a “Flat World Conference.”

From Saundra (teacher):

The flat classroom project is not about creating a flat sameness from the peaks of diversity. It is about recognizing diversity and weaving it into a shared vision of how a problem can be solved. It is learning what it means to be even in understanding and experience and use that to create something new and uneven.

From Toby (student):

Our team has bonded over the past few days and we’re über tight. The tasks have been challenging yet rewarding. What we learned about our cultural differences will stay with us always. Hopefully we’ll be visiting Seoul soon! XD The time limits tortured us yet brought out the best in us. It was the first time we learned the concept of digital divide and we learned much about this through the workshop. We also learned a lot of teamwork and collaboration skills, as well as the secrets to creating a creative, memorable presentation.

From Sara (teacher):

The process that we engaged in over the last 48 hours at the 21st Century Learning Conference Hong Kong is what happens in reality. It’s not a lecture, it’s not passive (nor is it aggressive, thank goodness), it’s a genuinely tangible manifestation of real life. It’s a real problem, it’s a real solution, and it’s real time.

From Wu Ming (student):

This is my first time participating in some activities with someone from foreign countries and international schools. I found my language skills not as good as my teammates. My English is not fluent enough to fit the pace of the conference. I spent most of the time catching up with my teammates but not thinking of ideas. Though, I am glad that I was allocated into a team with friendly mates. They gave chance for me to try presenting and improve by time. I am comparatively bad in speaking English, but I am gaining confidence in speaking English after this activity.

On the other hand, the activity is fascinating. This is my first time (again) to attend lessons with a notebook all along. I enjoy computer lessons before since I can use the computer, not just sitting in the classroom and listen to what the teacher say. This activity provided a great chance for me to use computer without the need to worry about the timing due to the insufficient amount if computer. Other schoolmates from our school enjoyed this activity too. There are also many snacks provided so that we wouldn’t get too bored or sleepy. This is a nice learning environment for me, and I like to have this at my school.

Finished Products

If you’re interested in seeing the final products, check the Workshop wiki for embedded multimedia on each team page. You’ll also find the video archieves for our uStreamed sessions, including the final plenary.

Flat Classroom Workshop

Final Thoughts

I’m still on cloud nine a week later! The students and teachers that participated are absolutely amazing in every way. Seeing such a large group of students and teachers so passionate about learning, communicating and collaborating, and so committed to making a difference was a life changing experience. I sincerely hope that our FaceBook group, and our various Nings and wikis, will keep us connected – I, for one, want to keep learning with everyone who participated!

Flat Classroom Workshop

I owe Julie and Vicki a huge thank you for continuing to push boundaries, for connecting me (and so many others) through the Flat Classroom project so many years ago, and for giving me the opportunity to co-lead this workshop with Julie. I can not wait to do it again!

And I must admit, I’m kind of wishing I was still seeing this stunning view every day:

Flat Classroom Workshop