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!

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?

Parent Technology Coffee Mornings: Year 2 Recap

31 05 2009

It’s hard to believe we’ve already finished another year of thought-provoking discussions with elementary parents during our monthly Parent Technology Coffee Mornings!

Tara, Jeff and I host these sessions in the Learning Hub on the first Wednesday of every month in order to build parental understanding of the ways that technology is changing society, and therefore, changing education. Every month we watch a short video and then discuss the implications on education and learning, always with practical examples from classrooms here at ISB. Each of our sessions is re-capped in our community blog, Connect 2.0, for those parents that can’t attend face-to-face.

Thanks to a dedicated and engaged group of parents who attend our meetings on a regular basis, we’ve discussed everything from writing in the digital age (using tools like blogs and wikis), to social networking (using tools like Facebook and Ning), to digital storytelling (using tools like iMovie and VoiceThread), to information management, online safety and the changes and challenges facing education today.

Specifically, this year we’ve watched:

Each of these sessions gives us the opportunity to understand a parent’s perspective on technology, share exciting projects our students are engaged in, and help clear up any misconceptions about the use of technology in the classroom. We have been fortunate to build some lasting relationship with the parents who willingly spend one morning a month in the Hub.

Although our numbers fluctuate every month – usually depending on the topic and competing events at school – we are hoping that the positive experiences parents have had with us will spread throughout the elementary school.

In fact, the wonderful parents who regularly spend the first Wednesday of every month with us have shared some of their reasons for attending:

I want to thank Tara, Kim and Jeff for hosting us ES parents at the monthly Technology meetings this school year. WOW! It is so wonderful to be able to explore and discuss how technology is affecting us as parents, not to mention learning what our kids are doing on the IT front…or want to be doing…or shouldn’t be doing…or will be doing whether we want them to or not. I’ve learned that by understanding what is “out there” and being able to have open discussions with our children about these things (instead of ignoring it) is paramount on the parenting front! Plus it’s always great to gain insight that can help us with our daily lives…whether or not we are currently in the work force or plan to reenter it in the coming years. Thank you and I look forward to these opportunities again next year.

- D

These quick and friendly appointments have represented a valuable opportunity for me to

  • get more familiar with the most recent technological updates, realizing how easy it could be just trying (podcasting – I did it and now we are getting addicted to it !)
  • finally starting to use the various instruments we have at our disposal (Facebook – I do not hide my name anymore, just know how to use it protecting our privacy !)
  • get a bit of understanding of the new world into which our kids are born and immersed and have a first clue about how different their learning experience is compared with ours

I also enjoyed the formula (monthly, about 1 hour long, right after kids enter their classes) and hope you will continue offering us these useful updates.

- R

I attend the Parent Technology Meetings for the light, non-filling, breakfast items that complement the coffee. Just kidding…

I attend the Parent Technology Meetings to learn what my children’s world looks like and what their future holds in the realm of technology. How can we, as parent’s, help guide our children, if we are not familiar with their world. Today’s classroom (libraries, household, businesses)…today’s world is completely unlike the one I grew up with. It is continually changing.

These meeting give me a chance to become educated about technology. I am learning what my children are doing in school, with technology. I am learning how the technology works so that I can use and understand it. I am learning the benefits of technology.

These sessions give me a place to express my lack of understanding, my apprehensions, my thoughts. I share what I feel, I ask questions and I learn from others. We come from different points along the technology timeline, depending on our age. I am able to hear differing viewpoints. This allows me to evaluate and form educated opinions about technology.

The sessions are invigorating. I may not grasp everything that I learn, but I am trying. It will make things easier, because not just their world is changing, my world is changing as well. I don’t want to be left behind.

I feel privileged to be given the opportunity to learn more about technology through these eye opening sessions.

- R

In order to continue to promote these sessions, we’ve already organized a great list of topics for our monthly sessions in the 2009-10 school year, for those parents that like to plan in advance:

September 2009: An Introduction to the Ways Education is Changing in a Digital World: an introduction to the major technological changes that are currently shaping society and changing education. We will also give an overview of all of the sessions for the rest of the year.

October 2009: An Introduction to Blogging: What is a blog? How and why do people blog? How can parents get connected to all the teacher and student blogs being authored at ISB?

November 2009: An Introduction to RSS: What is RSS? How can it help me stay connected to learning happening at ISB, as well as more personal interests (like gardening or travel)? Bring your own computer and we’ll help you set up your own RSS account!

December 2009: An Introduction to Podcasting & iTunes: What is a podcast? How and why do people podcast? What are some great podcasts for students and parents to listen to and watch? Bring your own computer and we’ll help you subscribe (for free) to podcasts from ISB and around the world!

February 2010: An Introduction to Digital Literacy: What are the new literacies for the 21st Century? How is the understanding of literacy changing in education? How are ISB students learning and using 21st century literacy skills?

March 2010: An Introduction to Social Networking: What is social networking? How are your children using social networking both in school and outside of school? How can we use social networking strategies for learning?

April 2010: An Introduction to Wikis: What is a wiki? How and why do people use wikis? What is the controversy over Wikipedia? Plus, we’ll share some examples of wikis being used for learning at ISB.

May 2010: Summer Tech Activities With Your Kids! Some great tech-rich activities you can do with your children over the summer, like: starting a family travel blog, taking control of your summer vacation pictures, finding the top 10 kid-friendly podcasts for long car trips or plane rides, or making your own summer travel video for YouTube!

Final Thoughts

Overall, these sessions have been a big success! We’re actively spreading the word about new kinds of learning all students should be regularly experiencing in the classroom, we’re helping parents understand why this kind of learning is important, and we’re helping build a strong voice among our parents to share that feedback with our admin team.

One of the new things we started this year was having parents actually try some of these tools during our sessions. We had a hands-on Facebook training where parents were able to create their own Facebook account, which they really appreciated. As you can see, we’re planning a few more hands-on sessions for next year in order to help parents actively engage in these new media.

What are you doing to help your parents connect to the new ways of learning in your school?

Moving a Community Forward

31 05 2009

Last week Jeff and I presented one of the final keynotes, entitled Moving A Community Forward, for the 2009 Webheads in Action Online Convergence. Not only was it a blast doing the presentation with Jeff, but it turned out to be a great reflection on what we’ve accomplished at ISB this year and what some of our next steps could be for the 2009-10 school year.

The goal of our presentation was to address the needs of the various stakeholders in a typical school community when attempting to effect change.

We covered 4 groups: Parents, Teachers, Students and Admin. As we looked at each group, we shared strategies we’ve been using here at ISB (both successful and unsuccessful) and also brainstormed some new initiatives we are thinking about for the next school year.

Although you can watch the whole presentation here (and below), I thought it would be worthwhile to post some of our key points here on the blog just in case you don’t want to watch the entire, hour-long, session. Hopefully this overview of what’s worked for us will also be helpful for others!

Moving a Community Forward Presentation Notes:

Parent Community:

Over the last two years, we’ve been working on building a strong home-school partnership around 21st century learning. We are making a concerted effort to involve more and more parents in both formal and informal events to support the exciting changes their children are experiencing in the classroom.

Parent Technology Coffee Mornings

We started with our Parent Technology Coffee Mornings early last school year. These are monthly meetings open to all elementary school parents, facilitated by me, Jeff and Tara. We usually show an engaging, short video about changes in society (I’ll put up a list of all the videos we’ve shown this year soon) and then spend about an hour discussing the impact on education. We have a group of dedicated parents who show up every month and we post the most interesting points of our discussion (along with a link to the video) on our Connect 2.0 blog.

Although these started out very informally last year, we’ve had requests to share the topics in advance and have started promoting the monthly sessions well in advance to encourage more parents to attend. We’ve already outlined all of our sessions for next year and have shared an overview with our parent community.

Inside.ISB Communication Portal

More and more of our teachers are choosing to share classroom events via a blog (instead of a Friday newsletter), and in order to make that communication as streamlined as possible, we’ve created a parent communication portal using WordPress MultiUser (WPMU). All of our teacher blogs can now be found on Inside.ISB for easy parent access.

Parent Trainings

Over this past school year, we’ve implemented PantherNet (our Moodle), PowerSchool, My.ISB (Elgg), and Inside.ISB. In order to help parents cope with the influx of digital environments that their students are regularly involved in, we’ve started running more formal parent trainings.

So far these have been scheduled during the school day with parents signing up in advance, but we’re hoping to also offer some in the evenings next school year. Considering that our school is in the suburbs, we’re also thinking of offering some sessions downtown so that parents don’t have to wrestle with Bangkok traffic in the evening.

Next Steps: Advisory Committee

During our Main Library External Audit visit by Doug Johnson and Ann Krembs, they recommended that we develop a Technology Advisory Committee comprised of several members of our ISB21 team, teachers, parents, students and administrators in order to ensure that all stakeholders have a say in the decision making process. There is no way we can truly meet the needs of our entire community without involving them at the ground level.

Student Community:

We’ve been working hard for the last few years to ensure that our students have the opportunity to interact with their peers both within school and around the world in a variety of authentic and engaging ways.

Developing a Global Audience

At almost every grade level (PK-12), our students are involved in projects that connect them with the wider world. Although both Jeff and I work at the elementary level, innovative teachers at all grade levels are incorporating global projects into their classroom curriculum.

Student Authored Blogs

Beginning with fifth grade, all students at ISB will be part of our student-blogging portal through Inside.ISB. With our new grade 5 Digital Literacy unit of study, blogging will become an integral part of our language arts curriculum. We’re hoping to use these student blogs as learning portfolios that can be continued from one grade to the next, as well as a forum to share, reflect, and communicate with a global audience.

YouTube Channel & Facebook Alumni Group

In order to take advantage of two of the most popular social media platforms, we have created both a YouTube channel and collaborated with the creators of the FB Alumni group.

Next Steps: Student Tech Team

Along with our parent community, we are looking to involve students more directly in our decision making process. We would also love to develop a student tech team to help support the entire school community in their technology needs.

Teacher Community:

LAN Parties

Earlier this year, Chrissy and I started hosting Local Area Network parties around the K12Online08 presentations. We held several of these sessions in various teacher’s homes throughout the city, watching one or two presentations each time, along with hosting a special guest via Skype for each session. At each session we had about 10 – 12 ISB teachers excited to learn something new about technology.

Early Adopter Group & Elgg Network

After seeing the sucess of the LAN parties, we decided to create an Early Adopter Group for our super “techie” teachers at ISB. We wanted to provide a place for those teachers to collaborate and communicate across divisions (somewhat difficult at a school as big as ISB), and offer them the support they need to continue to innovate and assist their colleagues in each division. As part of this team, we created an Elgg group to encourage the networked learning to continue beyond school hours.

Regular PD

As part of our professional development opportunities for all teachers at ISB, we offer informal tech support sessions 2 – 3 days a week, after school. We’ve tried a number of formats, from discussion-based Wired Wednesday, to walk-in/walk-out Personal Tech Support, and are always willing to adapt to the needs of our teachers. We have also worked hard to ensure that each of our grade level teams (in the elementary) includes a member of the ISB21 team.

Faculty Meetings

We’ve been extremely lucky to facilitate 2 ES faculty meetings this school year. One of our main goals at each meeting was to highlight and showcase the fantastic work of our amazing ES teachers. Both meetings featured a structured rotation, including Speed Geeking, for teachers to experience a sneak peak into some of the exciting projects our teachers and students are working on. Although these meetings are short (around an hour), they’ve been a great way to promote success and to spread new ideas throughout the faculty in a viral way.

SUNY Course

In another amazing stroke of luck, we have been able to offer a 15-credit, 5-course Certificate in Educational Technology and Information Literacy (CoETaIL) to our faculty as part of a longer (30-credit) Master’s degree through SUNY Buffalo. We have over 40 teachers involved in the certificate program, including 4 teachers newly recruited to ISB in January. Considering the extensive time commitment, we are so proud to have such a large percentage of our faculty dedicated to learning together.

Next Steps: IETPs for Teachers

In order to build on the groundswell that we have started in the last few years, and to formalize the changes we’re implementing, our next step is to develop Individual Educational Technology Plans for our teachers. We will start with all of our new teachers, as well as a group of volunteers (as part of the final course in our CoETaIL program) in the next school year.

Admin Community:

Present at Leadership Team (LT) Meetings

Over the past two years, we have been invited to present formally at the ISB Leadership Team meetings. These presentations are our change to share our learning and recommendations with the higher school administration.

Continued Conversations

Outside of formal meeting times, we make an effort to continue the process of relationship building through casual and frequent conversation with our school leaders.

Sharing Resources

We regularly share blog posts, articles, websites, videos, and a whole host of resources with our admin team. Often these items prompt further discussion in meetings or casual conversation. The goal is always to keep learning.

Present to School Board

As a result of our successful LT meeting presentations, we were asked to present to the school board this year, which ended up in a decision to modify our school vision to reflect our ISB21 philosophy.

Next Steps: Tie Parent Community to Admin Community

In order to continue moving forward we know that we will need more than just teacher voices promoting change. We would like to work closely with our parent community to enlist their help in pushing our school community forward. It is the voices of the parents that most often and most successfully bring about change in schools.

Final Thoughts

Of course, not everything we’ve done has gone perfectly, or according to plan. We are always revising, re-thinking, and reflecting as the year progresses. These are just a few of our favorite initiatives in order to give us something to think about as we begin to plan for the 2009-10 school year.

What has worked well in your school in your efforts to move your community forward?

Full Presentation:

Moving a Community Forward by jutecht on Flickr

A Workshop A Day

10 05 2009

I am incredibly honored (and quite flattered) to be part of an amazing line-up of speakers at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School (MICDS) this summer, thanks to Elizabeth Helfant and Patrick Woessner. Plus, as if it wasn’t exciting enough to be billed on the same event as Will, Karl, Alec, Darren, Dean, Chris, Jeff and Matt, my session is scheduled the day after Kevin’s so we get to meet up for dinner before he flies out!

In reflecting back to the SUNY course I taught with Jeff earlier this year; the faculty meetings Tara, Jeff and I have facilitated this year; my 2 trips to Qatar to consult at QA over the past two years (thanks to Julie); my recent visit to TIS (thanks to Leanne); and the various conferences I’ve attended over the past few years; there are a few things I want to make sure I do in my workshop:

  • Ensure that the session is participant-driven and focused on actually producing something that can be used in the classroom in August.
  • Provide lots of time for discussion, reflection, and metacognition by asking participants to work in small groups.
  • Create groups based on participant need – either ability groups (self-determined) or curricular/grade level groups.
  • Focus on the practical, remembering that the how is just as important as the why. Break the session down into stages (the way I would in my classroom) so that participants can work through the entire planning and creation of a global project.
  • Model quality curriculum planning and authentic technology integration by using the Understanding by Design method and following the MYP Technology Design Cycle while using a selection of digital tools that teachers might want to apply in their own project.

Here’s how I’m thinking I might organize the day:

9:00 – 9:15: Warm-up, get to know participants and their experience with this type of project. Use pre-assessment survey to determine teams and grouping.

Clearly state the goal that participants will develop and plan a global project to be used in August, based on their curricular needs following the UbD process and using the technology design cycle.

9:15 – 10:30: Share a revised version of the Connecting Classrooms Across Continents presentation which builds understanding of the value of global collaboration, focuses on practical tips on how to develop a global project, and shares examples from a selection of classrooms and grade levels.

The rest of the day is structured hands-on work time following the MYP Technology Design Cycle, with opportunities for participants to work in groups, but come back to the larger whole at the beginning of each stage of the cycle for tips, strategies and introductions to the various tools needed.

10:30 – 11:30: Investigate: Start with a round robin or “final word” activity (in groups) with an article that really highlights the benefits of global collaborations. Then, provide participants with a wiki with links to authentic global collaborations to explore to get some ideas/inspiration. Next, have teams brainstorm (maybe using inspiration or one of the web-based mind mapping tools) a global project that would enhance a current unit in their curriculum.


12:00 – 1:00: Plan: Start with an intro or overview of the UbD process (depending on what participants already know) to help design the project with the end in mind. Begin to build a unit planner using the same wiki, with template provided.

1:00 – 2:00 Create: Create the “home base” for the project – a wiki, Ning, blog, whatever. Demo some tools teachers might want to use to learn some tricks for how to use whichever tool is best for the task. Begin connecting with other teachers that might be interested in participating around the world through sharing on a Ning or Twitter (or anything else that we can think of). Focus on actually creating the online space that students will use in August.

2:00 – 2:30: Evaluate: Share projects with the larger group, reflect on process so far & what needs to go next

2:30 – 3:00: Feedback survey for me, links to all projects on the wiki, any final questions answered.

What do you think? Would you want to attend a session like this? What else would you do to make it a positive experience for the participants?

Writer’s Workshop Goes Digital

3 05 2009

Here at ISB we use the Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop model of literacy instruction. We have been fortunate to have the wonderful Maggie Moon consult with us on a regular basis over the last two year.

Working with Maggie MoonOne of the best things about working with Maggie is that she is open-minded about what literacy can mean and how to ensure we meet the needs of our students in today’s world. Last year we started on a path to define digital literacy and to see how we can fit (at least some) aspects of digital literacy into the Workshop model (which does not reference anything beyond the traditional view of reading and writing).

This year, with the addition of Jeff and Tara, we are continuing to push forward and have begun to develop a full Writer’s Workshop unit focused on digital literacy. Our plan is to implement this unit in September of 2009 in grade 5, with Tara, Jeff and I co-teaching in our 7 grade 5 classrooms (that’s going to be an interesting logistical nightmare, since they all teach Writer’s Workshop at the same time and there’s only 3 of us and 7 of them…)

We are only in the initial stages of the planning process, following the Understanding by Design format, and I would love to get some feedback from you!

Here’s what we’ve got so far (we’re using a Google Doc, so planning updates can be found here):

Personal Narrative with Blogging

Enduring Understandings

Students will begin to understand:

  1. Purpose and audience for communication determine the appropriate media choice.
  2. Design and layout impact the quality and effectiveness of communications.
  3. reflect on, organize, analyze, interpret, and synthesize information effectively communicate and create ideas.

Students will begin to understand:

  1. Writers attempt to have a story unfold in a show, not tell, fashion through well-chosen details that make a story come alive

Essential Questions

How do I effectively communicate?

GRASPS Task (still working on the wording here, essential the entire blog will be the task)

Build Understanding Through the 6 Facets:

Explain: Reflective blog post: After collecting entries: try various stories to see how it goes – select a story and improve it, why did you choose this story?

Interpret: personal narrative practice, once you’ve selected your story, what is this story really about?

Have Self-Knowledge: Author’s message – the way you write and present the story shows the significance of the story to the reader. Reflective writing after – why did you write this story this way, how does it reflect you? What was challenging for you? What do you understand about yourself from writing this?

Have Perspective: Reflection: who is your audience, why/how would you change this story for a different audience (how do you change the way you write based on your audience?) – during revision, write the same story for a different audience – how do you change your writing for different audiences.

Empathize: after the blog post is up, how do you respond via the comments (to something that you don’t have a connection with).

Apply: Design your blog post for your audience, choosing images, paragraph spacing, headings, etc (choosing an image that shows depth and connects to your post)


  • Allow students the choice to either write in Writer’s Notebook first or directly on the computer
  • Have students write in MS Word before posting online (to avoid technical issues)


  • Teacher models same sort of writing as the students are doing. Write a portion of personal narrative and then show how you would change it for a different audience. Give students the choice of who their new audience is.
  • What does good blogging look like? (synthesis, analysis – not just copy and paste)
  • Students link to other sites in his/her writing (for example, if you snorkeled on Phuket, link to a Phuket site)
  • Students reflect on why he or she is choosing this piece of writing.
  • Commenting and how to make it constructive. Set a minimum expectation of how many comments a student must write on someone else’s writing.
  • Students incorporate comments from others and make revisions to his/her own writing based on these.
  • Final reflective blog post linking back to prior drafts, comments by their audience that helped change their minds, and reflect on how the interaction with their audience helped improve their writing.
  • Choosing and inserting an image, citing sources for images


First 8 instructional days: brainstorming in the writer’s notebook, across those 8 days, choose 2-3 stories to post on the blog (reflect online why they chose those three) – these posts should be in draft form, then students will choose 1 to stick with and take through the writing process (reflect online why they chose the final story)

Final Thoughts

One of the reasons we’re doing this as a discrete unit is so that teachers can see how it will fit within the Writer’s Workshop model. We’re hoping to do it early in the year so that teachers and students can take advantage of this new model of writing throughout the year. Personally, I hope we’ll end up using these blogs as ePortfolios by the end of the year, but I don’t know if that will happen.

What do you think? How does this look? What are we missing? What needs to be revised?

Take Your Faculty SpeedGeeking!

5 04 2009

Last week Tara, Jeff and I had our second opportunity of the year to organize and facilitate an elementary faculty meeting. We absolutely love having this dedicated time with our colleagues to help build a deeper understanding of 21st century literacy at ISB and to share practical examples of authentic use of technology here in our elementary classrooms.

As always, our goal was to continue building a collaborative community, to develop connections among faculty at different grade levels, and to allow teachers to have time to network and share ideas. Thanks to @FrznGuru (Rebecca), we had a great way to structure that experience: SpeedGeeking!

Basically, SpeedGeeking is just like Speed Dating – a way to quickly introduce people to a wide variety of new ideas in a short amount of time. Since we have a large faculty – over 70 teachers – we knew this would have to be a very organized and structured experience, otherwise it would drift into chaos.

We decided to have 12 four-minute SpeedGeeking sessions split into 2 groups (one group has six sessions, the other group has the other six sessions). This way, we could make the most of our limited time, enable as many teachers to share their successful experiences as possible, keep the group sizes limited, and ensure that not every teacher saw the exact same sessions (so they are encouraged to keep talking about what they saw after the meeting).

We also made sure that we organized the SpeedGeeking groups in advance, so they could move from table to table together and were mixed between two different grade levels. This way we had half of one grade level viewing one set of SpeedGeeking sessions and the other half viewing the other set (to encourage further conversation). We were careful to match up the sessions on each side so that each group had a session on podcasting, portfolios, VoiceThread, SmartBoards, and 2 sessions on our ETC wrap-up.

As usual, we posted our agenda online (and e-mailed the link the day before) so that teachers could know what to expect before arriving, and so that all of the work that was shared in the sessions could be accessed at any point before or after the meeting (if available online).

In order to create a positive environment, we started the meeting off with this quote:

Unfortunately, we actually lost power due to a major storm right before the meeting so we weren’t able to project the image. Thankfully, everyone had their laptops, so they could follow along with us via the agenda.

Next we transitioned into our SpeedGeeking experience. We had two large rectangles made up of 6 tables each on either side of the room. Each table was numbered and had a specific group of teachers (linked on the agenda) selected to start there. Once one 4-minute SpeedGeeking session was finished, the group of teachers seated together at their first table moved together to the next numbered table in line.

Here’s what each SpeedGeeking session was about:

Circle One:
1. Chrissy: ePortfolios using VoiceThread
2. Siri: SmartBoards
3. EARCOS: Diane
4. EARCOS: Peach
5. Susi: Class Wiki
6. Robin & Ali: Robin’s Class Blog,Ali’s Class Blog, (planning document, Podcasting Power)

Circle Two:
1. Brian: SmartFolios
2. EARCOS: Mary
3. Vince: GarageBand
4. Rebecca: Sprouting Seeds VoiceThread
5. James: Class Wiki
6. EARCOS: Jim

We used Jeff’s iPhone timer to clock each session and had a cute cow-bell sound to signify the end of each session (found on Free Sound, my new favorite place for Creative Commons licensed sounds). Thankfully my laptop was fully charged and Jeff had his laptop-powered speakers so we basically did the whole 30 minute SpeedGeeking session in the dark!

Once we finished SpeedGeeking, we asked teachers to discuss at their tables anything that sparked their interest for about 3 minutes, and then had tables share back to the larger group (if they wanted to).

The buzz in the room was amazing! Teachers were visibly excited and energized by the discussion and it was obvious that everyone found at least one thing that sparked their interest in the 30-minute session.

Finally, we wanted to end on a light-hearted note, and thankfully the power came back on just in time, so we watched the video Everything is Amazing, Nobody’s Happy (sorry, embedding is disabled, you’ll have to click on the link to watch). Of course, the video was a hit.

When we ended the meeting, I was encouraged to see just how many teachers stayed afterward discussing the ideas they had heard, asked us for assistance in trying something new, or just stopped by to say how successful the meeting had been.

This is the second time we’ve organized a sharing meeting like this for our faculty, and although both have gone well, this one was the better by far! Here’s why I liked it:

  • Because we had so many groups, we were able to highlight so many teachers – we made sure to have some specialists present, as well as some teachers who had never worked with technology in their classroom before this year.
  • We enabled teachers to interact with others outside of their grade level. It’s amazing how rarely teachers get the opportunity to just talk with teachers outside of their team.
  • We focused on the positive, on the commonalities among our colleagues, on the successes that we all have in our classrooms every day. Sure, we can all be doing things better, but that doesn’t mean that amazing things aren’t happening already.
  • We empowered others who are not normally highlighted and we helped build networks and infrastructure for supporting teachers who may need assistance.
  • We laughed, a lot, together. How often can you say that about a faculty meeting?

And, what I loved the most about this meeting is that I never, ever could have organized it by myself. It was the power of the team: Jeff, Tara and Kim, that made this meeting so successful. Without Tara, we could have forgotten how important it is to make people feel comfortable, supported and appreciated. Without Jeff, we could have forgotten about the fun and the levity and the big picture. Without me, it might not have been quite so organized and smooth. Man, I love my team!

How have you helped share successes in your school? What should we do for our next faculty meeting (assuming we’ll be asked to organize another one in the future)?

Teaching is Not Rocket Science by shareski

The Making of a Team

5 04 2009

Last weekend I attended (and presented at) the East Asia Regional Council of Overseas Schools (EARCOS) Teacher’s Conference (ETC).  This is the second year in a row I’ve attended this conference and I absolutely love the opportunity to network with other teachers in the region. This time around the conference was in beautiful Malaysian Borneo – not exactly the most convenient location to get to, but quite relaxing once we arrived.

This year, I attended several workshops on the importance of effective teaming and collaboration.

As a technology facilitator, I often find myself working with a variety of teams across all grade levels and subject areas. I rarely do anything entirely alone and spend most of my time at work collaborating with at least one other colleague – whether it’s co-planning a project, supporting a team in developing a unit, or planning a faculty meeting – teaming is a huge part of my job. These sessions were a perfect opportunity for me to get a better picture of what makes teams work well (or not so well in the case of the “10 Symptoms of Dysfunctional Teams” session).

A few things that stood out for me during the sessions were:

  • “As educators we overestimate the amount of change we can effect in one school year, and we underestimate the amount of change we can effect in three” – Larry Keeley
  • If you don’t have a goal, you’re not a team.
  • The primary goal of a team leader is to build trust. Actions speak louder than words and creating trust goes on for years, one action can destroy years of trust-building.
  • Change must be thoughtful, deliberate and systematic, and planned with the end in mind, following the Understanding by Design process of curriculum planning.
  • Teams must engage in healthy debate, dialogue, and professional discussion.
  • One of the most important things a team can have to function properly is Essential Agreements that have been discussed, agreed upon, and revisited regularly. Examples of essential agreements that are currently working in other international schools: be fully present – don’t do anything else during the meeting; keep everything confidential (unless the group decides not to); start on time; minutes of the meeting will be within 24 hours; agendas will be given 24 hours before; monitor your own talk time; establish a shared vocabulary; it’s OK to disagree.

In all of the sessions, we talked a lot about different types of teams, and the fact that most people feel the best team they’ve experienced is usually a sports team – because they have such a clear, common goal. I wonder, how often do teams really define (and believe in) a common goal at work the way they would on a sports team?

Along the same lines, I’ve also just finished Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen, which talks about two different dimensions of agreement that affects how successful an organization is:

  1. agreement on what people want (the goal), and
  2. agreement on the cause and effect (how to reach the goal)

So, even if we agree on what we want (improved student learning), but we don’t agree on how we can achieve that goal, we’re never going to get there.

The workshops and the book have really made me realize just how complex team building is – and how much of an impact individual teams can have on the success and movement of any organization.

There are so many elements, layers and personalities that need to be balanced in order to create an effective team. A team needs visionary people to create and advocate for goals, organized people to forge consensus on methods for achieving those goals, and thoughtful and sensitive people to make sure that everyone is heard and feels valued. Creating an effective team is much harder than I’d previously thought, and teamwork can be incredibly complex.

This all makes me appreciate just how lucky I am to be working on a team with Jeff and Tara here at ISB. We complement each other’s abilities and interests in a way that I think balances many of these elements. We have someone who’s good at envisioning the future (Jeff), someone who’s good at meeting individual needs and understanding people’s feelings and anxieties (Tara), and someone who’s good at organizing and managing steps toward progress (me). Between the three of us, I really believe we can tackle any task successfully.

It’s such a pleasure to work with Jeff and Tara not because we always agree on everything, but because we have an amazing dynamic that allows the group as a whole to take steps forward. It’s the three of us together that makes us so much more effective than even the brightest among us, which reminds me of another book I’m reading, The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki.

What successful teams have you worked on? Why do you think they were so successful? What elements need to be in place, or balanced? How can we work to create positive, productive environments in existing teams which for one reason or another don’t have this balance?

Human Pyramid by chooyutshing

Professor Cofino?

1 03 2009

Over the last two months I have been privileged to teach the first graduate-level course in ISB’s new 5-course SUNY Certificate of Educational Technology and Information Literacy along with Jeff Utecht. It has been an excellent experience and I am truly flattered to have been asked by the school to lead such an important program in our professional development offerings.

Building Our Network

Amazingly, we have 50 current ISB teachers in the course and 5 newly hired ISB teachers participating virtually! Considering we have a staff of about 200 teachers, this is a very impressive number of faculty to be spending their weekends and evenings learning together about the impact that technology can have in the classroom. It’s a little intimidating to be leading such a large group (thank goodness there are two of us) but it’s so inspiring to see so many of our teachers so committed to their own professional development, willing to try new things, to have challenging conversations and to reflect on their practice. I am truly fortunate to be working at this school with these teachers.

Expert Voices

One of the most fantastic things about this course has been our guest speakers. On our first full-day face-to-face session we spent an hour with Clarence Fisher and another hour with Chris Betcher. Both speakers were just the perfect way to introduce the class to this new model of learning. Clarence’s practical examples of how his students learn with technology at the middle school was exactly what teachers had been asking for. Chris’ engaging hands-on presentation about truth and bias far exceeded anything I would have done with our teachers.

Yesterday, for our final full day face-to-face session, we had a  presentation from the authors of one of the books we’re using: Reinventing Project Based Learning, Suzie Boss & Jane Krauss, as well as an eye-opening presentation from Julie Lindsay. Suzie and Jane were the absolute perfect example of the power of the network. Who would have thought we’d be talking to the authors of our textbook in class? And Julie’s presentation really helped our teachers understand how important globally collaborative projects are for teaching our students critical life skills.

In retrospect, I’m also really pleased to see that we have an a very nice balance of men and women sharing their expertise with the class. All too often we only see male speakers leading the way, this was a great way to model (at least gender) equality in our learning.

Always Learning

Considering that this is my first time teaching a graduate-level course, I’m not sure I knew exactly what to expect. Sure, I’ve taken quite a few in my day and even completed a similar certificate (of Educational Leadership) through the same university at ISKL while I was living in Malaysia. But being a teacher is definitely a very different experience than being a student. I’m so thankful to have had the experience and I know I have learned so much in the process.

Finding Conversations

For starters, it may sound basic, but planning this course and each individual lesson was a pretty much exactly like planning for my classes. I’m not sure I really thought about that before we started so I don’t think I really got the hang of it until our second face-to-face lesson (and after getting lots of feedback at the first session). Providing time for teachers to talk to one another, to digest what they’re reading and thinking about, to bounce ideas off each other, and to question and collaborate is so important. Breaking the class into small groups, specifically asking teachers to “turn and talk” like I do in the classroom, and rotating those groups or setting up jigsaws were by far the most popular ways to spend our face-to-face time according to our anonymous feedback surveys. Seems obvious now, but I don’t know that we initially planned to organize the class that way.

Finding Community

Given that the class is so big, we really do need to think about how to break up into smaller groups. It’s hard to discuss anything in a group of 55 and we all know teachers who know each other tend to flock together, unintentionally creating clusters of teachers who already know each other instead of getting to know new people (especially in a school as big as ours). A few teachers provided feedback in our last session yesterday with some good ideas to think about for the next course. I really like John’s idea of having groups of teachers contribute to a group blog (instead of each teacher authoring their own blog) – thus giving teachers less peer-reading to get through every week and also building in small communities of learners among this larger group. Although I feel strongly about the experience of building your own digital footprint and understanding this new medium of communication through practice, a group blog would be an easier entry into the world of blogging.

Finding Voice

It’s been so interesting to see how many of our teachers are reluctant bloggers. I totally understand that feeling. I can remember starting this blog and being panicked about other people possibly reading what I write. Fortunately for me, I didn’t actually know anyone at the time that had a blog that other people read. So I never really thought anyone would ever read mine. I knew they could, but it didn’t feel really real to me. I had plenty of time to find my voice here in this writing space without an audience, but our teachers can see the comments on this blog, Jeff’s and Chrissy’s – so they know people are reading. I wonder if this added another layer of pressure to the initial fear of publishing your thoughts to the world?

Finding Balance

Another conversation that comes up time and time again with both teachers and parents is the idea of balance. It’s something we all struggle with, but I think those of us that are already immersed in the web 2.0 world can forget how overwhelming everything was at first. We know we need to find balance, we know we need to use technology when it’s relevant, appropriate and authentic for our learning purpose. But sometimes we’re so zealous in our sales pitch of just how great things are, we forget to mention some of the drawbacks. Finding your own individual comfort level with technology is a process. There is no miracle one-size-fits-all answer, but we each need to learn what the right balance is for us. And we need to pass on that ability to our students.

Finding Communication

As we say to the parents that attend our Monthly Technology Coffee Mornings, finding balance and learning when and why and how to use technology appropriately is about conversations. Open and honest discussions between teachers and students, teachers and teachers, and parents are their children are the only way to find out exactly what will work for each individual. Sometimes adults are afraid to open the door to these kinds of conversations because they worry that their children will notice how much they don’t know, but that doesn’t matter. It’s life experience that teaches us how to find balance in our lives – not our skill level with technology.

Professor Cofino?

It has been such a pleasure to work with such a diverse group of teachers (and just to teach adults in general). The amazing life experiences we had in the room brought such an exciting dimension to our disucssions, their blog posts, and their completed work. Just listening to these various conversations and seeing the depth of thought and connections being made helped me realize that I would really love to do more of this level of teaching. It’s a different challenge than classroom teaching, with different rewards, and so far, I love it!

A Home-Grown Connection

5 12 2008

Over the past few weeks of organizing and hosting K12Online LAN parties, reading about Seth Godin’s new book Tribes, and following the various blog posts from the Connectivism & Connecting Knowledge course offered by George Siemens and Stephen Downes, I have made a bit of a realization:

As much as I love working with students and teachers, and being at the center of 21st century learning at ISB, what would be most useful for our teachers is actually being connected to other teachers at school that share their interests, and can help them learn and grow in the direction they want.

It’s not that I can’t do this with and for our teachers, but if I want this growth to be sustainable it can’t be about me (or about any individual at the school). It has to be something that teachers can do themselves. They have to know who they can reach out to, who has the knowledge or information they need, and who can help them move to the next step.

So, really what I need to be doing is figuring out how to connect our teachers to each other. As odd as this may sound, considering that we all work in the same physical structure every day, many of us don’t know teachers in other divisions (I hardly know any high school teachers, even though this is my second year at ISB) and we most certainly don’t know who is interested in which aspects of teaching and learning in a digital world. Because our days are so jam-packed and busy, we actually need a way to connect asynchronously – even though we are in physical proximity most of the day.

I’ve known for many years just how powerful a network can be, but I seemed to always focus on making those connections with individuals outside my day-to-day work environment, the benefits of being able to find a like-minded colleague without having the fortune of physically sharing a teaching space. But, over the last few years, we’ve planted enough seeds around the school, spread out throughout each division, that we actually may have a network of learners right here, working together every day, and we just haven’t realized it yet.

At our last ISB21 Team meeting, we talked about this and Jeff and I came up with an idea: start a social network at school using our Elgg install. We can create a group, Jeff and I will populate it with relevant information, videos, images, etc before inviting other teachers, and then share it with our dedicated early adopters so they can add even more. Eventually we can share the group with the whole school to see where it goes. Even if we only connect a small group of teachers that wouldn’t otherwise be connected, it will be worth it!

Here are the benefits we’ve thought of:

  • It’s hosted at school, so it’s fast and we don’t have to rely on an outside connection (often tenuous at best in Bangkok) – a better choice for us than something like Ning.
  • It’s private, just for ISB staff, which may help teachers feel safer sharing and learning in a new environment.
  • We’re planning to run a survey using ProfilerPro in January (Chad’s brilliant idea) which will graphically represent areas (and individuals) where the school is strong in their use and understanding of technology. This survey would allow teachers to find other individuals in the school that have the skill set their looking for and the social network would provide a place for them to connect outside of their extremely busy school-day schedules.
  • By allowing teachers to learn from each other we’re enabling them to be self-directed and independent, while still providing a basic structure for how to get started. This could be a gateway to developing a more international personal learning network once they see the value of connecting this way.
  • By connecting our various seedlings around the school, we’re hoping more will grow. The “look what she’s doing – I want to do that too” mentality.
  • By using this tool for their own learning, teachers will be more likely to see how relevant appropriate it can be for classroom use.
  • By connecting peers to each other, we’re taking away some of the dependence on us, allowing individuals to continue to sustain their learning beyond our tenure at the school.
  • We could invite incoming teachers into the group before they arrive, allowing them to get a first-hand look at what teachers are learning about at ISB.

What do you think? Are we onto something? Is something important missing? Has anyone else tried this at their school? What were the results?

Marietta Diner by The Rocketeer
Interlocking (fins) toy #2 by Ctd 2005