Saturday, December 13, 2008

I am a Teacher

Reflecting back on the last year I have discovered that I truly miss the classroom! For the last year I have been serving as our district's "Classrooms for the Future" coach, a temporary position required for our district to receive technology in the high school. The main concept behind the grant is one of high school reform. Professional development is also a component of the grant. So my role has been to assist the teachers in making the shift from 20th century classrooms to ones that infuse technology.

When I think back to the factors that led me to make my decision....

Once our district's technology director gave me Palm Pilots to try out in my 3rd grade classroom (2003), I started to see how technology could be used as a tool to meet the different needs of my students. Through the years I found ways to weave technology into the curriculum, attended (and presented at) PETE&C and learned of new and exciting ways teachers were engaging their students, and was named a Keystone Technology Integrator. After the Keystone Summit, a week long event centered on enhancing learning while using technology as a tool, my professional life took a huge leap forward.

I became connected with some other educators who shared my vision and passion of learning. Daniel K. Pink's A Whole New Mind helped me to see that we, as teachers, have an obligation to teach in ways that incorporate both sides of the brain. From here I moved to Wikinomics and The World is Flat. My connections to other grew through the use of twitter and skype. Suddenly I had a personal learning network and quickly discovered the true meaning of life-long learning. Exploring blogs, wikis, rss feeds, podcasts, and aggregators gave me more ideas and my teaching started to truly transform.

It was at this point that I was asked to consider leaving my classroom to become our district's Classrooms for the Future coach. I decided to apply and signed on, learned that I would leave 3rd grade half-way through the year. My emotions were so mixed. I had only just begun to blog with my students and to work with wikis and project based learning. I was ready to collaborate with a first grade class in western PA via skype. There was so much to try, I was not sure I wanted to leave this class! Then, the concept of getting an opportunity to bring about this kind of learning in the high school excited me.

Over the last year, I attended 12 different required training session, most two days or more, all over the state of PA, networked with other coaches from all over the state, and started to share what I was learning with the high school teachers. Then things started to change....

My coaching job started to become more about troubleshooting and trying to manage online courses, tracking every minute of my day and capturing them in daily logs, and defending the entire project to many. A half year position turned in to a year and a half of coaching.

While I have been enjoying my job and exciting things are happening in the high school, I am starting to really miss my own class. As my class wiki and blog remain dormant this year, I realize that, well, this did not need to be the case. :(

I do not regret the decisions that I have made as I have learned so much. When this year ends, so does the grant and I can't wait to return to teaching. Having worked with "smart" classrooms I am going to search out grant opportunities to bring some of this technology into my classroom. I am going to continue to build my lessons and resources for a new year, a new beginning. I can't wait!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Blogging Buddies!

It's time for the K12 Online Conference! In case you are new to this one, it is a conference for teachers by teachers, where presenters put together 15-20 minute talks that can be viewed or downloaded. I enjoy it because I gets tons of great ideas, for free, from the comfort of my living room!

After viewing “We Like Our Blogging Buddies: The Write Stuff with Blogging Mentors” my mind started to spin! First graders were paired with college students (aspiring teachers) and they became blogging buddies. First graders blogged, college students commented on their blogs. It was a positive learning experience for all involved.

Last year I had my third graders blogging, but in small groups. We used blogging as a reflection/reporting tool. I could see some real possibilities for collaboration here! This would be a wonderful opportunity for students in a practical writing class! The high school students who typically struggle with writing could actually become mentors for younger students. In this way, everyone is writing for a real audience, with an authentic purpose, bonds are being formed, and, everyone is learning! This could be an opportunity for some struggling learners to feel helpful and needed.

In the presentation each student had his or her own buddy and they exchanged pictures. I think I would have my students describe themselves to their buddies and vice versa. They could draw pictures of each other, and then do a meet up on skype. In my future elementary classroom there are 3 laptops so this could be done with a learning center approach, after modeling and guided practice.

The high school students could also benefit from this revising, editing, and commenting process because it could be a great opportunity for review lessons on specific skills. hmmmmmmmmmm

Until I get a chance to try this out, I might have to attempt to recruit a friend or two. I would love to see this in action! Well, back to the conference!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Brain Rule # 1 Exercise

My reflections on brain rule #1 exercise:

Interesting Discoveries:
Long term memory (not short term) seems to be enhanced by exercise.
Aerobic exercise can lower your risk for dementia.
Exercise is very beneficial to people with anxiety and depression.
Children who are physically fit appear to concentrate better than those who are less active.

Favorite quote:
"Physical activity is cognitive candy." p.22

Implications for the Classroom:
The concept that exercise is vital is not a new one. It helps our bodies physically and mentally. So it would stand to reason that children need to be physically active throughout the day. Here are some ways that I have incorporated movement into the average day:

*Use dance music, such as the Cha Cha Slide, or the Macarena as a morning warm-up.
*Change groupings and seating arrangements many times throughout the day.
*Allow children to work around the classroom, not just at their desks. I call their desks their "home bases."
*Take power walks either inside or outside.
*"Act out" many concepts. For example, when the children are learning their multiplication tables, we use movement. For the three times tables, we would hop on "1" and "2" then JUMP on "3". So for every multiple of 3 we were making a more dramatic movement.
*Take stretch breaks as needed throughout the day.

I would love to hear how others are incorporating movement and exercise in their classrooms!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Brain Rules!

I was on the lookout for a good summer read/listen when I noticed that many people were reading and discussing Brain Rules by John Medina. Since podcast season is not hopping right now, I decided to download the book for my ipod. I am only 4 chapters into this book and it has already made me rethink how I teach! I decided to use my blog as a place for my reflections. If you plan to read the book and haven't, you might want to tune out any of my "Brain Rules" posts. Here are a few items that might interest you if you are considering this book:

*The author has a website, complete with exercises, to accompany the book.
*Eduwikius BOOK CLUB is exploring this book, as are many other groups in the blogosphere.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Planning Collaboration Virtually

About a month ago I started working on a presentation for the PA Governor's Institute STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). Some of my fellow Keystones and CFF coaches gathered on a conference call to begin discussions about how to present 21st century skills to this audience. We broke off into 3 groups: elementary, middle, and high school. I had the pleasure of working with Jeff Rothenberger on the elementary portion of the presentation. We brainstormed, shared information, created a wikispace, and developed a Keynote presentation without any face to face meetings. We met today, for the first time, and gave our presentation.

A year ago, I would never have envisioned that this would be possible! Our early correspondence consisted of email in order to exchange skype names. Later we used video skype in order to share ideas. We each built our part of the project on a collaborative wikispace then moved into a Keynote presentation. (It occurred to me today that we could've used Google Presentations as well!) Jeff created the template for the presentation as well as his slides. He uploaded it to my .mac idisc. I downloaded it from there and added to it. We continued to revise up to and including the day of the presentation.

The implications for education are tremedous! Even though the digital divide is still a reality, many people in my area are migrating to the local libraries to obtain internet access. This virtual collaboration could make group work more feasible! Where was this when I was in college?!?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

It's All About Learning

Having worked with teachers, helping them to embrace technology as a tool to enhance learning, several good questions keep arising.

1. How can I do all of these new things and still teach all of my content?

2. What about preparing kids for PSSAs? (PA accountability testing as part of NCLB.)

Here is how I address these questions:

Learning and technology are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Technology is a wonderful tool to have in our tool belt when helping learners learn. Does that mean technology should be infused in every lesson? No. My rule of thumb is if technology can help to ENHANCE instruction, then use it.

I have found that varying instructional strategies is also essential. While I grew tired of continual lecture as a student, or classes where all I did was participate in cooperative learning, my guess is that students might tire of the integration of the same technology techniques if they were used all of the time. I think the key is to know your content, know your learners and their needs, know how what technology tools are available, and then blend them together.

So, I guess I am trying to say that LEARNING is at the heart of everything we do. Technology is a wonderful tool to help engage learners but it is not all about the technology, it is about the LEARNING.

This might muddy the waters, but here are some references that I go to when developing lessons:

The Needs, Learning Styles, Multiple Intelligences of your Learners
Rigor & Relevance (making activities relevant and rigorous, higher level thinking)
Understanding By Design (keeping the "main thing" the main thing, starting with a main concept, not all of the details) - awesome book that I studied in grad. school and is still being discussed and practiced today
21st Century Skills (skills that our children will need in an ever changing world)
State Standards (our curriculum)

Just remember..... it's all about the learning.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

What a Difference a Year Makes

Birthdays are naturally times for reflection. A year ago I was an excited 3rd grade teacher. I was about to embark on a new adventure, a trip to a technology summit as a Keystone Technology Integrator. During one week last July my life changed in ways I can't quite articulate. For a week I was immersed in learning about learning and technology integration with a group of people just like me. I was no longer an oddity. There were 100 other people just as excited about making learning come alive for children.

Perhaps the most exciting outgrowth of the week was that I developed a Personal Learning Network. I have stayed connected to most of the people that made incredible impressions on me. We have stayed connected on a daily basis for nearly a year now via skype, twitter, wikis, eduwikius, google docs, elluminate, and wimba.

So now I have made connections to some fabulous people all over the world! When I have questions, need support, want to share, I head to my computer. I am also able to offer suggestions/advice, collaborate, and share in the lives of so many special people!

This summer I look forward to teaching some district level courses on technology integration, facilitating a study group for my high school CFF teachers, moving my classroom to a new building, co-presenting at the Governor's Institute (STEM) and just being a mom and wife!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Phoenix Lands on Mars ( )

Around 7:30 pm EST I saw a link on twitter pointing me to a link on the internet with live coverage of the Phoenix landing on Mars. Immediately I began channel surfing on tv looking for live coverage. While scouting out MSNBC, NBC, CBS.... I could not find any sign of this breaking news. Finally, FOX news showed portions of the story. Let me tell you about the internet coverage.

Spacevidcast used a medium called to stream the event live. Not only was I able to see the event, I was able to interact with the other 1,000 people also watching. People from all over the world were watching and chatting simultaneously! So, not only were people from all over the world able to chat with each other, the internet audience was also able to ask questions and get them answered by a scientist!

I had questions but did not feel comfortable voicing them in the chat room so I found one of my
KTI technology mentors online and skyped him my questions. We were able to chat and share the experience as well.

This is what web2.0 is all about! The internet is no longer just a read only medium, people can interact and create!

Fish! Catch the Energy & Release the Potential

For some strange reason I stumbled upon a quick read which really packed a punch! The idea of capturing energy intrigued me so I purchased it used from Amazon. The key concepts in the book are worth sharing, no, shouting! I will refrain from sharing the parable, besides I could not do it justice. This is one of those, "you just have to read it for yourself," things!

Here are four key concepts that anyone can implement, in their work and personal lives, in order to get the most our of every moment:

1. Choose your attitude. Not every task in life is enjoyable, but the attitude you bring to the task is paramount.

2. Play, and include others. By having fun and including others, the day will be more enjoyable. I can't help but draw a connection to Daniel K. Pink's A Whole New Mind where play is a crucial element in survival in this new age that he calls "The Conceptual Age."

3. Make their day. This book clearly pertains to the world of work, so making the customer's day is what is meant. I would like to broaden it to include the popular concept of performing a random act of kindness.

4. Be present. In this fast paced, multi-tasking world, it is important to give people the time and attention they deserve. I am soooo guilty of not doing this! When my son goes on and on about how we is going to use his play tractor to excavate the sand pile, I need to stop what I am doing and give my time and attention to him. This will help reinforce how important he is to me.

So, with these four nuggets of wisdom swirling around in my brain, I am going to look for ways, at home and at work, to implement these concepts! I would love to chat with anyone who has read this book or just hear what you have to say!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Wikipedia, Teaching Kids to Think

There has been a controversy brewing in the academic world about Wikipedia. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales sends a message that Wikipedia should not be used for serious research. So, should it be blocked in schools?

Wikipedia has been unblocked in our district and, because of teacher request, is now blocked. There was mixed reaction among the high school faculty. Most were relieved because students are now forced to go beyond a google or wikipedia search for content. Many were frustrated because wikipedia was a good place to get the gist of something. They also liked that primary sources were often linked as well.

So, is it better to block this tool? What happens if they still insist on using wikipedia as their "one stop shop" for research? Or... this this an opportunity to teach students how to verify information, or how to utilize Wikipedia as a springboard to primary sources? Food for thought.

For additional background information on Wikipedia I highly recommend Wikinomics.
The book focuses on the concept of collective intelligence. What do you think?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Digital Natives?

Today I had the honor of presenting Audacity (open-source audio recording software) to students attending an area HS computer fair. To my surprise the majority of the students had not heard of podcasts. As my presentations concluded I had extra time so I thought I would open up the discussion to web2.0 tools. As I began to talk of blogs and wikis I got many blank stares. With everything I have been reading and discovering within the last 9 months, students have been referred to as "digital natives." Suddenly I realized that I had to back up and punt. For most of the students I was speaking a foreign language.

This helps to clarify and intensify, for me, the need to address 21st century learning and NOT to make assumptions. Many of my teachers are discovering that they need to teach basic computer skills before they can begin to use the computer as a learning tool. Perhaps the digital divide was larger than I thought!

I am truly curious... is anyone discovering this, or is our situation in northeast PA unique. (We are quite rural and many families are still on dial-up internet.)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Dangers of Skype

This cannot be tweeted because there is no way to condense it to 140 characters. So think of this as a long tweet and a warning.

Tonight I was teaching a class to other teachers. We were learning to create wikis and exploring Discovery Education Streaming. I decided to break things up a bit and started a skype chat with my friend behind me. We were playing with various new skype icons and were complaining about sitting so long.

I got up to go help someone with a download and my friend called me back to the computer. All of a sudden, under my login, I read, "Aren't you guys supposed to be in class?" I did not type it. No one in the room got up, went to my computer and typed it. AHHHHHH

We waited for another response. nothing Finally my friend got an idea, she types back into the chat and asks if this is my husband. It was and then he continued to antagonize us.

The warning for all skypers out there.... never leave your home computer logged into skype when you are not home! You never know what will happen. The only saving grace is I had just shut the projector off!

Thursday, March 13, 2008


I have been trying to come up with a solution to this issue:

Some parents don't grant permission for their child's photo to be online. (Which I totally respect.)

So, how do you still include that child in activities online?

Blabberize allows you to upload an image, create a mouth, and record voice. The mouth then moves as the recording is played back.

Hmmmm, a child could draw a picture of him/herself, draw the mouth, and record their own voice.

Think of the possibilities. If you are recording your students doing an activity, like a book review, this child could now participate.

Click here to see what I mean.

Monday, February 18, 2008

JOTT helps Multitaskers!

Have you ever been driving when you suddenly had a brainstorm or an important thought? Instead of digging for a napkin or scrap paper, now you can JOTT. Let me explain. A few weeks ago so friends starting chatting about "JOTT." Further exploration let me to this website.

I signed up for a free account. Verified my email. Verified my cell phone. In about 5 minutes I was set. I call JOTT from my cell, speak my message, and JOTT transcribes it to text and emails it to me. I could also set up other email addresses and have JOTT send messages to others.

Now, if only JOTT could just read my mind and take out the trash! ;-)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

PETE & C 2008

I just spent four days immersed in conversations and presentations pertaining to educational technology integration. I learned as much from talking to my personal learning network as I did from the sessions I attended.

*Had the opportunity to meet with the other coaches in my region to set up a regional sharing day for our teachers.

*Participated in a Skype backchannel which helped to cement what I was learning while collaborating and sharing with others.

*Participated in live blogging during a Keynote presentation.

*Connected fact to face with many other Keystone Technology Integrators (whom I met this summer at the Summit). The way the Summit works... former Keystones come back and work with the new Keystones. So I not only got to visit with other 2007 Keystones, but former Keystones who have greatly impacted my life.

*Attended workshops and sessions to enhance my understanding of technology integration.

*Presented to others "Web2.0 Tools Go Elementary"

For more information on the sessions at PETE&C, check out this wiki started by CFF Coach Michelle Krill. Throughout the conference, and after, many of us collaborated by adding content to it.