The New Year

I’m only a month late, but I wanted to write a few professional reflections about the new year before January is over.  My district has a strong focus on the 4 Cs this year: Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, and Critical Thinking.  As I have been thinking about the new year, I’ve been thinking about some of the things I want to accomplish in terms of the 4 Cs.

Communication: I borrowed an idea from a friend and have been promoting the creation of a Twitter network within my school. The idea is that teachers will create a Twitter account for her classroom (separate from her personal one) and will post something daily (or regularly) about her class.  Some teachers are using their morning meeting as a time for the class to decide what to tweet.  Classes are following each other, and it adds to our sense of school community as we interact and share what we are learning. So far we have 6 or 7 teachers participating, and I hope more will join in.  As teachers decide to join, I’m visiting classes and doing a mini-lesson on social networking.
I’m also focusing on another communication tool this year, Edmodo.  Several 3rd and 4th grade classes are using Edmodo as a safe online learning environment, and all of my 5th grade students are now Edmodo users.  It’s exciting to see them engaged in discussions about what they are reading and learning after school hours!

Collaboration: Another district initiative this year is the transformation of our media centers into a more multi-purpose area known as a “learning commons.”  This concept is based on the work of David Loertscher. To that end, I plan to be more intentional about collaborating more frequently with my media specialist.  A learning commons has 3 parts: the open commons, the experimental commons, and the virtual commons. The purpose of the virtual commons is to provide access to learning resources 24/7.  My media specialist and I have begun developing our virtual commons using a Google Site.  I wanted to use a tool that would be consistently available regardless of what changes may be made in the district’s digital delivery system. I am working to develop my Technology Resources page within the Virtual Commons as a collection of websites, tools, and tutorials that will be within easy access for both students and teachers.

Creativity: I really hope to generate more interaction with my kindergarten and first grade classes, especially in the realm of using Web 2.0 tools for the purpose of creating projects to showcase their learning. Now that our 2nd and 5th graders will be taking an annual online technology competency test, I need to encourage more technology engagement with the younger classes.

Critical Thinking: During the next several months, I will be deeply engaged in critical thinking.  I have begun the process of National Board Certification renewal.  My original certification was in the area of Early Adolescent ELA, and even though I am no longer a regular classroom teacher, I still spend a lot of time supporting ELA teachers and the ELA curriculum.  The 5th grade ELA Technology Initiative has been a large focus in my work. By nature I am very personally reflective, and I’m looking forward to focusing my reflections on my professional growth experiences.

It’s going to be a great year!

Reflections on Week 1, K12 Online Conference

In the early years I have collaborated with colleagues to highlight some of the gems mined from the K12 Online Conference.  For reasons I can’t define, that practice has disappeared.  Since note-taking has always been a powerful learning strategy for me, I decided this year to blog my highlights as a personal reference point for my own learning from the first sessions I’ve heard.

The Sandbox Manifesto” by Angela Maiers
1. Sharing is Caring
2. Messy is Good
3. Imagination is Your Best Asset
4. Sand is for Filling Buckets
5. Hugs Help-Smiles Matter
6. Take It To The Community
7. Strangers Are Friends in Waiting
8. Be Remarkable-Nothing Less
9. You are the master of your fate

Playing in Public” by George Couros
Take-away: As educators, we have a love of learning and consider ourselves to be “life-long learners.” This is a way of life that we want to infuse in our students.  George challenges us to work to learn something new and to model our learning publicly through social media.  This could be a powerful way to model risk-taking, the hard work, and persistence that it takes to be a learner.
The World is My Classroom” by Anne Mirtschin
Take-away: Anne truly provides a global classroom for her students.  Several years ago I saw an invitation from her to listen to some of her students make presentations online, and I “visited” her class to listen.  I enjoyed their presentations, and they were pleased that an educator from South Carolina, USA, had popped into their classroom to listen.  Anne is an excellent role model for 21st Century educators!
When Learning Becomes an Event” by Andy McKiel
Take-away: It’s important to make learning “sticky” for students.  In Andy’s experience, he has created learning events that matter to students.  What an incredible experience he had to travel to Churchill to bring the polar bear migration & global climate change crisis to life for classrooms around the world! As educators we need to constantly ask ourselves, “Why does this learning matter to our students?” and we need to be asking our students the same question!
“How Do I Know I Made a Difference” by Ben Hazzard
Take-away: Play is a state of mind.  Play-based learning provides opportunities for creativity, innovation, and a sense of belonging.  Can we teach students to be an explorer of the world? Play is the door to exploration. It takes a lot of courage for students to publish their products for the world to see.  This risk-taking boils down to 2 questions: Will I be embraced? Am I proud of who I am?

I’m looking forward to the wealth of learning still to be gained from the rest of the conference!


The Demise of Keyboard Instruction?

Last week I was asked to work with several people at the district office to rethink/reshape the keyboarding course offered in our middle schools. Is keyboarding instruction becoming irrelevant? During the past two weeks we just distributed almost 6000 iPads to our high school students, who are a generation of texters. Those who have not yet mastered traditional QWERTY keyboarding probably never will! When I was in high school, my dad (who worked for IBM since the days of punched card computers) insisted that I take two years of typing class. I can’t remember any other  subject upon which he was so adamant, but he said that no matter what my career choice would be, typing would always be a marketable skill.

With the proliferation of tablets, touch screens, voice-recognition software, and speech-to-text apps, it seems that we may be moving toward the end of the QWERTY keyboard era. It has serviced us well for almost 140 years. Jeff Utecht stated in The Thinking Stick:

We should not be teaching typing as we learned it…home row keys, etc. Instead we should be exposing students to the keyboard as much as possible and allow them to develop typing techniques that work for them.

He further goes on to say that he believes:

  • We should expose students to the keyboard as much as possible!
  • Every student starting in Kindergarten should be exposed to a keyboard as often as possible. 15 minutes three times a week would be preferred.
  • In 1st grade the focus would be to have student use two hands on the keyboard.
  • By 3rd grade typing should be part of the writing curriculum. The time spent on cursive writing should be replaces with keyboard time (cursive writing is an art form and should be part of art… opinion and my opinion only!).
  • By 5th grade students should be required to turn in at least one type written assignment a week and spend no less then 120 minutes a week exposed to a computer keyboard.

In my district the current practice is that all 2nd graders are supposed to be receiving keyboard instruction and practice through the use of portable Writers at least 20 minutes, 3 times a week.  The students love using the Writers and eventually are able to use them to write stories.  By the end of the school year I am able to see lots of growth in students’ keyboarding skills, but unfortunately when they return to school the next fall many students haven’t retained those skills.  Even so,  I’m glad these students are receiving this exposure to the use of a keyboard.  I predict, however, that once these devices expire in the next couple of years, no other provision will be made for keyboard instruction.

I think it is a good thing that our district is considering dropping formal keyboarding instruction in middle schools  and replacing it with a much broader Challenge Based Learning experience.  In today’s world most middle school students already have some form of keyboarding that works for them with or without the use of  home row keys.  I like the idea of these students having the opportunity to use technology for inquiry, research, and product-development.  It’s a much better use of their time than keyboarding, and it’s only a matter of time before keyboard instruction becomes a thing of the past.


1:1 iPads in High Schools

My school district is making history this month as we roll out an iPad to every high school student in our district. I’ve been told that this is the largest iPad deployment to date for Apple. I am a technology specialist at an elementary school, but it was “all hands on deck” as all technology specialists, technicians, and a variety of district office personnel were asked to assist with iPad distribution and set-up at Lexington High School. Classes were assigned a day of the week to report at 8:30, to one of 4 areas (cafeteria, Learning Commons, Little Theater, or Performing Arts Center). It took about an hour and a half to distribute iPads to these large groups, to get them logged into the school network, and to get their Apple IDs and iCloud activated. By 10:30 AM on Friday, about 3000 iPads were deployed. Our IT department did a good job of trouble-shooting in this “learn as you go” scenario. Over the next 2 weeks we will hand out iPads at the other 3 high schools in our district.

Students were ecstatic to receive their new learning/communication device! I’m sure you are wondering how this has been funded and what kind of instructional preparations were made for this initiative. Several years ago our stake-holders passed a bond referendum for the specific purpose of providing 1:1 computing for our students. Teachers received their iPads back in August at the beginning of school, so they have had 3 months to get familiar with the device. Every teacher participated in a “hands on” training session conducted by the technology specialist at the school, and training sessions are continuing. Additionally, Apple education content specialists came in to conduct 2 day content-specific workshops for teacher-leaders from each school that focused on challenge-based learning. I had the privilege of attending the ELA workshop, and it was excellent!

Our district is committed to preparing our students to become graduates who are literate in 21st Century skills, and innovation is highly valued. iPad use won’t be limited to high schools only. Middle school students are next on the agenda and may receive their iPads as early as January. Three of our elementary schools have 5th grade teachers who are embedding gifted and talented curriculum in ELA content instead of students participating in a once a week pull-out program. I’ve been collaborating with this group of 5 teachers to provide curriculum support, and just this past week I conducted introductory iPad training for them. In several weeks they will be implementing a 2:1 iPad model in their classrooms.

Let me be clear, the use of technology devices is NOT the goal! Another district initiative this year is an instructional focus on the Gradual Release Model, based on the work of Fisher and Frey. We are “beginning with the end in mind,” the development of self-directed learners who are proficient in critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. There are still many pedagogical shifts that need to take place in our classrooms, but it is very exciting to be on this path!

Here is a short news clip about our iPad distribution:
“high School Students Learning with iPads in the Classroom”

Google Forms for Teachers

Recently I assisted my principal in creating a Google Form to collect some information from teachers.  Then last week we had the opportunity to watch a free webinar from SimpleK12  about using Google Forms in the classroom.  As I began thinking about my next professional development session  for teachers, I decided that this would be a worthy use of their time. Tim is always at a premium for educators!

Why is Google Forms such a valuable tool for teachers? Watch this clip from ?Time Efficiency?:


Yes, Google Forms can be a great time-saver for teachers! Creating forms is quick and easy, and results are collected immediately in a corresponding spreadsheet that can even be formulated to be self-checking.  (a “how-to” video for that: Self-Grading Google Forms)

Here is a short list of ideas for teachers from the SimpleK12 blog:

  1. Peer evaluation
  2. Formative assessment
  3. Book Reviews
  4. Survey before and after a lesson/discussion
  5. Collect science data
  6. Organize groups
  7. Volunteer opportunities
  8. Student feedback
  9. Online reading record
  10. Find out more about your students’ interests

Here’s a more extensive list from the collaborative efforts of Tom Barrett and contributing educators around the world, 71+ Interesting Ways to Use Google Forms in the Classroom:



Reflections on SC EdTech 2011

It has been a long time since I have posted to this blog and even longer since I attended EdTech.  Will Richardson was the keynote speaker, and I appreciated his passion to bring about meaningful change in the way we educate our students.  I felt a little like I was in church listening to a preacher telling us how we need tobegin by changing ourselves, but he was obviously successful with his message.  Here I am resurrecting my blog!

Some of my other “take-aways” were some additional thoughts about using QR codes in our classes with new iPod Touches and in the 5th grade ELA content-based GT classes that are soon receiving iPads.  This session on “Rejuvenating Your Curriculum” led by Latoya Scott, also introduced me to the free opportunities for classes to skype with NASA.  She also demonstrated the use of Museum Box. I already have an account but had not explored or used it.

Another interesting session I attended was on the Knewton Adaptive Learning Platform. This is a much more sophisticated learning delivery system than we are currently using.  From their website:

An adaptive system responds to the performance or activity of a user. A single-point adaptive learning system evaluates a student’s performance at one point in time in order to determine the level of instruction or material he receives from that point on. These recommendations do not adapt to user activity and performance as the student moves through the course materials. On the other hand, a computerized learning system that is continuously adaptive responds instantaneously (or near-instantaneously) in real-time to each individual’s performance and activity on the system.

The genius of this concept is that the way the platform is mapped, the learning content is contiuously personalized for each student’s learning styles and needs based on each new engagement by the learner.  This technology has the potential to enable students to take responsibility for their own learning and will allow them to progress at their own rate.

The biggest highlight was attending the awards luncheon to see Patrick Hanks, the Director   of Instructional Technology in my district (and my boss!) receive the ISTE “Making IT Happen” award, only 1 of 2 receiving this award in our state. He is a true advocate for students, learning, technology, and teachers, and we are very fortunate to work under his leadership.

The final morning I attended several other  good sessions including one led by my colleague, Brenda Maxwell, on her work with a  student tech team comprised of six 3rd grade students.  I have just begun working with a student tech team at my school, and I got lots  of ideas of ways I can help this leadership team to grow.



Connectivism: Can We Be a Network?

(This is cross-posted from a comment on Tom Welch’s Lexington1 blog).

I’m so glad that Tom has brought our district’s attention to the learning theory, Connectivism.  I first encountered George Siemens’ work several years ago through my Twitter PLN and have subscribed to his blog, elearnspace,  since then.  As educators we understand the role that making connections plays in learning.  It’s one of the primary strategies used in the teaching of literacy in elementary school, and the activation of prior knowledge (making connections) is an instructional key in every content area.

Dr. Woodward has raised our awareness this year about the fact that we are living in the “Shift Age,” and what important implications this holds for education.  I believe that embracing Connectivism is part of the necessary shift that must take place in our district as we continue developing the Learning Continuum that will guide our thinking about teaching and learning.  Several questions come to mind:

1. How can we encourage and empower our teachers and leadership to actively engage in the development of personal learning networks?
2. How can we be more networked as a district to facilitate personal learning? What can we do to create a district “node”?
3. How can we open up greater opportunities in safe environments within the school context for our students to use networking for learning and sharing?
4. According to Siemens, “The capacity to know is more critical than what is currently known.” With that in mind, how are we going to place a greater emphasis on information literacy, the ability to locate information and critically determine its validity?
5. “Learning has an end goal – namely the increased ability to do something.”  How are we going to shift from being a culture of test-takers to one that values creativity and demonstration of mastery in a wide variety of formats?

Being a contributing member of a network involves some risk-taking.  Tom stressed the importance of building a climate of trust.  The only way for us to build this climate is for many of us to take the risk of participating in the conversation.  Please share your thoughts!  As a district, we need to become a network.

Insanity or Hope?

Last week educational consultant, Tom Welch, came to meet with district leadership for 2 days to generate some thinking about our Learning Continuum, 1.0. My thoughts are still swirling from the conversations that took place. Natalie Osborne Smith shared her thoughts and posted some of the more thought-provoking videos in “Edu Philosophy: When OK is not Good Enough” .  She revisits Tom’s essential question, “What year is it?”  Easy enough question, but the implications run deep!  This video came to mind, “Progressive Education in the 1940s”:

This video touts the merits of the “revolutionary teaching ideas” of the 1940s, especially the use of projects.  Seventy years later, how far have we come with our schools? Sadly, in spite of today’s “revolutionary teaching ideas” we’re still basically doing things the same way and getting the same results. Insanity, according to Einstein.

Tom posed another question, “Are we in the business of schooling or in the business of learning?”  This really hits the nail on the head for me.  I’ve been a reader of Clay Burell’s excellent blog, Beyond School, for several years, and he has long been a proponent of abandoning “schooliness” for the love of learning.

My district is at a critical juncture.  As we explore and develop our 21st Century Learning Continuum and move forward with the rollout of more classroom technology tools, it’s vital that we change our focus from teaching to learning.  More computers won’t change what happens in the classroom.  Tom’s comment that school reform doesn’t work rings sharp and clear.  Re-forming what we’ve been doing for so long won’t yield new results.  Our current system of grading serves “schooling” not “learning.”  To reach our goal of developing self-directed learners, radical change is necessary, and radical change necessitates risk.  I’m convicnced that our Schools of the Future initiative is synchronous with the equally important change toward demonstration of proficiency rather than attainment of grades.  This will be a very scary proposition for teachers, students, and parents, but according to Robert Kennedy, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”  Our only hope for success is a willingness to make drastic change.  Are we willing to take the risk (RISC)?

Learner-Centered Focus

I’ve been preparing for the staff development session I’ll be conducting soon with my grade level teams, and I’ve decided to focus on learners as a theme.  What does it mean to have a learner-centered classroom?  As we continue to work to define what it will take to adequately prepare 21st Century graduates, a recurring theme is that classes need to be learner-centered instead of teacher-centered.  Is there a difference between a student and a learner?  These videos from the Council on 21st Century Learning provide some clues:

What makes a good learner? It’s an idea that is worth exploring!

The faculty of the University of Oregon generated a list of almost 50 characteristics of a good learner.  As my district has been working toward implementing a Schools of the Future initiative, much work has been done to develop a draft of a Learning Continuum that provides a picture of what 21st Century teaching and learning should look like.  It’s a rubric that defines expectations at 4 developmental levels: Entry > Developing > Approaching > Ideal/Target.  The strands are based on 4 of the ISTE NETS for Students: Research & Information Fluency, Critical Thinking & Problem Solving, Collaboration & Communication, and Creativity & Innovation.  Digital Citizenship has been interwoven throughout the document.  I love that this rubric expects the development of 21st Century learning skills in teachers and administrators, as well as students! Ultimately we all must be life-long learners, and we need the skills that are necessary to facilitate our own learning.

My next thought about learners took me to the RISC model and the Adams 50 standards-based educational model videos.  It’s not embeddable, so if you’re interested, scroll down to the video entitled, “Learning Should Be Full of Passion.” This is a 2 minute video, illustrated and narrated by a student, that briefly describes one type of learner-centered classroom.

As I continued thinking about learning, I realized that as teachers, we, too, are learners, and we need to take some responsibility for our own 21st Century learning.  Teachers at my school have many more responsibilities than they have minutes in the day.  Even so, I’ve been impressed with how many of them make a little time in the evening to visit Facebook.  My teachers already have Google accounts, so I’m going to introduce them to Google Reader.  I’ve selected a few blogs for them and will teach them how to subscribe.  I’m using ShareTabs as the means of sharing the links with them (such as Teachers Love SMART Boards and Langwitches Blog), and I’m going to challenge them to spend 5 minutes 1 day a week reading something from their Google Reader while they are online checking Facebook.  I’m hopeful that as teachers, we can model being motivated, self-directed learners!

Wallwisher in the Classroom

Wallwisher is a free tool that allows you to create online bulletin boards.  Teachers must create an account to create walls, but students do not have to have a wallwisher account or an email address to post sticky notes to the wall.  There are so many ways to use Wallwisher!  I used Jing to create a simple tutorial on getting started with Wallwisher.

After you have created your wall, there are 3 ways you can share it.  You can get an RSS feed so you can follow it, get an embed code so you can display it in a blog or webpage, or you can share it by selecting from a long list of online tools (Twitter, Facebook, Google Reader, Diigo, etc.)

You can use Wallwisher in a classroom with just one computer.  Just have the wall link open and allow students to take turns posting comments during independent reading or writing workshop.  Here are some ideas for using Wallwisher with your students:

Language Arts
Use with an Author Study
: students post stickies about their favorite book by the author.
Figurative Language:
after reading a text, students post stickies containing examples of figurative language from the text. You could have separate walls for various types of figurative language and students could write their own similes, metaphors, etc.
Character Traits:
students post evidence from the story to verify a story character’s traits.
Brainstorm writing topics: students post ideas they would like to use for writing. It would be a great resource for students with writer’s block!
Great Leads:
post a writing topic and have students write various introductory sentences for it.
Word Choice:
post several “bland” words and have students list synonyms that would be more interesting or descriptive.
Book Talks: students make recommendations about good books to read.

Social Studies

Cause and Effect: Why did certain events happen? What were the results of the events? (economic crises, wars, rise and fall of governments, impact of new technologies, etc)
Important Historical Figures/Point of View: students imagine they are the historical person and write comments that could have been made by that person.
Timeline: post sticky notes listing specific events and arrange the notes in sequential order
Compare and Contrast: post comments about how 2 events were similar or different

Make Predictions: before an experiment, “What do you think will happen?”
Experiment Observations: “What actually happened?”
Landforms: students create a “sticky note” glossary of landform vocabulary with links to websites about each.
Habitats: post comments comparing how habitatsare similar and different.

Other Random Ideas
Resource Page for Students: post links to online resources and activites related to a unit of study.
Collaborative Planning: small groups could post sticky notes to plan a project.
Quick Formative Assessment
Parent Feedback
Affinity Diagram:
collect student ideas on any topic (What makes a good student? How can we improve learning in our class?)

Wallwisher is a great way for students to collaborate and express learning.  More ideas are available in Tom Barrett‘s Google Doc presentation, “Seventeen Interesting Ways to Use Wallwisher in the Classroom.”