Thursday, April 22, 2010

Reflecting on the 140 Conference

On Wednesday April 21, I had the honor of speaking at the 140 Characters Conference in New York City with Steve Anderson, Tom Whitby, and Kyle Pace.  This conference looks at the effects of Twitter on a variety of topics.  The topic of our panel discussion was the effects of the real-time web on education with an emphasis on Twitter.  Each of us spoke with passion and conviction as the discussion addressed how each of us utilize Twitter/social media in our respective positions and the implications it has on catalyzing change. Our entire discussion can be viewed below:

All four of us would love to hear your thoughts on our panel discussion.  I also feel that it is prudent to share some advice of my own that I have formulated after actively learning about social media for the past year.  Administrators and teachers need to begin to embrace the effective use of social media for their own professional growth, to create authentic learning environments that engage students, and to utilize the expertise of professionals in a variety of content areas. The one thing that Twitter and social media have taught me is that people truly want to share their ideas, knowledge, and experiences for the collective good.  From an administrative perspective I can list a variety of reasons why all Principals and Superintendents should utilize social media:

1.    Change: We can no longer settle for learning environments that are stagnant, students are not challenged to be creative, critical thinkers, and free technology is blocked as a result of misinformation and/or philosophical differences.

2.    Innovation: This ties into the change process.  Can you be innovative without social media? Of course you can.  My point here is that tools such as Twitter can assist in the development of innovative ideas, programs, and learning activities that are meaningful.

3.    Branding: Clearly articulate what it means to be a student at your school, the type of education one is to receive, and share these success stories with as many stakeholders as possible.  There is no better way to do this than with the free tools that are available (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr).  Take it a step further and establish your brand as a professional educator by using LinkedIn or setting up your own website (click here to visit mine).  It’s my hope that the New Milford High School principal will always be sharing in Twitter and Facebook, building on the presence that I’m currently creating in both spaces.  However, I also want to create a professional presence for myself that I can take with me when I move into new roles.

4.    Professional Growth: Create your own unique Personal Learning Network (PLN) and be driven by intrinsic motivation to learn at your convenience. A great place to start is at The Educator's PLN.

5.    Public Relations: Since becoming active in the use Twitter to disseminate information to the NMHS community this past November, my school has been featured in over 14 news stories by CBS, 1010 WINS, The Global Post, and numerous local newspapers.  This exposure is directly correlated to my use of social media and networking tools.

6.   Opportunity: From local/national exposure to the acquisition of free technology and resources, social media/networking opens the door like never before.

Stop the excuses, take risks, and open your eyes and mind to limitless possibilities that are now before you.  We live in exciting times, don’t miss out on this opportunity to initiate change and evolve into an innovative leader. As Jeff Pulver, creator of the 140 Conference says, everyone has a voice and can make a difference in as little as 140 characters.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Google Docs & Apps: Putting the Pedagogical Pieces Together

As part of my action plan associated with becoming a Google Certified Teacher, I decided to focus on training other educators about integrating these powerful web 2.0 applications into their instruction. Outside of my role as Principal of New Milford High School, I am the Director of Program Development for Project ABLE International. This is an organization committed to assisting teachers develop authentic-based learning environments in order to provide students with essential 21st Century problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Currently teachers from four different school districts in northern NJ are part of the Project ABLE consortium and have been receiving intense, hands-on training during the course of the 2009-2010 school year. This training has focused on the philosophy, development, and implementation of authentic-based learning activities that are meaningful and relevant to the learner.

As a culminating activity after months of training we decided to illustrate how easily Google Docs and Apps could be integrated into ABLE's in order to foster collaboration and interactivity between the participants. I worked on and develivered the presentation with Keith Devereaux, a science teacher at NMHS who has embraced the use of Google Docs and Apps in my school. We also included Dr. Brian Chinni, Founder and CEO of the Madison Institute that developed Project ABLE. In our development of the presentation we worked collaboratively over the course of a few weeks using the very tools that we would be providing training on. While Keith and I had some face to face contact time, all of Brian's pieces were submitted using Google Docs and Sites. The final result was the creation of a Google Site that included a simple agenda, presentation, and an authentic jigsaw activity where the participants have to create a informative presentation to their home districts using Google Doc and Apps.

Overall we were very satisfied by our presentation and feel that we met all of the objectives that we set. After reflecting we discovered many ways in which to improve the delivery of the conent and have already begun to make adjustments that will make the presentation even more powerful. One thing is certain, all of the educators present experienced the limitless potential that comes with these tools once they investigated each piece and then put them all together. Please take time to visit the Google Site (Project ABLE and Docs) we created and provide us with some feedback!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Authentic Learning in Action

As a Principal I place an emphasis on student engagement and learning activities that are meaningful and relevant to my students.  There is no learning experience more authentic than our Holocaust Study Tour where NMHS students travel to Europe with their peers from another NJ high school as well as students from Kansas.  This rigorous learning experience begins with advanced preparation on the Holocaust prior to the trip including Skype sessions with an Israeli historian, application of knowledge in multiple European countries over the course of 10 days, intense reflection (essays, video documentary) upon returning, and numerous student-driven presentations to local and state organizations.  For the first time during the existence of the trip the teachers and students have been blogging each day about their experiences.  I encourage you to read the Holocaust Study Tour 2010 blog and see firsthand how a group of committed students explore a difficult topic in a way that will leave a lasting impression. Upon reading their analysis and reflections you will probably learn something new yourself.  Now that is powerful learning!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Following Through

A few posts ago I wrote about a stimulating meeting that I had with members of student government at my school (Winds of Change: Student Style 3/10/10).  During the meeting I challenged them to be active in the change process and provide ideas on how to make NMHS a better place academically and socially.  On their own, the students came up with fantastic ideas in both areas.  In particular they emphasized the importance of accessibility to technology and the use of social media to improve communication in regards to school events, news, achievements etc.

I am proud to write that I took their suggestions seriously and can report the following:

-       Shortly after the meeting 10 iPod touches have been ordered and should arrive in the next few weeks.  These will be added to the mobile iPod learning lab that currently houses 28 nanos.
-       An official Facebook page has been created for NMHS to compliment the Twitter site that was already in existence.  The students emphasized that they would be more attentive to status updates on Facebook as opposed to Twitter because that is the social media tool they frequently utilize.
-       The first student was granted access to the school’s wireless network last week with the hopes that more will be added on later this month.  It should be noted that students asked to bring in their own laptops in order to use their time more efficiently and have instant access to technology for learning.

For any type of sustainable change to occur in schools all stakeholders must be a part of the process, especially students.  As educators we must make the effort to not only listen to student ideas, but implement them as well.   After all, they are the ones that we are trying to properly prepare to be successful in society, think critically, problem solve, and evolve into life-long learners.  As digital natives they are even more knowledgeable on the effective utilization of technology than we are.  Leaving them out of the equation as we move to create a 21st Century learning environment is foolish in my opinion.  Students are needed more than ever to help assist us in changing the ways in which content is delivered.