Sunday, November 28, 2010

Talk is Cheap

I was re-reading a recent post by George Couros (Is Change the True Barrier?) and began to reflect on some of the comments made directly on his site as well as those in the Twitter stream.  The following comment by David Jakes really got me thinking: "Perpetual never-ending conversation about change is the barrier."  As I looked more into the recent pleas for change in education I came across this video:

Talk is cheap (I do think this is a pretty good video though)!  Those of us working in education today know what has to be done in order to reshape the teaching and learning cultures found within our schools that have failed to adapt to an evolving world.  We need to lead the change movement through action instead of engaging in what seems to be never-ending talk about the "why" and "how" associated with the process.  There will be roadblocks, none of which are insurmountable.  Additionally, we need to share successful change movements that are sustainable in which marked improvements have been made to teaching and learning.  This way can learn from successful models and adapt these strategies to our own unique educational institutions.  What do you think?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Tweet For Your Thoughts

Large classrooms can make students feel anonymous, and as a result, many may feel less compelled to actively participate or pay attention during class. Whether it is in primary or secondary school, or in a college classroom, getting students to become engaged in the materials being presented can be a frustrating battle. This is especially true now that students can become distracted during class by a number of things, including the Internet and technology. Yet, teachers can use these very same things to bring the interests of students back to the classroom, such as is the case in some classroom experiments with educational Twitter accounts.

Twitter fosters critical thought in the classroom because it removes the element of self-consciousness from the equation. Those who do not actively participate in class or ask questions when they are confused often fail to do so because they do not want to speak up. This is why in most classrooms, only the same handful of students seem to participate time after time while the rest remain silent. Twitter allows for even the shyest individual to reach out and expand on the topic discussed, as it allows students to get their queries answered without being afraid of classmate judgment. In fact, a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas has a fully Twitter-integrated class, which allows for students to tweet their thoughts and questions to the professor while class is being conducted, according to an article published on Mashable. The professor and the class teaching assistants regularly look over these tweets and respond accordingly, whether through Twitter or live during the lecture. Classroom participation has increased since this tool was first introduced.
In addition, Twitter allows for students to continue thinking about a topic long after the class has ended, thereby encouraging critical thought even outside of class. Students may formulate new thoughts on classroom lectures after mulling over the information for longer than a single class period would allow, and once they have a new question or epiphany about the topic, they can tweet about it and receive responses from other classmates or from the instructor. Students in the class can all set up a Twitter account even a separate one solely for educational purposes and "follow" their instructors and fellow classmates. This way, they will receive updates each time something new is posted about the class. Instructors can keep the information on Twitter organized as well, using hashtags to label different classroom topics.

While Twitter is not without its flaws after all, each "tweet" can only be 140 characters long, which can make sharing thoughts on a complex topic challenging it certainly holds promise when it comes to inspiring students to put their thoughts and interests back into their classes.

References Cited:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tools to Help Become a Tech Savvy Educator

Cross-posted at The Educator's Royal Treatment.

As I mentioned in a previous post I have been working on a educational technology presentation for principals in a NJ school district.  The title I chose was "Harnessing the Power of Educational Technology" as I firmly believe that the many free tools available at our fingertips possess the ability to enhance our effectiveness and efficiency as administrators.  Below I will break down the main components of my presentation in an attempt to provide a toolkit to be used by other administrators, or any educator for that matter, across the globe.
21st Century Leadership
  • Shift Happens (must see video for any educator unfamiliar with the tends and impacts associated with technology and social media.
  • Sustainable change relies on understanding people, culture, and processes.  This is best accomplished through collaboration, consensus, and understanding.
  • 21st Century Educators must be able to adapt, communicate, take risks, model, continually learn, collaborate, exhibit vision, and lead.
  • Leaders in the "Digital Age" share their vision, learn with other educators, start conversations, lead by example, encourage innovative practices, integrate technology, are transparent, and leverage the power of Web 2.0
  • Principals can use social media for communication, public relations, branding, professional development, and opportunity. 
  • Keys for Principals: Support your staff, be flexible, exhibit passion, don't use time as an excuse to learn, take/encourage risks, and model.
    Web 2.0 Tools for Learning
    • Twitter: Improve instruction through global collaboration (sharing resources, best practices, lesson ideas, acquire knowledge, networking, tracking conferences, etc.), grow professionally by establishing a Personal Learning Network (PLN), follow specific hashtags (#).  To become more familiar with Twitter check out this video.
    • Ning: Customizable social network similar to Facebook, great place to connect with other educators, pivotal to a PLN.  Two great Nings to sign up for are The Educator's PLN and Classroom 2.0.  Check out this Ning tutorial.
      Google Apps
      • Google Docs: An online word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation editor that allows for easy organization and communication.  Also has a feature for easily creating forms to conduct surveys and collect data.  Features include upload/convert to any format (i.e. MS Office), simultaneously collaborate on and edit various document formats, access your documents from anywhere in the word, and embed links to your docs in emails, websites, blogs, etc.  Learn more about Google Docs here.
      • Google Calendar: Create multiple calendars in order to easily share events with staff and sync to your mobile phones built-in calendar.  Learn more here.
      • Google Reader: Constantly check educational news sites and blogs for new content (updates daily).  Subscribe to websites via RSS feeds, customize to your learning needs/goals, create you own unique educational current events library, and share websites quickly with your staff. Learn more about Google Reader here.
      • Google Sites: Free and easy way to create websites.  Single click page creation, no HTML required, customize to the look and feel that suits you, many templates to get you started, upload files and attachments, embed rich content (videos, images, spreadsheets, presentations), and collaborate with others.  Learn more here.
      Web 2.0 Tools for Teaching

      • Wordle: create beautiful word clouds quickly and easily.  Use as an anticipatory set, review prior learning, or closure. Have students create a Wordle as a means of independent assessment.  Print or save to the gallery to share (if you have a Mac you can use the Grab feature in utilities to take a screen shot and save as a jpeg.  The more you type the same word the larger it will appear. Click here for a tutorial or check out these resources.
      • Voicethread: Collaborative, multimedia slideshow that holds images, documents, and videos while allowing people to navigate through slides and comment in multiple ways (text , audio, video).  Click here for a tutorial or check out these resources.
      • Wallwisher: An online message board ideal for making announcements, taking notes, and collecting ideas, responses, or feedback.  Add images, music, and or links to each virtual note.  Works like a real notice board (drag, drop, rearrange posts).  Click on the following for more information: reasons to use, tutorial, and resources.
      • Prezi: Create stunning presentations on the web and allow students to unleash their creativity.  Great way to review prior learning or use as an anticipatory set.  Principals can even create a Prezi for their faculty meetings (one of our elementary principals does this).  Check out this tutorial associated and resources.
      • Glogster: Allow students to create interactive posters easily.  Mix images, music, text, and video.  Engage students in fun and creative activities while allowing them to express their knowledge, ideas, and skills.  Check out this tutorial and associated resources.  
      • Animoto:  Automatically produces beautifully orchestrated, completely unique video pieces from photos, video clips, and music.  Educators can apply for free student accounts at Animoto for Education. Bring lessons to life!  Check out this tutorial and associated resources.
      • Skype: Add free videoconferencing with only a webcam, computer, and internet connection.  Make free Skype to Skype calls.  Bring in quest speakers, go on virtual field trips, collaborate with other schools on lessons in real time, bring in additional professional development opportunities,  and add a global context to instruction.  Chat feature allows for the sharing of links, asking questions, etc.  Check out this tutorial and associated resources.
      EdTech Tools for Administrators

      • Facebook:  Create an information hub for your building that can quickly and easily get important information in the hands of your stakeholders.  Sign up for a personal account, create a page, and add material (news, pictures, videos, events).  Use the sidebar on the left to add useful links (school website, alumni groups, athletic schedules, Twitter feed).  Check out this tutorial and the page I created for New Milford High School.
      • Social Bookmarking: Store, organize, manage, and search for your resource bookmarks online from any computer in the world.  Two common tools are Delicious and Diigo (I use Delicious).  Organize and categorize your bookmarks with tags.  Add descriptions for each resource.  Create content area and resource specific tags.  Encourage your teachers to create their own free account to organize their bookmarks.  Check out this video for more information.  My Delicious account can be found here.  
      • Dropbox: Store, sync, and share files online for free.  Create an account then download Dropbox on your computers, smartphone, and any other mobile device that you have (i.e. iPad).  Copy/paste or save any file in Dropbox.  You can even copy entire folders from your hard drive and paste them into Dropbox.  Access your files from anywhere in the world by logging into your account at  For more information see this video.
      • Evernote: Remember everything by capturing notes, ideas, and things you hear/see.  Download on your computers, smartphone, and any other mobile device that you have (i.e. iPad).  Easily and quickly sync your notes.  Use a smartphone to upload picture and audio notes.  Access your notes from anywhere in the world by logging into your account at  Organize and categorize your notes with tags.  For more information see this tutorial.
      • Twitter:  Use this microblogging resource to send out information in 140 characters or less to your stakeholders.  Tweet out links, pictures, and video.  Parents and community members can access from the web or on their mobile phones through SMS (text message).  Send emergency announcements, event reminders, special schedules, athletic scores, student achievements, and staff innovations.  View the Twitter page for New Milford High School as an example.
      • Blog:  Type of website with regular commentary, reflections, and opinions.  Can easily add text, pictures, video, and gadgets.  One of the best public relations tools available to administrators.  Interactive as readers can leave comments. Check out this video for more information about blogs.
      What did I miss?  Please leave a comment so I may improve my presentation and this post!

      Thursday, November 11, 2010

      The Opinion That Matters Most

      This morning I attended a meeting with students that represent New Milford High School and my superintendent.  The purpose of the "Superintendent's Council" is to allow students to have a voice and empower them to make meaningful changes to the culture of the District.  During the meeting the students were asked what changes or initiatives they would like to see.  One freshman student quickly caught my attention when he began to discuss how he was upset that certain students were unmotivated in school.  A conversation then ensured as to how we could change this.  I quickly jumped in and replied that many students come to schools across the country and are bored because the digital world that they are so accustomed to is taken away from the one place where they should most be engaged.
      What transpired next gave me goosebumps.  Unscripted and in front of my boss student after student enthusiastically shared what their respective teachers were doing to make learning engaging, meaningful, and fun.  They spoke of the History teacher who was having them blog to reflect critically on world history content where they could interact with each other and share their thoughts.  Then there was the science teacher who has his biology classes using Google Docs and Sites regularly to collaborate, provide feedback and discuss the material.  The grand finale was the one English teacher using cell phones, Edmodo, and wikis to invigorate her lessons.

      Student voices are the most powerful tool that educators can use to change the learning cultures of schools. These students readily shared the type of learning environment that they prefer, one that effectively integrates the digital tools of their generation.  I can talk about the merits of educational technology all I want, but it is the opinions of my students that have the potential to empower other teachers to jump on board.  Today was a great day!

      Saturday, November 6, 2010

      The Power of Reflection

      Over the past couple of days I have been preparing a presentation for K-12 Principals entitled "Harnessing the Power of Educational Technology" (I'll share more about this at a later time).  I must say that I have been quite impressed with myself as I decided to create the entire full day presentation using Google Sites.  During what seemed to be countless hours of tweaking presentations, searching for videos, and deciding what content I wanted to cover I found myself reflecting on my growth as a leader and learner.  The paradigm shifts that I have experienced are nothing but amazing.  My passion for helping all students succeed and taking my staff where they need to be has always been there, but my immersion in the world of web 2.0 has provided constant fuel to become better at what I do.
      Technology is not always my driving force as many think.  Most of the time it is the inspirational conversations I have with educators from all corners of the globe on how they are moving away from traditional mindsets to unleash the creativity and learning potential in their students.  What is even better is that members of my own staff are beginning to embrace ideologies of authentic instruction to prepare students for success in the 21st Century.  In order to get to this point I had to look myself in the mirror and question some views I had in order to move forward without fear of failure.

      Change in education tends to be evasive and not sustainable.  All to often entire educational organizations are comfortable with the status quo and if it isn't broke don't fix it mentality.  The honest truth though is the our system is broken and it is up to us to be open to new ideas, give up control, and work together to meet the diverse needs of today's learner.  Some might think that this is not possible, to difficult, ore requires an extensive amount of time.  These experiences and reflections I just shared prove that we all have the capacity no matter our position to transform our system of education one little piece at a time.

      Monday, November 1, 2010

      Opening Minds on Social Networking

      The following interview took place after Education Week's Leadership Forum "Unleashing Technology to Personalize Learning" on 10/5/10 in Washington D.C.  In order to increase access and use I am now utilizing Facebook with students and parents in my District.  There are so many people already using Facebook to interact with their friends and family. They’re always excited to find out that they can learn about our school at the same time. What are you doing to increase access and use of social media in your schools?