Saturday, December 17, 2011

Windows Phone vs. iPhone–The Winner for Teachers


My district has been offering two new phones to administrators and managers; the Windows 7 (Mango) phone, and the iPhone 4S.  They also offer some less fancy options that may appeal to people who “just need a phone”.  But which of these two options would be best in education?  I got to handle both of them, and then went and consulted some very smart guys who sell phones for a living.


Both the phones have a great interface.  I am used to the arrangement of the icons on screens on the iPhone.  This has been around for years, and it is what people have come to expect.  A very short learning curve – and consistent with the iPad. 

(photo from

imageThe windows phone uses tiles, and like icons they can be rearranged.  However, because of their large surface, tiles can display a small thumbnail of information – like when someone posts a new photo on facebook.  You don’t see a notification – you see the photo!  Pretty cool.  I would say as far as accessibility and navigation, they were both pretty smooth.  The Windows phone (an HTC HD7)  has a slightly larger display – easy on the eyes and easier for texting with. 

Overall – Tie

(photo from


The iPhone 4 and 4S are made of a durable glass.  The front and back are made of the same durable glass – but it’s still glass.  If you drop it, you will crack it.  According to the sales guys, you must put it in a case.  Apparently, some people have a different case for their iPhone for each day of the week.  When I asked the sales guys in different locations why they thought apple went with glass as opposed to the original metal back, they said '”look and feel”. 

It does feel really good in the hand, but would I keep it out of the case?

The HTC HD7 Windows phone has has a combination of plastic and metal back.  It has a little hinge around the camera which is intended to prop the phone at an angle like a desk or bedroom clock.  That’s all well and good, but anytime you build a part that moves, that part will potentially break.  But, this part will probably last for 3 years, and after that people will move on to a new phone.

Edge – Windows phone.

Social Networking 

Commercials tout that Windows and Microsoft products are for business-y people, and that  iPhone is for people who want to have a phone for work and play.  While there are apps for every social network in the iTunes store, the Windows phone makes connections between the people you know, all the networks they are a part of, and seamlessly allows you to follow your conversations with them throughout many social networks.  Someone sends you a message through LinkedIn, but you can also see other ways they have communicated with you, such as tweets and email.  All at one point of contact – the person’s picture. 

No one else has this.  There is no app for this.  Android can’t do this. Seamless integration of multiple networks.  Slick.  

Edge – Windows phone


Productivity and Multimedia

I love the idea of iCloud.  It’s just like Mesh by Microsoft.  Haven’t heard of mesh?  I am not sure a lot of people have, but it is Microsoft's cloud solution.  Its been around for a couple years now.

However in our district, we try to be conscious of FIOPPA – a law that tells us not to host our students information on 3rd party server in the states.  So sending our student’s report cards to a US cloud service is not allowed.  However, our district uses SharePoint websites to post lessons, homework, and host documents.  Once we move to SharePoint 2010, we could use a Windows Phone to send files to and from our own internal SharePoint sites. 

Edge – Windows phone

When it comes to camera and video, I liked the iPhone better for making minor edits to my photos.  Facetime is also something that is not available on other platforms, but I wonder if I could put Skype on a windows phone, and video conference that way? 

Edge – iPhone


The windows phone market is not as big as the iTunes store.  Also, there are a lot of really good apps in the iTunes store specifically targeted towards education.  Also these apps, and the iPhone itself dovetails very nicely with the iPad.  Currently, there is no good windows alternative for the iPad, which is being brought into classrooms everywhere by students and teachers alike. 

Will there be more growth in the Windows Market?  I think yes, but for now:

Edge – iPhone

Final Verdict

Who should buy a Windows phone?  I think educational leaders should.  It would be great for networking, and securely moving their digital resources around our district.  I would like to see my district leaders building a pln, and always carrying their presentations, important documents, and professional reading with them.  How cool would it be if the superintendent of schools had a lull between meetings, so they pull out their phone and get caught up on some reading or paperwork? 

So who should buy an iPhone?  It’s all down to personal choice, but I think teachers should still pick the iPhone over the Windows phone (for now).  It has more apps, including apps that are made for education.  It works with the iPad and iPod touch which many students are bringing into the classroom.  Just don’t drop it, and always keep it in a case.

My next phone will probably be an iPhone. But for now, I have to perform a factory reset on my Android phone. For the second time. Argh.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Right Now–Desktops aren’t Dead


(Great song – edgy video from 1992)

What is the power of one computer in a classroom.

When I “relocated” a computer from one spot in our school to my desk in my classroom (2004?) – and connected it to the Internet it, opened a window.  Every day, we gathered around my desk, and we looked.  Let’s see what penguins in Antartica are doing right now.  I wonder what the Eiffel tower looks like right now.  I wonder if we posted one of our stories right now, would someone read it off the website. 

One of the things that makes computers in the classroom great is the capacity for right now.  It doesn’t matter what the device is, but the ability to make stuff happen right now.  Maybe what we need right now are more desktops in classrooms.  They are cheap, they connect to the internet, they last a long time (usually). 

The iPad, the iPhone, all flavours of Android Tablets, Android Phones.  Laptops, and some of the more durable netbooks.  These devices are coming into our schools right nowRead about the future of technology, and right now doesn ‘t seem like the right time to buy a desktop.  Right now people think schools should use laptops or tablets, and not get desktop computers.  I am not yet sold.  If you have a small budget, don’t dismiss the power of one computer in the classroom. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

CUEBC 2011 - Fabulous Opportunity

I had a great experience at CUEBC (Computer Using Educators of BC).  I had a great facility to teach in (thank you Dave McCristall and Dennis Wong).  Terry Fox Secondary in Port Coquitlam offered not only an easy to navigate school, with some pretty interesting workshops to attend.

The keynote speaker David Warlick showed me how today's kids don't have a ceiling (or walls) around their learning anymore - except the ones schools place around them.  Ouch! But he has an interesting point.  I am on twitter with another educator who has challenged his kids to create examples of 21st centruy learning, but not use camera phones.  I think this might be failing to recognize the camera phone for what it could be.  I will politely raise this issue with him, and hope he will have a discussion with me.

I also attended David's workshop where he drew the analogy of his own professional learning network as being like a garden.  What I took from this very well crafted presentation (although there were a few technical glitches) was the need for me to do some more professional reading - reading more blogs of other teachers.  I came away from his workshop thinking that in order to progress in my profession I need to read what other great educators are doing, comment, write more myself and then find some way to share what I am learning.

During an awesome lunch, I did something I had not planned on. I volunteered for a position on the executive.  The position involves putting out a newsletter for CUEBC and promoting awareness of CUEBC and the work of it's members, or issuses surrounding technology in education to a broader audience.  CUEBC has a twitter account, so I think this is where I will begin.  I think this will force me to carve out time to do more professional reading - so I can pass it along.

My second afternoon session was with Orwell Kowalyshyn as he showcased some of the exciting things happening in our province's largest district of Surrey.  They have distributed over a thousand iPads to teachers, and he showed some of the apps that teachers were using.  My district distributed laptops to almost a quarter of our teachers.  I wonder about the differences between putting an iPad into teachers' hands vs. putting a laptop in teachers' hands?
I enjoyed the chance to talk to vendors.  None of them pressured me, all just wanted to talk.  I thought the demonstration of SMART technologies gave me a lot to think about.   How does this SMART table fit into classrooms?  How can SMART boards be better used by students and teachers alike, and transform people's teaching styles because it can do things a regular white board cannot?  This is a device that the majority of teachers I work with on learning teams are exploring.

It was my fifth trip to CUEBC, and I look forward to going again next year.  I hope some of you will join me.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Getting Comfortable with Discomfort

In my new role as a learning team facilitator, my job is to not tell teachers what they need to learn about technology, or tell them how they need to teach in class.  I don't know how all the technology in the world works; how could I?  Instead, I have to help teachers focus on an inquiry.  We must ask ourselves "How does this use of technology impact student learning?" 

When I have listened to teachers in our Learning Team meetings, I hear them say "We are really concerned that we won't learn enough of the 'how-to's' when using technology (be it interactive whiteboards or SharePoint classroom websites)."

  I have to send the message "You don't have to know everything - just enough to jump in with both feet, and start swimming". 

To create some of the resources I am providing for teachers, this month I have had to learn to use two new pieces of software, Camtasia (makes screencasts and edits video) and SnagIt (grabs pictures of your screen and edits them).  I have recieved no formal training in either program, but my co-worker and mentor Martine showed me how to get started.  Then I had to figure out not only what I was going to say or teach in a tutorial about different pieces of software (Outlook for email or MS Word), but I had to learn how to use the software as I went.  This made me feel uncomfortable, as I wondered "Am I doing this right?  What if I have to redo this?  How long will this take?!?"

Techsmith sent me some emails with links to screencasts showing me how to use different features in SnagIt, such as how to search efficiently through your screenshot library.  When I got the email I thought "Oh no....I don't have time for this!  I am way to busy! How long will this take?!?" But then I clicked it, and it only lasted about 5 minutes.  I got the idea, and began applying the skills right away - not perfectly, but good enough to get the idea across.

This feeling of discomfort was the feeling of me learning something.  I have to get comfortable with this feeling of discomfort because this is what my colleagues feel each time they begin to learn something new with technology, and in this way I can relate to them.  I must have faith that each time I learn something new about technology, it will benefit me somehow, and I must be patient even if I can't see the "when" right away. 

I'll just start using it, and see what happens.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Forecasting Marks

Sometimes you have to just get out of the way, and let your students work.  Sometimes you must creep around the classroom, observing but a NINJA!  If your students see you, tell them "you can't see me, I am a ninja" and move on.

I tried to stay out of the way as when I walked around, the majority of the questions needed to be answered by reviewing my instructions, the screencast, or the samples of work I provided.  By getting out of the way, or forcing the students to walk across the room to get my help, often students would talk to a neighbour or just review the instructions themselves.

But sometimes, it pays to go around the room and make forecasts.  Because of the nature of my course, I would often get 120 assignments at a time on my desk.  My course was short, approx. 7.5 weeks, so I had to mark all the assignments, and turn them around really quickly.  So, to save myself time, I would take my markbook around the room with me, and then talk with students about their work.  I would always refer to the criteria, or the broad strokes of the assignment.  I was careful not to compare them to any other students, but to what I felt they were capable of accomplishing in class, if they applied themselves.  I would then "forecast" their mark, usually a score out of 5 (Not Meeting Expectations, Minimally Meeting, Meeting, Fully Meeting, or Exceeding Expectations).  Often, students would ask, how do I get a higher score?  I would then ask them to think about their work ethic, quality of work, the criteria of the assignment.  They usually found their own answer.  Sometimes when they were doing really well, we would talk about "taking it to the next level" and I would tell the kid to relax, they are doing well, but what could they do to go beyond the assignment based on their interest.

As a result, I saved myself time on marking (changing forecasts is easy if you write in pencil, or save it to a spreasheet), and I usually got better quality work from my students when they turned it in at the end of the given time.

Assessment comes from the latin "to sit beside".  I think that this method of gathering marks was my favourite.  It enabled me to focus kids on what mattered, and I got to know them better.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Colorful Writing Practice

I was thinking about how to help struggling writers using technology in the classroom.  One thought I had was about was probably the obvious choice - MS Word.  True you could use any word processor, but this is what I am given, and lots of people have it in their homes.  So, I use what I have.

Kids who have problems with handwriting (or even teachers, like yours truly) like using word processors because when you strike the key, the letters always look the same time after time. But there are other ways to use the word processor to help. 

As a primary teacher, I used to walk around the class, and I would help kids by scribing some of their work if it looked like they needed help keeping up, getting ideas down before they forgot them, organizing their sentences, or to just keep the momentum of their writing going.  Not every kid needed help, but there was only one "me" walking around.  A bit of legwork needed, for sure.

 I was thinking, what if we put a struggling writer in front of a computer.  Then, when I needed to help scribe, I could just type what the kid dictates.  I can type way faster than I can write, and as their typing speed improves they would need less help.  But, also perhaps I could change the color of my text.  If they wrote in one color, and I wrote in another color, when you zoom, back you could see how much you are helping the student, and how much they are capable of themselves.  Over time you could compare this with other assignments, and have a quick visual check by looking at the size of the color blocks to see if the student is writing more on their own, still needing the same amount of support, or needing more support.  You could see if they always need help in the beginnings, or the endings of stories - and if that were the case, you could make that a focus in your next writing lesson.

Below I have taken 3 samples (not real writing samples at this point) and zoomed out.  In the first sample we see lots of green, the teacher's writing color.  The next one has less green, and the third sample has less still, with much of the green appearing at the ends of paragraphs and the story itself.  This might mean the student is improving in being able to write more details, but needs help writing concluding statements.


Now if only I could find someone who could try this out, and tell me if it helped them and their students with writing.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Technology is Not a Blanket Solution

I think I have hit upon one of my talking points for the coming year - each use of technology in the classroom is not intended as blanket solution for all the students in your class.

In a recent discussion with a colleague, he raised the idea of using twitter in the classroom, only to shoot down the idea because he was worried about how the one kid in the class, the one without an iPod, smartphone, computer, or POD would feel. This to him was reason enough not to attempt such a use of technology in his classroom.

When a kid forgets his lunch, we put a shout out to the class, and everyone is happy to kick in. When a child can't go on a field trip, the school foots the bill. We can't use this as a reason to not eat lunch, go on a field trip, or to use technology in new and exciting ways in class.

I have proposed having parents who have smartphones subscribe to teachers' homework calendars on the teachers' public website. Yes, I realize not all parents have smartphones - but if only a few parents have smartphones, and their kids have a habit of forgetting to write down or do their homework, then this reduces the number of students I have to chase down to get their work. This improves my working conditions, improves the parent's feelings of involvement, and will improve that child's education.

Technology in the classroom has the potential to improve education by meeting the needs of small groups of students, such as "the absent minded professors" group of kids. Technology offers us ways to personalize learning in the classroom.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How Easy is Easy Enough?

I remember hearing something about the company Palm. Back when palm pilots were all the rage (yep, I had one) I read that there was a real concern at about how many clicks it would take to do a task. Any more than 3 clicks, and the company considered it a problem. I think this kind of thinking needs to be employed in schools as they incorporate technology. In this particular instance I am thinking about parents.

It's for the We use SharePoint websites for our classroom websites in our district. They are incredibly powerful and incredibly useful. Our district is always working at making them look better, and more user friendly. I think one of the ways we could start using our homework site is to set up our publicly viewable homework sites so that parents can rss them to their smartphones. This would mean that whenever a teacher posted their homework to their class website, parents would get it in their inbox on their iPhone, blackberry, or HTC. Any smartphone could do this. So can an iPod touch. I checked.

You don't need to have a smart phone or iPod to subscribe to a website by rss. You can do it on your computer. However I think of the power of a parent who can just pull their phone out of their pocket and say "Hey don't you have math homework today, page 197 #1-15?" Middle school students mean well, but there is a lot going on, and I want to make it easier to support them.

Yes, a parent could find my homework site. They just go to my district site, click on school sites, click on my middle school, click on staff directory, click on staff, and then click on my homework site link, and then click on Homework Calendar. That's a lot of clicks. If they are savvy computer users, they would bookmark the site. Too many clicks to do on a regular basis.
Parents might not make regular use of my homework site then.

Better just to send all my parents the rss feed link at the start of the year at parent orientation night, and walk them through putting it on their phone. I see parents using their phones all the time. They have them on their person and they are comfortable using them.

Let's make it easier for the parents to support their kids' learning at home. It might mean I don't have to chase down so many missing and late assignments.

Making Authentic Assignments

My marks are in, my students feel like they are done. Problem - they keep showing up to class. The year isn't done, and while I am not likely at this point to change a lot of student marks, I feel as though teachers must still hold the possibility of low marks over kids like some sword of damocles . Instead I have said at the beginning of the class that this final assignment is not for marks. At least once a class someone asks me "is this for marks?" I reply that not everything is for marks, but everything in this class is worth learning.

Some students are making animations using new software that I am unfamiliar with. I know just enough to get started with Flip Boom animatior classic, but not enough to really teach it well. So I decided to crowd-source it , and have kids teach me how it works and how it doesn't.

One of my students is teaching class. She is 13 and has done a lot of research on her own about advertising. She taught my class a lesson about what ads are, what goes into an ad, the layout of an ad, a rubric on how to judge if you have made a successful ad, and then prepared some examples. She walks around the class, helping others, and I come in when needed. Otherwise I sit at my desk, and keep out of the way on this one.

I am contemplating taking this a step further. I wonder if some of these kids sent their ads in to the brands they have chosen as spec ads, would any of them respond? Would they encourage my students? Would any of them pay my students for their project? What kinds of copyright would I have to sort out to make that happen? I guess I will have to keep thinking about this.

What I can say is with the year winding down, my students for the most part are still learning even though the kids are nuts for the summer weather. And that is not too bad, I say.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Changing My Marking For Better of Worse

When I began my position at Moody Middle I had kids printing out their first assignment. When I looked at the pile of paper from the first 4 of 6 blocks on the first assignment, I saw several problems.

1.) Wow, this is a lot of paper. They aren't going to keep it.

2.) Once they printed the paper off, it was not going to be easy to make changes and make corrections.

3.) Once I wrote my comments on the paper, they would only read the comments if they were negatively surprised at the mark.

So then I started using the online "hand-in bin" on my classroom sharepoint site. I would write in the comment box on the student's hand in form, which only they can read. This reduced the paper. But, there were still some problems:

1.) Students didn't read the comments unless they were negatively surprised by their marks.

2.) Students didn't make changes or corrections to their work after handing in their work, even if they knew what they needed to improve upon or correct.

Now, I mark in a couple of different ways. Sometimes I record my voice into their MS Word document as an embedded object, and the kids listen to my comments. I don't say the mark until the end. Mostly, I have just do a lot of loops around the room, and mark students with inconsistent performance first, lower achievers second, and high performers third. But, I call up my high performers to my desk for a ten second "whatchagonnado" chat at the start of the assignment, and periodically I ask them to share ideas mid assignment. Then I have other students weigh in on those ideas, so we are all on the same page.

In the first days of teaching, I have to repeat the instructions and criteria daily. I never show really good examples of completed work, or else I get 30 copies of the same example - mine. I teach the kids about how to self-assess, and stress the importance of being able to justify the mark they give themselves based on the goals of the assignment.

Marking now takes a couple days for some major assignments. Sometimes 3 days. I have just finished one of those weeks. It's tiring, but I think the fact that marking major projects has become a conversation has paid off with improved learning. And, I feel I have connected better with my students this way as I only get to know them 8 weeks at a time.

Worth it.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

My ESL Strategy Worked!

Two days ago in my classroom I saw a girl in my class using the Google Translate button to translate a lesson I was teaching. She selected her home language - Korean - and then began to hover the mouse so that she could see the English translation of the Korean sentences she was reading. So not only was she learning my lesson, she was learning English as well.

I didn't know that her level of understanding of English meant that she was having difficulty understanding my lessons; she just sat there very quietly doing her best all along. So, this idea helped one student. I wonder if it will help more. But, being able to plug google translate in so easily makes it worth the small effort to add it to my lesson pages. I wonder if there are more kids using it that I don't see?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Work in Progress

It has taken a couple years, but I think one of my ideas is going to take off in our district. When talking with Aboriginal Ed teachers and youth workers over the last couple years, they have pointed out to me that the Aboriginal / First Nations populations in schools tend to have a higher-than-average incidence of problems with literacy and a higher-than-average incidence of Learning Disablities in our schools.

I also was really quite taken with the culture of oral history in the first nations peoples of BC. I thought that if we could remove the demand for so much written text, I think a lot of our first nations students would have some great stories to share. Also, our aboriginal ed teachers told me of the importance of art in the first nations communities. I think I have found a way to tell stories orally with art in our schools using technology.

Two Aboriginal Education teachers are signing up at for an account. They are going to then post some of their artwork, and tell the story behind it using microphones. For those of you who don't know, voicethread is kind of like a slideshow online, but one that you can narrate with a microphone, and invite other people to participate in with you by adding their narration to your story.

My goal would be to have students create a story with their artwork online, and then narrate it. This reduces the demand for written work, allows the student to tell their story in a detailed fashion, and to display their artwork to the world. They could then invite others to comment on their artwork and stories. My thought would be to have an elder or knowledgeable member of their Nation login from wherever they are in the world (Queen Charlotte Islands, Northern BC, Manitoba perhaps) and then add what they know to the story, provide missing details, or offer encouragement to these students. I will keep you posted how things progress.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Virtual Classrooms for ESL Students

You can only push a kid so fast and so hard. I teach a challenging course in my Computer Education course. With no set curriculum, I can look at what classroom teachers around the school are doing, and try to compliment that in my classroom. But what about the International Ed. students and ESL students in my courses? Czech, Hungarian, Korean, Mainland China; these kids are from all over the globe, but they are still kids like those in my classroom. When things become too difficult, when the water rises over their heads, they drown. Just like anyone else.

I have used shown my students how to use google translate. That worked well, but for many 11 year old and 12 year old students, they don't always advocate for themselves. If I don't open google translate for them, they don't consistently go there to ensure they understand the lesson.

To better help the ESL students in my class, I found a bit of code from the google translate tools page. It allows me to embed google translate into my lessons. This, plus the written detail, and screencasts or other visuals help a kid to understand what the lesson is all about. Even if I screencast in english (sorry, my Icelandic is a bit rusty) the visual example of a screencast about a lesson is very helpful.

And it is not just the students that benefit. In an informal poll of my students, grade 8 students ask their parents for help with their school work 2-5 times a week. What about ESL students? Often their parents do not know english as well as the student does. Parents are smart, and love their children, and want to help. By putting a translate button on the page, criteria, due dates, and screencasts or other visuals about the lesson, parents can look at the lesson and then support their kids learning at home.

To that end, if you would like to read this post in another language, I have put the google translate button on the right hand side of my page.


A votre sante !



Friday, April 8, 2011

Everyone is doing the best they can

Today on the way to work I passed by a guy who is a plumber or electrician in his yellow, older model astro van. What was most noteworthy was not the guy, he was just another guy. The sign on the side of his van was also not really noteworthy either, as it was done with no graphics, and a single font, in red. Hard to read. What stood out was the fact that the van must have had a lot of equipment in the back because the rear suspension was sagging so badly, I am surprised I didn't see sparks coming off the muffler. Obviously he cannot afford or won't invest in a truck with better suspension. But he's up early, he's on the road, and he's going to do the best he can for the money you pay him.

I immediately identified with this guy.

This guy is all of us. He's got a job to do, and a heavy weight on him. Even though his ass-end is dragging, he is going to be there for you.

Everyone is doing the best they can.

Everyone? Yes everyone. Your laziest student is doing the best they can. They just believe that they can't do better, or that it is worth it to try. And that is where teachers come in. We have to get people to invest in themselves, so that someday they will have the skill sets and the belief that they can go out in the world, get what they need. And how to soldier on, even if you ass-end is dragging.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Road Trips with Kids Part 1

What is up with the attraction to iceberg lettuce in the 'States? And deep fried everything. And the american tradition of putting corn in everything. I just came back from 4 days in Seattle, the friendliest town outside of Vancouver, and didn't we have fun.

So - do I take my kids to another family restaurant, each one claiming to have the best frozen-then-deep-fried chicken fingers and french fries?

I say NO! I found better tasting, more nutritious food, with nearly endless variety, and a very clean setting that is family friendly.

Upscale grocery chains. When on the road in Canada I find a Quality Foods store, or even better a Whole Foods store.

Fast Food - about $7 per person

Family Dining Burger Joint where the food contains more gmo corn than anything else - $11 per person, minimum. Plus taxes. Plus, they want a tip (and in fairness, this guy earned his 15%).

Whole foods - you pay by the pound, ($8)and vegetables don't weigh much. Hide veg from the salad bar in the home-made mac and cheese. Smaller portions of higher quality meat. Endless colour on the plate. Also, if you know something about plating food, you can make-it-look-fabulous. Kids like everyone else. Total bill with mineral water and box juices at the table - about $5 for each of the kids (home style meatloaf, mac and cheese, and assorted colorful veg). Mine was just under $8. Organic juice boxes, 4 for $3. B est of all, no tip.

TOP SECRET - you can buy fish or any kind of meat at Whole Foods, take it to the cooking / dining section, and they will make it for you. In that one night, I saw a salmon fillet bbq'd, some fishburgers fried, some chicken livers sauted in olive oil with just salt and pepper. For no charge!

Hackin' the system - what it's all about. Think outside "jack in the box" especially when feeding your family in the states.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Why Some Teachers Hate SharePoint

Ok, maybe this piece is long overdue. Like the elephant in the room that no one will talk about.

Why do some teachers say they hate sharepoint? Because a lot of teachers have told me they hate it.

I have done some fairly extensive research on the topic. By research, what I mean is I show up to work, and I am accosted by a teacher in the hall who can't wait tell me that they hate SharePoint today. After some critical thinking, and and little Q and A, this is what I have been able to distill. When someone says, "I Hate SharePoint", I hear them saying:

1.) I don't hate SharePoint - I hate that I have had to write a new website every year for the past three years. Plus, if I learn how to create a SharePoint site now, won't everything be different next year, making what I have learned obsolete?

2.) I don't hate sharepoint - I don't have an extensive technical vocabulary, so I don't know how to describe what I want to do. I can picture it in my head, but not describe it.

3.) I don't hate sharepoint - I thought I knew how to do something simple (like change my contact information on my main teacher page), but when I attempted it I got an unexpected result, and I can't figure out why it didn't work. This frustrates me.

4.) I don't hate SharePoint - I am worried that if I attempt to do something myself, either it won't work, or I will do something so terrible, it cannot be undone. It is better to put it off rather than tempt fate.

5.) I don't hate sharepoint - I need help finding an option that is in a menu, but I am not familiar with the menus.

6.) I don't hate SharePoint - I hate that my students don't go to my site, or very few of them go to my site, so why did I bother building it?!?

7.) I don't hate SharePoint - I hate learning about SharePoint as it is an area outside my comfort zone, and it causes me a lot of anxiety because I am worried about how much I will have to learn just to get started.

8.) I don't hate SharePoint - I just love my Mac. And there are a lot more Mac's out there than people realize. I am a Mac user at home too.

9.) I hate SharePoint - well, there is always one in a crowd, isn't there?

Currently the district invests a great deal of money in SharePoint. It also invests money in training key individuals at the top in how to do anything and everything you could possibly want to do with SharePoint. They spend money sponsoring Learning Teams and Learning Groups, where mentor teachers get some paid time and teachers get some classroom coverage to learn new skills, such as the use of SharePoint or other kinds of technology in their classrooms. I think this is money well spent.

Is SharePoint perfect? No. Does it take a lot of time to learn? It depends. SharePoint can be like one of those bloated swiss army knives that is so thick with tools it is unusable.

I think the key to making SharePoint more widely accepted is as follows:

1.) Implement SharePoint 2010 over summer break and let everyone know that they don't have to do anything - the district will do it for them. (I know the district plans to roll out SP 2010 with no teacher effort required)

2.) Implement SharePoint 2010 over summer break, as it is easier to edit, and is Mac friendly.

3.) Don't change anything for a couple of years. No moves, no version changes. Change nothing. Let everyone get used to the same website for a couple years. Let some people choose to set up their sites and do nothing with them for a couple years if that is their wish. But I think people will begin to feel comfortable with their sites in this era of stability, and be more motivated learn more about their sites, and try new new ideas and web parts on their own time.

4. ) If kids are not coming to your website, it probably isn't a lack of bling. Or games. Or buzzers. It may be because kids don't need to go there, or kids don't have a role in the website. Figure out what kids need and what parents need. Then put that on the site, and not much else. Forget about being fancy.

One teacher is going to change the animation on her site every couple of days, and offer incentives to kids who can tell her what the new one is. While this might get kids looking at the animation on her site, will they be exploring the other content there? I don't think they will.

I am going to do some thinking and asking around and find out what kids and parents need from their site, and then post on it. Think you know what parents and kids need on a classroom website? Please comment - I will post it.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Teaching Old Mechanic New Tricks

My father was a teacher in our district for 32 years. He taught mostly Maths, Science and different shop classes - including Auto Mechanics for high school students. My dad can fix anything. As a child I remember him fixing everything himself. Heck, he built our house.

Whenever I am installing a new appliance that requires a little "custom fitting" or doing some sort of repair or upkeep on my car, I usually end up consulting Dad.

Me: How tight do I torque the spark plugs?

Dad: Well - you want them in there really tight, but don't over tighten them. You could strip the threads really easily and that will cost you a lot of money!

Invariably, I have him check the plugs afterwards and invariably he needs to tighten at least one.

Dad thought he would help me today by changing one of my car's headlights. My back is out so bending over to fix it myself is quite painful. But, I could see he was having a hard time getting the bulb out. He asked me if I had a manual, and I said, "of course."

I whipped out my phone and googled ""how do I change the headlight bulb on..." and google began auto-completing my search. The first hit explained how to do it in 5 steps. I told my dad that the problem was he needed to squeeze in the retaining tabs a little further and it will come out easily.

He said. "What? No... I am squeezing it plenty...wait! Oh, ok, I got it now."

I showed him the instructions on my phone. Maybe I shouldn't have as his head was under the hood, and I was sounding like a genius when I was reading off the step-by-step instructions on bulb extraction!

My Dad used to think that he just wanted a cell phones for making calls and that is it. People think that because that is all they needed a phone for in the past, they shouldn't need a phone that does anything else. I wonder if having access to countless repair manuals in the palm of his hand may make him reconsider his choice of phones- it could save a lot of time and guesswork?

All I know is, no matter what cell phone I have (and my HTC Desire does rock), I will still need my Dad.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

As Exciting as New Boxing Gloves

I run an informal bootcamp for myself and any other teachers who want to work out on Friday's after school is out. We use the wrestling room, and I bring some exercise equipment for everyone to use, including some martial arts and boxing gear. We don't hit each other, but we do hit some focus mits and muay thai pads. My friend Jarod has been coming quite often, and I suggested he buy his own boxing gloves, as he doesn't like wearing the pink boxing gloves I use as loaners. Strange.

Well, after a quick look on craigslist, he found some. Jarod was very excited - he fully intended to use them on Friday. He put them on and began wearing them around his house. I think he probably began lightly punching walls and pieces of furniture. Then he tried some shadow boxing. Then he threw his shoulder out. I guess he wasn't ready for the extra pound of weight on the ends of his hands. Live and learn.

Wouldn't it be great if we could teach so that kids felt as if the knowledge they had learned were like new tools in a tool belt. Or a new set of boxing gloves. And then kids would be waiting, wanting, itching for a chance to use this new skill. Nothing feels as gratifying as using a new skill successfully - it's a feeling of transformation. You couldn't before, and now you can.

But, without putting their shoulders out I hope.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Short Thought on Money

I have entered a different phase in life. I notice now, more than ever before, when my friends have bigger houses, or nicer houses, or more newly renovated houses, or some other physical object that says they have made more, or been smarter with, money. Perhaps they took risks, or perhaps they got lucky. Perhaps they are good at saving. Perhaps some of them are up to their eyeballs in debt. You just never know.

But I do know this. Being rich does not make you more able to be generous, anymore than being powerful makes you more able to be right.

You have always had the ability to be generous. I encourage everyone to be generous today. Be generous with your time, be generous with your love. Especially with your children. And hey, if you can spare a few bucks to a good cause (you decide which), I am sure someone somewhere will appreciate that too.

Preparing for OMG

I was thinking back on my teaching career so far. I thought back to a time when I was in my first classroom teaching a class of grade 3 and 4 students. I was reading the words out for a spelling test, one of the first of the year, and I kept checking my watch. I was wondering when the "real" teacher was going to be back. Then it hit me.

OMG-I am the real teacher now.

Some of what I studied in university was helpful in preparing me for my career. Some was not. What I want students to think about is the feeling they would have when a customer or client looks at them after asking them a question, and then they realize that this person is now depending on them to know what to do.

This is the "Oh My Goodness" moment.

Students need to shift their thinking from learning things that teachers and parents tell them to learn, to thinking about how everything they learn changes them, or how it might equip them for their own OMG moment.

Because you never know when it will happen to you.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Using Audacity to Help LD Kids Write

Thomas is a grade 6 boy and has a learning diability. Actually he has more than one. He might have something called Central Auditory Processing Disorder. He has difficulties at times coming up with the right word when speaking. He has incredible difficulties writing sentences.

A sentence for Thomas saying "I am going to the store to buy a hammer and some nails" might come out like "sotre hammre buy nail".

But, Thomas has ideas just like every other kid. It has been so long since has gotten his ideas out, though, so that he no longer thinks of himself as a writer, or that he has great stories to tell.

Thomas can talk. I put him in front of a computer, and opened up the program Audacity. It is an open-source program that can record your voice, and save it as a sound clip. I plugged in a mic and some headphones for better sound quality. Then I did some brainstorming out loud with Thomas on a topic he enjoys - dirtbikes and quads. I taught him how to record a sentence, rewind, and play it back, pausing after each couple words. He would then write the words out by hand. However, I noticed that he had some difficulties with spelling too. Thomas would spell the word "wheels" as "whelles". He knew there was a double letter in the word, but not which one. I thought that MS Word could help with this, so he began typing out two words at a time while he listened to his own sentences. This is an excerpt - sentences 5 and 6:

Three are deferent cines of quads there are some quads meet for racing and some are off road. Dirt bikes can do different tricks . you can do a superman grab on a dirt bike.

This is more output in 5 minutes than he does in his classroom in 20 minutes. He needs someone to brainstorm and rehearse his ideas with out loud. He needs practice using Audacity, and he needs practice using MS Word to spell check. After seeing his results, his teacher predicts that this is the way he will pass 6th grade. I am excited, and cautiosly optimistic. I work with him again on Friday, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Talk like you Tweet

I have been trying to save energy in my classroom. I don't mean by turning off lights, or changing the power settings on my computer monitor. I mean I have been trying to save my own energy so I have more energy to be a good dad and husband when I come home for the day. So, now I am trying to talk less during some classes.

The approach has been thus - talk like I tweet. When I post a thought on twitter, I get 140 characters to get my message across. It forces me to be succinct, and choose my words carefully.

When I make a jing, I get five minutes for my video, and that is it. Is this a sign of the times that people are developing shorter attention spans. Perhaps, but I think it is also equally likely that some people who like to talk have always been not quite as interesting to listen to as they think, and that now there are more options for people's attention.

Be brief, and set more realistic goals for communication. Talk for less time than people expect; they will appreciate it. Repeat yourself - students often need that . Eventually the message gets through.

Who Doesn't Love Swiss Trains

When I was backpacking around Italy, sometimes a 3pm train departed at 3pm. Sometimes it was a bit later. Sometimes, it was a lot later. Never early, which is good, because that would have screwed things up for a lot of people. But when I travelled through Switzerland (the most expensive 24 hours of my European adventure) everything ran on time.

I love Italy. Trains that are sometimes late do not make me love it less; how could it. But I love it when trains run on time.

When someone is on time, it says that they value your time at least as much as their own. When someone is late they are saying to you that their time is more important than yours. When you show up late, people aren't immediately thinking you are a jerk. They are thinking that you showed up late because you think they are jerks.

Then they think you are a jerk.

When students hand in work late to me, it is likely caused by one of two things.

1.) They lack confidence in their work and their abilities
2.) They don't feel the need to hand it in on time.

Say what you will about kids' organizational abilities; if it were concert tickets, they would be johnny-on-the-spot early!

Gotta go. I have to be on time for teaching class.