Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Season of Conferences

7 days and 3 conferences.

  Good thing I took my vitamins!


This has traditionally been my favourite pro-d of the year, and this year it did not disappoint.  John Oliver Secondary in Vancouver played host to one of the busiest, most jam-packed conferences I have attended.  This year, I had the pleasure of helping to organize the conference as part of the executive, however Ian Jukes was a compelling keynote speaker.  I really thought he did a great job of using data to support his views.  I am sure the teachers in the Okanagan and other districts that streamed the keynote found it equally riveting. 
Gary Toews of Abbotsford did a workshop on the iPad in Abbotsford classrooms, and somehow 60 people managed to jam their way into the room! But, for me my one big take away was the presentation by Carolyn Durley and Graham Johnson on the flipped classroom.  The flipped classroom doesn’t mean using technology as the focus of the class; it’s about using technology like screencasting to change the way you spend your face-to-face time with students.  If students spent their time at home watching your lessons in video form, how would you spend all that time you used to spend lecturing differently?

Microsoft Connected Learners Conference

This is an invitation only conference for Canadian educators and IS staff that takes place once a year.  This year it was in Woodenville, Washington, near Microsoft headquarters in Redmond.  I was really glad it was so close, as I was able to hitch a ride down with our manager of IS, Brian Kuhn.  The conference was in a great hotel, and I don’t think I saw the outdoors for 2 days.  I just went from my room, to the conference room, to the sitting lounge for meals, and then back into the conference room.  The content was mixed between educational uses of technology, to much more technical issues. 
Some of the take-aways I have from this conference include
a)Students in Washington state have access to a statewide Microsoft certification program for applications, such as Word and PowerPoint.  This is something a lot of industries want, including the application from Google for an analyst position!
b) Windows 8 looks great on a tablet, and decent on a desktop. The windows RT does solve some problems we have with using the iPad in schools, such as supporting multiple users, having conventional hdmi and USB, and I like the interface.  The apps aren’t there yet, but I think they will come in time.
c) Kelowna is the second district to leverage cloud computing with Office 365.  This means their teachers and students can take advantage of a lot of great apps and storage – free.  They informed their parents with waivers, and things seem to be going well for them.  I hope our district can follow suit.

ERAC District Contacts

This was a great conference where we discussed the difficulties around using cloud services, and I am of the opinion that waivers will satisfy FIPPA requirements for using services in the US.  BC has the strictest laws against privacy, and in some ways I am very glad about that.  However I think that informing parents and students should be enough to make educational use of some great services such as Office 365.  I know many teachers want to use Edmodo, but what if our district could offer Wordpress/Buddy Press websites hosted on our network?  That might offer an easy to use, aesthetically pleasing alternative to SharePoint.  This is what Delta school district is doing, as you can see at DeltaLearns

Having been through these great learning experiences, I am excited to think of what I can bring to my learning teams now that meetings are underway.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Teachers as Learners

Teach Your Teacher Something

My school district are in the process of purchasing district license for some professional quality multimedia software.  This is good news, as not only will teachers be able to use professional quality tools to produce their teaching materials, but our students will too.  Granted, some of our younger students may not need such powerful tools, but one of my colleagues pointed out, we need to give tools to kids that scale up, and do not limit their creativity, just because we perceive kids to have limited abilities.
I was concerned that I am going to have to learn an awful lot about an awful lot of software titles.  I mentioned one task I was interested in learning how to do with the new software.  Our Information Services Manager, Brian Kuhn said he needed to learn something too, but got his info from a 14 year old kid on YouTube. 
As I left the building I thought, “Hey, I know where I can find 14 year old kids who know something about technology”.  I pulled into the high school next door, and started asking teachers to keep an eye out for kids who display talent and initiative with using technology. 
I would like students to provide professional development around technology for teachers.  I am proposing that kids create screencasts for teachers, illustrating ways that teachers could use technology in class, perhaps in ways they had not previously considered.
I would like high school kids to get Graduation Transitions credit for it, or possibly create an Independent Study course for it.  Perhaps I can turn it into a contest, and offer some “swag” for the best screencasts.  Stay tuned…..
Not only would I be tapping into the capacity of our students, and building a useful library of how-to videos, but I would also be creating opportunities for kids to show alternatives to the traditional essay as homework.  Furthermore, we would be living up to one of our core beliefs in our district – that we are all life long learners. 
Kids as teachers, teachers as learners. 

Follow up:  I think I will call it "Another Way to Show What You Know"  - make it about students and about their learning. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Silent Masses

Laying a Foundation for Inquiry

I have been given the great opportunity to work with a group of teachers from an elementary school that have wanted to start using technology in their practice.  The principal releases the entire staff fro 45 minutes by taking all the students into the gym, and bringing in guest presenters such as Mad Science to entertain and astound. 

When I began working with my 6 teachers in our first session, I had made 4 questions to answer on a website in an online form.  I asked the following questions:

1.) What is your name?

2.) What is an area of technology you are curious about?

3.) What fears do you have about technology, or obstacles to using technology do you foresee?

4.)  Where do you think you might like to use technology first?

I sent everyone the link to the page.  4 out of the 6 teachers had difficulty filling in an online form.  They didn’t know you had to click in the box before typing. 

Before you leap to conclusions that these teachers all must have begun teaching before technology was commonplace, one of the four teachers was a year ahead of me in my high school.

My plan is to make technology mean something to each of them.  I have begun by having teachers use the photocopier to scan a a paper copy of a unit they might use this fall into digital form.

This is an important first step. No matter what kind of technology they use, having resources they are familiar with means they don’t have to start from scratch.  This also means that teachers can better share and remix resources amongst each other.  One of the teacher has over 70 boxes of resources, and feels it is her role to be a resource for new teachers.  How much more could she share if she could pass resources on digitally?  How could they be remixed and kept current?

The next step is remixing content. Chop and slice what you need, mix it with other sources, and make something new out of it.

To be continued.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Celebrating Professional Development For Teachers, By Teachers

Recently I have been reading some email exchanges where some teachers have been emailing their thoughts about our Learning Team Celebration to all the teachers in the district, as well as all the administrators and the District Leadership Team.  I have had to use the district distribution list, but only on a few occasions to inform teachers about professional development events happening in the district.  I don't think that it is an appropriate place to begin political discussions.

I am going to use my blog to weigh in on the matter.   I don't know how many people read my blog, but I know they come here because they choose to.  I will put it out to twitter, and let people who follow me know that I wrote a blog post in case they wish to take a few minutes and check it out.  I don't expect my employer to provide me with a vehicle to share my opinions with every teacher in the district. 

For those of you not familiar with our district, we use an Action Research model for teacher professional development when we run a learning team.  Teachers can apply to be on a learning team, where they would like to examine some sort of inquiry over the course of a year.  It could be something to do with technology, examining the way they teach math, or something related to assessment practices.  It is something that each teacher chooses for themselves, and it's based on the needs of the teacher and of the kids in front of them on a day to day basis.

Learning Teams meet 6 times a year, and are typically provided release time for 3 of those sessions, matching it with 3 meetings on their own time, usually after school.  I have had the pleasure of working with 8 learning teams this year, with the teachers on these teams focusing on an inquiry around how they are incorporating technology in their practice, and how it impacts student learning.

Every year in may, all the different learning teams gather at Winslow Center in mid may, and put up displays and pamphlets and videos / slide shows based on what they learned that year, and how it made a difference to their students.  There is a buffet, and teachers have a good time networking, exchanging ideas, and gathering new ideas for next year.  The executive members of the Coquitlam Teacher's union and the District Leadership Team and honoring the the work of these teachers.  It is deserving of a celebration.

Under Bill 22, the ministry of education has said they will write our contract to ensure the alignment of professional development with teaching needs.

What will that look like?  Does this mean that the Ministry of Education, they will dictate to teachers what kind of professional development teachers do, and how they do it?  If so, how can they ensure that this meets the needs of individual teachers, who are trying to meet the needs of the students in front of them?  I am in favour of professional development for teachers, by teachers.

I hope to see you at the Learning Team Celebration on May 15th so we can recognize the efforts and achievements of the many great teachers in our district.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Teachers Learning to use SMART Boards need the Right Photocopier

(from SMART Technologies)

I had great conversations with some elementary teachers on a learning team today.  Their team is adopting SMART boards in their classroom practice.  Some have a bit more technology in their backgrounds than others, but all are fine teachers.  One of the most interesting comment I heard today, (and yesterday, and in a few other sessions recently) was the lament that some really great activities took a lot of effort to produce, but were very quickly "consumed" by the students.  Half an hour to make, 5 minutes in front of the students.  Reminds me of when I make pasta for my family!

Learning new technology can be a challenging and even intimidating.  But having to create your resources from scratch?  A really depressing thought.  No wonder some teachers are reluctant to take on new technology. 

One piece of technology teachers in our district should get familiar with is our new photocopiers.  Just got them last month.  But not because they print really sharp copies.  It's because they scan. 

(photo by fplgnome @ flicker - CC licenced work)

When you put a page, or more importantly, an entire file folder of pages on the feed tray and hit scan, the new copier asks you to put in an email address, such as your own.  Then, you get your scans as a PDF file in your inbox.  I timed it - took less than 30 seconds for a single file to get to my phone.  Now - throw the paper file in the recycle bin. 

Don't flinch.  You don't need it anymore.  It's now an electronic copy, and is on a server backed up by another server.  It's safe.  And easier to share.  And - you can put it on your SMART board. 

This means that teachers can learn how to use a new tool, but use resources they are familiar with. 

I don't believe in taking new tools and try to make them work in the same old ways.  I think that we should use technology to do some great teaching in ways we couldn't do before we had it.  But, in order to help teachers adopt these new technologies, I think it would be a good practice to take lessons and resources they know, and put them on the SMART board. It helps them to focus on learning how to use the tool, and feel comfortable that they are are going to be able to offer the same quality of instruction they did before they had the SMART board. 

Besides, who knows how their old lessons will evolve once students and teachers can write all over them on the SMART board, add clip art, video, and link out to current resources on websites.

Who would have thought that the right photocopier can help shift teacher practice?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

iPad Vs. Windows Tablet–Please don’t Shoot!


As a classroom teacher, I would love to use the iPad.  As the technology coordinator for the district – it’s a bit problematic.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love my iPad.  I don’t love it because it’s an apple product – but rather that it is a well made product.  I don’t love it because it is bling - but because as a tool, it does the job and does it well.

I love the modern tablet, especially the iPad.  It has a 10 hour battery (optimal).  This means kids don’t have down time mid day.  It has access to a half-a-MILLION apps from the iTunes store.  There is a growing community of apps just for education, and some of them are supah-cool!  It has a camera, mic, and speakers, and is easy to use for simple multimedia projects.  Some people have said to me that there is no way that someone would use the iPad to film with, but I have seen it on numerous occasions, and done it myself. 

As the technology coordinator, I am concerned with deploying equipment to kids.  I want reliable, long-lived equipment that meets the needs of kids and teachers. 

The problems with deploying the iPad on a large scale, is that it wasn’t intended for this.  It was intended to be an individual consumer device.  In order to put apps on it, we must create a unique iTunes account for each iPad.  Then, I must install each app 1 at a time.  And I must pay full price for each app, as there is no volume licensing for these apps in Canada.  This will have to be done by the teacher, and if the teacher is fortunate enough to have 30 iPads in a class, then they might have to do this work.  I am told the IT department cannot do this remotely.  Also, repeat this process to do updates. And you need to buy an extra piece to attach it to a projector (called a “dongle” – a name I can’t stop snickering about. )

When students are using school purchased iPads, they must email the work off, if they want to get their work off the iPad.  But if they share iPads (say you can only buy a class set of 15) and you can only put one email on an iPad, who’s email goes on the iPad?  A generic one? How does the teacher keep track of the work?  We can’t save it to our network drives, and we can't upload it to the marking bin on a teacher’s SharePoint website.

It’s doable, as Surrey School district has deployed 1500 iPads this year.

Looking at the Dell ST, I think I have a solution to some of these problems.  It costs more than an iPad, but not by too much.  It currently runs on Windows 7 but it will also run Windows 8.  I tried it.  I have a district wide license for many of the software titles we could put on it, like MS Office.  In the long run it could be less expensive to operate.

The IS department can image them like they image a laptop, and remotely update them. 

When a student logs in, their individual network drives and email accounts are loaded – like a laptop. No questions as to how the student can get their work off, and sharing them between students is easily accomplished.

It comes with a USB slot and an SD card slot.  It has an HDMI port, so you don’t have to buy a dongle – this will work with your projectors. 

It has a rubber and plastic backing, and won’t slide off a sloped student desk. You can access the battery with out a proprietary tool – just use a flat head screwdriver to pop off the cover and Phillips screwdriver to remove the battery.

It has all the strengths of a laptop, and the ease of use of a tablet.  Two downsides.

I have experienced lags in on screen keyboard performance.  This could be attributed to the fact that I loaded an untested Operating System.  If the glass interface was not sensitive enough, and meant that every keystroke didn’t register, that alone would be reason enough not to deploy it, but I would think this is not the case as Dell would not likely make this kind of mistake. 

The second problem is that while Windows 8 can load both programs and apps from the store, there aren’t half a million apps in the store.  Some of those apps provide a really unique educational experience.  There are 65,000-ish according to the Vancouver Sun, but I would call this a growth market. But, still a small number compared to the iTunes store.

This tablet bears consideration.  I think it would be best if teachers knew what each tablet could do and then make an informed choice based on good information. 

I wonder who would choose which tablet for their class and why?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Teachers Adopting Technology

As a learning team facilitator, I have the privilege of working in a variety of classrooms around my school district.  So periodically I am going to write about outstanding teachers using technology in their classrooms in SD43 Coquitlam.  I think I will begin with a teacher that was on the first learning team I ever facilitated.

Naomi is an elementary Student Services teacher.  4 years ago Naomi began by joining a technology learning team, which I had the pleasure of facilitating as a classroom teacher released for this purpose.  Naomi was perhaps a bit tentative, about her use of technology, but she make a commitment to forge ahead by using technology a bit more with each passing week, month and term.

Today, Naomi is leading the learning team at her school as well as getting special needs students to write wikis to improve not just their skills, but their attitudes towards writing.  She also uses Smartboards in her practice, and continues to learn new things about them as well.  Naomi is also bravely putting herself out there by writing a blog.  This is what 21st century teachers do, and I am proud to call her my colleague.