Friday, January 29, 2010

Thank You Twitter, I'm Writing Better.

I wouldn't consider myself a great writer.  Matter of fact, as a business, recreation and physical education major, writing didn't come easy.   I avoided writing at all cost.  I procrastinated on research papers in High School.  In college I choose presentations over term papers.  I hated writing a journal during my student teaching.  Fast forward 20 years.

But then it happened.  I signed up for twitter, and really didn't know what to expect.  Writing my first post, I was nervous. Will people like what I have to say? Will people follow me?  Yes, I was scared to make people my "friends."  My mind was filled with "what if" questions.  What if I am stalked?  What if people said mean things?  What if my password is breached? Cyberbullies?

Over 1600 post later, twitter has changed my life.  My PLN is fantastic as we share concepts, articles and best practices in education.  I love to find new trends and best practices as we strive to become better educators.

While I'm currently consumed in the process of writing, yes twittering,  I didn't realize condensing text down to words fitting the 140 character limited has made me a better writer.  Most likely it's the result of just writing more, but I feel better about expressing my thoughts and ideas.  Here is what I have found:

1) My concepts are clearer.  140 characters makes you think about what you really want to say.

2)  I'm using fewer words.  Not as much fluff.

3)  A thesaurus is my friend.  Online thesauruses help me explore using different words.

4)  I'm aware on verb tenses, Yes, I know I still need additional help with verbs.

5)  I'm not worrying about making a mistake or three.  It's the process that counts.

Studies are supporting my finding.  Recently posted an article with the title:   Even More Research: Technology Is Making Kids Better Writers, Not Worse.  In the article it states,

"Every few months or so, we read about some freaked out reporter/columnist/pundit/politician complaining about how the internet and texting are destroying kids' ability to write. Yet, pretty much every study on the subject has found the opposite to be true. Study after study after study after study after study have all found that kids today are better writers than in the past."
So, the fact that twitter has helped me to become a better writer is enough to say, "Thank you twitter for helping me."

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Best Professional Development day(s) ever? The Power of Technology

"I didn't learn a thing!"  "That was so boring!"  "What a waste of another day!"  Sick and tired of hearing comments like these after teacher development days.  There's another option.  It's time to use technology and technology power to enhance staff development.  It's time to move past the speaker, one topic model of PD day to a day of sharing, growing learning, being engaged, relevant and inspiring.  Time to see unlimited development full of collaboration, sharing best practices, and learning through the power of social media and learning networks.   During your professional development day, give teachers the time to join in and be inspired to learn from each other and from educators around the world.

Let's get things started.  Of course, dough-nuts and coffee first.  These are the main-stays to professional development.  Then how about modeling how to use these social media learning communities.  A technology coach would show how to join a group, how to write your blog for others to comment on, how to embed a video and how to link articles for others to read.  After the initial meeting, lets break out to classrooms and labs and start the conversation and sharing.

Afraid that staff won't accomplish anything and waste the day.  The hope is that teachers will be engaged, boredom isn't an issue.  Still worried.  Assign tasks for teachers to do.  For example, teachers will join 2 learning groups and make 5 comments and suggestions to these groups.  Teachers will start a blog and then comment on 5 colleges blogs.  Teachers will research 2 best practice articles to share with others using links.  Social learning communities will allow teachers to share ideas, but more importantly find new ideas, practices, and tools that will enhance there teaching.  We can easily check what they did by looking at there page.  Are they engaged? What did they learn? Do they have the skills to learn, share and grow through technology.?

After hours learning, sharing, and collaborating, lets come back for a time of celebration and praise.  Let's see who is the model citizens in the learning community and at the same time see the information and ideas that they have learned about, explored and shared.

So how do we set up this technology based day.  Let's start by creating a community in a free web 2.0 tool Ning.  With initial set up by a technology coach, teachers can easily be invited and the learning begin. Your network can be a private network or how about inviting your neighbor schools district to join in the sharing.

I would also suggest using twitter.  Sign up for an account and follow others and be followed.  Share best practices, learn about new trends and in general make yourself a better teacher.  For information on how to create an account view my presentation and twitter empowered teachers.

What's cool is development will begin within your schools walls during professional development day, but soon it will spread to sofas at home and in the coffee shop down the street.  It will be used during weekends, summer  vacations or whenever teachers have time to learn something new. You will harness a world of knowledge through local teachers and educators worldwide.  And it has been logged so that you can find post that interest you whenever, and wherever.

What do teachers want to learn about during professional development?  Things that are vital to there lessons plans tomorrow.  Things like, how can we improve reading?  What tools do you use?  How are you going to teach students the countries of Europe or the States of the USA?  A technology based PD (professional development) or PLN (professional learning networks) will bring teachers knowledge about topics, and new ideas to use and share. No more wasted time.  Let's give them what they want. relative topics that they can use.

PS:  Maybe by being involved in an learning community, teachers will see the power and develop ways to get students involved in these communities.  Wow, how cool is that?

Some good examples:

The personal learning network for educators

West Texas Digital Storytelling Collaborative

Video on the power of Personal Learning Networks

Comment by Rhonda Roysden 
Powerful! "Professional learning and collaboration can happen anytime, anywhere...even on the couch at home, while watching TV in your pajamas!" This hits home with me! Learning and collaborating in the comfort of my own home!

Does your school have a ning set up for professional development?  Do your teachers join groups to learn from each other?  Do teachers blog about what is working in there class? Do they share video tutorials about which teaching skills work the best.  The cool thing is that this can be done. Ning allows you to create and join new social networks for your interests and passions, with the intent on learning.

Example of an initial ning setup.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Blender 3d Animation: Math Applied.

Ok class, today we make 3d models using Blender.  Open the program and see a square, no maybe it's a cube.  Let's see, can we view it from the top, how about the front or the right.  Let's see if we can orbit around the cube.  Let's add a circle. No, we need a sphere.  Which axes can we rotate the object around.  How about the Z axes.  If we scale the sphere do we need to double it?

At first glance Blender an open source 3d modeling and animation program seemed complicated and beyond my grasp.  But with help from youtube and Blender tutorials, I began to understand the basics of the interface and the power Blender has for teaching many skills including artistic concepts, 3d visualization, animation and math.  With a brief introducation students began beginner 3d modeling.  You can view student Beginner Blender examples at my  teachers web site.

Soon after my first lessons in Blender, I found 8th grade students needed to understand math concepts or they had trouble creating objects.   For example when you scale on object, how big should you scale it?  Double, triple the size.  When you rotate objects, which axes to you rotate it on x,y or z? How about dividing the object into parts. What surface or face should we move? Should we keep the object on this plane or move it to a parallel plane.  Dimensions can be a real key when you are drawing objects.

Students naturally picked up these concepts the more they created.  I loved that they applied math concepts.  I wonder if math lesson plans using blender have been created?  Teach the concept and then apply it using blender.  I couldn't find any as I  searched on google.  By having students model in 3d we were applying and reinforcing basic concepts making math relevant, authentic and engaging.  I would love to see more students modeling, but also applying many math concepts as they create.  Did I mention, that Blender is an open source program, which means free to use and run on both mac and pc.

So if anybody knows any Blender math lesson plans let me know.  Or better yet, maybe someday I will have time to create.  In the mean time, the students and I keep on learning.  Can't wait to learn about physics with I learn about rigging and making things move.  Any physics teachers use Blender?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tools. Let's give them the tools to increase the skills. Edtechnology for Students.

In this decade of digital communication including texting, collaboration, social learning, presentations, wikis, rss feeds and blogs we must now make available to students and teachers tools that promote and enhance a style of teaching and learning that promote the development of skills.  This style moves beyond the facts into explaining differences, seeing similarities, thinking creatively, working creatively with others, implementing innovations, reasoning effectively, making judgments and decisions, solving problems, communicating across cultural and country lines through collaboration with others.  It includes hyperlinked writing, digital citizenship, publishing, commenting, sharing, networking and much more.

We pay a lot of lip service to “teaching students to be life long learners.” Where we fail is not making a shift from content driven curriculum and learning, to process driven curriculum and learning.

A few examples that could be accomplished.  Wow, how cool is this.

Sue has missed three days of classes due to illness.  At home she knows that the teacher has placed all worksheets, objectives and lessons online.  Sue uses the teachers' tutorials to learn.  Downloads all required work and digitally sends the work to the teacher finishing the required work before returning to school.   Wow how cool is that.

Dave checks into his schools' online learning community where his teacher has posted a discussion on the similarities between socialism and capitalism.  Dave adds his perspective and does all this from his Ipod touch.  He writes a comment that the teacher sees is brilliant on how mixing the two could be the best.  After prompting Dave writes a letter to his state senator who takes his suggestion and creates a bill on how to change the structure of health insurance.  Wow, how cool is that.

Mrs. Smith has assigned a writing journal about the book her students are reading in class.  Students use their phones to text their thoughts into the online journal, their home computer to add more content and the schools computers to complete what they had started.  Students then respond to other students comments, taking the level of learning and conversations to new levels that Mrs. Smith could only dream about.  Wow, how cool is that.

Karen is a high achiever.  The fact is that she needs to be challenged with additional concepts allowing her to learn more, share more, produce more, create more and in general become a great citizen. Karen after research, using her online library, writes a blog about how to make the school use energy more efficiently.  In two years the school district saves $200,000 using her suggestions from her blog posts.  Wow, how cool is that.

Joe has a brother in Iraq, a soldier that he talks daily with on Skype.  Joe brings his laptop in the classroom, hooks it up to the rooms projector, providing an opportunity for his classmates to learn first hand about what is happening in the war against terror.  Wow, how cool is that.

Mr. Hall has done 15 projects in his class each semester where students meet learning standards.  He has noticed that he is holding back some students that could be doing 20 to 30 projects.  He creates a self paced learning environment, were he acts as a facilitator and guide to the students learning.  He uses technology including online tutorials, online course management tool, wikis and blogs.  A year later he finds that all students due to engagement and interest, are finishing 20 projects with some students getting more than 30 projects completed, but more importantly the amount of learning has increased.  Wow, how cool is that.

Mr. Glass's students already spend tremendous amounts of time at night in AOL Instant Messenger, so he thinks that this technology could be great for learning too.  Once a week each group engaged in an AIM conversation (outside of the classroom) which revolved around three seed questions he provided. The group then emailed the transcript of the dialog to him. Wow, how cool is that.

These scenarios could be reality if we take steps to implement a culture of using technology to learn.  What are these technology tools that teachers and students should be using? Without listing specifics brands or names, these tools should be available.

A tool to display student work/samples, creating authentic audiences.
A tool to allow teachers to post PDFs for downloading.
A blog tool for class and school announcements or general updates.
A tool to provide a calendar of scheduled events.
A blog or web page or management system used to post remedial and enhance learning assignments.
A school-wide standard for submitting papers. (submission via email, moodle, blog, etc.)
A tool to allow videos to be posted and viewed.
A tool for students to submit work for teachers that is accessible from home that allows teachers to add comments. (ideally to reduce the need for printing)
A tool to publish student work for a larger audience, when desired (parents, grandparents, peers, other teachers, etc.)
A tool to allow online discussion between students in a class.
A tool to allow collaboration between students (peer responses to work)
A tool to display student journals online.
A tool to create video tutorials.
A tool to communicate across cultural, country lines.
A tool to create a library of resources, for students to use as resources to create and write.
A tool to bring the newest information to the student without spending hours searching.
A tool for surveying thoughts and gathering information.
A tool for student email (student email accounts)

These tools are more available than ever. Most without major cost to districts.  By aligning and providing an email account, these tools can be accessed and used both in school and home, by teachers and students.  Let's move to place this great tools into the students hands.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

21st Century Tools in Education: Start with email.

Does your school give every student an email account?  Why not?  Among safety concerns and inappropriate use issues, its seems time to place individual responsibility as the key and give this powerful tool to the students.

I'm wondering if when the use of paper was introduced in schools if teachers had issues and concerns about students writing and sharing bad notes to other students.  Did they worry that students would be tempted to draw pictures while the teacher is teaching.  Tools are tools and students can decide to use them for the good of for the bad.  Let's give the tools to the students and ask, check and teach responsible use.  Like paper when we see problems with inappropriate use we take steps to warn, correct, teach and in extreme cases punish to learn.

So why should we give this tool to students?

1) Great communication tool.

2) Opens up the use of other technology tools to stedents.  They can sign up and use RSS feeds, blog, libraries and wiki's.

3) Open up collaboration tools.  Documents, forms, and spreadsheets where students can collaborate with each other promoting learning.

Most districts provide emails to staff members and have seen the power.  Let's take the next step in putting these tools in the hands of the students that need to use them to learn.

Google offers Email to educational institutions.
Schools can now keep up with technology demands without the hassle of managing hardware and software. Google Apps Education Edition is free for academic institutions - with no advertising for students, faculty, and staff - and offers a variety of applications to keep your campus connected. For more information click here.