Sunday, October 10, 2010

Active Listening?

Listening centers have been around for a long time, probably as long as we have been able to record sound. I remember sitting on the floor in my kindergarten class listening to music from Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker Suite" while watching the phonograph needle dance lightly over the top of the spinning record. That was nearly fifty years ago. We have many more options now, yes?
This morning I had a dream. It may have been spurred by a conversation I had this week with a teacher who is converting his classroom books on CD's to mp3's. In the dream I was a student in a class where the instructor asked us to share a wish we had for our school. In my dream I thought about it a bit and then told of a new feature I would like to add to our library. It would be a listening center where kids could come in and “check out” audio resources (stories, songs, podcasts, the possibilities here seem endless) and instead of sitting of the floor or at tables in chairs, they would have a variety of exercise equipment choices. These could include exercise balls, yoga mats, stationary bicycles or even treadmills. I am not so sure about the bikes and treadmills. Can we have kids use them? Is there an age requirement? But you get the idea; kids need to wiggle and stretch even if it’s just a little bit, so why can’t we combine activity and listening in a way that will make both more fun and productive?

 Gregory Rec/Maine Sunday Telegram Staff Photographer: Third graders sit on fitness balls at their desks at Peaks Island Elementary School on Wednesday, January 27, 2010.

Right now in our school a couple classes are using exercise balls, although not to the extent that this classroom is. Our students and teachers using them and those interviewed for this article published February 26, 2010, in the Maine Sunday Telegram seem to like them and feel they are beneficial. Is anyone using them in libraries or listening centers? What do you think? Is it doable?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Learning Movie Maker

Today I set out to teach myself Windows Movie Maker. Eight years with a pc and until now I haven't had a need to use it. Well, I have been given a video assignment, so now is the time and here is my first stab at it. Most I did by figuring out the features myself, but when I got stuck I went to these resources: Windows Movie Makers and Editing Video with Windows Movie Maker 2.0. For music I went to Freeplay Music.

Oh, and this is also the first time I have every posted anything to YouTube. Welcome your constructive comments. Thanks!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Spelling Mania

Many of you are Spelling City fans, as well you should be if you're an elementary school teacher teaching spelling. This site is the best I have seen for offering many different teaching and reinforcement activities using words from your own lists and curriculum. So if you haven't seen it yet, do check out Spelling City.

After that, I encourage you to try these other spelling sites. No accounts are needed to use them.

Literacy Zone's English Spelling Games: This one has interactive stories and 14 spelling games addressing such spelling skills as plurals, clusters and blends, synonyms, prefixes and suffixes and homophones.

Mr. Nussbaum's Everglades Spelling: I liked this one because I could pick the animal I wanted to be and race against the others to fill in the missing letters in words as they appear.

Gumleaf Games Word Safari: This one has different challenge levels and I can see kids really liking it. Once I figured out I had to use the arrow keys to guide my little guy through the air (think "Up") to the correct letters while dodging the incorrect ones, I had a great time.

Candlelight Stories Stellar Speller: This one has kids spell the words for pictures they see. I think it might be good for partner work because some kids might not have the prior knowledge to know the exact word for the picture. It is like hangman in that it gives the number of letters for each word.

Zaner-Bloser's Spelling Connections: Beside complete the sentence and word sorting activities, this site has a proof-reading game where students find errors in prepared text and correct them using proofing marks and proper spelling.

Language Arts Spell It: This one is a collection offering about 40 spelling games including a number of quizzes and bees.

Photo credit to Mr Gustafson on WikiMedia Commons,_England,_Spelling_Lesson,_1912.JPG

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Lesson learned: Get up off my backside

Twice this week I have been reminded of something I know and I know I know, but it still surprises me when I see it. There is no one way to communicate, or teach, or learn. These endeavors happen through all of our senses, so why would I think that merely putting things in electronic print, or showing them in a staff training session would meet the needs of all my collegaues? In these two instances specifically I stumbled into conversations with indviduals who told me they had to find some way to organize their web favorites. In the most recent, I was flattered to find two teachers were spending the afternoon going through a long list of links they had saved one by one as I had sent them out throughout this year. They were pleased, as was I, to find a number of good sites and ideas to incorporate into their lessons, and they told me to keep the links coming even though they lamented not having a better way to save them. To these teachers and one yesterday, I mentioned I'd be happy to help them set up a Delicious account so they could organize all their favorites by topic and access them from any Internet capable device.

Now keep in mind, our librarian and I have been singing the praises of Delicious, Diigo and Sqworl for more than a year, I have created a page with instructions and videos on social bookmarking on our tech tips wiki, and I have made several references to it in email messages. However, for these teachers what we were offering wasn't connecting with them until they found themselves in need of the solution. Because I happened to be there in their time of need with just the information they needed and was able to present it in a personally tailored message, they can now see how social bookmarking could become a useful tool for them.

So what are the lessons learned? First of all, I have learned (again) that sending out emails and posting information on a blog or wiki is not enough. I must get up out of my chair and go to where I can interact face to face with people. Only this way will I truly be able to ascertain what they need. Second, I have learned (again) that teaching only works if the learner has a need to fill and is receptive, which goes back to lesson one, correctly identifying individual needs. And finally, I have learned (again) that when I am the learner I need to let my would be teachers know what I need to know and how they can best help me.

Friday, February 19, 2010

ARRA Grant Offers Hope for Closing Digital Divide.

Normally, I don’t get too excited about grant funded initiatives. My experience has taught me grants can be at best a temporary boost to a program, but more likely to put it mildly, they become an unbearable burden not worth the time and effort it takes to administer them. The ARRA grant our district has been awarded is different. I am excited and hopeful that the technology integration specialist we have hired, albeit for only the 18-month duration of the grant, will help us establish the sustainable momentum we need to make lasting changes, ultimately laying the ground work for greater success for all of our students.

Our district is small by urban and suburban standards. Two schools currently serve fewer than 1000 kindergarten through tenth graders and we’re different than many districts in that, while we are a public school district, we are not supported by local property taxes. And no, we’re not charter schools either. We’re a district created and maintained by the MN State Legislature and the ten or so districts from which we draw our students. This structure poses some unique challenges, but every district faces its own set of challenges and these days most of these have to do with trying to the best they can with limited resources. Suffice it to say, our district has never been able to fund a district-wide technology integration specialist position. In the past we have had technology specializing teachers in each of the schools and we have a tech support specialist in each building, of which I am one.

So why is this new position different? And why am I hopeful given that the granting is only funding a year a half? This technology integration specialist position will make a lasting difference because unlike our previous specialist positions, its purpose is to assist and coach teachers. As described in the posting summary, the person who fills this position will focus almost entirely on “planning, implementing and supporting the effective integration of technology into curriculum.” This person will also “provide leadership in developing and implementing a multi-tiered approach to professional development.” In the past our school technology specialists have been competent and committed, excellent teachers of students. In fact, these teachers were so good, classroom teachers sometimes had the idea they could take pass when it came to using technology themselves. This caused a digital divide between classes whose teachers embraced technology and those whose teachers waited for the specialist to come in, or in some cases never asked the specialist to come in at all, to teach a technology-infused lesson. With this new model, this specialist will work with “tiers” of teachers at their different levels of need so that all teachers will gain skills and comfort using technology with their students. This is a more sustainable model that we hope will set on a path to closing the existing digital divide and give all our students the access they need to today’s technology.

Three well qualified individuals interviewed for this position. They each demonstrated a different set of skills and any one of them would have been able to this job impressively. The committee chose the individual we believed has the experience and creativity to lead the staff in new directions as well as a personality amenable to building the relationships necessary for successful coaching and collaboration. Having had the privilege of getting to know him a little better today over lunch, I am even more excited and hopeful to begin working with Carl Anderson when he starts as our new Technology Integration Specialist on March 1.

Photo cropped from IMGA0929.JPG on Rick McCharles' Flickr photostream.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Our Amazing PLC Team Challenge

Maybe you have heard of or seen The Amazing Race, a CBS television show. I haven't watched the program but from promos I have seen I get the sense that teams have to travel from place to place and complete some tasks along the way rather like the scavenger hunts we used to do for entertainment as kids. It is with this idea in mind that my colleague and I designed this morning's hour long technology staff development activity.

Our goal was to expose our teachers to a number of available technologies in a way that encouraged them to learn from each other in a non-threatening way. We came up with the idea of assigning a different series of tasks to each of four teams. We hoped that accomplishing the tasks together would give them experience with procuring and using the various equipment we have and teach them some skills they could use in their classrooms with their students. And so that all the participants could benefit from what each of teams learned, we challenged them to come back and use the technologies to present what they had discovered to their peers.

As it is in every school our staff has a wide range of comfort levels and experience using computers and digital technology. We decided to group the teachers for this challenge in their newly formed Professional Learning Committees. Looking at these groups we could see that each group had some early adopters, some willing followers, and at least one novice or technophobe. It seemed like the best way to go. With any luck the teams would work together, learn some new things and have a positive technology experience that would bolster their confidence, increasing the likelihood they be able to see way to use it in their lessons.

Here are the challenges we devised:

Team 1: Checked out a document camera and an LCD projector. They were to take these to a classroom and come up with ways to use the camera to teach a lesson with pattern blocks and read aloud a picture book.

Team 2: Also checked out a document camera and an LCD projector. This team was directed to use these tools to demonstrate an activity and to show student work.

Team 3: Found a YouTube video related to a unit they were currently teaching and went to our tech support wiki to find ways to show that video to a class on an interactive white board without actually showing it in YouTube.

Team 4: Checked out a laptop cart, logged into the laptops, took a screenshot depicting the drive where they would save if they were students, pasted it into a Word document and printed it to the media center printer, which they had to find and add.

It's likely you're thinking these are pretty elementary tasks, but for most of our teachers these were fairly new experiences and they only had a half an hour to complete them before returning to the media center where they shared their stuff using the IWB, document camera, and LCD projector. I am quite pleased to report they all did an amazing job completing their tasks and most followed the given directions. Team 1 showed us their pattern lesson, but then they went on to tell us how they would be able to take the camera around to project what individual students would do on the floor as that's where they usually work with manipulatives. Team 2 decided expand on their assigned to use a digital camera to take photos of each other using the demonstrating how students would use the document camera. Team 3 demonstrated how to paste a YouTube link into SafeShareTV to show the video without all the YouTube distractions, and Team 4 proudly displayed their printed screenshots. They also relayed what they had learned about how students might feel when logging into the laptops...some get in quickly while others aren't able to and may fall behind if the teacher goes ahead with directions.

When asked if they had learned something they hadn't known before, all the teachers raised their hands. When asked if they had learned something they could use with students right away, most raised their hands. When asked if they had fun, almost all raised their hands. The best question I heard at the end was, "When can we have another one of these?" Yes! I hope the answer is, "Soon."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Puzzle pieces

Just over a year ago I discovered this fascinating online world of social learning and networking. As this year begins I am humbled and awestruck by the individuals and groups with whom I now connect via the Web. This blog began as a place for me to muse about issues that concerned me. That I believe is still a piece of it, but I can see that going forward it could be more. Thinking about that is a bit scary because I am not certain I have the knowledge, skills, time or motivation to take it to a higher level.

What I do know is that in addition to Twitter and blogging, I have joined a burgeoning number of other online social activities. These are professional, civic and personal interest communities and I am trying to get my head around it all. In order to get all of these facets and connections of my life together into one manageable package, I have begun work on a Google site. Pulling together all these pieces into one place is kind of big job at the onset because, of course, one can’t just stop life while getting organized, but I am determined to give it a go. If nothing else, I will have explored how Google sites work.

Even as I go ahead with this project, I am wondering about the wisdom of collecting all the pieces of my online life together. Right now the site is not published, but I wonder what it will mean for me once I do make the completed puzzle accessible to everyone. Is there a problem with having my professional, civic and personal identities aggregated in one location? What do you think? Do you have experience can you share?

Image above created with Befuddler from this photo on Flickr.