Jul 23

The clawThis week I was privileged to attend the Discovery Educator Network Summer Institute at Bentley University in Waltham, MA. It was an incredible learning experience! I it just such an uplifting experience being among so many amazing educators who share a similar vision for education as I do. To be able to converse and share ideas, gain resources, learn new skills AND have fun all at the same time makes the learning so much more meaningful and impactful for me. We started with some networking (the picture is from the networking trip into Boston), spent a few days in learning sessions and completed a professional development project for something in Discovery Education. We even got to view each others’ projects before we left and I was again blown away by the talent of my fellow STAR educators. The best part about the projects is that Discovery Education is going to upload ALL of them into their Professional Development section so that all Discovery educators can utilize the resources. Thank you DE for such an wonderful and educational experience – it will most definitely have a positive impact on my teaching!

May 12

Monday, the folks over at Twitter were working to fix an auto-follow-type bug and many people in the Twitterverse went into panic mode right away because their Following/Followers lists had apparently been wiped out to zero. Now for those of you that weren’t on Twitter at the time – your Twitter stream was still visible to you as a user so it was pretty obvious that you were still following everyone you’d chosen to follow. But there were still a large number of people that went into a panic that they had lost their followers.

I was simply amazed at the number of people that were upset AND how few mentions there were of no longer following those they had chosen to follow – meaning most people were simply concerned that people were no longer following them. Now granted I have just a little less than 300 followers and follow a little less than 200, but I just don’t see what the big deal was. If I’m saying things that others find to be truly meaningful and worthwhile won’t they find me and start following me again? And vice versa: I know who I would start following again because I know whose tweets I find compelling and interesting. 

So personal reflection time: What does it say about us if we are freaking out when something like losing our Twitter followers happens? 

Image courtesy of Twitter.

Mar 26

I was excited and flattered when an instructor emailed me to ask if she could interview me for a class she is teaching about being a technology integration specialist. Since it is a class early on in the program it mostly covers what it means to be an integration specialist – what skills are involved and such. So the questions were pretty much what I expected: What would you say are your major responsibilities? What is a typical day like as an integration specialist? (This was the hardest question to answer as no two days are alike.) What advice do you have for those looking to become technology integration specialists? It is this last question that was both the easiest and I feel most important question she could have asked. And these are the main points of my answer:

  • Expand your Professional Learning Network (PLN) – I learn SO MUCH when I take time to read my RSS feeds and just “listen” to the education talk that occurs on sites like Twitter
  • Be approachable, but not a door mat. – It is important that the educators and students you support know that you will help them when they need it, but don’t do the work for them. If needs support keep your hands off of their computer if at all possible. This may possibly be one of the hardest things I had to learn because “I can do it faster.” But, if you fix the problems for them, they will come back again expecting you to fix another problem and won’t ever learn the skills themselves.
  • Don’t let your work take over your life. – It is so easy to sit down “for just a few minutes” with your computer in the evening and then realize that two hours have passed. One of my favorite aspects of my job is that I get to explore the internet for new tools and exciting ways to use them in the classroom. But this can be very time consuming and can cause you to feel overwhelmed if you are not careful.

There were of course a number of other things I could have said, but I felt these were some of the biggest ideas that I wanted to convey.  And of course as soon as I publish this post there will be even more that I wished I had added.

Mar 26

I am an Instructional Technology Specialist (ITS). It is my job to help teachers to integrate technology into their instruction in order to improve the learning experience for students. When I grappled with the decision of whether or not to leave the classroom I finally decided that I can impact the learning of far more students in this role and took the leap, and I truly love my job. I get the opportunity to lead PD sessions, co-teach lessons with other teachers, and offer one-on-one sessions all in the hopes that more students will be impacted by an improved and more appropriate learning environment.

All that being said, the line between “ITS” and “Help Desk” are often blurred. During my training sessions I hand out my card to anyone who wants it and offer my continued support for helping participants integrate technology into their instruction. But because I hand out my card so readily, I also get a number of calls from people wanting me to fix their computer or hardware. This is where the lines start to blur. Because I am fluent a number of software and internet applications, I have by default learned to trouble-shoot computers and a number of different types of hardware. So the teacher in me want to teach others how to trouble-shoot themselves so they don’t have to make more pleas for help, but the ITS in me wants to tell people that it isn’t my job to fix their computer and that they need to call their building’s tech or the Help Desk. Of course I usually end up teaching them to fix it and then I end up getting more calls and emails for hardware issues.

Another reason the lines are blurred is because I manage the accounts, usernames, and a variety of other “technical support” types of functions for a variety of applications in the district. For example, because I am the website administrator/trainer for our district, I also inherited the job of managing the web server. This further leads people to call me to help them when they need both instructional and technical help with technology. And again, the teacher in me usually wins out and I end up teaching more people how to trouble-shoot and fix their hardware issues.

The reason I let my inner teacher come out in these instances is that I want the issues to be taken care of quickly so that the teachers can get back to teaching and the students can be more positively impacted.The fact is if they have to wait until their building tech can come check on their problem, the learning utilizing that tool will be put on hold and students will be negatively impacted. I also feel that the more teachers know how to do on their own for technical support, the more I will get to do on the instructional side of technology integration. I feel that if I just teach this teacher to be a little more confident in his/her abilities his/her comfort level with technology will increase and the integration will happen more readily. The problem is that there are just so many teachers out there and I get stuck in this vicious cycle that just seems to keep going around and around. The solution for now seems to be keep plowing forward and try to help as many people as possible.

Mar 26

In my job I run into a large number of nay-sayers, negative Nancys (or Neds), glass-half-empties, or whatever it is you call a person that always sees the flaws and defects in something first. You know them. When you show them how to use a blog as an online journal for their classroom, the first thing they say is “my kids can’t use the internet at home” or “no way I can get into the lab enough to make it worth the work.” As soon as you show them an internet-based alternative to the “Inspiration” software they don’t have in their new school, they’re pointing out how this tool only saves as an image so you can’t edit it later. When you show them how to create student usernames and passwords for their wiki or content management system, they’re upset because they already know their students won’t be able to remember the password. You know them.
And as much as I try, this can at times be a drain on me, both emotionally and physically. Just this week I was at a school helping teachers learn to use their new SMART boards and the complaints came in mountains. The vast number of pre-made lessons available on our website weren’t exactly how they wanted and they don’t have the time to learn a new tool. “Does the board really have to be re-oriented every time I move the projector?” “I’ve had that table there for three years and now I have to move it because someone put this board in my room. That table won’t work anywhere else in my room.” And this is only about a SMART board. I don’t even want to get into the conversations that happened when teachers found out that our contract with Blackboard isn’t going to be extended and that they’d have to learn a new tool if they wanted to keep their content online.
I have come to realize that it is part of my job to keep smiling and holding hands so that teachers don’t lose faith, so that teachers will keep trying new ideas, and so that classrooms can take yet another step to being student-centered learning environments. This is the most difficult and important part of my job and it wasn’t even in the job description when I applied. So after a couple of years, I’ve stumbled across some concepts that seem to help me do this, the most important part of my job.
To begin, I always try to let “Nancy” know that her opinion is valid. Even if I think it is an imagined hurdle or fear, in that person’s mind it is real and therefore I need to listen and validate it. I also need to make sure I stay positive while I’m listening and responding so that “Nancy” will see that there really is a light at the end of that tunnel. It also helps to be a quick thinker and problem solver so that when a teacher comes across a hurdle, I/we can quickly come up with a solution for getting over that hurdle. The next part is something that I personally have to work really hard at doing, and that is checking back frequently to make sure the solution is still working. I have found this one to be important because so many times if there is one bump in the new road for that teacher, that bump will keep him/her from traveling that road at all. But I have found that if I check back with individuals, it seems to keep the motivation up and that they will eventually feel comfortable enough that they can contact me without waiting for my emails. Finally, I have to be continually looking for new ideas and ways for teaching “old” concepts. This is because technology is changing so rapidly and new hurdles and bumps show up in the road every day. This one is probably one of the best parts of my job, as it means I get to spend time surfing the net and learning from my PLN which always leaves me inspired to do more.

And just in case you’re wondering, here’s a few suggestions for the problems presented above. For blogging nay-sayers: suggest that maybe at first try using the blog as an extra-credit opportunity for journals to see how many students truly don’t have access to internet at home. For those upset that free mind-mapping tools don’t often allow for changes and updates, point out some of the great online image editing tools that will allow for later “additions” so that teachers can demonstrate to students how the learning process is continually changing and growing. And for the teacher that’s worried her students won’t remember passwords, well this is one I still don’t have a fantastic response for so if you have one – help me out and leave it in the comments section.

Mar 26

So I sat this morning through four hours of training on the intervention program that was piloted in a few of our middle schools this year and will be at all of our middle schools next year. I started the session with all other instructional support personnel beginning a KWL chart for this program. The presenter, who is a representative of the intervention program company, comes to our table and starts talking to us. Everyone else at the table had met with the rep before so she immediately asks at which school that I teach. I of course say something along the lines of I don’t have a school, that I am an instructional technology specialist for the secondary level. That woman ran away from me so fast I could almost see the smoke coming off of her shoes!
Before she really got into the presentation she moved us all away from power outlets and told us there would be no need for computers, that paper would be provided if we wanted to take notes. So we all “powered down” for the next 3 1/2 hours (you read right). I sat and listened to the presentation and followed as best I could, although I kept thinking about how I was either going to lose the piece of paper on which I was taking notes or that I wouldn’t be able to read my handwriting later.
The program itself is not bad. Students take an assessment at the beginning of the year. This particular program places them in an “on or above” grade level class, 1 – 2 years below grade level, and then 3 – 4 years below. All classes follow a five-part lesson structure, which is all well and good, and “tiers 1 and 2″ pretty much follow the same curriculum – “tier 2″ having more support structures in place. The “tier 3″ students follow the same scope and sequence as the district, but has a very regimented class structure within which the teacher has no real freedom.
The presenter then walks us through a typical lesson within the structure. Not a mention of any technology. Not only is there no mention of technology, but when the question was asked if they could receive the materials electronically so teachers could use them with SMART boards, clickers, or other such equipment, they were shot down. There is apparently no need to “distract the students” with such items when they can’t even read or do math. (I’m not making this stuff up here.)
I never really recovered after that point, although it did shed some more light on the “no computers during training” from earlier.
So now I’m left to think “Are our kids really going to have to power down across the district in the coming years?” and “Aren’t we taking a huge step backward?” I know that there are many teachers out there don’t implement technology simply out of fear-be it fear of the technology not working or the fear of not being an “expert of all things” in their own classrooms. But are we really benefiting children and learning if we continue to validate those fears? Why is it acceptable to push students out of their comfort zones in school but not teachers? One would think that in order to promote life-long learning in children, one would need to be a willing life-long learner – wouldn’t they?