Thursday, August 30, 2007

Administrator 2.0

It was a rush, to put it lightly.

Wednesday, I had the opportunity to present some ideas on school change, leadership, social networking, and ongoing district projects to our whole team of administrators from the K-12 buildings. I had been waiting for this.

The wiki (private for now) I created for it doesn't really do it justice because of the discussion that took place in the breaks, or the people who stopped me afterward and pushed the topics further, or asked for more time on these the projects we saw. I didn't hit the nail squarely, as I explained to my wife, as I feel that I didn't really address the need for them to be reading administrator blogs or teacher blogs, nor did I show them how their teachers can fully utilize some of the new tools we have added to district machines, but, hey, I only had 2.5 hours.

Here was the agenda:

  1. Overview and Purpose
  2. What skills are our students going to need to compete in a changing workplace environment?
  3. Does our pedagogy prepare them for that workplace?
  4. When you meet with teachers, what can you offer by means of improvement of instruction or preparation through technology?
  5. What meaningful experiences are teachers in your building, your district and beyond engaged in with their students?
  6. What are some tools I can use to become more productive and save time while performing tasks that are essential to my job?
I really adhered to Scott's post from while ago and tried to focus on issues that they currently deal with, and how to make them more productive. One of the issue that stood out from my contact with teachers over the past year was lack of specific direction coming from post-observation meetings. When told to incorporate technology, what did that mean? When told to differentiate instruction, how did they do that? During my presentation, I tried to give examples of specific methods they could incorporate into their written evaluations.

There has been a recent spate of posts about meetings like this (see Bach, Chris, and Barbara), where the presenters were asked to accomplish a lot in a small amount of time. Reflecting on it, I truly love the moment where you know you've prepared, and you are so ready that you are inviting dissension that leads to discussion.

Anyone else out there doing anything similar?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Re-entering the Fray

We haven't been to the beach as a family yet, as Audrey has not been able to travel much, but now that everything has settled, we were able to get away and spend the week in Cape May. As much as we all praise the ability to get away and recharge, I still have a little bit of Dan Meyer in me in that I sometimes feel that I could work around the clock. Maybe it's the changing definition of learning that has overtaken me, or that the way I approach learning is so powerfully informal. Regardless, coming back into this arena after taking several days away is intimidating on so many levels.

As this summer began, I had such high hopes for what would come at the start of this year. Now as the summer ends, I am seriously questioning what should be the top priority for me this year: increasing access for teachers in a non-threatening way, embedded technology in curriculum design, pushing through personal learning networks a la Karl Fisch, changing the way teachers approach their role in the classroom, or just trying to keep everyone in sync with all of the recent changes to our district network.

In the limited time that I have spent over the last day or so running through some posts from people like Jen Dorman, there is something to be said for a sequential process for either students or teachers to go through. This next week poses some really enormous challenges for me, both professional and personal, and one thing I want to hammer out before I begin the deluge that is the first week of school, are measurable progress indicators. I want to sit down at certain points, set up before the year begins, and assess what has gone on, and what needs to change. It is all too easy to get caught up in the small details of our work and suddenly find ourselves in December.

This is general and vague, but it is all I can muster after having been out of the loop for a week.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Difficult Questions Expected

Back in the late spring, when I submitted my summer slate of professional development classes I added one that wasn't available to teachers, only administrators. Lacking a better name, I called it Administrator 2.0. This was the first time I had done this, and as it turns out, our assistant superintendent has made it mandatory for all of the administrators in our district. This I am thrilled about.

Reading collaborative blogs like LeaderTalk really pushed this idea along, as I realized that the movement to change the definition of literacy and transform our pedagogy was also being joined by educational leaders at the administrator level. For any movement to gain credence, even with teachers, a dynamic, present, and informed leader must aide in that journey.

Here is the blurb I created for the class back in June:

What makes administrators effective technology leaders? Do we need to be immersed in technology in order to promote its pedagogical resources within our buildings? While we all might consider ourselves to be at least proficient in various applications of technology, the pace with which it advances is unprecedented, meaning that our knowledge base must increase as well. Also, emerging social applications like MySpace and Facebook for middle and high school students, and Club Penguin for elementary school children have left a lot of us in the dark as to what our students are doing online and why they feel the need to connect in such a way.
Since then, I have added some aspects of personal productivity, like using RSS and aggregation, using blogs as a means to communicate to staff and connect to the scores of professional development available in the blogosphere. In reflecting on what I want them to leave with, I remembered Scott McLeod's advice for working with school administrators in workshops like this:

  1. Change their mindset.
  2. Have a keen understanding of their work.
  3. Ensure that training is authentic.
  4. Make it easy for them to learn.
  5. Make their lives easier.
  6. Tap into what they already know.
  7. Address their concerns about the rate of change.
  8. Comply with what we know about effective professional development.
  9. Respect their time.
  10. focus on leadership, not tools.
  11. remind them of the importance and power of modeling.

I love number 9, because it identifies the pressure I feel in this situation; it's the end of the summer, school is beginning in a week, and here they are, "stuck" in a mandatory workshop. I need to give them much more than a make and take, I need to identify what their roles are and create the content with that in mind. This has to be relevant to them.

Has anyone ever run something like this before? Or better yet, has any administrator gone through something like this? I would love feedback as I prepare.

Also, I would love to skype (provided it behaves) a few administrators and teachers in to the session for a brief chat to address questions and discuss what you are doing in your schools to address change. Also, what really would impact this group would be a focus on student outcomes.

I am pjhiggins1 on Skype.

Image credit: Hamed Saber via Flickr.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

In Search of...

The wheels are turning, our preparations are in full swing, and we've lined up over 40 teachers, two rather sizable grants to really round out the project, when all of a sudden....

There is no more project. Well, sort of.

We had been relying on a product, which will remain nameless here, that we had used in the past to create video podcasts of live lessons. The kicker was that they weren't really videos of teachers teaching, but rather actual PowerPoint or whiteboard slides coupled with audio and live penstrokes: essentially, they were Java-based screencasts. However, the real bonus about this product was that it had two features which really set it apart from anything else.

The first feature was a question and answer feature that allowed viewers to ask questions of the lesson author directly in the lesson. So if I were a student watching the lesson on fractions and did not understand the lesson, I had the option of asking a question by right clicking and typing my question. The question would then get forwarded to the author's email address where the author could answer the question and then embed the question back into the lesson for the next viewer to see, thereby adding to the overall experience.

Secondly, it created a feed that allowed users to download through iTunes every time their teacher posted a lesson. We loved this feature because it made us available to the world at large, a la Dr. Tim Tyson and the Mabry Middle School. We are proud of our staff and the work they do, and we wanted it out there.

Days ago, we were informed that the product was going back into development and would not be ready again until Fall 2008. After initial disappointment, we have redirected our efforts to try to find something in its stead. Here are the particulars:

  • Windows-based screencasting software, preferably something that would live natively on our machines
  • The ability to export as mp4, or at least create a feed that would be accessible through iTunes
  • Price needs to be workable, without a yearly fee for services.
I am also thinking of obtaining a server solely for this purpose that can house these projects. My real aim here is to begin having our teachers produce content that is usable by more than the students they see; we want to contribute to the creation of usable content. Also, it has to involve quick setup with minimal downtime as teachers have had problems with this in the past. A plug and play situation would be ideal.

It's always this way, isn't it? When you are geared up for something so exciting and progressive, a twist is thrown your way. This could have been worse, but now the solution doesn't seem as singular and self-contained, but rather one that will involve a few more steps to complete.

Any opinions or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Networked Chambers of Commerce

We spend quite a bit of time wondering about how social networking technologies will affect the classroom and school environment, but what about other areas of our lives? I came across this article in a local paper this morning while I was waiting for my bagel. The title, "Internet Forces Businesses the Rethink Their Model" caught my eye, as did the opening paragraph:

Consider today's young professionals, with their pod-casting,
Web-casting, blog-browsing, socially networking, online work-shopping
ways of staying connected. Now pan over to the local chamber of commerce, traditional organizer of card exchanges, golf fund-raisers and guest-speaker luncheons.
The struggle to remain relevant in the business world, particularly the world of small business is no less high-stakes than the very one we are in here in the field of education. Local chamber of commerce meet-and-greets at the Holiday Inn are as much in danger of becoming irrelevant as are schools married to the 20th Century style of teaching and learning.

"There's definitely a gap between the traditional way that most chambers operate and the way businesses operate today," said Angela Harrington, chief executive officer and president of Harrington Communications LLC in Springfield. "Technology to many of them is maintaining a database. But they don't really use their site as an interactive medium."
We see the same attitude in the business world that we sometimes see in the faculty rooms we encounter:
"At the end of the day, I don't really want to look at a computer,"
said Scott Cohen, training director for Children's Aid and Family
Services Inc. in Paramus. "It may be a networking tool, but do I want
to integrate that tool into my entire life?"
I think that in business or in education, getting the message out and providing your consumers with the necessary information to be successful (whether buying your product or learning a skill) is paramount. When I teach, I am a big fan of the "any means necessary approach" to getting students to learn, reflect, and be successful. Wouldn't the same ring true for the business world, especially the small business world which depends on networking and contacts in order to compete for consumers in a small market?

We often wonder about the nature of the 21st Century workplace, and we should; however, are we as behind as some segments of that workplace? When I read articles like this one, I am reminded that the pace of change is slow at all levels.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Animoto Test

Very cool application for creating quick slideshows.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Top Ten Tools

This post is inspired by Jane Hart's project, which I heard from through George Siemens' post about it.

Although I am famous for the phrase "it's not about the tools," I couldn't help but look at what people are using to produce and manage content. Especially when you get to peer into the minds of some really sharp people. Here are mine, with explanations:

  • Google Reader- a bit overwhelming at times, but still the hands down best resource for learning
  • Blogger- my think aloud. This is where conversation begins and ends with me.
  • Google Notebook- I use this for focused research when I need to compile a list of sources for myself or others.
  • iShowU- Best cost to performance ratio I have found in a screencaster
  • Audacity- still simple, still perfect
  • Zamzar- Converts just about anything on the fly and offers a simple downloadable file
  • Skype- How I connect to people much brighter than myself
  • Twitter- My new favorite thing. Quick, ubiquitous, and networked.
  • I use this more as a searchable catalog of links rather than an organizational tool
  • Firefox- As many have said, this is the home base. Completely customized and suited to what I need it to do.
What are your top ten tools?

School Supply List

As we move into the throes of another August rush back to school, back to that odd bouquet of spoiled milk that most schools tend to proffer, the preparations begin both on our end and on the end of students and parents everywhere. Never is this more evident than on a trip to Staples.

It's like Christmas, except the lists aren't created by the children, but by the teachers and staff in each school, grade and classroom. An odd reversal, if you think about it, as the students then present their bounty for inspection to the teacher as they arrive in school, often for the first grade of the year. Imagine if we did that with Santa? What pressure!

On a recent trip through the office superstore, I came across a kiosk that had supply lists from every school in our surrounding area in neat little piles for the taking. Just for giggles and grins, I took one. This is what was on it:

Grade 6-8 Social studies

  • 1 3ring binder
  • 1 composition book
  • Colored pencils

Grades 6—8 Science
  • 1 1-inch three-ring binder and lined paper
  • highlighters
  • pencils
  • paper reinforcements

Grades 6, 7, 8 Language Arts
  • 1 4/6 note card case
  • 200 4x6 note cards
  • 4 multi-colored highlighters
  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
  • Pencil case
  • Pens
  • Pencils
  • 5 2-pocket folders
  • CD’s, floppy discs or flash drives
  • 1 5-subject notebook-college ruled

Grade 6 Language Arts
  • Pocket folder
  • 1 3-ring binder

  • 1 3-subject notebook
  • 1 set highlighters
  • Erasable pens
  • Non-erasable pens
  • Pencils
  • 1 2-packs of 3/5 index cards
  • index card box
I began to think immediately of how this looked different in some of the schools I read about, like, perhaps, 1:1 schools. Are the students still required to procure the standard items like binders, or, my favorite on this list: paper reinforcements (we had another creative name for these when I was working as a field archaeologist)? As we are currently rethinking our school philosophies, do these lists change? What would they look like in your "school of the future?" What does yours currently look like?

The last few days of mine have been spent working with a group of teachers in a workshop we called Research 2.0. One of the first discussions we had was about research methods and tools. Eric Hoefler (from whose work I borrowed heavily) had come up with this quote and list initially, and it generated some great discussion among my group on Thursday:

"These tools and approaches are now "dead" or "almost dead." If your research plan relies on them, you are probably not adequately preparing your students:
  • Floppy Disks
  • School computers with extreme filtration
  • CD-ROMs
  • Note Cards (or other pen-and-paper-only note-taking methods)
  • Limiting the number of "online resources"
  • Outlawing "citation help" from online services (Who memorizes the MLA handbook, anyway?)
  • Basic web searches or school-database-only searches
  • Completely independent research methods
  • Text-only sources
  • Text-only reports
With this in mind, is there a marriage between old method and new method that needs to be created? I am having trouble seeing it right now. Any ideas?

Image Credit: "Back to School Ad" by chishkilauren at Flickr.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Meme

Thinking that I shouldn't give out 16 random facts about myself, I'll just consider myself extremely flattered to have been tagged twice for the "8 Random Things" meme. Thank you to both Page and Melanie for the consideration.

First, the Rules:
1) Post these rules before you give your facts
2) List 8 random facts about yourself
3) At the end of your post, choose (tag) 8 people and list their names, linking to them
4) Leave a comment on their blog, letting them know they’ve been tagged

My Pillars of Randomness:

  • I have completed several marathons and two ultramarathons within the last 6 years.
  • I live on two beautiful golf courses, but rarely play.
  • My favorite book of all time is "The Brothers Karamazov"
  • The first job I had after college was selling beach chairs in the coastal town of Mati, Greece.
  • If you ask my wife, I have no talent for doing anything handy.
  • Terry Bradshaw once told me I had more hair on the back of my neck than he did on his entire head.
  • The way I figure things out is to break them first, then put them back together in a meaningful way, if not the original form (this is annoying to most).
  • I always said I was never coming back to New Jersey, yet here I am.
That is sort of cathartic, I have to say. Now, who to tag?
Erica Hartman
Jo Shuppon
Jen Van Kirk
Bing Miller
Cindy Barnsley
Clay Burell
Scott Schwister
Brad Davis

Photo Credit: 8-eight. Claudecf's photostream on Flickr

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Conversations with Really Bright People

I confess, my new favorite thing, besides twitter, is to talk to people much brighter than myself, and do it in a situation that aides more people around me. For example, I started getting the idea to skype people into my workshops, beginning last week with Konrad, Clay, and Carolyn. This week, I did the same, only I was able to get Steve Dembo of Discovery Education to speak about some of the more "Web 2.0-ey" features of United Streaming. Here is the audio, if you want to listen.

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In addition to Steve, I also asked Carolyn back to talk about one of the digital storytelling projects that she worked on regarding the Vietnam War Memorial and the Virtual Wall. If you haven't seen some of them yet, I highly recommend them to you. One of the most amazing things about the project is that it sneaks up on you. We had just finished our call with Carolyn and were at her blog watching one of the student movies, and we were a wreck afterwards; the movies really touch a chord within you regardless of your age or generation.

In one of the most connected moments I have ever had, Carolyn then skype-chatted us an address to a site where Vietnam Veterans had watched these videos by the students, and took the time to thank them and share more stories about the individuals the students profiled in their videos. As I looked at the site and read the commentary, the vision of school as center of community really began to become clearer. This type of project makes changes happen, forces understanding across generations, and really forges a deeper understanding of community by its members. Bravo Carolyn, and your students too!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

More Workshop Reactions

As of tomorrow morning, I will be nearly halfway through my summer workshops, and as I have been inspired by the kick-web2.0-in-the-shins-punk-teacherman Dan Meyer, the data on each of the classes is coming back and I need to put it out there for posterity sake. Beginning with the Connective Writing class, which I thought was capped off nicely by a great skype conversation between Konrad, Clay and Carolyn (I pretty much just listened), the feedback has been steadily positive. Here are some examples from the Connective class:

  1. I felt the the community of learning theme was hit by skyping with all of the bloggers. It was very worthwhile, we were exposed to so many difefrent applications and began to make our blogs.
  2. This course was very good. I would like to have had more time to actually set up the blog accounts. I felt a little rushed.
  3. Although I do not consider myself tech savvy I am going to implement blogs for my students this year, slowly at first, I feel it will provide a larger outlet for my students to express themselves.
  4. Patrick is very knowledgeable and made the course easy to understand, and easy to relate to. It opened my eyes to the many possibilities that technology can bring to the classroom.
  5. It was a lot of information to take in but was well worth the time. I can use it all in my classroom. Blogging, Wikispaces and their uses as well as ways to incorporate writing through the technology available to us.
  6. I felt that this helped me feel less intimidated about using the technology and better understand ways I can use these tools in my class.
Now, those answers were in response to a request for an overall summary of the class. When asked if they planned on implementing what they learned, the same people (numbers indicate the respondent)
  1. I will start a professional blog for myself and a book blog for my students in September.
  2. I will set up a blog for the first novel that we read in September.
  3. I will start with a basic class blog page and grow from there!
  4. I will set up a class blog for my students to communicate with each other in a different way than routine class discussions. I also plan on setting up a professional blog to communicate with teachers all over the world, instead of just the ones down the hall. I'm excited to get started!
  5. I would like to include book chats and classroom discussions with the blogging sites as well as use the Wikispaces to promote more research and discussions.
  6. I will try to blog with my students and encourage them to share their thoughts and reflect in a productive way. I also hope to not only read various blogs, but jump in from time to time.
It was truly a great group of teachers to work with, but what strikes me most is that they saw the value in it. I have to confess that as I prepared the class, I wondered if that would come across. The echo chamber of the edublogosphere tends to shield us from the trepidation that exists in the hallways, faculty rooms, and classrooms of the buildings that work in. My mindset going in was really centered on trying to show the the need for doing this with students, not necessarily being that techno-evangelist. As Christian's recent post about Twitter indicated, I think we are all reaching a saturation point with analyzing each and every application for its educational merit.

More to come regarding workshop reactions, and a hearty welcome to all of the new subscribers from the workshops!