Monday, March 25, 2013

Why Everyone Needs A Champion

I am a proud part of one of the most awesome projects anywhere around.

Imagine you are 9 years old. You and your classmates are watching and learning about the Olympics, talking about the importance of fitness, graphing the stats of athletes in the various competitions, and discussing goals you have for now and the future.

Then picture when an Olympic athlete that you have been watching appears in your classroom from Bejing or Alberta or South Africa via telepresence to check in on you and your class and see how your theme of the month (respect) is coming along.

The whole time you embark on the journey, your athlete is with you and your class every step of the way. You are making videos, writing letters, integrating technology and learning, all with the support of an Olympian...

So when I was approached by Gold Medalist, Steve Mesler to be a part of the Classroom Champions there was no way I could turn it down. When I read about what it was and what they do I was literally speechless. The opportunities he, his team and the other athletes are providing to kids all across the country is truly different from anything I had ever seen or been a part of.

The Mission:

To connect students in high-need schools with top performing athletes in order to motivate them to recognize their potential, set goals and dream big, while educating them in the practical use of communications technology.

Here is how it works:

A kind of 21st century pen-pal, each Athlete Ambassador adopts 1-4 classrooms per year. Focusing on their own personal journey, Ambassadors teach about the hard work of training, goal setting, competition and perseverance. Using blogs and live video chats, students are engaged with their Ambassador several times per month. Our program supports teachers by helping them incorporate these activities into their curricula, focusing on letter writing, reading, geography, math, technology, goal setting and leadership.

The Athlete Ambassadors are Olympians and Paralympians who are training at locations from around the world but give their time to helps and mentor kids in these classrooms. 

Hear more from Steve about the program:

To be a part of the program more than 50% of the students in the school must be on Free/Reduced Lunch.   The teachers that are accepted join a community of other educators that support not only the Classroom Champions project but each other as well. They share their stories, successes and challenges, all in an effort to help improve learning and technology integration in their classrooms. 

As part of the program teachers receive different types of  technologies  that they use to video and share with their Athlete along with recording their experiences. This project is as much about teaching kids about goal setting, motivation and content skills as it is helping teachers with understanding the importance of technology integration in their classrooms. 

Each month some classes make videos about that month's theme and post them to share. So here you can see what a class learned about Respect.

The teachers are also writing lesson plans and designing activities that incorporate technology, keeping content first, but also encompass that months theme (respect, fair play, inspiration, goal setting etc). The educators share those lessons with each other in the Classroom Champions community and exchange ideas, again to help improve learning for these kids. 

I am so proud to be a part of this program. And you can be a part of it as well. Applications are open now through April 14. Teachers in classrooms in the US and Canada are invited to apply. I hope you will apply and encourage other educators in your school or district to apply as well. And be sure to head over to Classroom Champions to read more about the program. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Why Every Conference Should Be A Connected Conference-#ASCD13

I've spent the last several days attending the 2013 ASCD Annual Conference in Chicago. Educators from across the country and across the globe gathered to discuss pressing educational issues and talk about how we can all make teaching and learning better for kids, no matter where they are. I have always been impressed with the caliber of speakers here and the level of educational discussion.


I feel like something is missing...

There has been a huge push from ASCD to get educators connected. They have a Twitter account, Facebook Page, Pinterest page and ASCD EDge is a popular community. And during the conference the Executive Director sent his first tweet and talked about the importance of educators to embrace social media to extend their learning.

But it still feels like something is missing.

The hashtag is very active during the conference and there are bloggers and twitterers invited to be members of the press (full disclosure, I was one of those invited).

But still, there is something missing.

After the call to the membership to become more connected myself, Nick Provenzano, Dr. Kristen Swanson and Hadley Furguson were sitting at a table thinking. There was this charge for educators to be connected. But no space, time, session, nothing, to talk to attendees about why be a connected educator or how to make that happen. So in the span of 10 minutes we created #EdcampRogue, an impromptu session where we would gather, talk about the Edcamp Model of PD and how educators can get connected. We received the blessing of ASCD, took over a space in the middle of the conference and proceeded to have 50 educators come and talk about connectedness. It was inspiring. For me, one of the best parts of the conference.

As I reflect about all the conferences I get to attend the more and more I worry about where we are heading as connected educators. People like Nick, Kristen, Hadley and countless others are plugged in and connected and all of us have stories to tell about how this has made us better educators and how it has had an impact on our teaching. And we've all shared these stories with countless folks.

But when are conferences and organizations going to do more than encourage? When are they going to provide spaces, speakers, sessions, webinars and more than encouragement to educators to get connected?

And it's not all about Twitter.

Shocker, I know.

Being connected isn't just about being on Twitter. It's more than that, as any connected educator will tell you. Will they say that Twitter has had a large impact on their learning, sure. But its it the only community they are involved in? Nope.

Being connected is looking beyond ourselves and our teaching and looking at what others are doing. Seeing what innovations are happening in classrooms. Helping kids (and educators) see the world is as close as a screen and there is so much learning that can take place there.

But being connected also comes with responsibility. I believe all of us that are connected have a duty to help those that are not, get connected. And think about the backing we could have if large conferences and organizations set up spaces and specific times to help educators learn about being connected. I think most of us who attend these events would sit as long as it took to work with other educators and talked about the benefits and how-to's.

It could be so easy for conferences to build in time for conversations between sessions. At least time to talk and reflect on the learning and provide space to teach about blogging, Twitter, online communities, etc. Show educators the power of reflection along with the power from being connected and how to make that happen.

So until we can get conferences and organizations to provide us that time and space, go out, create your own space and session, put the word out and help show others the power of being a connected educator.

photo credit: kirk lau via photopin cc

The ASCD 2012 Annual Report

Here in Chicago at the 2013 Annual Conference, ASCD posted their Annual Report for 2012. Entitled “Creating Solutions: The ASCD Revolution in Motion.” This report showcases the association’s achievements and serves as a resource discovery tool for educators who seek programs, products, and services that empower them to support the success of each learner.

The online report features association statistics, interviews with ASCD members, product previews, and success stories from across the organization. Report visitors from anywhere in the world can use this tool to watch a clip from ASCD’s inaugural Virtual Conference, learn more about new PD Online® courses on the Common Core State Standards, and hear directly from diverse ASCD members about the benefits of association membership.

I was honored to be asked to be a part of this report highlighting the benefits of being an ASCD Member and how it has benefited me as a professional. 

I think one of the best parts is the infographic (which is one of the more cleverly designed one's I've seen) highlighting everything from the diversity of the membership, to affiliates to the Annual Conference. (Click here learn more.)

So check out the infographic and the Annual Report to learn how ASCD is helping Learn, Teach and Lead. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Administrators Toolkit Updated and Refreshed

I originally wrote this post way back in 2009. Lots has changed since then. So let's dust it off and do some updating. 

Most schools and districts spend lot of time and effort trying to get their teachers up to speed on technology and its use/place in the classroom. And honestly that is where a majority of effort should be spent; working with those on the frontlines of instruction. However, rarely, if ever, is much time spent with administrators, working with them on ways they use technology to enhance what they are doing. What can administrators do?

I have put together what I am calling The Administrators Technology Toolkit. (I really should find something more flashy or fun. If you have ideas leave me a comment.) There are some simple, easy to use tools that Administrators can be using right now to, just like teachers, integrate technology into what they do daily.

Tool 1-Twitter
Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a big advocate for Educators to use Twitter for Professional Development and growth. The job of an Administrator is a tough one. Twitter can serve as a place to connect with other professionals and see whats working in other buildings or districts that might work in yours. There are tons of Asst. Principals, Principals, Superintendents and even a few School Board members that I interact with on a daily basis.

Update: Check out this site for tons of resources on getting started and find a several lists of Twittering Administrators and other Education Professionals. Chats and hashtags can be a wealth of information as well. #cpchat is a great place to start finding twittering administrators and #edchat is great for general education discussions. Visit my post on hashtags and chats to learn more. 

Tool 2-Google Docs/Forms
Its time to go paperless. Flash Drives and External Hard Drivers are great inventions. I carry at least two of them with me where ever I go. However, neither of them have any documents or presentations on them. I exclusively use Google Docs. Everything I need is there. I honestly don't remember the last time I opened a Microsoft Office product. Even if I get an attachment I open it in Google Docs because I know I will have access to that document not matter where I am. No need to hunt down a cable or USB port for my drives. I access the Internet and have all my documents.

Part of Google Docs is a great feature called Forms. As an Administrator you are probably constantly giving and receiving feedback from your teachers, parents, colleagues, and community. Again, go paperless. Create a Google Form that instantly captures data and enters it automatically on a spreadsheet for analysis. Having your faculty vote on an important issue? Use the Google Forms. (Then you can create snazzy graphs to impress them at the next meeting!)

Check out this site for some great information on Google Docs. Be sure to watch the "Google Docs In Plain English" and "Principals Talk About Google Docs" videos.

Update: Lots of administrators are using Google Forms for informal (or formal) teacher walkthrough observations. This post sums it up nicely how to set that up, even providing directions on how the form can automatically send email feedback to the teacher. 

Tool 3-Social BookmarkingI crave resources. Its part of my job. However, the resources I collect do no good if I don't share them with anyone. Social Bookmarking services like Diigo and Delicious allow me to share websites, lessons, videos and more with anyone who wants them. Both these services allow you to tag your bookmarks making it even more easy to find the resources you need.

Administrators can use Social Bookmarking in one of two ways. If they are like my good friend Eric, they are constantly on the hunt for teaching resources for their teachers. So Eric spends time searching and sharing and making what he finds available through his Delicious Account. The other way administrators can use them is to just search. Sometimes these Social Bookmarking services can be more efficient at finding what you need than a regular Google Search. Also, you can search your friends' bookmarks, further enriching the experience.

There are a couple of "must-see" tutorials that I have collected. The first is another In Plain English Video, this time on Social Bookmarking. Either Delicious or Diigo are great for Administrators. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Here is a really good Delicious Tutorial and one for Diigo.

Update: Delicious kinda fell off the radar there for a while. And while it is making somewhat of a comeback, I believe Diigo is where it's at for educators. Check out this post to learn more about setting up Diigo and getting all the nifty educator only features. 

Tool 4-Google Reader
I am willing to bet that there are certain websites you check everyday. Perhaps you even have a blog or two that you read. Instead of wasting time visiting each and every website in the hopes there is a new article or post you can use an RSS reader. What is RSS you ask? Really Simple Service. Basically it is a web address that you insert into a reader so all you need to do is visit one site (your reader) and see whats new on all your favorite sites.

One of the best readers out there is Google Reader. Its easy to navigate and add feeds. There are also lists of feeds that you can add with one click like news, technology and more. A new feature is Suggestions. Once you have subscribed to a few feeds, Google Reader will offer some suggested new feeds for you to check out.

So how do you get started? Well, you need to see yet another In Plain English Video, this time on RSS. Next you will want to see this great Google Reader Tutorial. Lastly, every tech savvy administrator needs some blogs to follow. Here are several great lists:
SupportBlogging Educational Blogs
Moving Forward Educational Blogs
Extensive Collection of Educational Blogs

Tool 5-Ning 
As I mentioned before it is important for all educators, including Administrators, to create networks of other professionals to connect with. I previously mentioned Twitter. Twitter is great for real-time discussion and resource sharing. However why not take the idea of social networking one step further and enrich the experience with video and file sharing, discussion forums, events and specialty groups. Ning does all that!

Ning bills itself as the social network you create. Nings are very popular among educators because there isn't lot of the "junk" you will find on other social networking sites. Nings are great because you can really customize the content and you can create private spaces for your school or district.

Of course, I want you to check out the Social Networking In Plain English video to get an idea on how social networking works. Then check out this Ning tutorial for more information on how to sign up and get started. You will also need some Nings to visit. Here are just a few:
Educational Administrators Ning
The Educator's Personal Learning Network Ning
More Educational Nings

Update- Nings are still hugely popular. But other social networks have come along too that support Administrators like the Edutopia Group for Educational Leaders or 

Tool 6- Evernote
I originally did not include Evernote in this post, mostly because at that point, I had not discovered the awesomeness that is Evernote. But in over 4 years, times have changed and so have my online habits. Evernote is like my brain. I store everything in there from notes, pdfs, presentations, you name it, its in there. It's great for note-taking at conferences because I can easily organize all the session notes into notebooks and share those with colleagues. 

Evernote would be great for a School Administrator. School Improvement Planning, meetings, learning times, observations, all could be done in Evernote, across a myriad of devices mind you, and shared individually or to the public web. 

I've written a post on how I am using Evernote and one with a bunch of educational Evernote resources

Five (now six) tools. That's it, just five (or six) to get started with. Of course that's not all you will need to become a Tech Savvy Administrator but its a good start.

What do you think? What are some other tools or applications you would recommend for Administrators? Maybe you are already a Tech-Savvy Administrator. What tools do you currently use or what suggestions can you offer?

Image From Flickr CC Search. View the original here.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Using Technology In The Classroom? Keep Parents In Mind

I was having a conversation with a colleague the other day. We got to talking about parents and the struggle he was having getting them to realize that all these social media tools and Web 2.0 tools were worth the time and effort the teachers were spending to enhance learning in the classroom. So I asked, what had he done to get the parents involved in the conversation?

It seems simple but parents have to be involved in that conversation. School is different now than it was 5, 10, 20 years ago. And (for good reason) the use of technology in the classroom, including social media and Web 2.0 gets questioned. How does that help kids read better? How does that help them do math better? Again, all valid questions but sometimes parents who question the methods or the reasons why are seen as bothersome or trying to get in the way. And maybe for some, that is the case but I would guess that the questions arise from a misunderstanding.

So what is the solution?

I dunno?

Do I have an idea?

Sure do.

Anytime a teacher wants to use Twitter, Voicethread, whatever the tool, bring them in (if you can), record a video, communicate somehow, the answers to these 3 questions:

What are you using? Again, it sounds simple but you've got to communicate what tool you are using. How it works. Are the parents going to have access to the student work? What will they be able to see? This is all the technical stuff. The depth to which you go is up to you. If you can bring them, take the time to teach them how to use the program.

Why are you using it? You've got to communicate to the parents the purpose of the use of the tool. How does it fit with the content? Explaining why you are going to use it will help you determine for yourself, the best pedagogy for the technology and how it will fit into your teaching. That, in turn, helps the parents to understand the same.

How does the use of this tool enhance student learning? The most important question to answer. How will the use of this ultimately make learning better. Why will the use of this tool be good for kids?

You've got to build those bridges with parents. The easiest way is to bring them in and tell them whats going on. Better yet, let the kids teach their parents.

The point is, parents need to have that buy-in. They need to understand wthe technology choices you are making in your class.

What are you doing to help parents understand how technology works in your classroom? Leave some ideas below. 

photo credit: Knight Foundation via photopin cc