Tablets anyone?

SGPT121USSSo, Guilford County Schools was one of 16 school districts in the country to win a federal “Race to the Top” grant giving us $30 million to spend on tablets, data subscriptions, and training for all our middle school students.  From what we’ve heard half of the middle schools will get the tablets next year and the other half the next.  I don’t know what will happen the following year for incoming 6th graders.  It would make sense that additional money would need to be allocated to keep tablets coming for those kids also each year but who knows?  We don’t know what kind of tablets they will be but we’re pretty excited.  It will change the way we teach for sure–at least it will for me.  What a great boon to know that every child will have a tablet with Internet access.  I have to get my course on Moodle or something now so students can submit work digitally and we can get away from paper for the most part.

I would love to hear from others with a 1:1 program in their schools and how having these tablet has changed your classroom in a positive way.  I know there are challenges such as students wanting to play games and be off task in that way but I know there have to be so many great things about students having their own devices too.

Interactive Whiteboards – the laser disk of the 21st century?

This is the system I have in my classroom. It's the Epson BrightLink with Easiteach software.

I read this great post on tweenteacher.com about interactive whiteboards.  I am blessed to be in a great classroom with a mounted projector and an interactive whiteboard (it’s interactive with a stylus not by touch) but I have been struggling to find ways to use the interactive whiteboard bit and I couldn’t figure out why that is.  Isn’t it every teacher’s dream to have a setup like this in their classroom?  I think Heather from tweenteacher.com put into words why I’m frustrated.

The big clunky forward facing, whole class method of lesson delivery via Interactive Whiteboard, I believe, is the Laserdiscof educational technology. The overpriced fad of Interactive Whiteboards (whether Smart or Promethean) is imperfect in their current incarnation. Sure, we all imagine classrooms with“Iron Man2”:-esque 3-D touch sensitive lessons, but inherently these pieces of equipment do not illustrate the spirit of technology in information delivery: all-access, collaborative, open, interactive, etc…

Currently, they are only as engaging as the lessons created, and those lessons are tedious to create and time-suckers in their efficiency. The prep time to create charts that utilize any effects over-and-above what you would already do with a laptop and LCD projector feels clearly developed by those with a disconnect to the precious time we have in education and the many hats we already wear.

The few times I have found ways to use the interactive whiteboard have mostly been teacher-centric and I have felt guilty afterwards.  The kids are enthralled because it is different but, especially in middle school, this kind of thrill does not last long.   So I have tried preparing some activities where the students get the stylus and go to the board but, again, only one person at a time can use the board.  I get the kids to hand the “baton” of the stylus to the next student so I try to keep them engaged through the anticipation of getting to go up and use the board.  This is still not ideal particularly if it takes a student a while to figure out the answer.  I start to lose those kids already on the fringe and they start misbehaving out of boredom.

I think the interactive whiteboard has its place but I am really struggling to:

  • find activities that are engaging enough to keep the whole class interested
  • find activities that are easy and quick to make
  • find web-based activity makers as I can’t download any software on my teacher computer
I don’t think we should dismiss IWBs altogether as they do have their place in the classroom and I know they can be used to create some great components to lessons (I just haven’t been uber successful with this yet).  I agree with Heather that mobile technology is the way to go.  I would much rather my kids have tablets or even laptops on a 1 to 1 program and be allowed to buzz in with their cellphones to a poll question in the classroom.  Since our school is far from that, I will keep trying to think of ways to make my lessons better and more student-centric using the technology I have at hand.

Infographic Of The Day: How Our Students Stack Up Against The World | Co. Design

Infographic Of The Day: How Our Students Stack Up Against The World | Co. Design.

Interesting infograph comparing students around the world and how we stack up.

I heard Tom Brokaw on David Letterman last night talk about how Asian students were at the school doors before daylight and studied late into the night with flashlights.  I have a hard time getting my students to do two or three little practice activities for homework that should take them no longer than 10-15 minutes.  What can we do differently to motivate our students?  I don’t know the answer to that question but if we don’t figure it out we’re going to be in big trouble in this country one day.

Becoming a TomTommer

icon_registerGreetings all!  Again, it has been a while but I do have some news:  I have a job in the Netherlands at long last!  I was recently hired at TomTom, Europe’s leader in navigational devices.  I am a customer service representative and am in training.  I have learned so much in just a week and still have so much to learn, not just about how to do my job but also how to troubleshoot TomTom devices.

What inspired this post is more about the skills that I will be using in this job that I am assumed to already have upon employment.  I see and hear about a lot of things that should encourage those teaching technology in schools.  Those skills you’re teaching will be used by your students in 21st century jobs.

Here are some basic skills/knowledge that every CSR at TomTom is expected to have upon employment (even though these were not all specifically asked about in interviews):

  • Email–I must know how to compose and respond to emails.  I must know how to download and attach documents to emails.  In fact our main form of communication with customers outside phone calls will be by email.
  • Netiquette–I must know how to appropriately communicate with customers in email.  Proper grammar and spelling are musts.  There will be no “text message lingo” here!
  • Basic Computer Knowledge–Sometimes I will have to help customers with downloading and installing files from the Internet, plugging in devices, etc.
  • Antivirus/Firewalls/Proxies–Sometimes I may have to help a customer disable security software to download files.
  • Search Techniques–As a CSR, I have a huge database of support information at my fingertips.  I will have to know how to do keyword searches to bring up the correct information to help a customer troubleshoot issues.
  • Problem Solving–One of the biggest parts of my job will be using problem solving techniques to troubleshoot issues.  This requires thinking on a multitude of levels and using the webs of information I have access to to find the correct solution.
  • Keyboarding–While I see some CSRs who sort of hunt and peck with their keyboarding, proper knowledge of typing is helpful when you’re dealing with customers.  As a CSR, you are expected to make a certain amount of customer contacts a day which means you’re working against the clock.  Of course, you don’t want to keep your customers on the phone for really long amounts of time either.  Fast keyboarding skills would help since there is a lot of typing involved.

I have seen my trainers use different skills but of course training is a job just like any other.  Here are some of the tools I’ve seen my trainers (former CSRs) use:

  • Multimedia Software–I’m not sure if the PowerPoints used in their presentations were made by them or by the company but the trainers do need to know how to run PowerPoints and present with them.
  • Data Projector–The trainers used a data projector hooked to a laptop for the presentations.
  • SMART Board–They have used an interactive white board to make illustrations and to flip through their PowerPoints.  Part of the training uses an emulator for a TomTom device so the SMART board came in handy for presenting how to use the emulator.  They would just tap the board like a customer would tap on the screen of their TomTom.

I’m sure I’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg with this post.  I just wanted to share what technology I’m seeing in what some would consider a low-end job.  (Just to be clear:  I do not consider it to be so!  In fact, I’m quite grateful for this opportunity in the current job market and for the ability to learn so much.)  So, for those students in public schools who may not go to university and who take CSR as their career, they will still be expected to have a working knowledge of the things I’ve listed here.  So, those of you in the trenches, keep up the good work knowing that what you’re teaching will help your students at some time in their future.

Micro Interactions: Life in the Web 2.0 World

(To view the slide show on Slideshare so you can see it full screen [the words are hard to read at such a small size and the Slideshare icon was not working for me in Firefox], click here.)

I like to subscribe to blogs that are outside the education world, especially if they present ideas that are fresh. This slideshow comes from David Armano at the Logic + Emotion blog. I not only enjoy his outlook but the graphics are a breath of fresh air as well.

After viewing the slideshow, I have to wonder why schools haven’t hopped on the Web 2.0 wave with their websites like the business world is beginning to do. While David’s slideshow targets the business community, his insights can certainly be applied to this generation of students as well.

I look at our own school’s website and it is pretty static. I introduced a school blog but it is separate from the school’s site. I really have a vision of our school’s website doing so much more. In my vision, I will refer to students, parents, and teachers (basically the entire community who would use the site as “stakeholders.” My vision:

  • It is a blog so stakeholders can comment on anything and everything on the site.
  • It has useful widgets that the stakeholders can choose and customize like an iGoogle page.
  • It has surveys and survey results right on the page.
  • Content is driven not only by the school but also by its stakeholders.
  • Students and teachers could have their own pages like Facebook or Myspace. (Of course, they would have to be some safety measures built in there too.)

Ok, maybe that’s not so revolutionary but I think it’s a start. We need to adapt to the changing world we’re in. I too often hear that students don’t really use our school’s website and I just have to think that perhaps it’s because it is so static. The information is mostly unidirectional: SCHOOL ===> STAKEHOLDERS. I would rather it be multi directional. I’m going to be thinking about this…

Blowing the Lid Off Blogging

It’s hard to believe another school year is beginning.  Now that I have had a chance to wipe the summer’s cobwebs from my eyes, I am in full-steam ahead mode.  The energy and enthusiasm I see all around has me re-fueled and ready for an exciting year of possibilities.

I would like to start by thanking all our technology leadership in the county as well our School Board and County Commissioners for the course correction we are experiencing this year in technology.  It’s been a while since I heard our staff cheer at a faculty meeting over technology news but that’s exactly what I heard today when I announced what kind of technology was going to be infused into our school this year.  We are beyond excited!  Most importantly, we are thrilled that our students will finally have access to computers that are up-to-date and which have a consistent operating system and productivity software across the school.  Our county has taken huge strides to provide schools the technology tools they need to better prepare students for the 21st century.

With all this excitement, I am finally blowing the lid off blogging.  I am attempting to introduce the idea of using blogs as opposed to static web sites to my teachers.  I have had several courageous enough to try it including 6th grade science teacher, Mr. Wolfe; 7th grade English language arts teachers, Mrs. Lancaster and Ms. Curley; 8th grade English language arts teacher, Mrs. McNamara; and 8th grade math teacher, Ms. Murawski

Some may protest the lack of uniformity in the designs of these blogs because we have been encouraged to make teacher web sites look the same in the past.  Some may wince at the fact that students and parents can comment and interact with the teacher and each other through a blog.  Others may cringe at the thought of teachers posting controversial posts for the world to see.  Let me address these concerns straightaway.

  1. No, I am not requiring that teachers’ web sites look the same.  I believe teachers need to be allowed some creative freedom as long as their text is easy to read and their site is easy to navigate, two major design rules in web design. 
  2. Yes, we are opening up our teachers’ web sites to comments.  I am requiring teachers to moderate all comments posted to their blogs and not allow inappropriate comments to be published.  We want to encourage educational discussion and communication through these blogs while protecting our students in a professional manner.
  3. Yes, teachers will now have a voice in their blog.  I have laid some ground rules for those who want to use a blog for their class web site though.  Teachers have been warned that their class blog is no place to voice personal opinions about controversial issues and political or county/school policies.  They can always make their own personal blogs not connected with the county to vent personal opinions.

The advantages of being able to update their web sites from anywhere and using an interactive format with students and parents are winning more teachers by the day.  I believe the majority of our teachers will be blogging by the end of the year.  If this experiment works (and I believe it will), our teacher web sites will be more interesting, more interactive, more informative, and more current than ever before.  Students will be learning and collaborating outside the classroom.  Parents will have a voice.  The world will be invited in to interact with our classrooms and share their expertise in ways they haven’t been able to before.

On top of all this, we have launched a school blog so that our stakeholders can discuss school-wide topics such as our summer reading program.  We are diving into Web 2.0 at MCMS and loving it!

Characteristics of a Digital Native

Characteristics of a Digital Native

Following is a compilation of characteristics of 21st-century learners gleaned from a variety of sources, including an American Association of School Librarians blog, high school and university student interviews, and Kim Jones, vice president of global education for Sun Microsystems.

  • Multimedia oriented
  • Web-based
  • Less fear of failure
  • Instant gratification
  • Impatient
  • Nonlinear
  • Multitasker
  • Less textual, more modalities
  • Active involvement
  • Very creative
  • Less structured
  • Expressive
  • Extremely social
  • Need a sense of security that they are defining for and by themselves
  • Egocentric
  • Preference for electronic environments
  • Have electronic friends
  • Thrive with redefined structure
  • Surface-oriented
  • Information overload
  • Widening gap to information access
  • Share a common language
  • Risk takers
  • Technology is a need
  • Aren’t looking for the right answer
  • Feel a sense of entitlement
  • Constant engagement
  • All information is equal
  • No cultural distinctions (global)
  • Striving to be independent

—with acknowledgment to Diane Beaman

And we wonder why some of them won’t pay attention when we give them simple pen and paper work. These students are longing for more and we need to figure out how to teach them in a way that will reach them.

Here is a video that goes well with this blog post from TeacherTube (Cool Cat Teacher Blog introduced me to this–didn’t even know it existed).  Why should we teach technology to students?