Teacher blogs take off!

Since some of my teachers took the challenge to blow the lid off blogging, I have been seeing some amazing things.  Here are just a few highlights:

Mr. Wolfe posted an introduction video of himself and posted it to YouTube.  He then embedded the video on his blog.  Check out the embedded photo slide show on his “About the Teacher” page as well!

Ms. Curley blogged about the first day of school and found a cute animated gif to brighten up her post.  I also like how she links back to her team members’ blogs.  You have to love the photo of her head in the croc’s mouth (or is it an alligator?)!

Mrs. Rosen shows off her photography skills in a Rock You slide show.  She has a page for each Core class where she posts reminders about homework and assignments as comments.  Nice!

Mrs. Haines blogs about the first day of school as well.  She has links to important documents and forms on her MOS page.  She was also the first teacher to try podcasting at our school last year.

Mrs. Lancaster hits the ground running with tons of comments from her students.  She, like several other teachers, has created separate blogs for each of her classes so they have their own space.

Mr. Green has pages for students to post comments about themselves.  I love all the links to educational videos like the updated version of “Did You Know?” and math tutorial videos from YouTube.  How informative!

Mrs. Johnson has lots of responses to her first blog post on student expectations for the school year.  I like that she turns this around on the students because they are learning all about their teachers’ expectations of them this week.

Mrs. Washalefsky has a page for novel discussion and I love the picture of herself in a Marrakech market!

Mrs. McNamara has a discussion with some of her students through the comments on her blog.  What a great way to communicate with students!

Last but certainly not least, Coach Churchill highlights the first couple of days at school and embeds a YouTube video in a post titled, “Never underestimate what you can achieve.”  He also posted a link to the standards for the President’s Physical Fitness test.  Way to go, Coach!

I am almost speechless at what these teachers have achieved in just a few days.  I didn’t even have time to teach them some of these skills.  They have taken the reins for themselves and run away with it!  It seems teachers have found their voice too!  I can’t wait to see what they come up with next!

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!

Our First Podcast!

Bravo to 7th grade science teacher Rebeccah Haines and her Osprey Team Science podcasters! They have successfully created 2 podcasts: an egghunt announcement and thoughts by one student on what she learned in her frog dissection. I am awed by the some of the first fruits of our NCAECT group.  I can’t take credit for any of this either (which thrills me).  I only found out about it as I scrolled through my Google Reader and caught her post.  Way to go guys!

Mrs. Haines used Gcast to generate these podcasts. It’s simple and easy and includes free hosting for the recordings. Here is some more info straight from Gcast:

  • Record messages by phone (never touch a computer!)
  • Upload MP3 files from your computer
  • Add “podsafe” songs from GarageBand.com
  • Mix all the above with our online playlist manager
  • Our Playlist Manager helps you organize and mix audio from a range of sources. It’s easy for beginners yet flexible enough for advanced users.Every audio file you add to your account, whether a phone recording, a GarageBand.com song, or an MP3 from your own computer, starts out in your Master Playlist. From there you can copy it to other playlists and you can publish individual audio files or entire playlists to your podcast channel.When you publish a playlist, our system automatically mixes the audio files into one continuous MP3 file for your podcast.
  • Introducing the easiest way to record a podcast. Just call 1-888-65-GCAST, enter your ID and PIN code, and start recording!After you record, you’ll have two options:
    • Save & publish: your recording will be automatically added to your podcast channel.
    • Save without publishing: your recording will appear as a new audio file in your Master Playlist, where you can move, mix, and publish it later.

Start a phone-based audio journal of your life. Record your new baby’s voice. Podcast jokes, tips, deep
thoughts, or whatever. Record a “voice intro” before a song. If you’re a musician, leave phone messages for
your fans to share stories from the road or new lyrics from the studio. Your imagination is the limit!

  • The Gcast player can be embedded into any web page, giving your listeners instant gratification. Fans can also check out past episodes and subscribe to your podcast channel.
  • Besides your own website, you can encourage other people to embed your podcast into their websites. All you need to do is to copy and paste a few lines of HTML. The player can be configured to play automatically,or wait for users to press play.

Wow! Easier than Audacity which I began learning about yesterday. Thanks to free resources like Gcast, the shackles of proprietary and complex software are falling away. Let the learning begin!

UPDATE:  I finished my first podcast yesterday.  I decided to do an enhanced podcast of the 5th grade visit to our school.  Each day this week, a different group of 5th graders visited our school.  They were paired up with a 6th grade buddy and shadowed them all day long.  I took photos and made a Photo Story of them.  I created the first and last slides in PowerPoint and exported them as GIFs.  The music is free from podsafeaudio.com.  The interview was recorded straight into Audacity, edited, and then exported as an MP3.  Put it all together and I made my first podcast!  I’m not 100% thrilled with it because I am obviously too loud.  I guess I could have split the tracks so my volume could be adjusted more but the tone of my voice is very high and overpowering.  I have a lot to learn but I don’t think it’s too bad for a 1st run!

MCMS Response to Sunday’s Editorial

Following is the response to Sunday’s editorial in the Carteret County News Times titled “A Wise Decision?”  It was composed by myself and my principal, Sue Kreuser.  We also included valuable input from our staff.  Special thanks to Amy Bruce, Margaret Ann Chalk, Michele Davis, Rhonda Scibal, and Bill Newman for helping us with content and editing!

Morehead City Middle School is grateful that our community is discussing the need for schools to increase the accessibility of technology for our students and staff.  We would like to clarify our school’s plan to increase the use of technology across all content areas.

Morehead Middle School serves around 500 students.  Our two computer labs are used for many purposes.  One vocational classroom lab is used to teach the NC Standard Course of Study.  In these classes, students learn basic keyboarding skills, as well as more complex skills, including applications such as word processing, database, spreadsheet, desktop publishing, and multimedia presentations.  Our second lab is used on a rotating basis by our entire staff and their students.  North Carolina requires teachers to include computer and other technology skills in their lessons.  This lab is continually in use as our teachers create exciting and new ways to use technology in projects and everyday lessons. 

MCMS has a need greater than our current computer labs can meet.  Therefore, we have moved forward with a plan to bring technology into more classrooms.  This plan is supported financially by our parents and students who sold chocolate bars and magazine subscriptions so that we could lease a portable lab.  This lab will be in the hands of our students within the next several weeks. 

Our portable lab has a three year warranty on parts and replacement, just like the desktop computers funded by the county.  These laptops are stored in a secure cart which remains locked when not in use.  When the lab is rolled to the classroom, students are assigned a specific laptop.  Thus, if problems arise, the situation can be handled properly. 

Essentially, the only differences between our portable lab of laptops and the desktop computers sitting in a lab (both have the same productivity and security software) are mobility and flexibility.  Laptops give teachers and students the ability to use them in a variety of ways, such as outside labs in science or grouping students into stations in a classroom for cooperative learning projects.  Laptops allow more accessibility without the capital outlay to build more labs.  We can “make do” with the facilities we have by turning any room into a computer lab.

Rest assured that our students and staff will be trained in the proper care and use of this computer lab, just as they are with all computer inventory at our school.  Improper use of technology equipment is dealt with as any other infraction would be.  On the other hand, it is our policy to teach students the behaviors we want them to exhibit.  We are confident that, with the proper training, they will treat this portable lab as well, if not better, than any other equipment they handle in the school.  It is our hope that students will feel a sense of ownership and pride in this lab since they helped earn the money to make the lease possible.

At Morehead City Middle School, we are preparing our students to be 21st century learners who are inquisitive, collaborative, responsible, and independent in their learning.  Technology is one of the tools they need now, not just in the future.  We live in a technology rich environment.  To ignore that fact and limit our schools to pen and paper activities would be a travesty and would put our students at a serious disadvantage when competing for jobs and college admissions.  Additionally, we must prepare our students for the North Carolina Computer Skills test which is given in the eighth grade and which all students must pass to graduate from high school.  Students must be exposed to technology as much as possible to learn the skills well enough to pass this test.

Our staff welcomes the public to visit our school to see this exciting tool for learning!

Students and Teachers as Knowledge Creators

I ran across this quote in the latest article titled “The Future Begins Now: School 2.0 Manifesto” on Christopher D. Sessums::Weblog.  His manifesto is very interesting but this quote in particular really grabbed my attention:

Students and teachers are knowledge creators. They are more than mere passive receivers of knowledge and information.

How very interesting!  In the “teachers as gatekeepers of knowledge” philosophy, students are passive receivers while the teachers are the distributors of the knowledge.  The Web 2.0 mindset is one where knowledge is available to be harvested and that knowledge comes from people not institutions.  When students take control of their learning and teachers guide them, students are then able to create knowledge for others by publishing their creations on the web.  Web 2.0 savvy teachers can also create knowledge for a broader audience than just their classes. 

This is a totally different way of thinking, even for this educator.  I’m no expert on Web 2.0 but the more I learn about it and through using its tools, the more I am convinced that our perception of how education should be done changes.  I was taught how to be a teacher with the gatekeeper philosophy.  Being a French teacher, I was the only one in the classroom who knew the language so I was definitely in control.  I found that most students didn’t want to take control of their learning when I gave them opportunities to do so.  They expected me to give it to them.  I know that it was because I set myself up to be the gatekeeper from Day 1 in the classroom and never really ventured far from that idea. 

I’ve blogged about this being a paradigm shift for me before.  I know that it is difficult to let go of that control once you’re so used to it.  Somehow I have to work through this thinking because I have a school full of teachers I am going to be introducing Web 2.0 to and encouraging them to use it with their students.  Some of them teach as a gatekeeper because it’s all they know.  They are good teachers but I am asking them to think out of the box (for lack of a better cliché) and it won’t be easy for them.