HELP!!! Personalized learning – how does this work??

Since being awarded a Race to the Top grant, our county has set personalized learning as one of their main priorities in the strategic plan.  All middle school students in our county will have tablets over the next couple of years which will be used as a tool to help personalize learning.  We as teachers have been trained on the use of the tablets and the students will be receiving them in just a few weeks.  Thrown in with the tablet training has been information on how we need to use the tablets to help us personalize learning.

Ok, so my concern is, if I am truly supposed to personalize learning, how the heck does it happen?  In all the training, I have heard very few ideas about how to make this happen in my classroom.  We’ve heard about what it is, how important it is and that this is a main focus and reason for us getting the tablets.  I have read some articles about how the ultimate goal is to create an environment where the learner is in charge of his/her learning and the teacher is a partner.  The learner is deciding what and how to learn, designing projects and the teacher is giving feedback.  It sounds wonderful but I don’t understand how to get there.  How do the twenty or so students I have in a middle school classroom teach themselves French (as complete beginners) and decide what they will learn?  I was not taught French this way.  I didn’t get to decide what vocabulary words I was going to learn or what grammar to work on.  It was taught to me in bits and pieces.  I practiced the concepts I was taught and somewhere along the way I learned how to communicate in another language.  This idea of allowing the students to decide what they’re going to learn is a totally foreign concept to me.

I can understand flipping the classroom.  I can understand giving the students choices for projects.  I can even understand how you could give students choices about how to learn something using a tablet (i.e. give them the choice to watch a video about how to conjugate verbs, read instructions, or sit in a small group with a teacher to explain and model).  What I don’t understand is how students would just pick and choose what they want to learn.  So, if a student is more interested in sports and another is interested in animals they would be studying different vocabulary words?  Another student wants to learn only how to write French but another student wants to learn only how to speak – how does that work?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this can’t work.  I’m just saying this idea of personalized learning doesn’t make sense to me and I don’t know how to move my classroom into something that looks like this.  If anyone out there has ideas on how this is done in a foreign language classroom, please post links, videos, anything!  Help!!!

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.


Me at Castel Muiderslot

Greetings from the Netherlands!

It has been some time since I thought about my blog much less visited it and I am truly gobsmacked at the amount of dots on my cluster map. (Gobsmacked–one of my favorite terms from a guilty pleasure of mine, the British soap “Eastenders.” It means astounded, amazed–you get the picture.) I can’t believe that so many people would read my little blog. A blog I had practically abandoned.

Well, for those who might be interested, I will give an update on my life. Sorry, I don’t have a lot to say about technology in education at the moment since I’m not really in the field and my life has been so full of other kinds of experiences. Sorry to disappoint if you were expecting techie stuff.

I left you at the end of the school year with my explanation for leaving. June was a very busy month of packing, weeding through my belongings to get rid of a lot of things, having yard sales, and showing my house in an attempt to sell it. Oh, and I also sold my Honda (ack!) and spent the rest of my time in the States driving my mother’s Toyota Corolla.

With the help of my very good friends and my sister, I was able to move out in early July with my 2 cats, 2 oversized and near bursting suitcases, a rolling carry-on (also stuffed), and an equally stuffed laptop shoulder bag with my 17″ HP. I left 15 boxes in my living room that were shipped to Europe in September. In those boxes were my most precious belongings that I could not or would not sell or give away.

I moved in with my parents and sister. I became a full-time caregiver for my mother and wore many hats in the household as I tried to meet all sorts of needs. My father and sister worked full-time outside the home so there were a lot of things that needed doing. Those months with my family were some of THE most trying of my life but I learned a lot about myself and my family. I was able to care for my mother during the most difficult part of her home stay. By the time I left, my father and sister were able to take over her care along with the help of an aid who came daily to be with my mother.

I moved to the Netherlands on September 17, 2008 and life has been one big adventure ever since. About the flight itself, I will only say that if you live in a city with a direct flight to Amsterdam, you should sincerely thank God. There is no direct flight to Amsterdam from any airport in North Carolina so I had two legs with a rolling carry-on, a laptop bag and a cat carrier (one of my cats had to fly with me in the plane since the first flight was on a small airplane and bags are checked all the way through, only one cat could fly in cargo) to contend with. We all arrived at our destination relatively unscathed but somewhat exhausted.

Since my arrival, I have had a lot to get used to. Shopping every couple of days because food here is a lotstrippenkaart fresher, learning Dutch (although thankfully many people here speak English), living without cable/Internet/phone in my home (because until I got my residence permit I couldn’t open a bank account which meant no other kinds of accounts either), walking a lot more, and using public transportation (the strip system was kind of tricky at first–umm…OK, let me clarify: the most common way to travel on public transport is to buy a “strippenkart”, a long ticket with “strips” or places for the conductor to put a stamp indicating what time you entered the tram/bus, date, and what zone of the city you boarded.) As the holidays approached I have become increasingly homesick for friends and family. While I have made friends here, I still miss the familiar faces of those I know and love. This was my first Thanksgiving away from my family ever and I was very depressed about it.

On the home front though, my mom’s health is progressively getting better. Her care is a lot less demanding as she heals which I am glad for. It was very hard to leave her, knowing what she required on a daily basis but my father and sister have really done well from what I understand.

My current status is that I have my residence permit and am currently looking for a job. I am renting my house to tenants with an option to buy it which I hope they do at the end of the contract. It is cold here compared to the balmy temps of coastal North Carolina and I’ve seen more snow in the last week than I’ve seen in the last 15 years in NC. It does seem to melt before sunrise but it’s pretty to watch when it falls.

I will try to write a little more often. My next post will be about the technology I’ve seen in use here so far.

Where I’ve Been and Why I’m Leaving

Ok, the cat is out of the bag.  I am leaving.  So for once, I will blog about something pretty personal:  where I’ve been and why I’m leaving. This post is actually prompted by an email inquiry I received today from someone who had seen the job posting and wanted to know what I do exactly.  One of the last lines of the email asked why I was leaving.  It was a good question and gave me pause to reflect.

Before I actually give my reasons for leaving, I will describe what my role has been as an instructional technology facilitator at MCMS.  (To read what the job description is according to the IMPACT model, click here.)  I have tried to follow the IMPACT model as closely as possible but recognize that there was a lot of room for improvement.  I had hoped to be in this job for many years.  I saw so many possibilities.  I still do.

Where I’ve Been:

  • I was a French teacher at ECHS for 10 and a half years.  During those 10 and a half years I fell in love with technology and troubleshooting.  I watched the Internet change our whole world and I found that I loved teaching others how to use technology.  When I received a phone call 3 years ago this coming July to interview for a technology facilitator position, I jumped at the opportunity because this was my dream job.  When I was accepted, I was elated.
  • My first year was a whirlwind.  I had so much to learn, not necessarily about how to integrate technology into the classroom but how to troubleshoot and manage all these computers at our school.  Without a technology assistant, technology facilitators have to do quite a bit of troubleshooting.  This school had been without a technology facilitator for three years so they were starved for someone in my position to point them in the right direction.  I loved my job.  I tried to focus my attention on training the staff so I did a technology camp for teachers that first summer.
  • I was much more comfortable during my second year.  I was ready to really lay some groundwork with the staff on technology integration.  I was introduced to the world of Web 2.0 and have been hooked ever since.  I created my own personal learning network which has helped me learn so much using iGoogle and Google Reader.  Some of favorite Web 2.0 tools are iGoogle, Google Reader, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Skype, Second Life, (although Diigo is quickly eclipsing my love of, Picasa, and Flickr.  I use many others but these have been invaluable to me.  I wanted to focus my attention from the teachers just a little to equipping students so I taught a technology camp for students during that summer.
  • This third year has been a little different.  I have been in the classrooms much more, co-teaching with teachers.  I was also selected to help be a core trainer for NCWise which our county was converting to this year.  I think a lot more teachers are using technology this year than they have in my previous two years here and I am glad to say that they are putting more and more of that technology in the students’ hands.  I finish this third year happy to say the hardware is in place (3 wireless labs, two desktop labs, data projectors in almost every classroom, 2 interactive slates per team, 2 wireless presenter mice per team, 1 document camera per team, 3 digital video cameras for the school, and two student response systems for the school).  Ok, we’re not completely at my dream classroom but we’re on our way.  I don’t pretend to take credit for all the good changes I’ve seen in our school these 3 years.  We have many shining technology teaching stars, a tech savvy media coordinator, a supportive tech support team, and a fireball principal who understands the important role that technology plays in the future of education.  I was fortunate to get to ride this wave with such great folks.  I know this school will go far after I leave.

Why I’m Leaving:

  • My mother became very ill and was admitted to the hospital on February 14.  Unfortunately she is still in rehabilitative care but is making progress.  I plan on spending my summer and fall before leaving for the Netherlands taking care of her and helping my family.  Leaving this job will make me more available to my family.
  • I visited friends in Amsterdam, Netherlands over Christmas break and my thoughts began drifting to my old dream of living in Europe.  An apartment became available not too far from the city center and I just can’t let this opportunity slip away without grabbing the bull by the horns.  So, I’m going for my dream of living in Europe.  Of course, that means I am now looking for a job in Amsterdam.  Does anyone know if they need technology facilitatators/coordinators there?  🙂

So the plan is to move to the Netherlands once my mom is back on her feet.  I will be keeping this blog however and it is my sincere hope that I can continue to work in technology education even if I am in a different country.

Needless to say, I will miss my colleagues and friends that I have had here in Carteret County.  It’s not easy to say good bye to 13 and a half years of one’s life but these have been good years, learning years.  I’m sure I will have much more to reflect on in the next few months so stay posted!

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…

A Framework for Thinking Instructionally about Web 2.0 Tools

Knowledge and learning require both transmission and construction » Moving at the Speed of Creativity

I ran across this post by Wesley Fryer in my return to the Web 2.0 pool. This paragraph in particular struck me pretty hard as I think about how to introduce more Web 2.0 technologies to my teachers.

The day of blended learning has dawned. Knowledge and learning requires BOTH the transmission of content and the construction of local schema focused on that content. Our methods for accessing robust multimedia content are going to keep exploding for the foreseeable future. HOW we access the content IS important, but a more difficult (and pedagogically challenging) question is, “What are you going to ask (or invite) learners to DO with that content?” What are learners going to create? How are they going to collaborate in that creative process? How are you going to document that process of creation and learning? How are learners going to represent their understanding of both content and skills related to the topic of study, in ways they cannot FAKE or a classmate (or parent) can’t do for them?

I know I talk about projects a lot with the staff development I present. Sometimes I feel a resistance there because teachers are pressed to cover their curriculum and projects take time away from that. But do they? Is the teacher-lecture-textbook-reading-completing -worksheets model THE most effective means for students to learn the curriculum being covered? Anyone who has been in education for the last 10 years knows the answer to that question is a resounding NO.

Students have changed. They are digital natives. They live in a world where they can record themselves and their friends with their cell phones and post those videos on YouTube. They no longer have to have email accounts because they keep in touch through MySpace or Facebook or any number of social networking sites. They post their deepest thoughts to a faceless audience through blogs. This generation learns and produces socially.

In the same post by Fryer, you’ll find the following chart:

I think this chart is a great brainstorming platform to leap from when it comes to discussing Web 2.0 tools in the classroom and justifying their use.

None of this should be completely foreign to those who have seen the learning pyramid.

From what I can see, when students are working in the interactive/asynchronous area of Fryer’s chart, they are working in all areas of the learning pyramid not just the top tier like the would be with the non-interactive/synchronous block. If students are going to retain more information by working on the bottom tiers of the learning pyramid, doesn’t it make sense to use what is familiar to them (Web 2.0 technologies) to engage them and cover the curriculum at the same time? Won’t we cover our curriculum this way and, more importantly, help students retain the curriculum we cover?