The Good News

Sometimes I get bogged down by details and forget to remember how many wonderful new things are happening in my school. For example,

  • Carey stopped by to tell me that the French students have started their Google Earth projects, learning about layers and using all the tools available to study French history and culture.
  • Suzi’s students are creating Voice Threads about visits to French museums–commenting, of course, in French (and using flickrCC for images.
  • Katie emailed me with a link to a funny yet creative Audacity file, with a rap about Galileo her students made.
  • The fourth grade book reviews on Voice Thread are coming along well, and we can’t wait to share them here.
  • Jenny wants to start a geometry wiki, and Alpana’s students are using her wiki here.
  • The English teachers are using blogs here and here plus a wiki here.

Even I seem to be keeping some perspective on the amount of information coming my way from my PLC. The arms aren’t flailing quite so much.

[Image: ‘slump]
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Networking and name-calling

I recently started a ning network for Virginia independent school teachers, and within hours, my friend HIram pointed me to another network for independent school teachers in general. Demetri has done a great job that satisfies a clear need. I may end up spending more of my time there, as discussions about technology in teaching and learning are beginning.
Yesterday, someone talked about what we call ourselves, what our title means to other teachers. She advocated for taking  "tech" out of the title. I understand her thoughts, as I’ve been grappling with similar feelings at my school. How do people perceive technology coordinators? Sure we can fix printers and help find cool projects, but is there more?
I commented with this:

I still prefer teachers to see me as kind of teaching "coach," one who
advocates for using technology to improve the way we all learn. I try
to model the concept of lifelong learning; I know I’ve learned more in
the past few months than I’ve learned in a long time, thanks to the
connectivity of the internet and the proliferation of tools we use to

That being said, I don’t consider myself the expert. When I visit other teachers who are using technology so effectively, when I hear them engaging students, I am envious. I want to be a student in their class! I hope I model what I think works best–all of us learning together, working together, creating together.
So what’s in a name?

More on personal learning communities

I’ve been thinking more about how I learn. Or more to the point, how I learn differently now.
Wasn’t it simple then? Read a book, take some notes, write a paper.
Books such as A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink, or Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, have energized me. Convergence Culture by Henry Jenkins and Wikinomics by an old reading friend Don Tapscott have challenged my thinking. 
My learning community includes my RSS feeds, Twitter, and several ning networks, including one I just created for Virginia independent school teachers.
What a wealth of information. What opportunities. In the past couple of months, I’ve participated in a live streamed discussion of the future of schools, watched students from SLA talk about how they learn, connected with a teacher from Bangkok, and clicked on more links than I can keep track of to help me focus my efforts on how we learn and teach. One night I couldn’t sleep, and the next thing I knew, I was online, participating in a conversation with teachers in Australia!
Sometimes this information overload seems, well, overwhelming.
The term "community of learners" can be a buzzword or can be the central focus of what we do, what we encourage our students to learn to do. The onus is on us to ensure  this happens effectively and efficiently for all us.
I am spending the next few weeks thinking through the next step so I don’t feel like I am flailing my arms, running around in circles.

[image: Creative Commons Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Man!RWhitsell]

Being a laptop school

What does it all mean?
I’m not sure I know. My new job this year has enabled me to do lots of research (posts, Twitter, Ustream) that says, we MUST change the way we teach.
The future is unclear, and I believe we must help students learn how to learn, analyze and organize information, and collaborate globally and locally. But those are buzz words unless we really understand them.
So I invited teachers at my school to talk–about the way students learn, the way we teach, and what we need to do to prepare our students for the future (including creating a vision for our laptop program.

And, yes, my focus is technology because I do believe that using technology enables teachers to present material in a variety of ways, allows students to collaborate in innovative ways, and enhances what we do. But I have NEVER believed that technology in itself is the answer.

On the other hand, as a laptop school, we must use our laptops in efficient and effective ways (and this hasn’t been done the past two years). So I’ve encouraged people to try things (Voice Thread, Google Docs, wikis, blogs, etc) since I started working with them full time in September.

Interestingly, the first topic that we discussed was the resistance students are showing to using technology. Though they have had their laptops for email and note-taking (and game-playing) the past six years, this year we are asking them to push themselves in new ways. Teachers said that students told them using technology was too hard, too much on top of the content for the class. I received this email from the student government president today:

This past week, the student government hosted an Open-Forum
in which the students expressed their concerns and ideas with what is going on
with the Upper School thus far. One of the issues that
a couple of the students brought up was that teachers are trying to use so much
technology in so many different ways that it’s getting overhead.

I think you get the idea (overhead= overwhelming?) It’s the same message I heard from some of the teachers on Friday. It’s discouraging. I know this doesn’t represent all students, but I thought they would be encouraged we were trying to work with them in ways that meant something–their world, you know?

We need to decide if the technology innovation is coming too fast, or if students who are complaining are just not interested in going above and beyond the standard "write a paper" assignment. Yes, the technology can be confusing, and yes, the technology can fail (we’ve had issues with our network lately). But I am surprised this loud "voice" from the student body is so resistant to adding technological components to the curriculum.

And I’m not at all sure we need to define our laptop program. Shouldn’t it be seamless? Shouldn’t it be a part of what we do? If we start to define what it means, haven’t we separated it out from everything else we do? Shouldn’t we define what good teaching is? Shouldn’t we define how we want our students to learn?

Please weigh in on this. Our conversations will continue.

(Edited: and I just read this… on Patrick Higgins’ blog. And this:

I hate the AP review project. It is a
superfluous use of technology that only leads to frustration. More time
is spent organizing the page and competing with overachievers for
things to do then actually learning anything about history. Scrap it
please before it evolves into a worse monster that no one can manage.


[image: DeclanTM]