Sunday, July 26, 2009

West Virginia Unplugged

I spent the last several days camping in West Virginia with family and friends. Three and a half days of being completely cut-off from technology and the information it provides. Very little blackberry or cell phone signal. No wireless, no email, no RSS feeds, no twitter, no TV. No DVR or DVDs. No electricity of any sort on the campsite.

Now I really enjoy technology and all the information that can be accessed using it. And although I enjoy being connected, I was fine with being unplugged for a few days. My wife and I have introduced our young children to the concept of balance. We want to be sure their activities are not overly-spent in front of a screen. We allow them to enjoy watching certain TV programs and play games on the computer and iPod, but we try to balance that "screen" time with activities both outside and inside that don't involve the use of digital technology. This weekend was an opportunity for me to practice what I preach and completely shutdown for a few days - which really wasn't that hard to do.

Tonight I'm plugging back in and rebooting for the week.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Summer Tech Workshops

This week I spent three days holding tech professional development with some teachers from Bolton Elementary. It is sometimes hard to have three full days of training in any area-in technology it can leave the participants feeling overwhelmed. But the group seemed to pick up on a lot of the tools and make connections with how it may help them in their classrooms in August. So I left the training this afternoon feeling really positive about the experience and looking forward to the upcoming follow-up sessions.

During the first day's session I asked the group to respond to the following question as it relates to this staff development: "What do you expect to learn?" I recorded their answers and pasted the results into Wordle (a tool which presents the text and emphasizes the frequently used words). I've included the result below. I was most impressed that many of the responses were less about what I could do for them and more about their desire to help students learn and their willingness to be learners themselves. That attitude of being willing and excited about learning really is much more important for a school's technology than any amount of equipment. If July is any indication, it should be a great year for many of the teachers and students at Bolton.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Notes from the Ashe County Tech Conference

I had the opportunity to present at a tech conference in Ashe County this week. It was a small but well run conference that brought in a lot of educators from the county and few from beyond. It is always great to interact with teachers on summer break. The teachers seemed excited and interested in learning about new technology, and I met some really dedicated educators doing great things in their schools. I think sometimes having the summer time to reflect and use new technology is a key factor in whether teacher will use it in their classroom.

The session I taught was on using Pageflakes and Netvibes, and my group did a good job of grasping how this could both allow them to organize web content for themselves, and also use these startpages to use in instruction. The participants in the session also seemed to understand the need for having tools like RSS feedreaders to organize the massive amounts of information online. A key skill for 21st century students will be learning to use tools to help access and evaluate the information on the web, and we need teachers to model these skills. I shared my email address and encouraged them to share their experiences with me. I'd enjoy hearing what they've done with these tools.

During the conference I am reminded of how all those in education are dealing with the same issues. Our districts may vary in size, our kids may look and talk a little differently, and classrooms may be outfitted with various equipment, but we are all searching for ways to engage students in learning with technology. I was very pleased to be a part of this conference and a part of that movement.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Broadcasting with UStream is a free, web-based application for broadcasting live over the Internet. The site allows you to broadcast and record live video and sound and to post the session to the Ustream site. I've used it in the past to view sessions at technology conferences I couldn't attend in person. Sometimes the audio and video quality vary, but overall it is a great tool for sharing and broadcasting ideas. Until now I've always been a "puller" of content from Ustream, but I haven't "pushed" anything using it.

This week Matt Barfield from CSI delivered a session on ActivInspire on the first of July to a user group in our district. I've attended several of Matt's session in the past, and feel I take something new from each of his sessions. Wouldn't it be great to share his presentation and save it for teachers to view later? Wouldn't teachers enjoy being able to view (or review) this session when they had the time? This seemed like the perfect scenario for Ustream. I cleared it with Matt and began preparing for my directorial debut.

All I needed for setup was my laptop, webcam and ethernet cable. I logged in with my account and began broadcasting. Wow. It was very easy to use, and although it is not the same as sitting in the audience (it is hard to see action on board), I was impressed at how well it turned out. I think seeing and hearing Matt's session might be a great resource for teachers interested in using Activinspire or as a way to review the session they attended.

Beyond taping sessions of staff development, Ustream has much broader potential for use in classrooms and for teachers.

Interested in seeing the sessions on ActivInspire or just want to see how it worked? Check out the recorded sessions from Ustream: