Monday, 30 September 2013

Flat Classroom Handshake Activity

Earlier this month I posted about the Flat Classroom: A Week in the Life project I am working on with a Grade 2/3 teacher.  This week I helped her prepare the "Handshake" activity to kick-start the Flat Classroom project.  This involved a number of steps, which I have listed below:
  • participated in the first and second weekly online meetings using "Fuzebox"
  • completed a handshake class slide which provided hints to the location of the school
  • posted this slide to Jigsaw Planet
  • created Flat Classroom accounts with Wikispaces, Edmodo, Ning, LiveBinders, and Google+
  • embedded the handshake activity as part of a poll question in Edmodo
  • began entering students into Edmodo
  • determined the best way to create student avatars to post in Edmodo
This week students will learn how to login to Edmodo using the new Windows 8 tablets which have been deployed to the school.  Once logged in, students will be given the chance to create an upload an avatar, and will be given the opportunity to edit their profile.  As a class, students will view the handshake slides of a few other classes and will try to guess the locations of those schools.  The teacher plans to give the students the chance to explore Edmodo a bit on their own as well.  In the next couple of weeks students will be divided into subgroups and mixed with students and teachers from around the world.  Each student will then get the opportunity to collaborate with other students using a variety of digital tools.  The task for the next couple of weeks will be to help the students become familiar with these tools.  As the parent of a grade 2 student, I am very excited to see just what these students will be capable of creating.  I imagine it will be great.

Through this process one thing that has become clear for me is the need for simplicity when setting up a resource.  The Flat Classroom project is extremely organized, and the steps for each activity are very well detailed.  The organizers have been very supportive and helpful and there is definitely no shortage of information - and that is the part which has led to some frustrations.  Most project information can be found on the main project Wikispaces page.  However, additional details and support can be found on the group Ning.  Resource information for web 2.0 tools is contained in a LiveBinder.  Teachers looking for support can join the Flat Classroom Google+ group.  And then there is the weekly Fuzebox meeting.....  All of these resources are great, but it has become a bit overwhelming trying to keep them all straight.  I can imagine it is especially overwhelming for teachers who have never visited these sites before starting the project.

In reflecting on some of my presentation practices, I feel I have at times provided participants with "information overload".  With so many great tools and resources it is easy to get caught up in wanting to expose people to everything.  What I should keep in mind is the idea of "too much of a good thing".  What I really want for people is to expose them to something that will work well.

Accomplishments This Week
  • Helped solve a technology issue at work through recommendations provided to me by my PLN
  • Posted a second tech. question to a different online community
  • Flat Classroom project work (as listed above)
  • Provided training for two Intro to Mimio 1/2 Day Sessions
  • Provided Windows 8 training session for high school teachers
  • Blog commenting and professional reading
  • Considering some ideas for EC&I 831 final project
  • Had my own personal blog post retweeted for the first time

Sunday, 29 September 2013

"Deep Digital Connections"

During our EC&I 831 class this week our guest lecturer,  Richard Schwier, spoke about connections and contexts in a digital community.  This was an interesting topic for me, and one that I am definitely not familiar with.  I am a rather private person and keep a few very close relationships with people.  The idea of creating "deep digital connections" with online community members I have never met is completely foreign to me.  I listened intently to the discussion and followed the chat window throughout the class, but found myself as more of an "active spectator".  However, this is not necessarily out of character for me.  In my face-to-face interactions with people I have known for years I am definitely not one to offer my opinion without careful thought and consideration.    It should come as no surprise then, that this characteristic remains true in my online identity as well.

In teaching students about digital citizenship we often speak about having your online persona match your real-life personality.  I can remember lecturing to students, "Don't say or do anything online that you wouldn't do in real life."  Because many youth (and adults) feel a sense of anonymity while interacting online, there are times when they feel they can say or do things they would never consider appropriate in real life.  Cyberbullying is an example of this.  People who would never speak negatively or hatefully about someone feel safe to do so from behind the protection of their computer screen.

However, maybe there are times where this anonymity can lead to positive outcomes.  Online discussion forums in blended learning classes provide students who do verbalize their opinions in class the opportunity to have their ideas heard.  Some people do require a chance to synthesize their thoughts and to form their opinions before speaking to others.  Unlike face-to-face discussions, commenting on posts and blogs offers people like this the chance to respond on their own time without the pressure of finding just the right thing to say at that moment. 

Whether introverted or extroverted, the desire to belong is a basic human need.  Richard pointed out that online communities can be very real, and participation in these communities can help fulfill this need.  I enjoyed reading the blog post he referenced during the discussion entitled "Cookielady's Last Batch."  The way Alan Levine's online community reached out to support him was touching, and was a good example of someone who has built deep digital connections.

It reminded me of a similar story a presenter shared at an Ed. Tech. conference I attended.  The speaker told a story of a man looking for someone to fix the last picture of his mom.  She had recently passed away, and the last picture he had of her included her oxygen hose.  He posted a request to an online forum hoping a person in his digital community with Photoshop skills would be able to edit the photo to remove the hose.  What he received in return was dozens of condolences from friends and strangers, accompanied by digitally improved photographs of his mom.  Ewan McIntosh provides a complete account of the story in his post: Collaboration with a point: Help Me Fix The Last Picture of My Mom.

This got me thinking of the trust this man had in his digital community.  Numerous positive online experiences and many deep relationships must have been built for him to think to turn to this community to fulfill his request.  Through EC&I 831 I am beginning to take small steps towards building my trust and faith in my online personal network.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Flat Classroom Project Kickoff

I have been given the opportunity to work in collaboration with our Social Studies consultant and a primary classroom as they participate in the Flat Classroom: A week in the Life project.  As stated on the website, "The aim of the project is to join Elementary School classrooms globally with a view to exploring what life is like in each country through discussion, sharing and collecting multimedia to create final products together."  

Over the course of several months, students are given the opportunity to interact and collaborate digitally with students from around the world.  Students practice digital citizenship skills as they work to complete multimedia projects that help answer the essential questions:
1. What are the similarities and differences of children around the world?
2. How can we connect to each other through or commonalities?
3. How does your geography where you live impact your topic?

Some of the Web 2.0 tools introduced as part of the project include Edmodo, Wikispaces, and Voice Thread.  I met with the classroom teacher early this week to assist with some of the initial set-up tasks.  Project assignments this week include registering for Edmodo; posting basic class information to the project wiki; and completing the "handshake" activity.  For this activity we have been asked to find a picture that represents our community, and to post a number of hints about our community.  This picture is then loaded into Jigsaw Planet and shared with other classes taking part in the project.  Over the next few weeks students will be divided into working groups to collaborate with other students around the world.  I am looking forward to participating in this project over the course of the semester.

Accomplishments This Week
  • Shared a tech issue with my social network and received a response in less then 15 minutes (Thanks Alec!)
  • Setup a LiveBinder to begin collecting EC&I 831 resources
  • Attended Flat Classroom project kick-off meeting
  • Gave two half-day Mimio training sessions 
  • Gave one Intro to Mimio session
  • Gave one Windows 8 training session
  • Used TodaysMeet as part of a PD session

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Thoughts on Professional Development and Technology Integration

Last year our school division introduced a new form of interactive whiteboard technology in our schools.  After a lengthy decision process involving a variety of stakeholders, the decision was made to use Mimio technology.  Interested teachers were asked to complete an application process to receive a device.  As part of the application process, teachers were asked to identify ways they intended to use the device to support student learning.  Close to 180 teachers received a MimioTeach bar in September of 2012, and an additional 120 applicants received a device in January of 2013.  Our department is anticipating an additional 40-50 applicants will receive a device during the 2013-14 school year.

A key component, (and expense), of this project has been the training and professional development which accompanies each device.  All participants receive the equivalent of two full days of training and professional development. 

The first session teachers receive is a 1/2 day introduction to Mimio, where they are given basic training in the use of the device.  Approximately one month later, teachers return for a full day of professional development, where they are given strategies to help them integrate interactive whiteboard technology into effective student instruction.  During this full day, teachers create resources focused on curriculum content they are actively using in the classroom.  When possible, the teachers have worked closely with curriculum area consultants to create resources that can be shared with teachers within the division.  To date, around one hundred resources have been developed and shared in the areas of ELA, Math, Pre-Kindergarten, and Kindergarten.  The third 1/2 day session is used about one month after the second session to allow teachers the opportunity to continue their lesson and skill development.  This format has proven to be quite successful in the year since it was introduced.

In creating a professional development plan for the deployment of these devices, our department considered a number of options.  An article we referenced by Lewin C., Somekh B., & Steadman S. suggested that any introduction of technology in education that looks to change pedagogic practice will take significant time.  The authors suggested a minimum of two years, as teachers worked their way through three levels of adoption.  Pictured below are two charts we shared with school based administrators when the devices were first introduced in the classrooms.

Adapted from: Lewin C., Somekh B., & Steadman S. (2008) Embedding interactive whiteboards in teaching and learning: the process of change in pedagogic practice.  Education & Information Technologies, 13, 291-303.

The ultimate goal is for teachers to work  through stage one and two, and begin using the technology to extend beyond their established pedagogic practice.  However, in order to get there, many teachers may need to begin by using the device in simple ways which align with previous teaching methods.  As teachers become more established with the technology, the hope is that they will push themselves to expand their methodology in the use of the technology in their instruction.

Is this an effective professional development model?  Only time will tell, as we have just passed the one year anniversary of the first wave of deployments. Early indications have been quite positive, and we have been very pleased with the progress made by the participants.  Please feel free to share any successful professional development strategies you are aware of that effectively support the integration of technology and teaching.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Mountain Biking as a Metaphor for Technology in Education

This Saturday I woke to a glorious September morning.  Despite having a blog post to compose for EC&I 831, I decided to try to sneak in an hour at the local trails.  When I got there I couldn't believe how much they had changed in the month or so since I had been there last.  I suppose that really should not have surprised me.  I have been visiting Wascana Trails regularly since the late 1990s, and in that time the landscape of the entire region has almost completely changed.

As I pedaled from the parking lot I could not get over how rusty I felt on the bike.  The trails were faster than I recalled, with rocks and bumps in places I did not remember.  Some of the trails looked more worn than others. Some had been blocked or rerouted.  New trails emerged around corners I had never visited.  As I settled in I began to regain my groove.   I headed down the hill and passed a number of different people.  Some were using bikes older than mine, while others were riding models straight from the bike shop.  Riders of all levels and abilities were using the trails in many different ways.  I started to wave to familiar faces and passed along greetings to new people I met along the way.  One person pointed me towards a new trail I had never tried before.

With limited time for exploration, I was forced into making some decisions.  Do I stick to the tried and true favourites, or explore paths not yet ventured?  Do I follow the map, or set out in my own direction creating new trails?  In the end, I decided to focus most of my attention on what was comfortable.  However, I did manage to try out a few new paths.  One of them was great - full of new and interesting challenges.  Another one was not quite the right fit.  I decided that with a newer bike (or better skills) I might be willing to try it again sometime in the future.  Who knows - perhaps it is destined to become one of my favourites.  One trail I did not like at all.  Oh well, at least I tried.

As I began to make my way back to the trailhead I came across a familiar path which had been closed to traffic.  This section of trail was once a key method for getting from a wooded section of the park back to the parking lot.  I was surprised to see it closed, with arrows pointing the direction to a different trail - a new way to get to the same destination.

Throughout my ride, I couldn't stop thinking about how my visits to Wascana Trails have paralleled my ideas surrounding the use of technology in the classroom.

The classrooms I am in today are completely different from the ones I began in back in the late 1990s.  Newer technologies have ushered in completely different ways of structuring classrooms, classes, and entire schools.  New methodologies are continuously being explored.  Some work well and are adopted, while others are tried and forgotten.  "Essential" equipment becomes obsolete.  I can't remember the last time I loaded up a videotape for a lesson, or sent a document to central office by fax.

I would like to think that my time out at the trails also draws comparisons between my personal use of technology in the classroom.  I know with limited instruction time to spare, I can't spend all of my time exploring the latest and greatest in the world of technology.  So I need to pick and choose, and try to incorporate some new ideas into my teaching.  I realize not all of it will work.  Some of it will be great and will become something I will revisit time and time again.  Others may not be the right fit for me at that time, but may be something I choose to use later as my level of technology integration becomes greater.  Still others may be total flops, but at least I know that I tried.

As much as I enjoy hitting the trails on my own, nothing compares to riding with a friend: someone who pushed me to explore new paths and challenges me to try things out of my comfort zone.  As I delve into the world of social media, I know I will see a few familiar "faces", and I'm hoping to connect with many new people who can point me in directions I had never thought to travel before.  I realize that I will encounter people of varying skill and comfort levels, but I am comforted by the thought that we are all out exploring an area we are passionate about.

Accomplishments This Week

  • participated in my first online graduate level class
  • completed my first personal blog entry
  • joined Google+
  • created an IF This Then That account and synced my Blogger, Twitter, and Delicious accounts together
  •  made numerous Twitter connections with EC&I classmates (including one of my former students from elementary school)
  • was followed on Twitter by @rmbyrne after updating my personal profile and adding comments to my retweets
  • reflected on numerous blogs posts, articles, tweets, and videos
  •  commented on various Tweets and Google+ posts

I updated my Presentations, and Tools and Links pages.  Feel free to check them out.  I am hoping to add to these pages on a weekly basis.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

A Bit About Me

Welcome to my blog!  As part of my journey through EC&I 831 I have finally begun my own blog.  I'm not exactly "new" to blogs.  I have promoted the use of them as a classroom communication tool and have helped dozens of teachers (including my wife) set-up and create class blogs.  I have even composed a number of posts for the department blog at work.  What I have never managed to do is to create my own blog.  I have said it is because I am too busy.  Or because blogging takes too much time.  I have even felt that it takes away from more pressing and important tasks in my day.  The real reason may be that I just don't feel that I have anything all that interesting, profound, or important to share with others.  Despite these past excuses, the time has finally come for me to jump headfirst into the world of blogging and social media.

I am currently in my seventeenth year with the Regina Catholic School Division.  I am a high school Physical Education major with a minor in Biology.  Upon my convocation in 1997, I accepted a grade eight homeroom at St. Francis School where I taught for three years.  I spent another nine years as a grade seven and grade eight teacher at St. Josaphat, where I looked for ways to integrate technology with my teaching.  I am currently in my fifth year as Technology Coach for Regina Catholic Schools.  This positions involves providing technology training and professional development opportunities for the students and staff of the school system.

I truly believe I have one of the best positions in the division.  My role involves looking for ways to integrate technology across curricula thorough collaboration and support with all curriculum areas.  This means I get to work with consultants, coordinators, administrators, support staff, teachers, and students across the division in all subject areas and grade levels. 
No two days are ever the same, and the range of projects I am involved in on a daily basis can be extremely varied.   What I enjoy most is the energy I get from the teachers and students while working in a variety of classrooms throughout the year.  I always find myself learning something new, and I enjoy being in a position where I can then pass this knowledge along to others.

Some of the key activities I have been involved in as Technology Coach include:
  • training and support for digital progress reporting
  • classroom support for Web 2.0 projects
  • classroom support for multimedia projects
  • the development of the Exploring Careers in Technology Education (Ex.CITE) Camp program
  • the development of system-level BYOT policies and support resources for teaching digital citizenship at the primary, middle years, and high school levels
  • management and support of the division Learning Management System
Our division saw some exciting advancements in technology for the start of the 2012-2013 school year.  Data projectors were installed in all classrooms throughout the division.  At the same time, Mimio Interactive Whiteboard products were made available to interested teaching staff.  Between September and June of the 2012-2013 nearly 300 teachers were issued a MimioTeach device.  As a Mimio Certified trainer, I was involved directly in the training and professional development for this project which involved conducting close to forty half-day and full-day PD sessions.  This year the list of interested teachers continues to grow, and we anticipate training 50 additional applicants.

Two major initiatives underway as we start the 2013-2014 school year are the introduction of Windows 8 tablets in K-3 classrooms, and the system-wide adoption of the BYOT policy at all elementary and high schools.  I am sure both of these projects will provide me with plenty of opportunity for reflection over the course of this semester.

One class project I am involved in which I anticipate will fit in nicely with my EC&I 831 studies is the Flat Classroom "A Week in the Life" project.  As stated on the Flat Classroom website:
"The aim of the project is to join Elementary School classrooms globally with a view to exploring what life is like in each country through discussion, sharing and collecting multimedia to create final products together."
For this project I will be working with our Social Studies Consultant, Digital Fluency Consultant, and two elementary classrooms to connect and share with students and teachers from around the world.
A major goal I have this year is to further develop my use of social media.  I would especially like to increase the way I interact with my personal learning network.  My current use of social media is mainly limited to retweeting the links and comments of educators I follow on Twitter.  I have begun to see the value in connecting with others in this space, and would like to begin to promote the effective use of social media with others.  I look forward to learning a lot over the next few months, and especially towards sharing this newfound knowledge with others.