Tech Rant #1

from itineraryforvision. wordpress.com

FACT:  Almost two months ago, I joined Twitter and started blogging.

FACT:  I have now connected with more than 200 other educators around the world and have taken advantages of experiences I would not have had otherwise.

Have you ever notice that once you do something you automatically assume that everyone else is or at least should be doing the same thing?  You start dieting, and…how dare they bring in brownies – don’t they know we are ALL being ‘good’?  It’s worse when you accept change faster than most people (my other half calls this trait ‘fickle’ – ! ).  You find yourself surrounded by people who are so…so…so flip phone!  And if you aren’t on Twitter or FaceBook, (I can’t even think of an appropriate metaphor).  Clearly, I love my technology.  I love the cool things my toys can do, but most of all, I’ve finally found the power of using technology as a tool to become a connected learner.  I’ve had my epiphany; why hasn’t everyone else had theirs?  Why do my teachers look at me with their pitying/condescending/he’s-totally-crazy look when I start soapboxing about Twitter?

My month-old desktop computer may already be outdated, but technology itself is here to stay.  The internet is not a passing fad.  Landlines will never be back in style.

And so we must embrace technology into the classroom.  When we ask kids to unplug and power down before coming into class, we are not meeting them where they are.  We are asking telling them to meet us where we are.  1950.   Dial tone and 45’s.

When I hear other educators talk about how we need to keep YouTube out of the classrooms because kids may make inappropriate comments, or that we need to make a rule that all cell phones must be turned off and in their lockers because they may text each other, or that we can’t access Facebook because they may connect with each other or with other peers during school, I cringe.  I, then, become afraid – scared that we are making school policies based on fear.  Fear of what MIGHT happen.

I am not advocating that we ignore the inevitability that kids will make poor decisions.  They will.  And so will we.  They will abuse the privilege, and we will not support them properly.  But we cannot let our fear of what may happen lead us to extinction.  Darwin theorized that species that survived did so because they adapted – they changed.  Our problem is that we have a forebrain that lets us think, and realize we are changing, and then it tells us that we shouldn’t like all that change.

Rather than listen to our forebrains, let’s trust the kids to do right.  Let’s embrace the inevitabiltiy of change, and  realize that technology is here to stay, and it’s here to help.

~Matt

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Using LiveBinders for Content Curation


What Am I Supposed to Do With All This Information?

So it was not even 2 months ago that I joined Twitter…

…not even two months ago that I started ‘favoriting’ all those great links other educators posted on Twitter.  Great links to all kinds of interesting educational topics.

What was I going to do with all that content?  I couldn’t just let my Favorites stream get even longer!

Then I ran across the terms “Content Curation” and “Social Bookmarking”.  Seems these two terms are synonymous, and refer to what someone has to do with all the information they are bombarded with when they use social media – like Twitter.  In his Influential Marketing Blog, Rohit Bhargava talks of five models of Content Curation: aggregation, distillation, elevation, mashups, and chronology.  While his posting was fascinating (go ahead, add it to your favorites), I just wanted a place to organize my material for later use, and perhaps to share with other educators.

After looking at Evernote, Symbaloo, Diigo, Pinterest, and LiveBinders, I decided that @LiveBinders served my particular needs the best.  The layout isn’t particularly visually appealing, but its organizational method closely resembles my old fashioned file cabinet and my bookshelf of 3-ring binders.  Call me old, it’s OK.

In a LiveBinder, you organize each main topic into a binder, for example “Teacher Resources”.  Inside each binder are tabs (I used Teacher Blogs, Classroom Tech, Teaching Articles, Flipped Classrooms, Project-Based Learning, and Game-Based Learning).  Each tab can then be opened to reveal sub tabs, which are the links themselves.  The cool thing is that these links are live, and not just snapshots of what WAS.  Once you access them from within the binder, the links are still active.

from MrWeld's "Teacher Resources"

Screen Shot of LiveBinder "Teacher Resources" by Matthew Weld

People have been busy using LiveBinders to curate their content.  There are hundreds of binders already made on just about as many topics – from weight loss and the US Presidents to using Angry Birds in the classroom.  You can comment on them, rate them, and some authors even allow you to add to their binders – nothing like crowd sourcing to find the best information available!

If your ‘favorites’ stream in Twitter is getting just a tad too long, check out LiveBinders, download the “LiveBinder It” button for your toolbar, and start quickly building a resource for not only you, but for the other members of your Professional Learning Network.

My LiveBinder, “Teacher Resources” can be found here.

As always, I invite comments and suggestions – I’m always wanting to learn!

~Matt

EdCampSTL – My First Brush With an UNconference

Twitter Feed EdCampSTL

TRUTH:  True learning comes when you want (feel you NEED) to learn something.

TRUTH:  Collaboration takes your places you never dreamed you could go on your own.

TRUTH:  Satisfaction comes from stretching yourself, pushing boundaries, and coming away invigorated.

Today was my first EdCamp.  Apparently, they occur all over the country in large cities.  Chicago had one today, too, and the official Dallas EdCamp Twitter member checked in online.  The best part about an EdCamp?  It’s an UNconference.

An unconference at it’s beginning is just a place with meeting spaces – some are smaller and more intimate for smaller conversations, some are larger to accommodate large audiences.  There is tech support, coffee and bagels, and a roster of people who have signed up (for FREE!) to attend.  That’s it.  No keynote speaker, no multi-page handout of breakout sessions with their descriptions.  No formality of sign-up sheets and stuck-in-the-boring-meetings.

Attendees check in, have an hour or so to mingle, and (most importantly) sign up to conduct the sessions.

Signing Up to Facilitate/Present

That means (gulp!) that if no one is willing to present something they are proud of or wanting to share, then there won’t be any sessions.

Fortunately, plenty of people signed up to present.  After much internal struggle, I, too, signed up.  I figured that if I weren’t going to expand out of my comfort zone of just watching, my experience would be lacking.  And what an experience it turned out to be!  We had a great discussion of what schools will have to look like as they evolve to meet the needs of the students, the teachers, and the community.

We started with literacy.  What will it mean to be ‘literate’ in 1, 5, or 10 years?  What is the future of textbooks?  That, of course, led to a discussion on authentic lessons, what the purpose of schools will be (training for jobs?  college prep?  education as a requirement for citizenship in a democracy?).  As with all discussions, the end point was not where I expected it to be, but it was the journey that mattered.

Thanks to all who participated in my session, more thanks to the organizers of EdCampSTL, and for everyone else, I hope you are able to attend an UNconference soon.

TRUTH: Professional Development should be inspirational and meaningful on a personal level – just like education.

~Matt

Professional Conversations = Progress

As the due date for teacher evaluations to be turned in to the superintendent approaches, two things happen:  one good, and one bad  not-as-good .  The less favorable of the two is that I have a lot of careful writing to do, making sure that all points are substantiated, quantifiable observations, with constructive criticism as warranted.  The good part of the evaluation process is the opportunity to have real, meaningful conversations with my teachers.   I usually spend an entire class period with each of them, allowing us to cover many topics – from classroom issues to school issues, on up to state and national topics, and trends in education.

I am continually impressed by the willingness of my teachers to discuss and reflect on what goes on in their classrooms and to remain open to new ideas.

I firmly believe that every evaluation conference should be a two-way discussion and not a top-down lecture.  My father, a retired principal, used to preach the sandwich philosophy of critiquing (perhaps from the book I’m OK, You’re OK) where you start with a compliment, add the expectation, and end with another compliment.  It is my hope that my staff sees these conferences as a time for a good discussion, an opportunity to make plans for improvement, and as time where I can share my visions for the next year, and where they can fit in.  Often, the goals they share for themselves match the ones I have for them, indicating for me that they have reflected on their experiences over the last year, and have, in some way, searched to find their place in the whole of our school.

Just this week, I can sit back and celebrate that two teachers now have classrooms on Twitter as they make their way through their first works of Shakespeare (@Pearson_Fulton and @Davisclasses).  Three teachers expressed interest in contributing to our new series of tech training videos made specifically for our staff.  One teacher is currently working out the bugs of how to put that all together.  Yet another teacher has come forward with ideas on how to replace our now extinct drug awareness DARE program with a life skills/anti-bully/conflict resolution curriculum, and the social worker has set her teeth into scheduling anti-bullying programs for this year and next.

So for now, as I reflect back on this crazy week, I’m going to conclude that the good conversations outweighed the difficult ones, and even those necessary hard conversations will eventually bring about positive change.

I just hope your week was as good as mine!

Matt