Do You Want to Join Our Group? #12MonthsBlogging

Much has been written about the efficacy of teachers reflecting on their practice through blogging.  

As teachers, we often ask students to reflect on their learning; since we are the lead learners in our classrooms, shouldn’t we be reflecting too?  Some people keep a journal. My daughter creates journal entries a couple times a week, and she tells me that she talks about what happened at school or with her friends (no, I haven’t read it – there hasn’t been a need).  Other people (like me) don’t want to write something that no one will ever read.  That’s when a real, authentic audience cinches the deal and makes blogging a win-win situation for me. If someone else is actually going to read what I write, then I’ll take the time to edit and make sure I’m writing exactly what I want to say.

 

The problem with blogging comes down to actually writing. Is it writer’s’ block? Is it fear that people will label my choice of topics as cliche? I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s because writing inevitably ends up at the bottom of my to-do list.  Perhaps there’s fear that my readers will find my topics boring or boorish.  But you know what?  It doesn’t really matter.  A reflective blog is about MY learning, and if others somehow receive drive-by benefits, then it’s a bonus for both of us.  

Writing and editing a post doesn’t really take that long, so what I need is a support group to keep me on task – you know THOSE people who nag you until you finish (start?) your workout or call your mom? I need a group of fellow educators intent on improving their craft to join with me as I work through my teaching.  Is doesn’t matter what your job title is.  You could be a superintendent or a custodian.  We are all in the business of ‘doing what’s best for kids’ and in our collective effort of furthering that cause, we can learn from each other.

Enter #12monthsblogging.

For each month, there will be an overarching topic with specific writing prompts.  You can write your own post about the topic, or if you need more focus, use one of the prompts.  OR (in an effort to be totally student-driven) disregard the prompt all together and write something of your own choosing.  It doesn’t really matter what you write about – just make sure you have a message to communicate.  Fully flesh out your idea, and post it on your blog.  Advertise it on Twitter using the hashtag #12monthsblogging.

#12monthsblogging monthly topics

Finally, while you’re on Twitter, check out #12monthsblogging yourself, read some posts by fellow bloggers, and leave a comment or two.  

In the end, I’m hoping that regular posting to my blog will help me solidify some of my opinions on education.  That way, when people ask my opinion on a topic, I will have already examined my own biases, explored the evidence, and come up with a reasoned take on the subject.

I’m hoping you’ll join us – there’s no need to sign up, just post and tag on Twitter!

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Importance of Focusing on the Big Picture in #EdTech

I’m in a bit of a quandary right now.

photo: strategydriven.com

photo: strategydriven.com

It’s (almost) the end of the year, and planning has started for the next.  At this point, I’m feeling like I need to be more effective – to work smarter, and to focus myself so that I can focus others.   In order to achieve this goal, I find that the first step is to focus on the bigger picture.

Like many others with the title ‘Technology Integration Specialist’ (or something similar), I came to this new (for my district) position last year in a round about way.  For me, the idea of being the person to define a brand new position was too enticing to pass up.  So, after several years in the classroom and several years in administration, I became the District Technology Integration Specialist.  About 4 weeks before school started, the superintendent told me that I would also be teaching elementary kids Monday – Wednesday, reducing my time for interacting with teachers to two days each week.

Planning for next year has started, and I won’t be teaching any more (as of now).  I’ve sent out Google Forms to see which apps should be put on the iPads going out to our next school with the tech upgrade.  I’ve sent out a Google Form to obtain information on how people like to receive their PD.  I’m glad I sent those out.  The results are not what I expected (that’s a whole other post!).

I feel like this year has been kind of the shotgun effect.  I tried many different methods of trying to spread the edtech word: weekly disctrict-wide emails, personal conversations, weekly Techie Lunches in my computer lab, random emails to people who would appreciate different resources I found on Twitter (thanks, PLN!), etc.   Somehow I feel like the 80/20 rule can be applied here somewhere, and I’m looking forward to going through my survey results in a couple days when the window closes.

To be honest, our district is WAY behind where it could be.  We are still proud to be moving into using PowerPoint instead of an overhead, and yet as the only connected educator in my district,  I am on the Internet seeing classrooms like this one where 4th and 5th graders are backchanneling a Skype conversation with Twitter and GDrive, while others are preparing a blog post and still others recording the whole lesson.

So.

I put on my administrator hat, stepped back, and looked at the whole picture.  I dug around on the website and found our Technology Vision Statement.  The good news is that it’s decent  (The bad news is that I had to dig for it).  I then searched for other people in my position on the Internet.  I found good stuff from Bill Ferriter, Kim Cofino, and Nancye Blair, just to name a few.

Then, based on my personal reflections and what I learned from others, I came up with the skeleton of a plan:

1.  Start by communicating the big picture.  Share the district’s vision for technology integration, and share instances of some other classrooms around the world who are practicing our vision to the nth degree.  “This is what’s out there folks, and this is where you COULD be if you want to.  And I will help you get there.”  [I know, the whole buy-in piece is missing.  I’d like to be able to work on this for a good bit of time with the staff as a whole, but I’ve been told that time is limited; this year alone, I had at least a day and a half of School Improvement time rerouted from tech to something else!]

2.  Continue to build relationships with teachers.  Fortunately, that’s always been pretty easy for me, and I can enumerate dozens of examples where the relationships I have nurtured have paid back huge dividends.

3.  Model good teaching.  Start where the student (in this case the teacher) is, set attainable goals, and keep planting those seeds for their next step while fully supporting and celebrating their current efforts.  Realize that not everyone is going to jump in with both feet (as I tend to do!).  Use baby steps, and have the teachers become familiar with that one puzzle piece before showing them another.

I’m interested to see what others have to suggest.  I am passionate about education and helping people be the best they can be.  I also strongly believe that technology can take us to levels we haven’t even dreamed of yet in education.  Please comment or email with your insights!

Protecting What Matters Most

Crosspost of an email sent out to all the parents in my school:

Parents,
In my role as computer teacher, I hear all about the new gadgets kids receive for birthdays or holidays.  In my ex-role of AInternet Safetyssistant Principal, I’ve dealt with arguments over rumors on FaceBook, emotionally charged conversations over multi-player online games, cyberbulllying, sexting, and the like. With all the new access to the Internet and everything (good and bad) that comes with it, I feel it is a good idea for parents to know a bit about how to keep their kids safe while online.  Below are some guidelines on how to accomplish this task.
In my mind, the single most important thing you can do to keep your kids safe is to have regular, frank conversations with your kids. It’s not that you don’t trust THEM, rather it’s like with driving – it’s the OTHER guy you need to worry about.  You and your child just need to work together to keep them safe, since that is your number one job as a parent.  You will help them make wise choices, and they will help you accomplish that goal by keeping you informed about what they are doing online.  Transparency and Trust.
After reflecting on what I’ve learned from discussions with School Resource Officers, and what I can find through my own research, here are 6 tips to keep kids safer when online:
  1. When possible, create your own password-protected profile on your child’s device.  Set parental controls from here.
  2. Kids should NEVER friend/accept/talk to etc. anyone online whom they do not know (and like) personally.
  3. Have frequent discussions with your child about their online experience.  What are they talking about?  Who did they Friend today?  What game are they playing?  What’s it rated?  Whom are they playing with?
  4. Insist that you have copies of any passwords they have on their devices.  In worst case scenario, the authorities will want access to see who they’ve been talking with if they turn up missing.  In best case, you may want to go through Contacts and Friends lists.
  5. Let kids know upfront that the device is really yours, and that you can have access to it at any time.  Nothing on the Internet is private, so nothing on their device should be private from you.
  6. If your child wants to join Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc, you may want to consider joining yourself and following them so that you can checkup on their updates and make sure that other kids are not harassing your kids (I recommend to NOT confront the other child directly if this happens!  Talk to their parents instead.).
CELL PHONES & TABLETS:  While many of our  students probably do not have phones yet, most likely they all will as they enter Junior High or High School.  Areas to consider are 1) access to purchase apps or music online 2) access to age-appropriate websites/material online, and 3) keeping your child’s identity safe.  On Apple products, you block access to the app store and other social media sites and decide which apps can use location services (using the GPS in the phone/table to access your location in order to provide a more accurate experience).  You can also set content rating limits for music and apps.  Go to Settings > Restrictions.  Android phones require outside software to be purchased. The Nexus 7 & 10, KindleFire, and Book HD which run on Android’s Jellybean 4 operating system all have their own software built in, and can be accessed from the device directly.
GAMING SYSTEMS:  On my son’s XBox, I have my own account, and I was able to set parental controls through here, including not being able to download any new games without my consent.  This becomes especially important when you open up the console to the Internet.  He complains about how ‘all the other kids’ are allowed to play ‘M’ games while he is not.  We have regular discussions about why our family has those restrictions, and that other families are allowed to have their own rules.  Neither is necessarily better – just different.  The other aspect which concerns me is the multi-player component where they play with other kids online.  We’ve had heated arguments between boys in the classroom at the Junior High over online gaming ‘conversations’ the night before.  Our son is very good about asking us whether or not he can send or accept friend requests through XBox Live, and he tells us who he plays with.  The Wii and PlayStation 3 also have Parental Controls (see the article below for more information on how to access them).
FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Center for Missing and Exploited Children

Carnegie Mellon University

Great list of articles and blog posts, such as “Is Instagram Safe for Kids?”
How to set up Parental Controls on all the major gaming systems
Photo Credit:  www.123life.com
Resource for this article from USA Today

…And One for Good Measure

from:  http://kolczykizfabryki.pl/wyroby/galeria_04/album/blog-icon-for-websiteOK, OK, so I confess.

This is my second blog.  My other blog chronicled my artistic endeavors, and it was hosted by the other popular blog hosting site.  It’s still there, and actually I sold more pieces from my blog than from my Etsy site.

Whatever.

So here I thought I was all big and bad, gonna have this blog up and fancy in no time – flickr pictures, Feedjit widgets, and yes, a blogroll.

When I visit other blogs, I skim their post, rereading in detail if it’s interesting.  Then I look for their blogroll to see what they’re reading.  To me, it’s the 21st century equivalent of looking through the titles in someone’s bookcase while they’ve stepped out of the room – you can tell a lot about a person by what they read.  Disappointment sets in if there is no blogroll; it’s like they’re hiding something.  But, then, I haven’t had one on my blog until today, once I figured out how to configure one (three hours later!).  So maybe others don’t have one on their site because they, too, are techno-idiots technology immigrants.

I hope you will take a moment to look through my blogroll.  There are some excellent educators on there, all the way from educators obsessed with technology to teachers in the trenches chronicling their adventures in early childhood and differentiation.  There’s an education professor, a couple of principals (here and here too), an author/speaker, and Illinois’s 2011 Teacher of the Year, just to name a few.

Hopefully, by perusing my virtual bookshelf, you’ll gain some insight as to what kind of educator I am.

I initially posted fifteen of my favorites.  But just because I’m the generous sort, there’s one more for good measure – as of right now.

~Matt

How Do I Accomplish the Impossible?

Well, I can’t.  Not really.  However, scheduling school-wide activities and taking them from an idea to a reality can seem impossible.  But with a little ‘preventative communication’, accomplishing the impossible just may be possible.

Today’s story takes place at the beginning of December, 2011, when Ms. W. (my principal and ‘Upper Management’) was at a conference for a couple of days, leaving me in charge (I know, I have the picture of the Mom in The Cat and the Hat leaving for the day in my head, too) .

As those of you in middle management know, few decisions can actually be made by you.  Everything has to be run by the Upper Management before you can give an answer to the Staff. But when you are put in charge for a couple of days, and you have talked and talked and talked with all your school’s stakeholders until you’re tongue-tied, look out!

On that day, my revolving door never seemed to find the ‘closed’ position, so I never really spent any time in my office.  In and among the two sets of parents who came in to conference before school started, the ad hoc Girls’ Group called in response to reports of fuss on a morning bus and mediated in order to avoid Further Drama by teaching some needed skills in conflict resolution, the parents called both in response to situations and other parents called as ‘insurance’ on potential incidences, the students conferenced in the hallways, classrooms, and front office, I decided to schedule a Holiday Assembly and a Spring Talent Showcase.  The Holiday Assembly would feature all sports teams, band, chorus, drama club, cheerleaders, dance team, all of it.  Oh, and it would happen in 6 school days.

Crazy, right?

“Impossible!” you say.

Not my usual M.O., certainly, but quite easy, really, considering all the prep work I had already accomplished.  While I hadn’t done any prep work on these two school-wide activities per se, the relationships I had worked very hard to cultivate within my building gave me the groundwork necessary to pull it all off.  And all these relationships had been built by talking – by talking, listening, talking some more, and then listening a whole lot more.

Normally, I would have had a lengthy planning conversation with Upper Management, hashing out details and negotiating over content.  Calendars would have been consulted, and just about every ‘what-if’ examined.  But, meeting averted!  I visited with the Athletic Director in between classes and received his support and an offer to plan the Assembly.  Next stop was the band director and the chorus teacher.  I received the band director’s support during arpeggios, and during the next passing period, the chorus teacher pledged her chorus’s performance.  Check, check, and check.  The teachers’ lounge was next, where I was able to talk to the entire 7th grade team at once.  The sixth grade teachers could be made aware by talking to one key member whose kids were writing busily by themselves.  Team eighth grade is another monster altogether.  They have to be approached carefully.  So I texted one, emailed another, and spoke to a third, all within the next ten minutes.  Everyone on board.  Big check.

Scheduling the Talent Showcase was in response to repeated student requests from a determined lot.  But I had already spoken to many of the key players in a ‘potential’ talent night, so it wasn’t a surprise.  The surprise was on the faces of the students when I called the two leaders into the office during their lunch period.  What started off as expressions of fright at having been called in by the Asst. Principal turned into excitement when I officially OK’d their request for a Talent Showcase.  Like I had knighted them or something.  Of course, I already had the details outlined in my mind, but we brainstormed and chatted, and they came up an outline remarkably similar to mine, and a rather lengthy list of tasks they needed to accomplish by our next meeting (funny how our two lists matched!).  Complete ownership and buy-in by the students.  Next stop was the computer to email the staff a quick FYI email letting them know what was happening.  Great responses continued to fill my inbox for the next couple of days.

All in all, it was a great day of buy-in from many people.  Our Holiday Assembly went off without a hitch, was appreciated by staff, parents, and students, and will likely be a tradition.  The Spring Showcase still needs to happen, but I know the students well enough, and had laid sufficient groundwork with the staff before I’d even OK’d it, that I can already tell you it will be a success.

Nothing like a little preventative communication.

Matt

P.S. The look on Upper Management’s face when I told her the news is worthy of a later post.