Unique Professional Development Program Launched

It’s been several years in the making, but I’ve finally finished the process of developing a unique approach to District-wide professional development.  It involves monthly challenges and microcredentials, both with the ultimate goal of enabling people to become a Connected Educator.

Four possible badges to earn

Four possible badges to earn

As I wrote to my District in an email this morning:

Certified Staff, Administrators, and Board Members,
With each new mandate and each new set of standards, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.  Some days I wonder why I’m still in this profession. 
But then I look to my amazing Professional Learning Network (PLN) of educators from around the world (literally) who are all so positive and see the good in what we do, that I’m recharged and remember why I finally chose education after drifting from job to job throughout my twenties.  It’s because we are the backbone of society – without education, a free democracy cannot exist. 
Since I am a ‘Connected Educator,’ I have access to thousands of teachers’ ideas and resources; I can’t imagine going back to working in the dark, by myself.
Some of you are also Connected Educators, but not very many. I would like to see everyone in this district reap the benefits of establishing your own PLN.  The trick is that, just like our students, every teacher has different needs and comes from a different place, so there is no one-size-fits-all model.  I first started thinking about this in 2012, and came up with the term Personalized Professional Development (PPD).  That blog post became one of my most-read entries, and culminated in a presentation at the Midwest Educational Technology Conference on the same topic.  
Just like in biological evolution when a certain characteristic can appear in completely unrelated populations (like fins for swimming), PPD sprang up all around that year – it’s now a ‘thing’, and a Google search brings up millions of entries.  I firmly believe it’s the best way to grow your professional self, and would like to invite you to a special community.
We are looking for 20 people from District 90 to take part in a Pilot of #OFD90Learns.  
#OFD90Learns is a program where you earn microcredentials. There are two paths:  badges and monthly challenges.  You can choose one or both to work on next year.  I think all your questions will be answered here.  
Remember, this is a Pilot Group of no more than 20.  If this sounds like something you would like to be a part of, click here to accept the invitation and register.  If not, the SIP Committee and I are still planning a great lineup of PD for next year’s SIP Days.  Stay tuned.
If, after you read the Program Description, you still have questions, be sure to ask!
I can’t wait to start.  This is gonna be great!
I welcome any feedback!  Thanks, too, to the many people who have already critiqued, written posts about their own experiences, and presented at #METC16 on their PD programs.  I appreciate you all.

Google Hangouts for Lunchtime PD

The Literacy Coach and I put our deviously creative hats on to come up with a new form of Professional Development.  We developed a semi-monthly, 30-minute session that repeats three times during lunch from 11:00 – 12:30.  So far there have been five dates, and the fifth one which occurred today, was the most successful by far.

The Technology

Photo: roe17.org

Photo: roe17.org

We chose Google Hangouts for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s on everyone’s classroom computer.  It’s also an amazingly simple tool to use, and one that I think the staff could really use, considering we have seven buildings (8 if you count the District Office).  However, it’s a hard concept to demonstrate and fully understand the potential without actually participating.  And goodness knows I already make enough videos that they don’t watch.

The Content

Google Hangouts provides the framework, but the content had to come from elsewhere, and where better to look than other district-wide initiatives.  The Literacy Coach in our district is amazing: 30+ years of elementary teaching experience in all grades, not to mention a growth mindset like nobody has every seen.  She was always trying new styles, techniques, and ideas while in the classroom and hasn’t stopped.  She and I brainstormed about what teachers still weren’t ‘getting’ when it came to Daily 5/CAFE implementation, and also what they might like to learn with PARCC (our annual Common Core Standardized Test) on the horizon.

  • GHO #1 – Classroom Innovation
  • GHO #2 – Vocabulary Instruction
  • GHO #3 – Citing Evidence
  • GHO #4 – Paired Texts
  • GHO #5 – Constructed Responses on PARCC

The Details

Ms. Witkus and I created a Google Doc in advance, and developed an agenda, complete with questions and resources that we could share out through the Chat feature.

We wanted a safe topic for our first one, since we realized people were really going to be learning how to use GHO.  We added Vocab Instruction because a mutual pet peeve is the use of DOL (Daily Oral Language) by the many of the reading teachers, and the fact that some of the vocabulary lists that students learn every week contain words for no apparent reason (but I digress…).

The next three topics cover Common Core skills that seem to be difficult to teach.  Citing evidence correctly at the secondary level is easy, because your school follows a specific format, like MLA or APA.  However, at the elementary level, where citation is introduced, can be more tricky:  how do you know what proper citation for a 3rd grader is compared to a 5th, for example? Paired texts seems easy to accomplish with such websites as ReadWorks, but I think many teachers have a fear of, or don’t like to, create their own material.  Therefore, we thought it beneficial to introduce some online resources for Paired Texts.

Finally, helping kids write Constructed Responses for the PARCC is huge.  As I assist teachers in the computer labs as their practice PARCC with their kiddos, MANY students get to that question, and then write a two- or three-sentence response. Not cool. So, Ms. Witkus shared some lesson ideas to get kids writing daily, especially with responses to informational text (say in science or social studies) that kids finish in 30 – 40 minutes. I then jumped in with a plan to help students actually complete a constructed response, the crux or which was for them to use the scratch paper explicitly allowed in the directions to make an outline at the very least, and an outline with textual evidence source as better yet.

The Reflection

The first two GHOs were held for an hour after school.  I suggested an hour, because Twitter chats generally last that long, and I have been in several that FLY by.  However, attendance seemed low to us, and feedback indicated that many teachers would like to join, but had family obligations after school.  Therefore, we decided to move it to the lunch.  Better, but still not where we would like it.

It seems best if we divide and conquer, too.  If we are in different buildings, and can drum up business in each of THOSE buildings, we have better attendance.

Topics with immediate relevance seem to elicit better attendance as well.

The Future

With every session, more people have experienced GHOs.  At the end of the year, Ms. Witkus and I will look at attendance stats and determine if the Return on Investment was really worth the effort.

Have you ever used Google Hangouts for PD?  I would enjoy reading about your experience.

7 Apps to Reinforce Sequencing

Today during my weekly Tech Lunch, where teachers come before school or during their lunch to my lab to learn tricks and ideas for technology integration, we talked about how to use iPads to have kids work on the skill of sequencing.  I started with some ideas that I came up with, and then opened it up to the teachers who came up with some great ideas, too.

The trick is (and what I’m trying to reinforce with my trainings) that there is no real app for sequencing, so we have to think about what we want the kids to do, and then find an app that fits the bill.  If you take an app designed specifically for sequencing, you are limited to the content within the app.  It’s sort of like a lot like having a text book dictate your curriculum.  Bad.

However, if you figure out in your mind what you would like the end product to be, you can then determine which tool will best accomplish that goal.  In order to get students to sequence a story/passage they’ve read/written, or to show the steps in a process (such as the water cycle, formation of a star, or germination) they need to be able to write short pieces of text which can then be moved around into the right order.  Here are some solutions we came up with:

1.  Use a whiteboard app (such as Jot! or Whiteboard) and have the students each recall a single fact/incident and have them write it out without looking at anyone else’s.  Then with iPads in hand, they have to put themselves in order from left to right in order of the story.  An added challenge would be to do this in total silence.  Younger grades could, in groups of three, come up with events from the beginning, middle and end.

2.  Using a whiteboard app that allows WiFi collaboration (such as Whiteboard), have students collaborate on a diagram or a list showing a sequence.  The teacher who shared this idea used it with success when talking about the water cycle.

3.  Using Google Drive, have the kids collaborate on a doc that summarizes the story, or gives the steps in a process.

4.  Use a sticky note app (such as iBrainstorm or Corkulous) to put events on individual stickies which can then be placed in the right order.  Have a student put events on stickies, mix them up, and then pass it to a neighbor to put in the right order.

5.  Much like #4, use Popplet to make boxes which can be moved around.  The advantage of Popplet would be for connecting events, since lines can be made to connect the ‘popples’ to one another.

6.  We then experimented with the Dragon Dictation app, and were successful in being able to dictate a sentence and then paste it into either Popplet or iBrainstorm, so kids wouldn’t get bogged down on typing.

What other apps have you used to help kids sequence events or steps?

So You’ve Got a PLN – Now What?

In my quest to have everyone personalize their professional development using my 4-step process (Twitter, Curation, Blog, EdCamp) as described here, I’m using the next few posts to really flesh out these steps.  I described the first step, joining Twitter and using it to leverage your PD, in the last post.  The purpose of joining Twitter is to build a global Professional Learning Network, also described by Bill Powers (@MrPowersCMS) in this blog post.

Professional Learning Network

graphic source: http://teachersbox.com/

Although Twitter may limit you to 140 characters, much can be shared and learned in a well-contructed PLN.  Just as in any meaningful relationship, there is give and take; I share what I’ve come across and have found important, and I keep things I find useful that others have shared.  Members of my PLN do the same, and pretty soon, we all have more knowledge, ideas, and a newfound respect for our profession.  Surf your Twitter Home Feed and reply to questions or comment on others’ postings. Take part in hashtag chats that pertain to your interests and watch your resources grow!

In my mind, there are five main ways to maximize the power of your PLN:

1.  Share Ideas & Resources.  My hope for you is that you’re not a lurker.  What’s the point?  Type something!  Share!  I’m sure you’ve written an amazing lesson plan, developed the perfect rubric, or just created a document aligning your current curriculum to the new Common Core.  Be proud and share it!  No one likes to re-invent the alphabet if they don’t have to!

2.  Seek Advice.  Last weekend, a member of my PLN wanted advice on Apple TV vs. the Reflection app.  That was a topic a couple of us had personal knowledge of or resources about.  We shared, and everyone learned something.  Instant gratification.  Awesome.

3. Share Day-to-Day Activities.  Sometimes the most interesting tidbits contributed by members of my PLN include their daily activities.  What did you do during science class today?  How did you resolve a parent issue?  What did the kindergartener say that was just too funny (you know how random they can be)?

4.  Collect Resources.  Much of what is shared by me and members of my PLN on Twitter is assigned a Star and added to my Favorites stream.  Pretty soon, your stream becomes like your email’s Inbox – unregulated, with the earlier entries forgotten.  In my next post, I will share some of the ways I organize all those resources, since CONTENT CURATION is the second step of my plan for Personalized Professional Development.

5.  Connect on a Personal Level.  All work and no play makes for a dull existence.  The ultimate purpose of a PLN is, after all, Professional.  However, just like in a classroom, letting your personality shine through can be a good thing.  Every once in a while, tweet about something funny, something you’re proud of, something meaningful to you.  Who knows, maybe it will earn retweets, follows, and before you know it, you will have sparked a conversation and made a connection with someone across the planet whom you have never met before.

I can honestly state that I am in a better place professionally because of my Professional Learning Network which I have established on Twitter.  I look forward to weekly hashtag chats, I enjoy sharing resources, and as I work through my day, I make mental notes on interesting activities or amusing happenings which can be shared later.  Thanks to all of you already a part of my PLN, and I look forward to expanding it even further and learning even more with my future colleagues.



Personalized Professional Development

When I think of how I can make our school ‘bold’, I want to be able to transform something that is already in place, or introduce something we need.

FACT: We need Professional Development.  FACT: We have no money for it.

So, I need to think big, bold, and out-of-the-box.  Oh, and FREE.

As a result, I’ve come up with a four-step Personalized Professional Development Plan.  It’s free, it’s researched-based, and can be intimately customizable.  It’s what I use for myself, and I call it PPD.  Personalized Professional Development.  PD on steroids, because it includes that follow-up element that makes change of any kind stick.

The steps include:

1. TWITTER.  The ultimate social media that connects like-minded people from all over the world.  Everyone needs to join – as a professional – and start working to develop a Personal Learning Network.  Lurk around some hashtags in your area of teaching.  Follow some people whose tweets you find inspirational, motivational, interesting, or that you just agree with.  These people are the ones who will make up your PLN.  Then start tweeting, retweeting, and connecting with people from all over.  There are millions of teachers just like you!

2. CURATION.  After clicking on all those links that people pass along in twitter, your ‘favorites’ stream gets way too long.  You need a way to organize all those tidbits you saved for future reference.  There are many sites to use.  I would suggest LiveBinders for people new to technology, as they are organized like an actual binder.  There is also ScoopIt! Diigo, Symbaloo, and many others.  I use LiveBinders for topics I would share with others, or that I would definitely want to be able to find at a later date.  Symbaloo is my homepage, as it has all my favorites, my ‘bookmarks’ laid out with their logo in a nice, orderly, Scrabble board-like fashion.  ScoopIt! is used for articles I come across on topics I’m interested in.  Older copies will be relegated to the end of the page where no one goes, however, so some get cross-saved in a LiveBinder.

3.  BLOGGING.  Once their pet topics have been fleshed out with resources, it’s time to start reflecting on these ideas.  To make reflections relevant, they need an audience, or even the potential of one.  Maintaining a blog drives a person to analyze, evaluate, and produce something which can be shared with others.  It’s pretty exciting to have people from around the country (or world!) read and comment on your work, you ideas.

4.  ATTENDING AN EDCAMP.  This may only be possible in for people near a large, urban area which would hold an EdCamp, but truly the pièce de résistance of the whole PPD concept. One of the best experiences I’ve had in the last year (even counting my canoeing vacation!) was attending EdCamp St. Louis, and surrounding myself with energetic, forward-thinking educators.  Nothing energizes like real conversations about a topic in which we are truly invested.

Another hope is that once teachers start to see how an authentic means of educating oneself can be almost addictive, they will start to change how they teach.  Assignments will become individualized and authentic, and students will begin to really build their capacities as life-long learners.

What do you think?  What are the flaws?  What am I missing?  Please share!

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.