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I hope every educator will find something of interest on this blog. We all come to technology from our own personal background, and it is my aim to honor the wide variety of experience brought by all educators.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

New Administrator? You CAN Make a Difference!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/judybaxter/447180352/sizes/l/in/photostream/
July 1 is the beginning of a new fiscal year for many schools and districts. There are now many new administrators in the ranks, and many who have moved to new sites. After a career in the ranks of teachers, I recognize that these new leaders are often brought in to situations which are wildly dysfunctional. The dysfunction has grown for years- it rarely develops suddenly, but we often cross our fingers and hope that the new person will have a magic bullet.

In fact, in a dysfunctional faculty, there are many factors which will work against new leadership- almost daring the new leader to “fix” things at the site. While it is not too difficult for a new leader to spruce up the building, institute new policies, and make changes on the surface, deeper improvement is very difficult and it will take time.

How often is the staff morale healthy when a new leader joins a team? Rarely, I believe. And, I also believe that staff morale is of the utmost importance to any lasting change and improvement. Just as the teacher is the factor most responsible for student achievement in a classroom, the faculty as a group has the greatest potential to change student achievement at the school level- for the greatest school improvement.

So, the question: HOW does a leader make changes in staff morale? While the answers are varied, and I certainly can’t claim to have that magic bullet, I came across some interesting answers related to technology use which may actually help.

Problems leading to staff morale slip*:

  • Isolation
  • Negative tone
  • Lack of celebration of the good stuff
  • Lack (or perceived lack) of support

You can help turn these perceptions around by*:

  • Encouraging collaboration
  • Creating a focus on positive tone
  • Reminding your team frequently of the value of their work.


*This list and many of the solutions are taken from notes on an ISTE presentation by Rushton Hurley. His notes can be found here.
I’m going to give you a basic list, certainly not all-inclusive, of technology tools which you might find useful to encourage collaboration, create a positive focus and remind your team and others of the great work being done at your school. I’ll address subsequent posts in greater detail.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/susanvg/3382838948/
Collaboration:
For a faculty meeting: Use a backchannel chat with a moderator to get more feedback from faculty.
Tools: TodaysMeet  Free! Easy set-up
Other tools may be found here.

For group discussion outside a meeting:
Pose the question(s) using a Google Form. Send the form to each faculty member or team (such as a grade level team.) Answers are gathered on a Google spreadsheet for you. Discussions may occur as a team fills out the form or when you present the results to the entire group.
For group brainstorming, document creation, feedback gathering: use TypeWith.Me  You create the document, send everyone a link (Better yet, shorten the link URL using TinyUrl.com  and make it available to everyone.) Everyone may add to the document simultaneously, and their contributions will show in a unique color.

If you have a set of clickers (individual response system) available, use those to gather input from the faculty and staff. If you don’t have those, tell them to whip out their cell phones and use PollEverywhere.com  to get their opinions. You have to spend a few minutes ahead of the meeting setting it up, but it’s worth the effort.

If you would like to really see your faculty working in teams on a particular project, initiative, or mission, you will want to set up other ways for them to collaborate. There are many ways for people to work together these days, even when they are physically far apart. Make a comment on this post if you would like to know more about how this could be arranged.

Positive tone:
It’s always awkward when we try to adopt a new tone. However, if you acknowledge that with your faculty and ask them to push through the awkwardness, for many of them, the new words and phrases will become second nature to them. Ask your group for things that are good about the school or district. List their responses. You might consider using one of the collaboration methods above! Remind them frequently that their attitude is a choice! Model the positive behaviors you wish them to adopt. Whether it is picking up trash they see in the hallways or saying hello to school visitors, you will be the prime example for teachers and students.

As you do walk-throughs (and every time you walk out of your office, you are on a walk-through!) make notes about positive things you see. I mean physical notes, not just “mental notes.” You will forget what you see if you don’t write it down. Take the time to send an email or even a personal note to the person you see exemplifying positive interactions. Quote them when you write the note. Believe it or not, this will be worth any amount of time you spend. Give 15 minutes a day to positive notes, keep track of those to whom you have sent them, and seek out positive interactions to observe with every member of your staff. They will be so happy when you single them out for a comment. No need to do this in front of the group. Individual compliments are very powerful!  How can technology help?  Use your smartphone, your iPad, your iPod Touch or even pencil and paper to keep track of what you observe.  Then use your email to send the notes to your team members.  Use a Spreadsheet to keep track of which staff members you have already appreciated and those you still need to thank.  Want to gather it all together?  Make yourself a Google Form, bring it up on your iPad or other device, and when you submit it, all your notes will be gathered in a Google Document (spreadsheet) for your records!

Valuing the work of the team:
I’ve come to believe that at least 50% of what every person does during their day is “invisible” to everyone else. Your faculty and staff are working hard to make your school great and make every child a success. If you begin to show that you notice what they are doing, they will work even harder. And they will feel so appreciated! This can go hand in hand with the positive tone actions you are taking. If you do not know what one of your team members is doing to further the work of the school, sit down and ask them. You may be surprised! Then you will have a better idea of what to look for and how to thank them for their efforts.  Be sure to reference the initiatives you have put into place as you express specifically what you value about what they are doing.  Then, watch as they begin to express similar appreciation to one another!

I hope you are able to effect the changes in the coming year that you have set as your goals. Let us know how it works for you by commenting on this post.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Google Docs Tutorials

Google for Teachers

Technology Integration Plan

Photo courtesy Rhian vK, Flickr 
I know you make a "Technology Plan" for your school or district, but do you make a "Technology Integration Plan?"  Many of you do, and I hope you will comment and tell us about your experience, but I would like to say here that if you don't, you might want to consider it.

A Technology Integration Plan is essential in assuring that the equipment you have purchased and placed in teachers' hands is being used in ways which enhance student engagement and achievement.  If a student is engaged in what s/he is learning, there is increased understanding and memory.

What is Integration of the Technology?  When technology use is integrated, you can't tell which part is content and which part is technology.  Students are doing things to learn the content with the technology, and likely they wouldn't be able to learn what they are learning without the technology.  It's all bound together, like the image at the right.

Let's say you purchased Interactive Whiteboards last summer, along with ceiling-mounted projectors.  Perhaps you also acquired document cameras for your classrooms.  How do you monitor the use of that equipment?

Do you do walkthroughs?  These are popular for administrators to see how equipment is being used.  I have seen several of these instruments, and I know each school and district will make one to suit their own needs, but consider doing them with an electronic tool such as an iPad or even palm-sized Blackberry or iPod Touch.  If you have access to any of these with a data plan, create a Google Form with your questions, and when you enter a classroom, have the form up and ready.  It will look like a survey, which you simply go through while you observe.  Once you complete the questions, click "Submit."  The responses for each of your walkthroughs will be gathered onto one easy-to access Google Spreadsheet in your GoogleDocs!

Don't know how to use Google Docs or Forms?  Don't worry- it will be in my next post.

I'm off track- let's get back to the Technology Integration Plan.

As an Instructional Leader, you will want to know that your new equipment is being used in the best possible way.  After you have the free training from the vendor (if available,) watch for which teachers are learning how to build lessons which require students to engage with the technology in meaningful ways.  Ask for lesson plans to be provided to you which show student engagement.  Look for more than just the "magic chalkboard" use in which the teacher is showing off the board.  Insist that students are up out of their seats, walking to the board, and that each student is able to respond.  There is not room enough here to show you how such equipment should be used, but the Technology Integration Matrix developed in Arizona is interactive and will give you plenty of food for thought.  It's interactive, so be sure to roll over the topics to read more about each level of integration and see links to lessons which illustrate that level of integration.

Asking for integration at the higher levels will give you more confidence that the expenditures made by your district have the best chance of making a difference in student achievement!

...and everyone wants that!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Techy Administrators

In my new job, I am thinking a bit differently about technology integration.  In my region, many schools have found funding in the past few years to purchase technology, but few teachers are doing a good job of using it in ways that increase student engagement, motivation, or achievement.   I know that we need to have principals and Superintendents who encourage integration of technology, but I'm wondering what are some good ways to do that encouragement?

First of all, those who evaluate and observer teachers in their practice need to understand what "integration" really means.  One tool I have found for this is Arizona'a "Technology Integration Matrix."  This great tool has rollover links and lots of great information.  Another Technology Integration Matrix, this time from Florida is here.  These are quite similar, but you may resonate more with one than the other.

Along with understanding what true integration looks like, I know that administrators must model good practices.    I wonder if anyone out there can add a comment to provide some ideas or examples of good administrator practices related to technology.

Here are a few I have thought of:

  1. Use Prezi to make presentations to the staff.  Prezi is a good tool for students to use, and teachers could see that as the administrator uses it.  However, just like our old friend PowerPoint, it can be poorly used.
  2. Use Doodle Scheduler to schedule observations, appointments, meetings, etc.  
  3. Use Google forms to survey the staff on upcoming topics. (Go to Google Docs, then click "Create new>  form")   This can avoid the meeting in which everyone must put in their two cents' worth, yet everyone gets to voice their opinion, and nobody has to sit through the meeting.  You will need a Google account to use this, but you will like it!
  4. Use Google Docs to work collaboratively on documents with committees.  You won't have to print and you can all view the progress of the work.  There are other apps which allow you to do this, and perhaps even better...but this is a good place to start.
  5. Do Walk-throughs.  I know many principals who are using their Blackberries or iPads to fill out their walk-through forms using Google Forms they view and fill out right on the device.  The results go to a spreadsheet!  Look online for some good forms others have already created.
That's just a start.  I am hoping others will chime in with comments to bring in other ideas.

Looking forward to "hearing" from you!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Anyone Can Get a World-Class Education

Last night on the news I heard a quick story about Khan Academy.  I've been hearing about this from members of my Plurk PLN for a while from time to time, but I had never looked into it until I saw the news story.

Sal Khan began by developing some videos to help his cousins with Algebra.  He has gone on to develop over 2100 video lessons on a variety of subjects from Developmental Math to Calculus, Trigonometry, and Statistics. 

These videos are now available to anyone, anywhere, any time, if they have an Internet-connected computer.  They are posted on YouTube, and are easily downloadable for teachers to use as teaching resources, to assign for homework, or to even embed in your latest e-Pub book.  (More on that topic soon!)  Imagine creating a textbook for your students on each week's material, embedding the video examples in the text!  It's so exciting!

On the Khan Academy site, you will also find at least 100 self-paced exercises.  For this area, you must sign in, and you may elect to use your Google or Facebook account login.  Once logged in, it will save your progress (your students' progress!) as you work through the exercises.

So, maybe you're not interested in math and science teaching videos.  Maybe you teach (or want to learn about) Arts, Business, Learning Strategies, English Language Arts, or Social Sciences...  You might want to head on over to Sophia.org, developed by Don Smithmier.  Here, you'll get an entire "Learning Packet" for your chosen topic, including videos, text examples, and links.

In the '60's and '70's "Free colleges" sprung up in many communities.  One would simply walk in, sign up, and list what you could teach others, and list what you wanted to learn.  Knowledge and skills were shared as a free exchange.  These two websites remind me of that.  People are actually sharing what they know freely with others.

If you know of other similar websites, please post a comment with the link.  In this time of educational cutbacks, such resources are invaluable!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The best URL shortener!

hnyctt.me is the best URL shortener I have found.  It's easy to use and it allows you to create a personal account, so you can track the number of clicks on your shortened URL.  There is even a "bookmarklet" you can drag to your favorites bar or bookmark bar so you can just create a shortened URL any time!

"What's a URL shortener, anyway?"  you ask.   Here's my story:  When I am giving workshops or just sharing with friends, I often had looooooong urls with a multitude of un-spellable characters to transmit.  With students of any age, this is a nightmare.  Thank goodness, we can post the URL in a wiki or other website so that our learners can just click on it, but that only goes so far.

Kevin is a FUN and inspiring presenter!
When you create a shortened URL, you can customize it, so that it makes sense to your learners.  If you customize it with something about your topic, it's easy to remember, increasing the chance that your students or other learners will go back to it with ease.

Give hnyctt.me a try!  I think you'll like it!  By the way, it was developed by Kevin Honeycutt.  If you don't know him yet, you should!  Here is his website, and that's a topic for another day.

Friday, February 25, 2011

1Password


I am finding solutions to problems today!  Believe me, these are problems that needed solving.  I am optimistic that with these problems taken care of, I will have lots more time in my days.  And goodness knows, teachers need more minutes in their days!

On a good day, when I'm feeling organized and not TOO rushed, I use my Diigo account to save login information.  I just make the bookmark private and type the information into the description area.  This works pretty well for some things, but I don't trust it to be secure enough to put my online banking information in, for instance.  But, as I've indicated, this is not the case every day!

I spent several hours last night trying to retrieve passwords and usernames from two sites.  In my line of work, I scout around for websites which might be useful for educators, play with them, and decide whether or not to recommend them.  Sometimes I like a site, but I don't use it often.  When I return to the site, sometimes months later, I don't have my login information.

I try not to make a habit of just creating a new login- I don't want the company to get a big head, after all, thinking they have more users than they do! 

I posted on my Plurk account (Yes, this is my most useful PLN!  ...more about that in another post...) and one of my Plurk buddies suggested that the $30 subscription fee to "1Password" was the best $30 she ever spent.  (Thanks, TammyW!) So, I've been looking into it today.  $30 is the fee for one platform.  Since I am "bi-platformational," I got a subscription to both, and at a discount when I clicked on the "Education" link.

Here are some things you may want to know about it:

(from their site:)
1Password is a full-featured password and identity manager. Thanks to powerful desktop client programs for Mac OS X and Windows and mobile apps for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, 1Password gives you a more secure and convenient online experience, no matter where you are.

Here are some of the features that make 1Password an indispensable tool for managing all your passwords, online IDs, and personal information and for streamlining many aspects of computer use:
  • Automatically Save and Fill Web Site Logins
  • True Integration With Web Browsers
  • Support for Popular Web Browsers
  • Strong Password Generator
  • Rock-Solid Security
  • Securely Organize Your Life With Wallet Items
  • Secure Notes
  • Stay Organized
  • Get Access to Your Data Anywhere
  • Automatically Keep Your Data in Sync on PCs, Macs, and iOS devices
Sound good?  I thought so, too.  I am spending the weekend setting this up on all of my computers.  You can even store your password file on Dropbox (I haven't tried SugarSync yet) and use it on all computers where you have your Dropbox account!

Sugar Sync

Click here to try SugarSync at my invitation!
I just found SugarSync!  I believe it's going to solve one of my most vexing problems.  First, let me say that I am fortunate to have more than one computer.  In fact, I regularly use a desktop at work, a Windows laptop AND a Mac laptop at work, a Windows netbook for personal use and a whopping desktop at home.  Add to that my iPod Touch, my iPad, and my Android phone, and you may realize that this application comes in handy.

SugarSync allows you to designate files and folders you want to access on multiple computers.  This is exciting for me, since I would be rich if I got a dollar for every time I needed a file that was located on a computer I didn't have access to.  I travel in a wide geographic area for work, so I am often away from the computer I was using when I made a file or edited it.

I'm looking forward to having my files and finding them, too! 

By the way, if you invite others to use Sugar Sync and they do, you get bonus storage space!  And they get the same bonus you do!  Great news for everyone involved!

Many thanks to one of my Plurk Buddies (Thanks, mguhlin!) for sharing this great site!

A Library for Everyone!

Check it out!
I like the idea of libraries, but I never liked spending time in them.  I always felt that it was some sort of failing in me; an aberration!  I suspect the same is true for other folks, judging by the look of the local Barnes & Noble.  People like to get a snack and a cup of something warm (or cold) and sit down to browse books.  But the local library is not nearly as crowded.

I know there are many for whom an ideal idle hour is spend among the musty stacks of a library, but perhaps they can get some satisfaction here as well.

Open Library is a source for books and ebooks.  It's free to sign up.  It's a project of the Internet Archive , a non-profit which aims to create a webpage for every book ever published!  Some can be "borrowed" and others must be read on a device.

Check it out!  The title of this post is a link to Open Library!

Many (over a million) books are made available to people who have difficulties reading a print book.  Braille and audio editions are available to those who qualify in a format called "Daisy."  A special device is needed for these books.  You can learn all about that feature HERE. and by clicking on the "Daisy" link within the Open Library site.  Some books are available in "open" daisy (uprotected) and can be used by anyone on a number of devices.