Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Part 2: Developing Responsible Technology Users

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Wesley Fryer: http://flickr.com/photos/wfryer/2959807121/
In Part 1 of this series, I discussed the importance of parents modeling responsible technology use in order to develop children who are responsible users themselves. Another important factor for raising responsible technology users is setting appropriate rules and boundaries in the home. This is a complex issue and there is no single best way to do things but there are some common practices I have observed over the years that seem to be particularly effective.

Most importantly, parents must first establish clear rules and boundaries guiding the use of technology in the home. In doing so, a variety of factors should be carefully considered such as family values, age, maturity, self-discipline and history with technology use. There may even be different rules for children within the same household based on the above-mentioned factors which is perfectly acceptable. Whatever the case may be, the household rules for technology use should be clearly communicated and consistently upheld.

Additionally, it is critical that parents explain the "why" behind the rules and boundaries that are being set. Children must understand why the household rules are important and how they align with your family values. If children do not understand why certain rules and boundaries are in place and how they are beneficial, it is unlikely those rules and boundaries will result in the development of lasting positive habits.

In talking with numerous parents over the past several years, one practice I have found to be particularly helpful for children is limiting screen time. In today's technology-rich world, it is easy for our children to be glued to one device or another 24/7 but this is not necessarily a healthy practice. It is important that children learn how to achieve balance in their daily life and the use of technology is no exception. The following are some practical examples, used by parents, for limiting screen time in a manner that is positive and beneficial:
  • Daily "unplug time" in which everyone, including the parents, have all devices put away and silenced  (family dinners are a great time to implement this)
  • Having children put away all devices in a specified location of the house at a certain time each night (helpful for parents to participate in this one)
  • Encouraging participation in a variety of extra-curricular activities
Check out this fantastic resource by Common Sense Media for more ideas on limiting screen time with your children. If your child is an iPad/iPhone user, click here to find out how to set-up screen time limits using the guided access feature. 

Along with setting appropriate household rules and boundaries guiding technology use, it is important for parents to consider utilizing services such as home web filters (OpenDNS is a great option) and parental control options offered through mobile service providers. In addition, parents should be aware of the parental restrictions available on most mobile devices. For help specifically with iPad/iPhones, check out this great resource...Setting up parental controls in iOS.

While it is good to provide our children with plenty of opportunities to grow in their use of technology, this process should not be without limits. Just like anything else, providing children with computers and mobile devices without any restrictions can result in many problems if they are not ready for this type of freedom and responsibility. 

On the other end of this spectrum, overly strict controls should also be avoided as it is important that children learn how to make good choices. One thing I regularly communicate to parents is that it is easy for kids to make good choices when there are no choices to be made. If we are to develop responsible users of technology, children must learn how to make good choices and exercise self-control. The only way this will happen is if they are provided with opportunities to exhibit these behaviors. 

In the next post, I will discuss the importance of digital literacy/citizenship and how parents can help their children develop valuable knowledge and skill in these areas. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Part 1: Developing Responsible Technology Users


In my current position at Prince of Peace Christian School,  I frequently receive questions from parents on what they can do to help their children learn how to use technology more responsibly. While I certainly do not have all the answers for this issue, the points I am going to discuss in this series are ones that I have found to be particularly important for teaching children how to be responsible and productive technology users. The information I intend to share has been developed through my experiences over the past thirteen years working with students and their parents as both a classroom teacher and instructional technology director/coach.

The first and most important area for all parents to consider in raising responsible technology users is the example they are demonstrating on a daily basis. Parents must continually ask the question: "What am I modeling for my children?" More simply, if you as a parent desire your children to be responsible users of technology, YOU must model the behaviors and habits you expect out of your children. More often than not, children will follow the lead of their parents and the use of technology is no exception. When parents approach me with concerns regarding poor, undesirable and/or inappropriate uses of technology among their children, the above-mentioned question is usually the first one I ask as it is the most important starting point for change. 

In attempting to raise responsible technology users, parents must also consider their general attitudes towards technology that are being conveyed to the children. A great example of this involves parents who are overly fearful or reluctant to use technology. When I encounter students who seem hesitant to embrace new technology and/or have limited technology skills for their age and maturity level, I typically find that they have parents who model these same behaviors and attitudes. 

Another common situation I encounter is parents who are overly permissive and oblivious regarding the ways in which their children utilize technology. In contrast to the first example, children in this situation tend to be relatively savvy with technology because their parents provide them with all the latest devices; however, they rarely have any idea how to utilize these tools responsibly since little to no guidance is being provided by the parents. Neither approach is effective but both are good examples of how children follow the lead of their parents. With all that being said, it is critical that parents carefully consider whether the example they are modeling, in terms of technology use, is positive or negative.

As we continue to discuss important issues involving the development of responsible technology users, I encourage you to check out and bookmark the dynamite resource below provided by Common Sense Media. This is one of the absolute best resources to help parents stay educated and prepared to handle the the most common technology issues affecting children. 

Common Sense Media Family Toolbox

In the next post, we will discuss some best practices for setting appropriate guidelines and boundaries that are helpful for developing children who are responsible technology users. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Time

Each and every day is comprised of 86,400 seconds, 1,440 minutes and 24 hours. Regardless of how you choose to break down your day, we all have exact same amount of time at our disposal making time the great equalizer. In working with a wide variety of individuals over the years, I have met people who seem to magically add an extra hour to their day and others who simply waste an amazing amount of time each day. You can probably guess who the more successful individuals were.

In looking back at my experiences as a teacher, coach and administrator, one of my biggest pet peeves is when I hear the proverbial "I don't have time" excuse. Whether it is taking on a new commitment, trying something new or simply completing a needed task, the "I don't have time" excuse is one that comes up often. With that being said, I will be the first to admit that I too have been guilty of making this excuse on numerous occasions. As an example, I have wanted to start this blog for a long time but have procrastinated due to a "lack of time." Although I find myself making this excuse less and less as I have grown and matured over the years, it is still an easy trap to fall into when demands for our time seem overwhelming.

The fact of the matter is that we all ultimately make time for what is truly important to us. No matter how busy I am or how little time I seem to have, I always find a way to make time for the things I REALLY want to do. If we are truly being honest with ourselves, we all do this. The real issue then is not so much that we do not have the time to do something, it is that the activity or commitment in question is not a priority to us.

Coming to this realization can make a profound difference in the way we prioritize our time and take on new commitments. Taking an honest look at how our time is spent each day will typically reveal that we have more time available than previously thought. The fact that I am finally starting this blog is not due to having more time available, it because it is a priority to me and I am making the time to get it done. Moving forward, I encourage you to be honest with yourself and others in regards to what you really have time for in your personal and professional life. Remember, we always have time for what is truly important to us.
By Sun Ladder (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) via Wikimedia Commons


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Important Lesson Learned From Fatherhood

On July 4, 2014, I was blessed with the privilege of becoming a new father to a precious little four year old girl whom my wife and I welcomed into our home through the process of adoption. Our daughter, Chassity, is our first child so we are both very new to the role of a parent and all that this tremendous responsibility involves.


In the four months since Chassity came into our home, I have learned a great deal personally and have a new found appreciation for all that a parent goes through with a child. One specific thing I have been most surprised with is how observant children are of everything that their parents do. It is amazing how fast our daughter has picked up on habits and mannerisms my wife and I have and is repeating them regularly. It really makes you think twice about the things you say and do in front of your children.  

This experience has prompted me to rethink the powerful influence teachers and coaches have over children each and every day. With the amount of time that children spend at school and extracurricular activities, it is certain that they are carefully observing their adult role models at school just as much or more than their parents. If you are like me, I am sure you have found yourself (at least once) engaging in the very thing you hate to see your own children/students doing. With this in mind, it is incredibly important for all of us in education to consider the example we are setting on a daily basis. 

In my opinion, the greatest blessing of being an educator and coach is the opportunity to make a positive and lasting difference in the life of a child. The example we set is instrumental in determining whether this difference is positive or negative. This prompts us all (myself included) to ask some important questions such as...

What kind of example am I REALLY setting for the kids under my care and leadership?

Are my daily behaviors and actions ones that I would be proud of my students/athletes repeating?

Am I modeling, on a daily basis, the character traits I would want to see from the young people I lead?

Do I demonstrate a consistent and genuine love for each of the kids under my care regardless of their behavior or background? 

God has blessed all of us in education with a powerful platform to influence kids. Ultimately, what we do will be far more powerful than anything we say in determining how effective this influence is. As the old saying goes..."Actions speak louder than words." I wish you all the best in this ongoing challenge of making a positive difference in the life of a child. God Bless!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

My Top 5 iPad Apps for the Classroom Series: Explain Everything

Explain Everything ™
Image Credit: http://www.morriscooke.com/

The use of iPads in schools has grown tremendously over the past few years. It seems like every week you hear of a new school or district starting a new to 1 to 1 iPad program. With that in mind, I thought it would be a helpful to share some of the insights I have gained since the launch of my school's 1 to 1 iPad program two years ago. One question that constantly comes up when discussing iPads in schools involves what apps are best for the classroom. With the endless number of apps available, this can be a very daunting question.

A key point that helps sort through this mess involves a focus on apps that allow creation. Oftentimes, teachers get bogged down with trying to find apps that support and deliver content; however, these apps seldom require much in the way of higher order thinking skills as they typically involve simple drill and practice tasks. Education Week has an excellent blog post from February 2013 that sums up this issue very nicely... All the Good Apps Fit on One Screen. As mentioned by the author, a focus on creation apps can be very liberating for a teacher as it eliminates the need to stay up-to-date with the endless number of content focused apps available. Additionally, creation apps possess much greater potential to positively impact learning and the development of 21st Century Skills such as creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking.

With all that being said, I have put together a list of the top 5 apps I would recommend for anyone using iPads in the classroom. The fifth and final app on my list is Explain Everything. Of the five apps on my list, Explain Everything is definitely my favorite. The developer of this app, MorrisCooke, describes it as a "unique interactive whiteboard and screencasting tool" but this is a rather humble description. If you are someone who is looking for a versatile tool for creating and editing multimedia presentations and screencasting videos, Explain Everything is the tool for you. The following are some of the key features that make Explain Everything a dynamite tool for the classroom:
  • Capability to insert any type of file, video or image into a project
  • Versatile drawing features that allows you to draw or annotate on anything within a project including video
  • Easy to use video editing tools including the ability to redo specific portions of a recording (this is a unique feature that most screencasting apps for the iPad do not offer)
  • Ability to zoom and pan to display as much or little that you need on the screen
  • Integration with almost every major cloud storage service making it super easy to export and share projects
To learn more on how to use Explain Everything, check out the following tutorials I created for students new to the app at my school.






For what Explain Everything offers in terms of functionality, its $2.99 cost is an absolute steal. In my opinion, this is the most useful overall app on the iPad for both teachers and students and I highly recommend it. Purchasing Explain Everything will be the best $2.99 you ever spend for your iPad. You can purchase the app and read more info about it here: Explain Everything

If you missed Parts 1 through 4 of this series, you can view them at the following links: 

Although the five apps I have shared in this series are certainly not the only great apps available for the iPad, they are ones that I have found to be particularly useful for the classroom. Please feel free to share any other apps that you have found to be especially good or simply share your own top 5 list. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

My Top 5 iPad Apps for the Classroom Series: iMovie

Image Credit: https://www.apple.com/ios/imovie/ 
The use of iPads in schools has grown tremendously over the past few years. It seems like every week you hear of a new school or district starting a new to 1 to 1 iPad program. With that in mind, I thought it would be a helpful to share some of the insights I have gained since the launch of my school's 1 to 1 iPad program two years ago. One question that constantly comes up when discussing iPads in schools involves what apps are best for the classroom. With the endless number of apps available, this can be a very daunting question.

A key point that helps sort through this mess involves a focus on apps that allow creation. Oftentimes, teachers get bogged down with trying to find apps that support and deliver content; however, these apps seldom require much in the way of higher order thinking skills as they typically involve simple drill and practice tasks. Education Week has an excellent blog post from February 2013 that sums up this issue very nicely... All the Good Apps Fit on One Screen. As mentioned by the author, a focus on creation apps can be very liberating for a teacher as it eliminates the need to stay up-to-date with the endless number of content focused apps available. Additionally, creation apps possess much greater potential to positively impact learning and the development of 21st Century Skills such as creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking.

With all that being said, I have put together a list of the top 5 apps I would recommend for anyone using iPads in the classroom. The fourth app on my list is the video production/editing app, iMovie, created by Apple. If you are looking for a simple but highly effective tool that you or your students can use for creating and editing movies on the iPad, iMovie is an outstanding option. One of the major advantages of the iPad for school, as opposed to a traditional laptop, is the ability to easily take pictures and record video. This makes an app such as iMovie highly important as it allows users to take any content stored on the camera roll and use it for producing more creative and professional looking videos. Below are some the most notable features that make iMovie an outstanding video creation/editing tool: 
  • Simple and intuitive user interface 
  • Extremely easy to insert existing pictures and video from camera roll into movie project
  • New pictures, video and audio recordings can be captured and inserted directly into a movie project from within the app
  • Includes a variety of built in themes and special effects that can be added to any movie
  • Allows any song in your iTunes library to be inserted into a video 
  • Offers a robust set of features for editing each audio and video clip within a movie project
  • Easy upload options to YouTube and Vimeo
  • Includes a movie trailer option that allows users to create Hollywood style movie previews (check out this great example from one of our 6th grade teachers)

*Video courtesy of @ShellRGrant



If you are completely new to iMovie, check out this tutorial I created for users unfamiliar with the app. In case you are wondering while watching the tutorial video, I am also an Olympic weightlifting coach which is why I used video footage of my athletes. Typically, I use iMovie on my iPad to create highlight videos of our team following major competitions so I can personally attest to iMovie's effectiveness for producing high quality videos. 




It is important to know that iMovie, along with every app in the iWork suite for iOS, is free with the purchase of a new iPad. If you are not eligible to download it for free, the normal cost is $4.99 but it is well worth it if you would like to have a quality video creation/editing app for your iPad. If you would like to download Keynote or view more detailed info on it, visit the following link: iMovie

If you are familiar with another video creation/editing app for the iPad that is comparable or even better than iMovie, feel to comment and share your recommendation. It is always helpful to know about the different options available. In the next post, we will review the final app in my top 5 list....Explain Everything.

If you missed Parts 1 through 3 of this series, you can view them at the following links: 

Notability
Pages
Keynote

Have a blessed week! 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

My Top 5 iPad Apps for the Classroom Series: Keynote

Image Credit: https://www.apple.com/ios/keynote/ 
The use of iPads in schools has grown tremendously over the past few years. It seems like every week you hear of a new school or district starting a new to 1 to 1 iPad program. With that in mind, I thought it would be a helpful to share some of the insights I have gained since the launch of my school's 1 to 1 iPad program two years ago. One question that constantly comes up when discussing iPads in schools involves what apps are best for the classroom. With the endless number of apps available, this can be a very daunting question.

A key point that helps sort through this mess involves a focus on apps that allow creation. Oftentimes, teachers get bogged down with trying to find apps that support and deliver content; however, these apps seldom require much in the way of higher order thinking skills as they typically involve simple drill and practice tasks. Education Week has an excellent blog post from February 2013 that sums up this issue very nicely... All the Good Apps Fit on One Screen. As mentioned by the author, a focus on creation apps can be very liberating for a teacher as it eliminates the need to stay up-to-date with the endless number of content focused apps available. Additionally, creation apps possess much greater potential to positively impact learning and the development of 21st Century Skills such as creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking.

With all that being said, I have put together a list of the top 5 apps I would recommend for anyone using iPads in the classroom. The third app on my list is the presentation app, Keynote, created by Apple. Anyone who has used Keynote for the Mac knows it is a fantastic program for creating presentations and the iPad app is no exception. Like the other apps in the iWork suite for the iPad, Keynote is very easy and intuitive for users of all ages to navigate.  In my opinion, it offers the most robust set of features for creating and editing presentations on the iPad. Below are some of the key features to be aware of: 
  • Simple and intuitive user interface
  • Automatic iCloud back-up 
  • Great selection of slide animations and transitions
  • Built-in image enhancement capability
  • Ability to insert professional charts and graphs 
  • Helpful presentation tools including a highlighter which allows the presenter to highlight specific areas of a slide during a live presentation in addition to a laser pointer tool
  • Variety of easy to use sharing options including AirDrop for iOS users
  • Microsoft Office compatibility allows users to import PowerPoint presentations for further editing or export new presentations out as PowerPoint files
  • Ability to collaborate with other users on the same presentation through shared iCloud links
If you have never used Keynote on the iPad before, check out this brief tutorial I created for students new to the app at our school. 




The best news of all is that Keynote, along with every app in the iWork suite, is free with the purchase of a new iPad. If you are not eligible to download it for free, the normal cost is $9.99 but it is well worth it if you would like to have a quality presentation app for your iPad. If you would like to download Keynote or view more detailed info on it, visit the following link: Keynote

If you are familiar with another presentation app for the iPad that is comparable or even better than Pages, feel to comment and share your recommendation. It is always helpful to know about the different options available. In the next post, we will review the next app in my top 5 list....iMovie.

If you missed Part 1 or 2 of this series, you can view them at the following links: 

Notability
Pages

Have a great week! 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

My Top 5 iPad Apps for the Classroom Series: Pages

Image Credit: https://www.apple.com/ios/pages/ 
The use of iPads in schools has grown tremendously over the past few years. It seems like every week you hear of a new school or district starting a new to 1 to 1 iPad program. With that in mind, I thought it would be a helpful to share some of the insights I have gained since the launch of my school's 1 to 1 iPad program two years ago. One question that constantly comes up when discussing iPads in schools involves what apps are best for the classroom. With the endless number of apps available, this can be a very daunting question.

A key point that helps sort through this mess involves a focus on apps that allow creation. Oftentimes, teachers get bogged down with trying to find apps that support and deliver content; however, these apps seldom require much in the way of higher order thinking skills as they typically involve simple drill and practice tasks. Education Week has an excellent blog post from February 2013 that sums up this issue very nicely... All the Good Apps Fit on One Screen. As mentioned by the author, a focus on creation apps can be very liberating for a teacher as it eliminates the need to stay up-to-date with the endless number of content focused apps available. Additionally, creation apps possess much greater potential to positively impact learning and the development of 21st Century Skills such as creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking.

With all that being said, I have put together a list of the top 5 apps I would recommend for anyone using iPads in the classroom. The second app on my list is the word processing app, Pages, created by Apple. If you are using an iPad in an educational setting, a good word processing app is an essential tool to have. Of all the options available for use on the iPad, Pages is the best one for the classroom in my opinion. This app is simple and intuitive for students of all ages to use yet offers the robust functionality necessary for completing both fundamental and creative word processing tasks. Here are some of the key features that set Pages apart:
  • Smooth and intuitive user interface
  • Automatic iCloud back-up including access to documents on any device with an Internet connection (very helpful for ensuring students never lose anything) 
  • Provides the essential functions necessary for completing most academic word processing tasks such as research papers, reports, etc...
  • Ability to insert photos, tables and charts which is a function not available in most word processing apps on the iPad 
  • Allows inserted objects to be moved freely around the document similar to the capability found in most desktop publishing programs (this is a big plus for completing more creative tasks) 
  • Documents created in Microsoft Word and be imported into Pages for further editing 
  • Can easily export documents out into other apps and cloud storage services in a variety of file formats including Pages,Word, PDF and ePub. 
  • Ability to collaborate with others on the same document through shared iCloud links
  • Several easy to use sharing options including Air Drop for iOS users
If you are new to Pages and would like to try it out, check out this brief tutorial video I created for our students introducing the basic features available in the app. 



To purchase this app or view more details in the app store, go here: Pages

If you are familiar with another word processing app for the iPad that is comparable or even better than Pages, feel to comment and share your recommendation. It is always helpful to know about the different options available. In the next post, we will review the next app in my top 5 list....Keynote.

If you missed Part 1 of this series, you can view it here:  Notability

Thanks for reading and I wish everyone a blessed July 4th holiday.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

My Top 5 iPad Apps for the Classroom Series: Notability

Notability
Image Credit: http://www.gingerlabs.com 
The use of iPads in schools has grown tremendously over the past few years. It seems like every week you hear of a new school or district starting a new to 1 to 1 iPad program. With that in mind, I thought it would be a helpful to share some of the insights I have gained since the launch of my school's 1 to 1 iPad program two years ago. One question that constantly comes up when discussing iPads in schools involves what apps are best for the classroom. With the endless number of apps available, this can be a very daunting question.

A key point that helps sort through this mess involves a focus on apps that allow creation. Oftentimes, teachers get bogged down with trying to find apps that support and deliver content; however, these apps seldom require much in the way of higher order thinking skills as they typically involve simple drill and practice tasks. Education Week has an excellent blog post from February 2013 that sums up this issue very nicely... All the Good Apps Fit on One Screen. As mentioned by the author, a focus on creation apps can be very liberating for a teacher as it eliminates the need to stay up-to-date with the endless number of content focused apps available. Additionally, creation apps possess much greater potential to positively impact learning and the development of 21st Century Skills such as creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking.

With all that being said, I have put together a list of the top 5 apps I would recommend for anyone using iPads in the classroom. First on the list is Notability. At its core, Notability is a robust note taking app designed with students in mind. Although there are many outstanding note taking apps available for the iPad, Notability is ideal for students for a variety of reasons. Below are some of the most important features that make it stand out among other note taking apps:
  • Simple and intuitive to use for students of all ages including elementary age kids
  • Organization structure that students easily understand
  • Automatic backup capability to a variety of cloud storage services (very important for students)
  • Provides the ability to type or hand write notes = great feature for students completing work in subjects such as science and math where equations are much easier to hand write
  • Lectures can be recorded and notes automatically sync with the recorded audio
  • PDF and MS Office documents can be imported into Notability and annotated
  • A variety of multimedia content can be embedded into notes
  • Keyword search capability within notes 
Check out the following tutorial video created by two of our middle school students reviewing the key features available within Notability. The version of the app displayed in this video is not the most current one but you will still gain a solid understanding of what the app can do.


*Video courtesy of @teacherweiss 

To purchase Notability or view more details about the app, check it out on the app store here: Notability

While Notability is certainly not the only great note taking app available, it is my personal favorite for use in an academic setting. Students at our school have been using it with great success for over two years and the developers of the app continue to make it better and better. For those of you with experience using Notability, feel free to share any additional insights that may be helpful for individuals wanting to check it out. In the next post, we will look at the word processing app, Pages, created by Apple.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Reflections from Our First Edcamp

Why attend an unconference? (Edcamp Philly 2012 Survey)
creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by kjarrett: http://flickr.com/photos/kjarrett/6922311428
Back in October of the current school year, I had the privilege of attending Edcamp Dallas which was my first experience with an Edcamp style professional development event. Up until that point, I had heard a lot of great things about Edcamps but had not yet experienced one myself. After participating in Edcamp Dallas, I was instantly sold. I have to admit, that the idea of attending a conference where none of the sessions are pre-planned and anyone can present made me a bit skeptical; however, I quickly realized that this form of professional development is highly effective, engaging and productive for everyone involved. I was thoroughly impressed with the enthusiasm and eagerness to share by all of the conference participants and the unique format was a refreshing change of pace from a traditional conference. Upon leaving, I immediately decided that I wanted bring this experience to the staff I work with at my school.


After months of patiently waiting and planning, we finally got the opportunity to run our very own Edcamp this past March. With only a half-day of time to work with, we offered four, thirty-minute sessions with five different sectional offerings within each session. After the final session, we all came together for a "slam session" and faculty prize raffle. The most significant challenge we had to overcome in our planning was the limited time to work with. At a normal Edcamp, the sessions are decided the day of the event; however, there was not time to do this in our particular situation. To work around this challenge, we created a shared session schedule using Google Sheets that any of our staff could use to input their name and session idea into during the time slot of their choosing. This sheet was sent out about 48 hours before the event and the response was outstanding. There were no problems filling all of the session slots and we even needed to add another room to the schedule to accommodate all of the presentation ideas.


Given that the majority of our staff had never even heard of an Edcamp before this, I was a bit nervous going in regarding how this new form of professional development would be received. Would we have enough teachers volunteer to be presenters? Would the sessions be productive and relevant to our staff? Would our teachers find the time productive since the Edcamp format was totally new to them? Ultimately, these concerns were found to be a non-issue as the event proceeded without a hitch and was a highly productive time of learning and sharing for all. Never before had I seen our faculty so engaged and enthusiastic during a professional development in-service time. It was incredibly encouraging to see to see our teachers leading rich discussions with their peers and openly sharing ideas and best practices from their classrooms.

  

The success of this event was confirmed in the feedback I received in a follow-up survey. The most notable responses were as follows:
  • 98% of the staff agreed or strongly agreed that the Edcamp format was a productive use of professional development time.
  • 98% of the staff agreed or strongly agreed that the topics shared were relevant and helpful.
  • 100% of the staff agreed or strongly agreed that they value the ability to choose from a variety of sessions led by their peers (83% answered strongly agree on this one).
  • 98% of the staff agreed or strongly agreed that they would prefer to use the Edcamp format for future professional development days. 
For those of you who have participated in Edcamp events before, I am sure these observations are no surprise to you. If you are yet to experience an Edcamp for yourself, I highly recommend attending one ASAP as it will change the way you look at professional development. To find an Edcamp near you, check the following site:


I wish you all the best as we continue seeking ways to change teaching and learning for the better. God Bless!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Power of Autonomy & Choice

Educational postcard:  " Teachers work together"
cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by Ken Whytock: http://flickr.com/photos/7815007@N07/7804984824/
As I reflect back on the current school year, it has been incredible to see some of the amazing things our teachers are doing in the classroom in terms of how technology is being used to enhance teaching and learning. While our teachers have always done a great job in the classroom, this year has brought on a new level of creativity and innovation that is exciting for the future of our school. In trying to identify the primary contributor to this explosion of growth, the one thing that jumps out at me is a targeted effort to provide our teachers with more autonomy and choice in their professional development.

Giving our teachers more freedom to choose the professional development options they want to engage in and the option to implement those ideas in ways that work best in their classroom has proven to be a catalyst for positive change. In the past, many of our professional development meetings involved everyone meeting together in one place to discuss or learn about a single tool or topic. While this approach has its place at times, it was limited in that it did not allow teachers any freedom to explore and learn about things that they were most interested in and found relevant to their particular classroom. In recognizing the limitations of this approach, I knew we had to make some changes.

With that mind, we began to offer our teachers a menu of options for each of our regularly scheduled professional development meetings. Rather than just coming to hear me share something, several of our teachers began volunteering to share tools and ideas that they were particularly passionate about giving us the option of offering a variety of session topics during our staff professional development days. This practice has since been expanded to allow teachers to come up with their own professional development options such as leading their own meeting, participating in a webinar, Twitter chat or attending a local seminar/workshop, etc. To manage the organization of all these options, we use Google Forms to have teachers register for the session they want to attend or communicate the PD activity they intend to complete on their own. The ultimate result of all this is that our teachers are collaborating and generating some great new ideas that far exceed anything I imagined.

Providing our teachers with more autonomy and choice in their professional growth has been just the thing that was needed to spark the wave of creativity and innovation that we are seeing across our campus. The following is just a small sampling of some of the outstanding student and teacher ideas that have been implemented in our classrooms as a result of our revised approach to professional development.

Science Giants - 8th Grade science website including student blogs and student-created tutorial videos

The View from 1082 - 8th grade English website dedicated to student blogs reflecting on the ideas generated through 20% time

Mrs. Peterson's Class - 4th grade website including links to student blogs and other innovative activities taking place in the classroom

Mole Day Music Video - created in high school chemistry

Anti-Bullying Video - created by middle school students as part of a project based learning unit on bullying

Shakespeare Made Simple - tutorial video created by high school students to help other students better understand Shakespeare

Slope-Intercept Form - tutorial video created by an 8th grade math student to teach the slope-intercept form math concept

Sunday, February 9, 2014

It's Not About You

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by Iowa Digital Library: http://flickr.com/photos/uiowa/8408787732/
I have been privileged to serve in the field of education for over thirteen years now and have worked alongside many dynamite educators during this time in both public and private schools. Between teaching, coaching and my current administrative role, I have observed a wide variety of both effective and ineffective professional practices. Throughout my experiences, I have often wondered why many teachers, coaches and administrators do the things they do in terms of professional practice. While there is certainly no single right way to do things, especially when it comes to education, there are definitely practices that are more effective than others. 

More specifically, the typical American classroom involves a teacher-centered learning environment where information is imparted from the teacher to the students in a lecture, drill and test format. This method has been used in our country for well over a century (see image above) and continues to be the prevailing instructional model used in both K-12 and university classrooms. The question I find myself asking more and more in my role as Director of Innovative Teaching and Learning is WHY? Why is it so difficult for so many teachers, administrators and schools in this country to change? Why are student-centered instructional models not being accepted more readily? Why are we not more eager try things that will better prepare our students for the demands of the 21st Century?

Before offering my insights on this issue, I fully acknowledge that there are a multitude of factors that make it very difficult for educators to implement meaningful changes in the classroom. Despite these seemingly insurmountable obstacles, there are numerous educators all across this country who are successful in motivating, inspiring and helping students to achieve much deeper levels of learning in spite of their circumstances. I am sure we can all recall at least one teacher who fits this description and made a lasting impact on our own life. This begs the question, what are these individuals doing differently? 

In my experience and observations, one distinct commonality among all highly effective educators (including coaches and administrators) is an unwavering commitment to finding and implementing the BEST methods for developing the individuals under their care regardless of the circumstances they are in. Before this mindset can be embraced though, one must come to the realization that it is not about you. The things we do in the classroom should not be dictated by what we are most comfortable with, what is easiest for us to implement or what we feel is best. Rather, classroom instruction should be governed by the methods and practices that have shown to be MOST EFFECTIVE for preparing children with the skills and knowledge they need for success in the 21st Century. 

Ultimately, we must be vigilant in learning and implementing the best methods and tools for educating our students. While this may call for us doing things that are difficult, unfamiliar and outside our comfort zone, the most innovative and successful educators embrace this challenge daily. The key is a selfless attitude and passion for finding the most effective teaching and learning practices. In closing, the next time you find yourself reluctant or opposed to trying something new, remember...it's not about you!

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." ~Philippians 2:3-4