It’s That Time of Year!

In a few hours, I’ll be leaving to head to the big city for the 2010 eTech Ohio Conference at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.  I’m psyched.

This will be my third year attending the conference.  My first two years, I presented a session called, “I Teach, Therefore iWeb,” which discussed my use of a classroom website as a springboard for students to visit en route to other technology sites (Moodle, Online Grades, etc.).

This year, I am assisting in a colleague’s presentation, titled, “YouTube, iTunes, and Social Networking in MY Classroom?”.  We will present information on how we use different technologies in our seventh grade classrooms.  Additionally, we’ll present a Bloom’s Taxonomy Meets Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences matrix for use in a reading, science, and social studies classroom.

Looking ahead at the conference’s online planner, I am, unfortunatly, rather disappointed at the session offerings.  While the prior two years have been filled with “How can I go to all three of these sessions in the next block?”, this year looks like it may be more of, “Now what should I do?”.  Oh well.

As this if my first year attending the conference with a well-working laptop, iPod Touch, a PLN, and a plethora of tools to update everyone on what I’m doing and thinking, I plan to use the entire arsenal to do just that.

Stay tuned for session updates, reflections, and probably most importantly, where I’m having dinner.

Wanted: Collaboration

In two weeks, my building will be on the receiving end of something called a Technical Assistance Visit (TAV), a two-day visit by a team of local educators assessing our building’s progress and adherence to our Site Action Plan.  This two-day fury is a product of a state-funded initiative, Making Middle Grades Work, a sister program to SREB’s High Schools That Work.

As one of four members of our building’s leadership team, I’m co-charged with preparing  mounds of reports and documents for the TAV.  This process involves taking templates (unfortunately not real template files, just what some people like to call templates), populating them with the information specific to our building/district, and preparing them for publication (binders, slideshow, etc.).

So here’s my gripe:  We’ve gone old school!

In the weeks leading up to the TAV, our leadership team has covered ourselves in a nearly-unsortable web of updated, revised, changed, modified, and edited documents that have been shared, attached, forwarded, and replied.  There has to be an easier way!  And there is.

A simple Google of “top collaborative tools” yields a plethora of results.  Add the word “education” to the mix and you get even a more helpful list of tools.  There have been tweet after tweet RT’d through my PLN over the last year, offering reviews and guides to a whole slew of collaboration software.

These tools, specifically designed to connect people who are physically distanced to a single, shared document, would be PERFECT for our TAV preparation.  Simply put, we could see who edited what, when, and where.  They could even comment to tell us why! Without that tool in place, we’re left with a textbox in the footer that says “Rev. XX/XX/XX.”  Even with that, only a few of the collaborators will update it as they go.  On a bright note, I’ve used DropBox to share (and monitor updates) a folder of documents with another team member.  (On a side note: DropBox is a great solution to those of us migrating away from Apple’s MobileMe.  Another post for another day.)

When my family decided to celebrate my parents’ anniversary this past summer by renting a cabin in Tennessee, I created a pad at etherpad.com (recently acquired by Google).  It was just the right solution for helping three couples around the state plan who would bring what on the trip!  I’m confident that the same successes would be seen if our TAV team would give it a shot.

So why not?

I guess it’s easier for me to complain than it is to fix it.  Fixing it requires professional development for my colleagues and troubleshooting when something goes wrong.  It would require us to ask permission from SREB to communicate with them with these non-traditional collaborative tools.  Or does it?  What if I just…shared.  What if I just sent them invites to collaborate on GoogleDocs?  With GoogleDocs’ new “upload” feature, it’d be perfect for working on the already-existing Word document “templates.”  Would they accept the invitation, tinker with it until they figure it out, and result in true collaboration on this project?  Or is there a middle ground somewhere between these two options?

I should count my blessings.  We did use email to send attachments.  Final, no-need-to-edit-anymore, documents are being converted to PDFs for emailing/presentations.  It could be worse.  We could be sharing paper documents in manilla envelopes.

Sometimes they just want to be kids…

Last year, I was trying desperately to avoid the all-too-common Day Before Christmas Break Christmas Puzzle Worksheet Day in my seventh grade social studies, English, and reading classes.

I had been working with my English and reading students to use context clues to identify unknown words for the past several weeks and the afternoon before the last day, I came up with my idea!

Borrowing my school’s new video camera, I headed home to put this together:

Along with the video, each student group had a packet of the lyrics to the poem (which we watched twice) with several words (nestled, coursers, peddler, droll, etc.) underlined.  On a separate paper, the students had to come up with their own definitions or synonyms of the words.

Want to know the craziest thing?  THEY LOVED IT! Make no mistake…there was plenty of giggling at this glimpse into their teacher’s personal world (“Nice PJs, Mr. Malany!”  “Is that your house?!”).  I’ll take it.  They loved being read to!  They loved expression.  They loved getting to feel like they were seven or eight instead of the social pressures that come with having to appear twelve or thirteen (going on sixteen)!  They wanted to watch it over and over.

It made me feel a little guilty for not making it even more dramatic (Read: It took like six different takes for me to start the camera, read without messing up, stop the camera, then watch the footage only to see that the darn auto-focus was freaking out with the lights on the tree).  Be the time I was had an acceptable video, I was done adding much expression!

Nothing revolutionary here.  Just a reminder that kids like being kids from time to time.  I showed the video again this year to my students (of course, they thought I made it especially for them) and they still loved it.  Read to kids.  Parents, teachers, all those who get the chance: read to kids.  They might not get it anywhere else.

Backchanneling in the Classroom?

I was first introduced to public speaking backchanneling when I attended a session by my district’s technology coordinator, Ryan Collins, at eTech Ohio’s 2009 conference.  During the session, he used several different backchanneling methods (I don’t remember the specific services.) to relatively instantly gather background information about his audience.  Additionally, he was able to provide a medium that the participants were able to submit questions or reflect on comments he has made during the presentation.  Essentially, it was instant (and silent!) collaboration.

The thing I noticed most about this, was that all of the participants in the backchanneling process had to be completely engaged in the presentation.  That’s what I strive for EVERYDAY with EACH of my students.  Admittedly, the extent of engagement in my classroom is all too often listen-to-what-I’m-saying-and-write-it-in-your-notes.  Bleh.

So that’s where the idea of students backchanneling to me (I’m not sure if I used the verbiage correctly there) during lessons comes in.  Has anyone used this successfully?  What services are available?  Which are better than others?  How can one student backchanneling be beneficial to all my students?  Are there some hidden benefits here for absent students to utilize?  Other thoughts or advice?

Ah ha! I guess I should have mentioned…

In my second year of teaching seventh grade social studies, I frequently find notes in last year’s lesson plans to correct a mistake on a worksheet or how to teach something better this year. As I was getting ready for “the second stretch of the year,” I came across a very important Note-To-Self from last year.

On my SMARTBoard, I typically use GoogleEarth to show locations of the places we’re studying (The benefits of using it over a wall set of maps are reserved for another entry.).  On this particular day, I think I was showing them some of the significant locations from the Persian War, particularly, one of the “escape routes” that was used.  I “flew” over an area just west of Athens, Greece.  Suddenly, the following conversation  broke out:
athens
Student A: “Whoa!  What’s that?!”

Me: “What’s what?”

Student A: “Those things in the water.”

Me: “You mean these?  Those are ships at the docks on the harbor.”

Student B: “Well what are those lines?!”

Me: “All of the roads between the harbor and the city.”

Student C: “But they didn’t have cars back then.”

Me: “Correct, remember, GoogleEarth is a modern-day picture of locations.”

Student C: “YOU MEAN GREECE IS A REAL PLACE?!”

And there was my Ah-Ha Moment.  I had forgotten to tell my students anything about Athens, or Greece, or Egypt or India all being real locations with real people doing real things.  I’m sure there is some big adolescent psychology lesson  here about ego-centricism and metacognition, but the bottom line is this: my lessons on ancient civilizations were so abstract to my students, that they weren’t studying them as old versions of modern places.  Instead, they were memorizing facts about foreign (if not fairytale) lands.

It was a good wakeup call for me, reminding me to teach students from their perspective, not mine.  In future years, I hope to incorporate Skype and benefit from the Skype in Schools community to help my students connect to real, modern-day students in the locations we’re studying.  Fingers crossed…