Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Flipped Professional Development: Animoto

A teacher's time is very precious.  There are so many meetings to attend and lessons to plan that little time is left for professional development.  Flipping professional development in the same way that teacher's are flipping their classrooms is a great way to embed professional development into a teacher's regular work day.  

Below I've included a link to a Google Hangout Air cast that I published on how to use Animoto.  Animoto is a free, cloud based service where teachers (and possibly their students) can create short videos. It like taking Power Point or Prezi's to a whole new level.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Engrade Introduction and How To

Heading down the tech integration road can be a daunting one and very overwhelming.  There are many things to think of from where to start, how to add technology, and how to train students to use the technology.  I suggest starting small and Engrade can help you with that.

In the blog post, it is estimated that teachers use approximately 30% of their time on grading and other administrative tasks. Engrade helps teachers to reduce this time. Engrade is a free, online gradebook and also includes, attendance, behavior tracker, color coding of data, the ability to post online assignments and quizzes (and have your students take them online), and online resources for your students to use. Click on the link below to learn how to use Engrade.

Engrade Introducion and How To

As the video shows, Engrade can do many things. Once you have created your account then your students and their parents can create accounts for themselves. A code will be generated for you to give to your students and their parents. The students can complete online assignments and assessments. You can link pre-made flashcards for your students to use to practice many skills and attache wikis that will help them to complete homework assignments. Parents can keep up to date on how their children are doing and what assignments are missing.

There are many things that I like about Engrade.  I like the color coding of grades.  At a glance I can see whom is struggling and how I'm doing teaching.  This data analysis will allow me to work with other teachers to improve student learning outcomes. I also like the behavior tracker.  As a music teacher, I see every student in the school twice each week.  I can easily pull up the class and make any comments about behavior that I need.  It allows me to have concrete data to show parents.  I also like the online assignments and assessments.  Our students need practice taking assessments online before the SBAC begins in the Spring of 2015.  The more practice I give them then the better off they will be AND it inputs the grades directly into my gradebook.  I don't need to hand enter any online assignments or assessments.

I suggest starting with 1 subject or one period that you teach and only 1 feature.  Remember starting small will help you learn the software and gain confidence. You can always add other subjects, periods, or features later.

Here are 2 links that will help you get to know Engrade better.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Collaborative Learning Environment (CLE) Recommendations

Collaborative Learning Environments (CLE's) can be very useful and helpful for many educators. They can help link you to other teachers and you can share resources and ideas in a secure way.  I've been researching two particular sites: Edmodo and Engrade.

Edmodo is social learning networking for teachers.  It allows teachers to create online classroom that their students can access.  Teachers create groups that students then join and then create assignments and quizzes for students to use. It also allows the teacher to store links and upload files so that everything can be in one place. Click here to find out more.

Engrade is a free customizabe gradebook for teachers.  District can upgrade to an Engrade pro account that allows teachers to create digital lesson and 3rd party content making it easier for flipped classrooms. Upgraded accounts can also track student assessment data across the school, district, and nation as well as creating on line assessments.  Click here to find out more.

Both Edmodo and Engrade look like great sites.  I have created accounts for both and plan on finding way to use them in my Music teaching.  At this time, I can't not recommend either one though I do feel that Edmodo would work best with upper elementary (Grade 5) and older students because it looks like an easy way to create a flipped or online classroom. I would recommend Engrade for any teacher who would like an easy way o keep up their gradebook.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Learning From Others Experiences

Implementing a technology plan can be daunting and frustrating. Some people think that it limits student activity but new innovators are creating motion-sensor based games that are requiring students to get up and move. Others feel that it is eliminating the role of a teacher but I think that the teacher is becoming a guide for personalized student learning. Traditional education is changing and becoming more personalized.

We can also learn from other educator’s journey in integrating 1:1 technology. We can learn from their mistakes and success. Mark Paul, a Third Grade educator in East Grand Rapids, Michigan shared his experiences.  His four suggestions for teachers just beginning to integrate may seem simple but all could easily be overlooked.  I would not have thought about setting up a classroom homepage so that it was easier for my student’s (and myself) to navigate through.  Nor would I have thought of checking on the schools filtering system. My favorite suggestion of his is to “Teach student to use technology to teach themselves.” I strongly believe that teaching student to teach themselves is the ultimate purpose of my job. I want to create lifelong learners who know how to seek out the information they need to complete any task in life. Click here to read his short blog. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

ISTE Essential Conditions for Planning

The International Society for Technology Education (ISTE) is a non-profit organization that helps educators and educational leaders use technology to help connect students to their learning and the outside connected world. ISTE has created a many online resources, too many to mention here, to help with this. 
One of their most helpful resources are the “Essential Conditions.”   In this online resource the ISTE has created 14 necessary condition that should, in my opinion must, be effectively implemented for successful technology learning.  All of the conditions are dependent on each other and one cannot be left out. Click here for a direct link to ISTE's "Essential Conditions.

Two essential conditions that are easy to implement are “Ongoing Professional Learning” and “Empowering Leaders.” Both can be accomplished with very little money and help the staff to grow.  “Ongoing Professional Learning” can be filled in a variety of ways.  Teachers can take courses, either from colleges and universities or with in-house professional development lead by another teacher, to help them implement technology and become up to date on current trends.  “Empowering Leaders” can be linked to professional learning.  Administrators at the school and supervisory union level can evaluate the interests of their staff and find the teachers whom would be natural leaders in this area.  Administrators could then provide professional development opportunities for those leaders to stay up to date and to learn new technology.

A more difficult essential condition to implement would be “Consistent and Adequate Funding.” The state or our economy is poor that many school budgets are being defeated on the first vote.  Administrators need to reduce the budget and may find it easy to reduce the technology portion of the budget.  Their hope might be to make the technology that needs to be replaced last a little longer and they are willing to run the risk so they can get a budget passed. 

I argue that reducing the technology budget does not and should not need to happen.  There are so many free or inexpensive online resources that other budget items could be reduced. Textbooks could be replaced with flex books, paper consumption could be reduced by having students submit work electronically and communications between staff members could also be done this way.  A more overall look at how policies and procedures could be changed could help to reduce the budget significantly without impacting student learning.

Educators, both administrators and teachers, need to shift their thinking about technology.  Technology is no longer a way for student’s to show their learning; it is a tool for learning and needs to be thought of that way.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Who I Admire As A Leader

The person I admire most as a leader is a woman who could be passive and aggressive with her leadership and in her decision making, was willing to admit when she was wrong, always supported any idea we had if it sounded like it might work and helped mold me into a leader within my school.  Most importantly, she challenged myself and my colleagues to be the best educators we could be. She relied on the leaders among the staff to help her lead the whole group.

Her leadership style was both passive and aggressive.  She guided teachers when they needed it, helping them to become great educators. She also was very honest and compassionate.  She could recognize when anyone was in over their head and helped them through the situation even if it was not school related.
This woman believed that the best way to make decisions was to involve key stakeholders, those people whom would be most affected by the decision.  She listened to the opinions of those she needed to and took what they had to say into consideration. Many times, the group she used would come to a consensus around the decision. She rarely if ever made a decision on her own, unless she had to.
This woman was also very willing to admit when a decision she made, with or without the group, was wrong.  She always told the staff that if we did not like a decision she or a group made then we could come to her with an alternative but never just complaining about the decision. She apologized when needed to and took steps to “make it right.”

Any idea you had, she would support as long as you could defend your position on it.  It might have sounded crazy to her but she supported you if you could convince her that the idea was worth trying.  She was also there to help pick up the pieces if the idea went horribly wrong.

She had the great ability to recognize potential leadership in others.  She would often ask teachers to lead ideas and curriculum changes rather than herself.  She would help those she chose to lead in a positive manner and cultivated leadership within her staff.

Her best quality was holding the staff to high standards.  She never once told us that we failed at anything. She focused on the positive things that happened and had an uncanny ability to find the positive in any negative experience. Even when our school first check marked under NCLB she showed us the silver lining.

I picked her because of these qualities.  I have seen the opposite many times from other leaders and have seen how to just doesn’t work.  You can’t be passive all the time or aggressive all the time.  As a leader, you must recognize where you need to be on that sliding scale between passive and aggressive. You can’t make decisions on your own all the time.  Many times you as the leader may not be able to think of or know all the ways a decision will affect key stakeholders. You have to help guide your staff on the path. You can’t let them flounder.  She never did.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Who Am I As A Leader?

I am a leader who wants to see things change. Many times the eagerness for change can over take wise decision making.  Over the years, I have learned to experiment with new ideas and programs before sharing them with my colleagues.  I can tend to be one that jumps on the band wagon without looking at all of the criteria, needs, and wants just because the idea or program looks great.

I've been in education long enough to see many ideas, concepts, and programs come, go and then come back again.  Unfortunately, it does not always help us to be better educators.  When making decisions, I try to think about what is best for my students, what is best for teachers, and what is best for the community.  The needs of my students come first and foremost.  I need to figure out what they need to be successful in careers or college.  I then need to think about what teachers will need to help students become college and career ready. Lastly, I need to think about what the community needs from the school. 
The most important thing I can do as a leader is help to institute positive change.  Change can be easy for some and very difficult for others. As a leader in my school, it is my job to help those that struggle with change through the change. For example, our principal of approximately 20 years left to become a superintendent about 5 years ago.  The change was difficult for many of us.  We knew what to expect from the old principal and there where so many uncertainties with the new one. I was one who was very resistant to the change.  It wasn't until I realized that others looked up to me as a leader that I knew I had to change for our students, staff, and school.  I took small steps in learning about this new leader; who he was and how he functioned.  It is because of these small steps that the change has gone from a negative experience to a positive one.

On a whole school level, I accomplish instituting positive change with small committees or groups of teachers that represent the whole school. At our school, we have a committee called SILT: School Improvement Leadership Team.  This group consists of one teacher from each grade level, a special educator, a “specialist,” a teacher trained in Professional Learning Communities, and the principal. Long term and short term goals are created based on the needs of the teachers and students.  Ideas are presented to help meet those goals, discussed, changed if needed, implemented, and evaluated after a designated period of time.  Any changes that need to be made are addressed at the time of evaluation.  We are constantly reevaluating programs and ideas to get what we need for students and teachers.
Instituting positive change in my classroom can be more difficult since I’m the only music teacher in the school. I’m always searching the internet for new ideas and best practices for my subject area. Many times I will experiment with a small group before sharing with others. Along the way I tweak things to make them work for me. For example, I have always struggled with ways for students to keep track of their practice times.  I stumbled across Lesson Logs which is a free online tool that helps students track their assignments, practice times, ask me questions, and leave comments. I created an account for myself and experimented with it over the summer to see how it worked and if I could use this in the fall.  After a summer of experimentation, I implemented the change with my Band Students. I checked in with them and their parents every month to see how things were going on Lesson Logs. Everyone really enjoyed using it and I plan on continuing to use it this fall.

As a leader in my school, I have seen my colleagues become stagnant and unwilling to try new things. It is my hope that with my enthusiasm, attitude, and skills I can bring about positive change that will help students and teachers.