Archive for August 2007

A Whole Lot of Learning Going On

August 22, 2007

Today was the first day of our campus staff development, and I think it went quite well.

Last week I ranted a bit (and a little bit more) about some of the recent staff development sessions I participated in (and by participate I mean sat through), so when planning our campus days I wanted to do just the opposite.

When planning staff development I think it is important to collaborate with others, get various perspectives, give participants choices and allow participants time to work hands-on, discuss and reflect — so, this is what we had in mind when laying out our staff development framework.   We decided to use a wiki again because we got such positive feedback from our new teacher training.

One of the components of our staff development wiki  is a page for each participant to post reflections, products, questions, etc.  Hopefully at the end of the week we will have a helpful archive of thoughts and materials.

I reflected briefly on my wiki page, but thought I would expand on my reflection here.  I taught three sessions today – one on using wikis as electronic portfolios and two on geocaching and using GPS in the classroom.

The session on electronic portfolios and wikis was much more popular than I had anticipated.  The classroom was full and we had a range of teachers from various subject areas (English, foreign language, science, art, media tech, law, history).   We began by reading a few quotes, discussing types of portfolios and then talking about ideas/reasons for using portfolios in the various disciplines.  After our discussion we talked about how one might best structure a wiki for the purpose of electronic portfolios and then we gave the participants time to “play” by continuing to discuss, looking at some of the links to e-portfolios or by starting their own wiki.  John and I walked around and offered assistance as needed.  I enjoyed the session.  The teachers had some great ideas and most were very eager to get started (although a few felt pretty overwhelmed I am sure).  After the course I had several teachers approach me to get additional help… which makes me happy. 🙂

The second and third session I co-taught was over using  geocaching and GPS units in the classroom.  This was a hands-on session. Yesterday before we left, Darren and I hid six caches around the perimeter of the building, and created some handouts with different coordinates for groups to find.  So, when the participants arrived we split into groups, briefly explained the concept of geocaching, gave them each a GPS unit to use (donated by Garmin), and we headed outside.  We demonstrated how to enter the first coordinates (special thanks to our lovely assistant), and then sent the groups on there way and asked them to return indoors when they finished (and to bring with them some ideas about classroom applications for the GPS units).  I think most of them enjoyed the geocaching experience (although it was super HOT and humid), and we came up with some fun ways to use the GPS in our classrooms… not too shabby.

I have heard some good things about the other sessions teachers attended, and have even noticed that a few teachers opted out of the sessions to learn on their own via the on-line options we posted.  This makes me happy because on-line learning is not “comfortable” for a lot of teachers.

All in all, I had a good day, and I hope our teachers learned some useful information as well.  Hopefully tomorrow will be even better!


Little Bits of Happy

August 15, 2007

The other day I posted about my first day of Laying the Foundations Pre-AP training, and at the end of the post I hoped the second day of training would be better… it wasn’t. I was REALLY frustrated at the end of the day, and I will just leave it at that.

But since my last two post were kind of negative, I thought I would share some small things that make me happy each day (besides my husband, my friends, my dog and my great place of employment).

So here they are (in no particular order)…

1. The cute little fox on my iGoogle page. I like that he does different things at various times of the day.


2. Hoops and Yoyo – I have been a big fan of their e-cards for awhile, but have recently discovered their good manners tutorials and their blog and podcasts.

3. Playing on my Shelfari page (and reading the books I put on the page)

4. Going to the gym, riding my bike, boxing… or just getting some good exercise

5. The stylish little icons on my school’s re-designed webpage

I am sure I could go on… but you get the point. I am sure we are all in a rush with school starting back up, but instead of getting overly stressed, why not take a second and acknowledge the little things that make you happy each day?

Do As I Say… Not As I Do

August 13, 2007

Most of the education courses and staff development I have participated in seem to follow the dictate do as I say, not as I do.

For example…

  • “You should vary activities” (Meanwhile we sit in the same spot for hours listening to the same speaker)
  • “You should integrate technology in your classroom” (Put your laptop away – you won’t need it)
  • “Don’t teach to the test” (What were your test scores and how are you going to raise them this year?)
  • “Differentiate your lessons” (As we all do the same thing, in the same way, at the same time)

I am sure many of you have other examples you could share…

Since I have the opportunity to help plan the staff development on my campus, I have tried to make the sessions more interactive and to give teachers choices… and most of the time this approach seems to get pretty good feedback from the staff.

This year we decided to take planning and integration a step further with the use of a wiki. We (me and about 6 other people) used the wiki to plan a large portion of the training, and we used it as a platform for our new teachers to access the day’s agenda and planning materials as well as introduce themselves and post the “products” they completed over the course of the four days.

The new teachers did an OUTSTANDING job using the wiki, and I think it worked well in the context of our planning and implementation of the training.  Just one more way to engage the learner (student or teacher) in the learning process.  Good job everyone!

Now we just have to finish planning the WHOLE campus staff development sessions.  This is what we have so far… any suggestions?

Laying the Foundation Pre-AP Strategies – DAY ONE

August 13, 2007

Today was the first in a two-day staff development session I am attending in my school district by Laying the Foundation which is a training package focusing on Pre-AP strategies.

I haven’t taught English in a year and a half, and it has been even longer since I have taught a Pre-AP course, so I was looking forward to learning some new ideas and planning and creating with my fellow English teachers… yeah, that didn’t happen.

Although the materials we received (a book and some CDs) seem like they have some useful lesson ideas, we did not really get a chance to look at anything with much depth, nor did we get a chance to actually apply any of the information to our specific curricula.  We spent the majority of the day listening to the instructor and becoming familiar with the format of the book.

And, although the instructor was very nice and energetic, and I am sure she prepares her students well for the AP test, I was a little taken aback when she began the session with, “Oh, you aren’t going to need your laptops. You won’t have time to play any games. <hee hee>  I guess I will assume if you are on your laptop when I am talking that you are taking notes and not playing games.”  And she proceeded to say that she is technologically challenged and even has trouble working an overhead projector (I think she was joking).

Okay, I know technology was not the focus of our day… that is fine, but I think it is time for educators to join the 21st century.  Yes, you can be a good teacher without integrating technology and you can even teach your content area well, but aren’t we doing our students a disservice if we do not allow them to utilize technology in the classroom?

And in defense of our instructor, she did ALLOW us to use our laptops to take notes, which was nice, because I heard that in other sessions teachers were told to put their laptops away… did I mention all of the teachers in our district are given laptops to use (and all of our high schools are 1:1 campuses).  I don’t get it. Shouldn’t we model in our staff development what we would like to see in our classrooms?

With all that being said, hopefully tomorrow we will have some time to focus on some specific strategies a little more in-depth and perhaps create and share some lessons (maybe even lessons that integrate technology). 🙂

Eight Random Things MEME

August 12, 2007

Teach Web 2.0 and Othersideofthedesk both tagged me for the 8 random things MEME, so here goes…


1. Post these rules before you give your facts.
2. List 8 random facts about yourself.
3. At the end of your post, choose (tag) 8 people and list their names, linking to them.
4. Leave a comment on their blog to let them know they’ve been tagged.

Eight Random Facts About Me:

1. I love to travel and have been to Poland, Israel, Mexico (several times) and Italy, as well as various places in the US, and I hope to add more countries to my list this next summer.

2. I am a voracious reader and have recently become obsessed with Shelfari.

3. My first department head was also my 6th grade English teacher. YIKES!

4. I have an Italian Greyhound named Abbey.

5. I stopped drinking sodas about six years ago and haven’t had a taste since.

6. I used to kick-box and now enjoy boxing with my heavy bag in my garage.

7. My maiden name is Stephens and my married name is Stevens. Hee hee!

8. I am a very picky eater. I don’t like chocolate, butterscotch and am very particular about the meat I eat, but I love ALL vegetables. 🙂

Four Blogs I’m Tagging

1. FinalCurve
2. Jig-Saw History
3. What I Think

4. LeftLane Ends
5. The Education Fuse 
6. CatWhillock’s Blog 

Sorry… only tagging six.

A Day With David Warlick… and the Web 2.0 Debate

August 7, 2007

David Warlick came to Irving ISD today to talk to our the teachers about “Flat Classrooms,” and I happen to be one of the teachers he addressed. 🙂

Let me begin by saying that I read David Warlick’s blog regularly, have read a couple of his books and respect the work he does with the Landmark Project, so maybe my expectations for his presentation were a little high… perhaps too high.

In his most recent blog post, Warlick discusses his “guilt” about presenting his sessions in an informal discussion-led format instead of the traditional imparting of knowledge (sage on the stage) format. I happen to enjoy discussion-led presentations better, although at times they can seem a little random… as I am sure my play-by-play of his presentation will seem to many of you. 🙂

Warlick began the session by introducing the theme of teaching each other and learning collaboratively and then he shared the following resources:

He introduced the concept of Twitter (which is blocked in our district), so we used this “twitteresque” chat application instead in order to carry on discussions amongst ourselves throughout the presentation. I am glad Warlick employed this chat during the session because I think it is a good example of how chat applications and/or microbloggers like Twitter can be put to “good” educational use.

I really enjoyed the first couple of hours of the presentation because Warlick focused on the “flattening” of the world, information and classrooms, and we discussed the importance of helping our students learn how to teach themselves. Some of the sound bytes I particularly enjoyed are…

  • “For our first time in history, our job as educators is to prepare our students for a future we can’t clearly describe.”
  • “We overuse the idea that I students need to be competitive [with India and China] – instead students need to be cooperative.”
  • “Our job as educators is not to tell students what to read and when to read it but what circumstances call for which resources [discussing Wikipedia vs. Britannica specifically].”
  • “We need to teach our students to be responsible producers of content.”

We had a good discussion about how information has changed and came up with ideas how to “drive learning.” And I am glad we had this discussion because I think it encouraged the teachers in the session (like me) to reflect upon their lessons and will hopefully spur them (me too) to incorporate new technologies and ideas into their curriculum.

One of the “side tracks” Warlick took during this discussion was to tell how he published his newest book via Lulu, and the discussion of this site seemed to be the most exciting topic of the day for many of those in the room… some good ideas for classroom use were discussed.

I wasn’t as excited about the session after we returned from lunch because the session shifted to be more about specific Web 2.0 applications which I already use – wikis, blogs, del.ic.ious, RSS so I didn’t learn as much new information or find the discussion quite as stimulating (although I am glad he presented these tools because he seemed to get many of the teachers excited about using them which is great for our students).

With the introduction of the topic of Web 2.0 came an interesting debate between a couple of my colleagues… Jig-Saw Blog, Othersideofthedesk and What I Think…. The debate centered around the definition of Web 2.0. So, I am going to present the two sides of the debate here, and I would love your thoughts.

Side A – Web 2.0 is basically an evolution of the web from a repository of knowledge into an interactive and collaborative environment where people with minimal technology skills can add to “the discussion” by contributing via wikis, blogs, podcasts, social networks, social bookmarking, etc. and interact via RSS, aggregators, etc.

Side B – Web 2.0 is an obsolete term because with the advent of RSS, aggregators, etc. all web pages are customizable because the format can be altered by users to fit their needs; therefore, using the term Web 2.0 is no longer necessary and the Internet should just be referred to as the Internet and using tools like wikis, blogs, etc. in education should just be called teaching.

I am oversimplifying the debate a tad… but I would like your thoughts. What do you think Web 2.0 is (if you think it actually exists)? I know the debate may seem to just be about semantics… but humor me. 🙂