Judges Needed

Posted December 18, 2008 by musingsfromtheacademy
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The students of Irving ISD are in need of some judges for their media fair projects. Students grade Pre-K thru 12 have entered projects in the areas of digital audio, digital video, website design, original illustrated art, product design and photography.

The projects are posted on-line and we are hoping to get judges from around the world to offer some constructive criticism for the students.  Please take a couple of minutes out of your day and judge a few of the entries. www.irvingisd.net/mediafaironline I know the kids would appreciate it!

Thank you!


On a Personal Note

Posted November 30, 2008 by musingsfromtheacademy
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Most of you who read this blog are probably aware that I am pregnant and expecting to deliver any day now.  If I have not delivered by Monday, December 8th the doctor is planning to induce, so one way or another, Kyle and I should be bringing the baby home within 8 days… which is a little nerve-wracking.

Because I am a bit of a nerd and because I thought it would be the easiest way to share pictures and information with friends and family, I bought a domain for th baby and Kyle and I have been posting some pre-baby news and pics. Once the baby arrives we will be updating with the exciting news and some pics, so if you are interested, you can follow along with us at http://www.dylanstevens.com/.

Since I will have my hands full for a bit, it may be awhile before I get a chance to post here again, but as always, I will make it back at some point.

I Dream a World…

Posted November 19, 2008 by musingsfromtheacademy
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Langston Hughes is one of my favorite poets, and I Dream a World is one of my favorite poems of his.  I was thinking of this poem today, and I was frustrated and irritated by some things at school (probably because my patience is down due to being in my 9th month of pregnancy) and the combination of these two things prompted this post…

It is the time of year on my campus when students are tired and frustrated, teachers are tired and frustrated, and we are all in need of a break… thankfully we will get a week of “break” starting Monday.  But more than a week of vacation, I think we need a “break” from the current educational philosophy that seems to abound in this country, our state and our district.  We need a break from how education has always been run; we need a break from all the bureaucracy that envelops education, and we need to seriously evaluate what is important in regards to educating our students.

With this in mind… this is what I dream…

I dream a world where education

  • is not governed by people who are out of touch with students’ abilities, goals and needs
  • is not judged as effective based solely on standardized test scores
  • is more about learning and relevancy than it is about meeting AYP
  • encourages individuality, creativity, questioning and stepping outside the boundaries of the traditional
  • addresses student needs on an individual basis instead of measuring everyone with the same stick
  • is a priority to students, parents and society in general
  • is not always viewed as passing assessments equals mastery of content
  • is collaborative, innovative, and fun
  • doesn’t have to occur the way “I learned it”
  • doesn’t just mean focusing on the core classes but allows students to investigate areas of interest to them
  • doesn’t expect students to be experts at all subjects (because let’s face it, most of the adults I know are not and they are still successful)
  • encompasses skills that matter for success outside of the classroom (time management, information management, team work, balancing a budget, social skills, etc.)
  • encourages students to want to learn so they continue to do so when they leave school
  • rewards effective teachers based on their relationships with students, their continued growth and their zeal for teaching (instead of what percentage of students passed a test)
  • does not base a child’s graduation on the passing of four tests
  • values the students’ and teachers’ individuality
  • realizes that teaching a concept well takes time and allows teachers the opportunity to work at the pace of the kids in his/her room
  • emphasizes the importance of  teachers building relationships with students
  • allows time for teachers to continually grow professionally

I am sure by now you get the point, and I could probably go on forever. The short of it is, I need education to change, to evolve into something that fits the society where we currently reside and prepares our students to effectively navigate in this fast-paced and continually shifting world.  I need it to be better, and I am tired of waiting.

So my questions to you are…

What do you dream? And how do we make these dreams a reality?

Irving ISD and the K12 Online Conference – My Notes and What I Learned

Posted November 8, 2008 by musingsfromtheacademy
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We began the morning with a brief overview of the K12 Online Conference and then watched Chris Lehman’s keynote for the Leading the Change strand.  As always, I agree with Lehman’s ideas and assertions.

The Voices of School 2.0 – Some of the ideas I relate to most from the keynote…

  • What is it that we are willing to unlearn and re-learn to make our schools better?
  • Break the barriers of traditional teaching – people learn more with a human connection.
  • We need to make our schools more inquiry driven.
  • What would happen if we started viewing school as real-life instead of just preparation for real-life?
  • What would happen if we dared kids to change the world?
  • We need to discuss meta-cognition with students.
  • We need students who can learn when they leave us.
  • Move away from the recall-based classroom
  • Project-based learning does not mean doing projects along the way – true project-based learning is the work that is valued most
  • If you really want to see students engaged then give them a project so they can create and apply what they have learned
  • Certain technologies are not additive – they are transformative

– Great discussion ensued about balancing what students want to know with what students “need” to know.

Presentation One – Current Leadership Models are Inadequate for Disruptive Innovations – My notes and thoughts

Presentation based on books The Innovator’s Dilemma and Disrupting Class by Dr. Clayton Christensen’s

What is a disruptive innovation? Disruptive innovations change the game. They repsresent new paradigms.

– More than need line

– Good enough line

The lines of progress sustain innovations – over time products get better and better.

Implications for school administrators

  • Most admins have not realized that K12 is facing disruptive innovation – personalized learning
  • Our existing educational model is not a given – public education is being complacent
  • Schools are not immune to the natural laws of disruptive innovation
  • Number of K12 students taking an online course has grown exponentially (growth in charter schools, home schooling and alternative schools)
  • What is now new and different will soon become common place

What can admins do?

  • Start with under-served students
  • Do not wait for “stakeholders” to jump on the wagon
  • Use different metrics of success
  • Allow the spin-offs to compete directly with the old paradigm

The time to move is now, so they are not eclipsed by new entities that better meet the needs of learners.

Hmmm…. thoughts the presentation spurred…

  • How does one move a district or school towards disruptive innovation?
  • How do you balance doing what is expected by you (from the state, district, school, etc.) while still moving towards teaching in a disruptive way?
  • How does the traditional model “fit” within the disruptive innovation model? Is it thrown out entirely? Used as a basis to begin?
  • Are students open to changing from the “traditional” model to a more disruptive one? Is their a learning or adjustment curve for students?

Presentation Two – The Lie of the Community – My Notes and Thoughts

Presentation by Bud the Teacher

This presentation is more of a conversation… difficult to take notes on. It is more about building your network and discussing how that network works for you.

  • What is a network?
  • What is a community?
  • How do you build a network?
  • Expose yourself to people who think differently than you.
  • Should students create their own personal networks?

Whole group discussion…

  • Using Google notebook for vocabulary, interactive notebooks for social studies – archived for next year
  • How much time do I give up teaching them the technology? It takes time away from content. – Horizontal teaming important when teaching technology skills.  Students will work on learning the tech skills outside of the classroom.
  • Learned about back channeling – “How do you grade something like that?”, “Do you have to grade everything done in your class?”
  • Idea to use Voice Thread to respond to a question by video instead of text only
  • How do we come up with good questions and problems for our students to solve? How do we intersect these questions with the curriculum?

Although the group was pretty small, I think the discussion went pretty well. Most of the eductaors present were pretty positive about their experience with the K12 and liked the face-to-face discussion piece. We will be hosting the second session next Saturday. Please join us.

Irving ISD and the K12 Online Conference

Posted October 28, 2008 by musingsfromtheacademy
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This year Irving ISD has decided to borrow an idea from Jeff Utecht and his K12 Online LAN Party idea. We will be hosting a couple of live sessions for teachers in the area to attend, watch some of the K12 Online Conference and take part in some discussions with fellow educators.

The plan is to start the morning by viewing a couple of K12 Keynotes and discussing. Participants will then choose a strand (Getting Started, Prove It, Kicking It Up a Notch or Leading the Change) and a couple of sessions from that strand to participate in. Next, participants will get together with others who selected the same strand and take part in some face-to-face facilitated discussions. The purpose is to hopefully gather some new ideas from other educators from around the world (K12 presenters) and around the community.

In order for the Irving ISD/K12 extravaganza to be successful, we need some participants. Please join us!

The get together will take place at The Academy of Irving (map) on Saturday, November 8th and Saturday, November 15th from 9:00am – 12:00pm.  You will need to bring a laptop with you so you can view the on-line presentations.

Please join us to take place in the discussion (and bring a friend)!

I have included a flyer and podcast below so you can learn more about the Irving ISD/K12 endeavor.  Feel free to leave me a comment or contact me on Twitter (astevens74) if you have further questions.

Thanks and we hope you choose to join us in the discussion!

Listen to the IISD K12 podcast

Why I Encourage Laptop Use in the Classroom

Posted October 24, 2008 by musingsfromtheacademy
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The entirety of this post is written in response to Why I Ban Laptops in My Classroom by David Cole, so you might want to read it first.

This year I am not “in the classroom.”  I am working this year full-time as an Instructional Technology Specialist on my campus which allows me to see in to many teachers’ classrooms and get a varied perspective on teaching and learning.  We are a one-to-one laptop campus as well as a career focused non-traditional high school, so I see many interesting learning activities taking place as I look through the windows of classrooms or go in to the classrooms to assist students and teachers.

As I walk through the hallways of The Academy I see students working collaboratively both on-line and in person; I see students interacting with text both digitally and traditionally; I see teachers lecturing traditionally and via pre-recorded videos students access via their laptops; I see hands-on activities, laptop-based activities and book-based activities; I see students engaged in their learning – students making choices, re-evaluating and facing consequences.  I see students getting a varied and effective education in a public high school – laptops are an integral part of this.

Laptops enable students to interactively participate in the classroom (and outside of the classroom) in ways they would be unable to without the aid of such technology.  With laptops in the classroom, students can still participate in a verbal discussion, but they can also extend that learning by participating in discussion boards, collaborative note-taking, instant messaging, Twitter, blogging, etc.  Students can deepen their knowledge of a topic or answer their own questions by accessing information via a search engine like Google during the classroom lecture or discussion.  In short, laptops give the learner more power to take charge of their education; they encourage learners to step away from the passivity of the traditional model of lecture and receive to the more active model of seeking information and learning.

Certainly I see students “off-task” on their laptops as I walk through the hallways, and I am okay with this because adults get off-task while working as well. In fact, while composing this post, I have been instant messaging with a teacher and a fellow ITS, as well as keeping up and responding with e-mail. I even took a break and read a news article some sent via Twitter, but I am still accomplishing my goal of composing this post in a reasonable amount if time. I am able to do all of these things because I learned how to manage my time; I learned personal responsibility; I learned how to multi-task, and I learned what happens if I do not get my work completed by the deadline. Students need to be afforded the right to learn these lessons as well – banning laptops does not teach them how to be responsible in a digital world; it does not teach them time or information management; it is the easy way out.

How does incorporating laptops work in practice?

Effectively integrating laptops into the classroom starts with a shift – a shift in pedagogy.  If the instructor continues to teach the same way he/she has always taught and simply views the laptop as a note-taking device then the integration will not be successful and students will definitely get off-task. It requires that teachers stop thinking, “This is the right way to do it because this is how I learned how.” It requires that teachers begin questioning, “What is the best way to present this information so my students (my students TODAY) are engaged with this topic and interested in learning? How do I prepare this lesson so that my students have some learning choices but still receive a rigorous assignment and deep understanding of the information they need?”

Effectively integrating laptops in the classroom demands that teachers take a step out of their comfort zone and give some of their “power” to the students. Gone are the days when the teacher was the sole purveyor of information; contrary to popular belief, teachers do not know EVERYTHING about their subject-area, but with the help of search engines like Google, students and teachers can quickly and easily locate the information they need.

Effectively integrating laptops in the classroom does not mean that they are used 100% of the time for every assignment because they may not always be the best tool. It is the instructor’s job while planning and teaching to assess student learning, offer choices and vary learning as needed to meet the needs of all students in the classroom… no one said good teaching was easy.

Finally, effectively integrating laptops in the classroom requires continuous learning on the part of the instructor (and students). It requires utilizing new tools, learning new skills, attempting new instructional strategies; it requires flexibility and change.

I encourage the use of laptops in the classroom because they can assist in extending learning to a higher-level – a level that may not be controlled by the teacher, a level that can transcend the walls of the classroom, a level that encourages collaboration and evaluation, a level that is active, engaging and fun.

Don’t Hit the ‘Forward’ Button on That E-mail!

Posted September 30, 2008 by musingsfromtheacademy
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One of my all time pet peeves is the propagating of misinformation, hatred and intolerance by the forwarding of untrue chain e-mails. With the Presidential election process in full-swing, it seems like I have been receiving more of these types of e-mails lately, and it is upsetting.

As an educator, I try to teach my students and staff to validate sources of information before referring to them in presentations, papers, etc. Part of my job, as I see it, is to fight against misinformation, so I may take this topic a little more seriously than others might. But I hope, that we are all open to fighting against intolerance, misinformation and slander by just taking a minute or two to QUESTION and THINK about what we are reading. If most people just took a second to question the chain e-mails going around before hitting ‘forward,’ they would probably realize they are untrue.

If, however, you receive an e-mail and your just don’t know whether it is true or not, then take another minute or two to research what you have received. if you are reading the e-mail, then I am assuming you have Internet access and it is a quick jump over to FactCheck.org (for politics) or Snopes in order to verify the information (or just do a Google search and see what you come up with).  It is time well spent – time spent learning instead of just acting like one of the “sheeple” or “sheople” who follow the masses without ever questioning or thinking for themselves.

If for some reason you are dead set about sharing information via e-mail that is for or against a Presidential candidate (or VP), then use a reputable source of information.  Share information that matters – what does the candidate stand for, what is he/she promising, what is his/her political experience or how does he/she represent himself/herself.  Read through the transcripts of their speeches (Obama/McCain) and/or debates or watch videos of interviews with them. Make an INFORMED decision, not one based on misinformation meant to muddy the real issues or slander the candidate.

And, whatever you do… stop forwarding the chain e-mails!!

Some additional sites you might want to check out when researching your candidate…