ISTE2010 Opening Session

Well, I’ve made it to ISTE2010.  I decided to drop by the Opening Session. I wasn’t going to as I was hoping to catch up on some blogging from yesterday’s EduBloggerCom, but Richard Byrne  from Maine opined that the speaker Mario Armstrong was worthwhile, so here I am! Here is a summary of the session….

Even the good stuff needs a salesman!

It’s been an exciting couple of weeks at work. We’ve been busy putting together some summer PD, including our showcase event for our new 1:1 schools in our district and around the province – One-to-One Bootcamp for Teachers.

To say I am excited about what is happening in New Brunswick is an understatement. There is a real move here, a current that is growing stronger by the day, led by people who get it at the departmental level and supported by a cadre of change agents in districts and schools across the province.

We announced the One-to-One Bootcamp on Monday, and today we’ll pass 100 teachers who have registered, indicating their willingness to give up their time to start to piece together their personal story of change in their classrooms and schools. This number is exciting, but we want more (although I think my boss might be a bit nervous that we have created something we can’t manage!!). Today I sent the following email to colleagues at three schools in my district that I have worked with over the past few years (and all of whom will be involved in one-to-one initiatives next fall) and my technology mentor colleagues across the province.

Hi guys…

Next year might very well be the most exciting and important year in New Brunswick education history. The move from a traditional story of school where teachers and texts are the source of information and the audience for most student content is contained by the walls of the classroom is about to be challenged and interrupted by a new model of learning for the 21st century, a model where students can connect with information and individuals outside their classroom to create their individual stories of learning and have a global audience for their content.

SMART Boards and other technologies are powerful, but they don’t necessarily change the game.  One-to-one learning environments absolutely cry out for a new way of teaching and learning. Many teachers and students are about to embark on an exciting new journey where they will join together to learn, where the lines between “teacher” and “learner” become blurred. It a shift that is both exciting and absolutely necessary to transform our schools to places that help prepare our kids for THIER future…a future that is information-rich, digital and connected…one where individuals will work, play and learn in a global community.

I would hope that you could encourage teachers to check out the One-to-One Bootcamp for Teachers to be held in Fredericton in August.  It will not only begin to give teachers some practical ideas about what teaching in an environment where digital connectivity is ubiquitous and the student is the center of learning, but will also allow those of us who will be involved in the one-to-one movement around the province an opportunity to come together and start to build a professional / personal learning network to support a new model of learning for the 21st century.

Educators across New Brunswick are invited…hope to see you there!

Yours in learning,

You see, there’s one thing that we – as change agents for a new vision of school – need to do, and that is to promote and push new ideas and opportunities, without regret! It’s up to us to be the salespeople for our students and a new story of learning.

21 Century Learning @ home

I have been so stoked the last few months. I must admit the last year or so have not been particularly inspiring here in New Brunswick. It appeared that, just as a real shift in the learning narrative was starting to gain hold through a series of initiatives (1 to 1 programs in 28 schools, funding for innovative projects, etc), all those gains started to slip away. It looked like we were in danger of repeating the past, with 21st century learning spaces becoming “just another edu-fad”.

But alas, the initiative is back – and with it my excitement for a new learning landscape in New Brunswick. Over the past six months 21st Century learning – how that looks on the ground is still up for some debate, but at least the conversations are happening – has moved to the forefront in the New Brunswick Education system. They’ve even spent money creating a fancy video!

But alas, words mean little without some backup of resources. What has me excited about the recent developments is that there seems to be some seriousness in approach, with a high degree of consultation from the departmental level on down. I am particularly impressed with how senior management at the department have sought and welcomed input from a variety of stakeholders.

Recently our district has announced that a new 6-12 school in a rural area about an hour out of town will be a 1-to-1 student laptop school when it opens in September. Two things excite me about this; it restarts the shift we were experiencing a couple of years ago and it will go a long way to addressing the disparities, both real and perceived, between urban and rural schools. The learning spaces for their staff and students will suddenly become much flatter!

As I continue to read of the effects of the economic situation on education worldwide, particularly public schools south of the border, I am so thankful to be an educator in New Brunswick. While their may have worn different political stripes, the last several administrations have continued to add to the vision of previous leaders – doing what is right for our students as we begin to prepare them for a future that will be digital and connected.

Bravo Nouveau Brunswick!

Writing Around the World!

Want to see a young student write?  Give them an authentic audience!

Most of our students are still writing on paper. They write because they are told they have to – and are usually given a topic. They write for an audience of one – their teacher – and the ONLY reason they write is for a mark.  The paper usually ends up getting handed back with lots of red markings for rewriting or, worse yet, thrown in a garbage can or recycle bin. Hardly motivating stuff for a young boy or girl who spends most of their non-school time playing to a global audience on one of the myriad of social networking sites available.

Some teachers and projects are trying to change that. One is the 1001 Flat World Tales Writing Project, the elementary level workshop of which I have had the pleasure of “coordinating” with the amazing Kim Cofino at International School Bangkok (one day I actually hope to meet her in person, maybe ISTE 2010??). To say that we coordinate anything is a slight misnomer because most of what we do is provide a platform for teachers to connect, a few suggestions for a project structure (although teachers are free to change as they wish) and play a bit of matchmaker for classes who ask for the assistance. The teachers and students do the rest! It’s a REAL joy to see it come together.

Despite the late start – we usually run from March to May – we are running again this year.  Last year almost a thousand students at over 30 schools connected to write.  The key – an authentic audience of their peers from around the globe. It was amazing!

A brief summary: classes are connected with one or two other classes in a “workshop”, where students are grouped in two’s, three’s or four’s, students are given a story starter (most teachers choose to have students write a persuasive piece around the frame provided), the groups peer edit each others work until final stories are crafted for each child.

In short, the project provides an opportunity for students to engage in learning activities around the three essential elements of being information artisans, developing networks for learning and managing personal profiles on the web. It’s all there.

Are you an elementary learning leaders? Want to join us?  For more information and to sign up your class, visit the 1001 Flat World Takes Writing project for 2010.

Tech20Tuesday – a leadoff double!

The second week of Tech20Tuesday is in the books.  Yesterday afternoon we looked at Slideshare, an on-line tool for sharing presentations and other documents.  Think of it as a “YouTube for PowerPoints“.

Reaching Out to the Edges

Tech20Tuesday is our district’s latest initiative to support teachers in embedding technology within their learning environments.  With almost 800 teachers spread in a variety of schools, many over an hour away from the city, it’s sometimes a challenge to get mentors and coaches on the ground to support both teachers and students in 21st century learning on a regular basis.  We also recognize that teachers are busy, far too busy to give up large chunks of time in after-school PD.

The whole premise of Tech20Tuesday is that, by utilizing the connectivity of the web, we can meet teachers wherever they happen to be; school, home, the local coffee shop! We are using SMART Technologies Bridgit conferencing software, which is bundled within the Notebook software, to share a common presentation screen and audio/video.  The idea is, in twenty minutes, to show teachers a new tool, how it works and an example or two of how they and their students might utilize it within their classroom. No huge demand on time or effort.

After two weeks, the feedback is overwhelmingly positive.  Each week we have had 30-40 teachers “attend” virtually.  Some are individuals, but many are in groups. One school, located almost an hour outside the city, provides coffee and muffins for their staff who gather together (10 or so) each week for a bit of learning and professional talk.  Through technology, we are able to support their journey.

Oh yeah, then there’s my son’s Grade 11 Biology teacher.  My son came home Friday and noted he had a test. His teacher, who had attended the initial session on Wordle, used the tool to create a word cloud on the test, from which students could pick terms.

While the idea isn’t a walk-off homer, I would count Tech20Tuesday as a lead-off double at least!

Global projects: The three-headed solution

Sometime in the last couple of days I was listening to a CBC Radio interview with a gentleman who was talking about blood-cell sized implants that will be used manage personal health issues.  He says that these are about 30 years away, when all of my students will be younger than I am now. His contention is that these tools will be so powerful that the first thousand year old is now walking the streets of a town near you.  It’s hard to imagine – and fraught with huge social issues that will demand much debate – but so was sending a man to the moon or any number of technology-based advances.

Creating global citizens prepared to work, play and learn in a world ten, twenty or fifty years from now, a world that we can barely imagine, is a huge undertaking.  The move to cloud computing will make PC’s – in their present form – obsolete in the next decade.  What will this mean? Why do we continue to “teach” computer-based software in our classrooms, somehow confident that it is preparing our students for their future?  Why do our teachers feel that by integrating PowerPoint into their teaching they are somehow creating a different breed of young person?

I still think it comes down to three critical questions when it comes to our children’s learning; what are we doing every day to a) create information artisans who are able to locate, harvest, assess, connect, create and communicate information in a digital, networked form, b) support them in developing and managing their own personal learning networks and c) help them understand and develop their own digital footprint, developing and managing their own personal brand.

On Monday, I’ll be working with language teachers at St. George’s School in Newport, Rhode Island. I’ve been asked to center the conversations around the power of connecting students using web tools – I’ll focus on wikis although there are lots of other tools available – to connect students. Who better to learn about the world from than a fellow young person.  Through incorporating a foreign language study, it becomes an even more powerful tool or learning.

I am excited about the possibilities here. Properly designed and managed global projects address all three questions. Our students need more opportunities to work collaboratively with students around the world. While Cisco isn’t the only solution, they do have great commercials. This one captures the essence of students passion for connecting.

If you’re a teacher, are your students connecting, and not just connected?

Wishing for warmth

Let’s get one thing up front – the older I get, the more I question whether or not spending the rest of my days in the cold snow belt of Eastern Canada is what I want to do.  My body starts to seize in October, and usually doesn’t thaw until late April.  For those six months, I am constantly sore and cold, shoveling is a chore and travel is a pain.  Today just reinforced the point. I am not going to go quietly into winter!

This evening I write from a hotel is Bangor, Maine, watching a major nor’easter – think the movie The Perfect Storm with snow – blast outside the hotel window. I am on my way to Newport, Rhode Island where I am slated to work with their language teachers on Monday as part of staff development day. I was excited to be asked, and I am looking forward to spending the day in great conversations. The getting there part…well, it’s turning into a journey. I got up this morning and hit the road, hoping to beat the storm. If weather permitted, I would have driven all the way today, but no luck. I got as far as Bangor

Barbados Driftwood

Barbados Driftwood

where self-preservation forced me off the road. I have a flight booked to leave here tomorrow at noon. I just hope it leaves. I had hoped to be able to drive all the way today and not fly, but right now the sanest option is to fly.

It’s days like this that I am extremely jealous of my colleagues teaching in international schools in more temperate locales.  My wife and I have talked of taking a couple of years at some point and heading overseas to work internationally. This might encourage us to move even quicker.

Until then, guess I’ll have to settle with the knowledge that it’s only 56 days until we find our warmth. The only white I want to see will be the sand on the beach!

Extending the learning

I have truly enjoyed the last four months of being back in the classroom.  The opportunity to be part of a school community and work directly with students all day is why I became a teacher.  It’s about collegiality and learning.

There are, however, many things I miss about my old job as a technology mentor for the district.  My job was nomadic and flexible, with my primary goal to support teachers and students in embedding technology in the teaching and learning process. It allowed a great deal of freedom with regards to place and time and my vision for learning.  The feeling of isolation, being out of the loop and ineffective in promoting change on the larger scale has been frustrating at times.

Part of the issue is I came back to a technology-rich school, where teachers (at least those that are motivated to) have created a culture of connected learning. In short, I can provide a limited amount of support, but many are self-sustaining. That’s why I was moved to start an after-school PD series, which I tagged tech20tuesdays. In short, each Tuesday we had a 20 minute PD offering directly after school. We would look at a particular tool or idea and explore how you could use it in a classroom with students, all in 20 minutes.  While the uptake wasn’t quite what I had hoped for, interest and feedback was sufficient to encourage me to widen the net.

That’s why after Christmas we’ll be moving tech20tuesdays district-wide. Unfortunately, our district has almost 1000 teachers spread over hundreds of kilometres, not conducive to short after-school get-togethers. However, what we do have is a good technology base, a base we’ll leverage to connect teachers as learners.

The plan is in progress, but here’s the jist. Using SMART Technologies Bridgit conferencing software, we’ll connect from my classroom to any teacher who wants to “attend” from their computer. They don’t need to be at a SMART Board, just a laptop – which they all have! They can be at school, at home or even the local coffee shop! Learning can be from anywhere they have connectivity.  As various levels end their school days at different times, we’ll begin at 3:40 pm (high schools end at 3:30) and end at 4:00 pm. Still 20 minutes, same basic idea. Bridgit will allow audio and screen sharing, with an embedded chat for back channel conversations. It’s powerful stuff!

While I hope that many teachers are able to benefit from this, this is purely a selfish endeavor. I need to connect, to feel like I am having a voice in promoting change and doing my part in promoting a new vision of schools and a now story of learning. This is just another pathway to that end.

While we will be promoting this amongst teachers in the district, theoretically we could have teachers join from anywhere in the world. In fact, one thing I want to explore before the end of the year is to tap into my PLN and invite a guest to share with us, a guest from another school, another province or another country.

Any volunteers?

Photo Credit: Congratulations!, uploaded to Flickr under a creative commons license by Clara S.

Learning Must Be Connected

One of the three critical questions I think we need to be asking ourselves about our practice as educators is what are we doing in our classes everyday that assists students to develop and manage their own personal learning networks?

Students at Nasis Middle and Fort Worth Academy practice solving the worlds problems via video conference.

Students at Nasis Middle and Fort Worth Academy practice solving the world's problems via video conference.

Part of the answer to this question is modeling the power of a connected learning environment on a regular basis.  This can take many forms. Today, in Mr. Gellert’s Grade 7 Social Studies class, that meant a short video conference with Ms. Holmes’ class at Fort Worth Academy in Texas. Many questions were asked and answered, from the weather and the environment (the connection was part of a large Biomes project) to fashion and school uniforms.  I think the students were suprised to learn they share much in common, despite their geography.  It is truly a small world.

Working, learning and playing in the 21st century will require, more than anything else, for us to understand the power of being connected and the need to develop and nurture our own personal networks.  Learning in the 21st century is, more than ever, about the power of the story.

Technorati tags: technology, education, whipple, learning

K12 Online…gather round for learning!

I love conferences.  But even as someone who has made a presentation or ten at various events (admittedly, I get way too excited about sharing ideas in any format), it’s usually the conversations outside the presentation rooms that count.  However, whatever your motivation, the rising cost of travel (and it ain’t easy to get anywhere from New Brunswick by plane!), shrinking school and district budgets and personal time/money crunches leaves less and less opportunities for teachers to develop networks face to face.

With this cruch, on-line professional development opportiunities are becoming more and more prevalent, not to mention necessary.  Many commercial operations are offering fee for learning opportunities to connect, but the grassroots, volunteer-driven movement of the annual K-12 Online Conference (click on tag in right side-bar) far exceeds anything offered by the corporate world.  Whether it’s due to the commitment of the educators involved in the organization or the wide-spread viewpoints and special interests of the volunteer presenters, K-12 Online offers a valuable community-based opportunity for learners to connect.

It all starts next Monday with a keynote by international educator Kim Cofino (with whom I co-managed last years 1001 Flat World Tales collaborative writing project).  I am especially excited to hear what Kim has to say and follow up (hopefully) in the post-keynote discussions with other educators.

It’s all about the conversations – whether it’s on-line or face to face.  Maybe I’ll gather a few friends around the old radio set (aka laptop) and tune in with some cold ones and pretzels.

Let the learning begin.

Technorati tags: technology, education, whipple, learning, k12online, kimcofino