Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Flippin' Out

One of the most powerful pieces of Teach21 is the ongoing staff development that everyone committed to when they joined our learning community. This has truly grown into a learning community. With the major classroom upgrades still not in place (equipment and installation is still in process) teachers have utilized those three small tools (a Flip Video, a Microphone headset, and a webcam) in very big ways. At our Teach21 meeting on September 23 members of the team all shared ways they were using their Flip Video cameras in their classrooms. Videos were shown, plans were discussed and it was a sharing time that fostered confidence and grew our ideas and purposes for using this neat little tool. Of course there are still tech issues with the Flip Video, but we're working through that and we know that is part of this process. The bottom line is their use is impacting student performance.
Our school's media coordinator, Mrs. Cormier, went to a book festival recently held in our city called "Book Marks." She video taped authors and presenters to bring back for students to see. Many of these students would never get a chance to experience a festival like this. Now they can and will.
Mrs. Barham, a 5th grade teacher, videotaped herself discussing how her classroom blog has made a difference with her students. Mrs. Lickfeld taped her students doing a choral reading exercise, and videotaped her family's trip to a local fair. Her experiences at the fair caught on video allowed students who had never been there to get some idea what it like. That builds schema and allows them to more vividly describe a fair in their writing. Mrs. Carlson's second graders were taped practicing a group a presentation about Japan. By looking back and reflecting, students could see what could be improved or added to the presentation.
Mrs. Gibbs, a third grade teacher, was working on videotaping a reader's theater activity with her class. Mrs. Mace, our special needs pre-K teacher used video with one of autistic students to demonstrate how to count. It was an especially effective strategy because it gave that student something to refer back to and it became a mental "hook" on which that student could hang new knowledge and skills that were not previously visible. It also made the student feel proud of the accomplishment, building efficacy. Mrs. Gilliland, a kindergarten teacher, videotaped her class' interactions with their second grade buddy class (Mrs. Foster) as they read together. Mrs. Shrewsbury videotaped something as simple as morning work activities. Students were more than willing to share and engage in what they were doing knowing it was going to be "on camera." Mr. Cachia's 4th grade class did a short introduction video which was posted to his classroom blog. Student had to choose adjectives to describe themselves as part of their on-camera presentation. Mrs. Byrd's students recited a poem on video, which was posted to her classroom blog.
The list goes on and on, but you can see something as simple as a Flip Video can be a very powerful learning tool when creatively put to use. With the ongoing piece of sharing and collaboration we all benefited from the different ways it was put to use.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Teach21 IMPACT!

Mrs. Ferguson has been a teacher at Bolton Elementary for 28 years and she has seen lots of programs come and go. Following last April's presentation to the Bolton Staff where the concept for Teach21 was unveiled she invested herself by asking to be part of the team. She readily admits that technology and computers was not "her thing." She didn't much more than check her email with a computer. She's a wonderfully gifted teacher, but had not paired technology and her own creative teaching methods. Now, she says she has changed her "whole way of thinking" about technology and its use in the classroom. Although she knew learning to use technology might be challenging for her she saw the need to learn how. She enthusiastic, and with support, is making great strides using the few simple tools she has been given. It's already impacted her students. She shares her thoughts in this short interview.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Soaring With Success In Just Three Weeks

One of the pieces of the Teach21 puzzle are blogs (web logs). It was one of the popular things we learned about this past summer at our training, and our teachers really got excited about all the possibilities. Mrs. Byrd, one of our fourth grade teachers, is a natural when it comes to technology. She loves it, sees the power in using it with her students, and her classroom blog, "Soaring With Success," is already setting a high standard for what we are trying to accomplish this year. Mrs. Byrd has already layered her use of technology on her blog with video, Voicethread, and one of the most important pieces - setting up rules and parameters for her students to follow when using their classroom blog.
If you want to see the power of a great blog all you have to do is look at the Feedjit Visitor Tracking Gadget she has added to her blog. The wonderful things she is doing in her four-walled classroom here at Bolton have already spread from coast to coast. She's had visitors from as far west as Washington state, as far south as Florida, as far north as the District of Columbia, and some points in between. On Soaring With Success you'll find students who have memorized poetry, written their own poetry and read it aloud, and you can see a focused purpose to inspire both reading and writing using the blog as a motivational tool.
The most powerful part of Mrs. Byrd's success, in my opinion, is her willingness to COLLABORATE. Her colleagues have seen the things she's doing, praised her efforts, and she has reached out to offer her expertise to anybody who asks. This will no doubt allow these integrative tools to proliferate throughout our school and to many more students at Bolton.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Gadgets & Gizmos & the First Week of School

I have to admit I am a gadget guy. I like finding new tools, the unique power of small and portable technologies, and the power to create they provide. Not everyone is like that, and that's okay. But for our team, three small, but very powerful tools were given to them the first teaching week of the 2008-'09 school year.
As we worked and learned together this summer some of the most inspiring and creative tools we used were Skype, which gives anyone the power to make telephone calls and/or video conference calls over the Internet, and VoiceThread, an online tool for having conversations around media (pictures, video, documents, presentations).
After the bell rang and the students swarmed through the doors, the business of teaching rules, expectations and procedures began. And I see that some of the expectations for learning with technology have changed- positively - among those who are part of Teach21. The Teach21 team received a Sennheiser PC Headset with microphone, a Lenovo web cam with integrated microphone, and a Flip Video USB video camera.
These three small, but powerful gadgets would allow the team to put to use the products they learned about and begin getting creative. Everyone was/is waiting anxiously for the bigger hardware that is to come to make their room a more friendly 21st Century learning space. (More to come on that subject.)
These gadgets weren't included in the original proposal, but it became apparent as we worked this summer that, despite their small size, they could make a huge impact. They empower creativity, foster thoughtful response, have the ability to motivate students, and can put teachers and students in touch with the rest of the world.
We met at the end of a hard day of teaching with a fast and furious distribution of "goodie bags." Personally, I received satisfaction from knowing that, at the least, they gave our team something they could use immediately that would put to use some new found tools and knowledge.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

On The Eve of the School Year and Open House

Even before teachers were to officially report to school email requests were were in my inbox requesting equipment and resources for our first days back. Teachers were already planning on implementing some of the technology they learned over the summer at Open House as they welcomed their new students and their parents to the new school year.
What we learned over the summer we wanted to share with everybody at Bolton School. It was imporants that everyone understood Teach21@Bolton was not just for the teachers who were selected to the inaugural team, but that it genuinely was for every educator at our school. Plans about how to share with those who didn't experience our summer staff development were discussed and over the course of the year new tools will be presented to our entire staff. Collaborate, Collabortae, Collaborate!
At Open House, two teachers found the time to use Microsoft PhotoStory 3 to create digital photo presentations set to music to show students and parents some of the things they would be doing during the year. Another teacher created a Powerpoint presentation, complete with pictures, that reviewed her class procedures, methods of communications, and expectations for the year. With details playing on the screen more personal conversations could be had with parents helping establish positive connections. The visuals playing in these classrooms allowed those teachers a chacne to talk one-on-one with parents and students while those waiting watched "their shows."
I think the important outcome from all of this is that enthusiasm remained high! Teachers who would stop to talk about how it was going and what they could do next gave the start of this school year some momentum. In my years as an educator I've found that if the teacher is genuinely excited about they are doing, their students are too. While there's still a steep learning curve, and we know there will be issues to overcome, there is a brave determination to move forward from the least technologically experienced person on Teach21 team to the most tech-savvy people because we know we're all in this together.

Teach21@Bolton Summer Kickoff Pictures