Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Won't You Please, Please App Me?

"There's an app for that."

This could be the catch phrase of this moment in time. Need to lose weight? There's an app for that? Sure! Convert measurements to metric? There's an app for that. Flight status? App. Virtual lighter? App. Mixing drinks? App. Turning your phone into a remote focusing device for you theater's light board?

Oh yeah, there's an app for that, too.

This week's rock star moment: using ETC's Virtual RFR app on my iPhone to power individual lights up and down in our theater as my students were focusing (aiming) the lighting instrument. No running back and forth to the light board, and immediate feedback to requests to turn the instruments on and off. It saved a lot of time, created a safer environment (no need to come off of ladders or lifts) and utilized an incredible option on our light board that we could otherwise not use because the remote focusing keypad is so dad-gummed expensive.

I was as the envy of my students - for a few hours, anyway.

Suddenly, my iPhone was working for me in instructional ways. I realize that I'm a Johnny-Come-Lately to the iPhone and educational app game, but the realization for me was just as "oh wow" as "Lammers using his iPhone to run the light board" was to my students last night. The thing has an amazing amount of potential, as I already knew. I finally was able to use it for job related activities. (Now I sound like the sixteen-year-old kid who has "just discovered" this great new band called The Grateful Dead and thinks that he is the first one to know about them. Humor me - this is exciting stuff.) 

I know there are thousands of apps out there for the dumbest things (I have a few of those, too) and thousands of apps that are valuable classroom aids - and not a whole lot of time to investigate. So, fellow reader, what apps are out there that would be of use in the educational environment, and how do you use them? At the risk of turning this blog into a wiki (is that legal in this state?) leave a comment with the app you use and a brief description of how it is implemented in your classroom. If you have a link to a website/blog/wiki/YouTube for examples in your comment, even better. Feel free to revisit and add more if you so wish.

If you app me out, you will be apping others and maybe just apping yourself, too. (I need a good pun generator - is there an app for that?)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Terrible Death to be Talked to Death

OK, so no one is dead yet. It's just "Teacher In-service."

Is there another term in the educational world that can suck the life out of an educator faster than that one?

The assumption behind teacher in-service is that it will improve teachers and their teaching. Who could argue against that? I don't know any colleague who would walk away from that opportunity.

Yet, the term has a stigma.

Here is my situation. Our school district is pushing hard the idea of Professional Learning Communities to create common assessments within each subject to improve student achievement. The model or framework that is being followed is the one created by Rick and Rebecca DuFour and Robert Eaker; one of their presenters regarding common assessment is Cassie Erkens, an English teacher form Lakeville, Minnesota who also is an educational consultant. The district has committed a great deal of time and money to make the professional learning communities a reality - a lasting reality.

Five years ago, the time and money was committed to Continuous Improvement models.

Seven years ago, it was Action Research Teams by schools and departments to develop standards.

About ten to twelve years ago, it was Mastery Learning.

About sixteen years ago, it was Outcome Based Learning.

All of these were initiatives to improve student achievement, and as of late, to avoid the difficult labels generated by the No Child Left Behind Act. None of them has lasted beyond five years (although it can be argued that Mastery Learning is an extension of OBE.) Veteran teachers have seen the track record of professional development that changes about every five years. "This is the next greatest thing that will save our district, our profession, and our students." Five years later, it's the next greatest thing. It gets harder each time the "next greatest thing" comes along for experienced teachers to buy into it. A pattern begins to develop and we begin to treat these initiatives as a fad.

The "ah-ha" moment is coming. Be patient.

Today's PLC in-service at the Cedar Rapids African-American Museum is a little different. One of my veteran colleagues, who has been through more of these "next greatest things" than I have, said:

"You know, most of these are the same damn thing - just different methods. None of this is rocket science."

A few moments after his statement, we were presented with a model for the process of common assessments. It looks suspiciously familiar to many of the models that are found in instructional design. Right now, our ID class is focusing on the Dick and Carey model. In my opinion, the CA model seems to have been influenced by this - as was, if I recall, the models of the process for continuous improvement, action research teams, mastery learning:

"What is your goal? What is your current status? What is the gap? How do you close the gap?"

Had I saved the reams of handouts from the last 21 years of teacher in-services, I'm guessing that many of the models and frameworks would look similar.

Ah-ha! These presenters haven't been bilking our district for millions of dollars! They've based their research on instructional design! (More or less.) We probably knew that already, at some level. I think this is where new teachers have it over the veterans. We vets may have seen more professional development, but it's easy to be jaded by the frequency of the next new idea. New teachers haven't learned those bad habits of preconceived notions, or perhaps they are more accepting of the new "next new ideas" because this is the first one they've experienced.

Think about your last in-service or professional development. Was it good for you? Was it good for your school? Colleagues? Your students? When we gripe about the last boring meeting, what is it we're griping about? The time away from students? The time away from what we're paid to do? The idea that you have a far better use of time than what's being plopped down in front of you?

If you ever get the chance to see Cassie Erkens, do so. If you have the power to lobby for professional development, lobby for her. Here's a short excerpt of one of her presentations:

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Clear as Mud: A Moment of Much Needed Clarity at ITEC 2010

I've had the great pleasure - and angst - to be at the Iowa Technology Education Connection conference in Coralville, Iowa. Great workshops, keynote speakers, learning sessions, human networking (on and offline) and everything else you would expect from a well organized group such as ITEC. A tip of a hat to the people behind it.

It has been invigorating, educational, thought provoking, mind bending and inspirational.

Until now, that is.

The last two sessions I attended were whirlwind presentations on updated Web 2.0 tools and social bookmarking. Both of these sessions where high on my priority list. Both left my head spinning, and not in a good way. I'm beginning to wonder how or when I'll be able to get my head around these great applications enough to use them in a helpful way instead of that curious way that we all have done with a new technology.

You know how it goes: you see something new and it looks interesting. It's just curled up there, looking harmless and cute. You poke and prod it for a little while until it wakes completely up and you realize that this is not a fuzzy cuddly thing that will be fun but a big hairy thing that has lots of teeth, a voracious hunger and perhaps even a fair amount of snot and drool. You run away before it can bite, and you tend to stay away from it. You now stand in amazement of others who have tamed the beast: "Wow - you use Diigo? And you're still alive to talk about it? Do they give you a medal for that??"

I'm getting time off from work, money for the sub, the registration and the mileage, and I feel conflicted, confused and unenlightened - and these were for things that I was looking forward to. (Don't get me started on the "What's New from Apple" seminar - the guy talked for 35 minutes about the voucher program. It was like watching "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" without light sabers.)

Moment of clarity, courtesy of Vickie Davis, the Cool Cat Teacher during her keynote:

Don't wait to try the technology, but don't try to do it all at once. Take on what you can reasonably do. Find one thing to explore and do it today or tomorrow, but don't wait until Thursday or Friday.

Moment of clarity, courtesy of Angela Maiers via a retweet from Dr. Leigh Zeitz:

Don't try to get good at everything-learn one thing well (And then share it with someone!).

Moment of clarity, courtesy of Simon and Garfunkel:

Slow down, you move too fast. You gotta make the morning last.

(No, they didn't present, but if they did, they would have sung this for sure.)

Not in any order, or even it its entirety, here are the things I would like to dive into and figure out:
Diigo, Soshiku, TimeToast, Blabberize, Aminmation-ish, SmartTools ... and the list goes on. I would also like to learn more about GoogleSites, WikiSpaces, SketchUp ... and that list goes on.

This list will keep me busy - but I'll keep it simple and focus on one at a time. 

What one will I play with tomorrow? Probably the one that I know the least. Next week? Who knows?

What technology will you begin to learn tomorrow? What technology was the "best new technology" you learned about at ITEC 2010?

Once again, thanks to the ITEC board for putting together the best educational conference I've attended yet. I'm already looking forward to next year.

Image credit: Mud Mud Golden Mud; Haribo's Photos, April 22, 2008.