Tuesday, December 13, 2011

In-Tuh-Gray-Shun! Hallelujah!

So how do you end a semester of Selection and Integration of Instructional Technologies? With two things:

The final project, which you can find here, and a song ... sort of...

(With apologies to lyricist Lynn Ahrens, performer Essra Mohawk, and all of the creative geniuses behind this gem from Schoolhouse Rock. And special thanks to former student and musician Andrew C. for his talents.)

This almost feels blasphemous. Almost. (And "almost" has yet to stop me.)

UPDATE: Due to a recent request, you have two options. Choose wisely ...

Option #1: "I'm going to play it safe, I've just eaten, and I don't want to risk hysterical blindness." Click play for the instrumental

Option #2: "I have an empty stomach, I regularly throw caution to the wind, and I'll gamble that hysterical blindness is a temporary condition at best." Click here for the "vocal" version (and may God have mercy on your soul ...)

When Reginald was home with the flu, uh-huh-huh,
The teacher knew just what to do-hoo.
She made the connection
In the online direction
Which meant Reginald was getting that 

Hey! That's smart!
Sweet! How cool!
Yow! That's really clever providing me with an assistive technology!

Integration (Hey!) It's exciting (Sweet!) What a notion (Yow!)
It's usually set apart from a lesson that's missing Universal Learning Design,
It adds some karma to a unit that's not so strong.

So Geraldine thought she was all set, uh-huh-huh
She figured she was the teacher's pe-het
Assignments done to perfection,
With a podcast reflection -
But Geraldine was receiving some 

Well! I never thought I could learn so much!
Oh! I've never been so impressed in all my life!
Hey! I love that I can do more than just write my responses!

Integration (Well!) It's exciting (Oh!) What a notion (Hey!).
It's usually set apart from a lesson that's minus that thing called Gee-Ar-Ar,
It adds some karma to a unit that's not so strong.

It makes kids happy (Hurray!) Not sad (Aw!)
Enlightened (Whee!) Not mad (Rats!)
Delighted, (Wow!) And glad (Hey!)
The integration starts the day's plan right.

A research paper was assigned to them all, uh-huh-huh,
And Franklin? He was on the ba-hall.
He made a citation
For his researched quotation;
He's a cyber citizen because of

Wow! I cited this the right way!
Cha-ching! I know how to play this game!
Bazinga! I'm respecting intellectual property!

Integration (Wow!) It's exciting (Cha-ching!) What a notion (Bazinga!).
It's usually set apart from a lesson that ignores teaching cyber citizenry ,
It adds some karma to a unit that's not so strong.

It makes kids happy (Hurray!) Not sad (Aw!)
Enlightened (Whee!) Not mad (Rats!)
Delighted, (Wow!) And glad (Hey!)
The integration starts the day's plan right.

Integration (Hey!) It's exciting (Wow!) What a notion (Cool!).
It's usually set apart from a lesson that's missing a whole heckuvalot,
It adds some karma to a unit that's not so strong.

Integration! It's exciting! What a notion!
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah... YEA!

Darn! That's the end!

For you purists out there, here's the real deal (with a bit of assistive technology tossed in there).

Saturday, December 3, 2011

You're letting WHO do WHAT?

Ever think a blind kid could run a spotlight? A deaf kid do a sound check? A wheelchair-bound kid run scenery? A Downs Syndrom kid dance on stage?

Ask me that twenty years ago, and I'm not sure what I would have said. Today I can say "yeah, we've done that,"and we've done it with success.

Working in educational theater presents enough challenges for the ordinary director. Working with kids who have no challenges to speak of is enough for most of us. When we're faced with working with kids who have more severe challenges, we're faced with change, and creative thinking, and ... well, I'm not sure what we call it. At times if feels like panic, fear, worry, or anything else but opportunity.

And that's exactly what it is.

In the 19 years that I've been teaching at my school, our theater has been graced by two blind students, not quite a dozen deaf students (some profoundly, others functionally), four students with Downs Syndrome, three kids in wheelchairs (strangely enough, all three with acute rheumatoid arthritis), several with varying degrees of Asbergers ... and we've always tried to give them a shot and doing theater. Aside from it being "the right thing to do," it would often give we directors as well as our veteran theater students the opportunity to work with kids that we wouldn't work with otherwise. We have yet to have anyone come away from these experiences thinking that it was a mistake. 

That's the warm-fuzzy part of this: the kids get a chance to learn from each other. You don't need a stack of research to prove that - it's plainly obvious to even the casual observer. It raises the question, though, regarding what we provide: as instructors, are we doing enough to provide a quality educational experience? 

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework for the structure of instruction for those who need assistive learning - whether that is through technology, the help of an assistant, or the use of materials designed to assist. It provides us with guidance and presses us to think through a lot more scenarios than what we're probably used to.

A particularly challenging moment for me as a theater educator was several years ago when a deaf student wanted to help with sound. The mechanical part was easy - you don't really have to hear to make cable connections and flip on switches. The array of lights and indicators tell you when things are plugged in correctly. But how did she know that the mic worked? You have to hear that, right?

Sort of.

With the help of an interpreter, she was able work with another hearing student - but that was his hearing interpretation of the sound, not her deaf interpretation. She really didn't perform the sound check - it was someone else doing it and then telling her the mic was working. So how can a deaf person work in a theatrical sound environment?

Welcome to the 21st Century, and meet industrial designer Frederick Podzuweit. He has envisioned a collar called "Music For Deaf People" (MFDP) that allows deaf people to experience music. It looks something like this:

Podzuweit, F (2010). Music for Deaf People device.

It plugs in to a sound device much like a set of headphones, except instead of the signal running to transducer speakers, it runs to a series of membranes that vibrate, expand and contract with the beat and frequency of the sound source. The neck and shoulders receive the tactile sensation, and therefore create a relationship between the intended sound and the sensation of the collar. This allows a deaf person to experience and sense sound by way of the sense of touch.

Suddenly here is a device that solves the dilemma. By connecting this to a sound output device (a sound mixer, iPod, speaker, wireless receiver, etc) my deaf student could do a sound check alone (or at least without the help of an interpreter.) How would the MFDP be used in the classroom? Here is one possible lesson scenario using my Stage Design class as an example.

(UPDATE: Sadly, this is only a conceptual design and not a reality - yet. If only I were good with tools, electronics and pneumatic actuators ...)

Still not convinced that deaf people can perform in the sound-rich environment of theater? Evelyn Glennie is a fantastic example of how a deaf person can still hear sound and perform music. This is her TedTalks presentation from 2003:

We live in a great age - our technology is allowing for more and better opportunities for students, be it in the arts or the math class. We need to keep looking for ways that allow them to learn better, and allow us to teach them better.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Plagiarism and the Cyber Citizen

Bland, J. (2010) "Ethics"
Many moons ago, I decided to do a report in my high school government class on the ethics of photo journalism. This was when I still had romantic aspirations of roaming the globe with thousands of dollars of Nikon around my neck and in my rucksack, chasing the most exciting stories that came out of the four corners of the earth - so let's say I had a vested interest. The written part of the report was solid, with a good deal of research, but it was missing something. Of course - examples of photo journalism.

I spent hours sifting through books containing Pulitzer Prize winning photos, and then taking them to the AV room where I spent more hours using the photo copier - which in this case was not a Xerox machine but a stand that held a SLR camera and two lights for shadow-free imagery. I placed the photo on the stand, checked the camera frame, adjusted, checked again, adjusted again ... I was thoroughly into the activity. I snapped about fifteen pictures, then spent more hours in the dark room developing the film and printing the pictures. When the photos were dry, I took them home where I spent even more hours mounting them carefully with those little photo corner holders (aptly named) and re-typing the paper so that the text wrapped around the photos.

(Note that I never mention the terms "computer," "word processor," or "scanning" because this was 1982, which is damn near the dark ages if you ask a sixteen year old today. At least we didn't have to make our own paper.)

Trask, H. (1957) "The Sinking of the Andrea Doria"
I proudly handed it in, a few classmates casting an envious look at my handiwork. If ever there was a slam-dunk A+ paper, this was it. And when you're a sophomore in high school, when you think you're hot, the fall is just that much harder. When we received the papers back, I didn't get an A+. I got a B+, and I was stunned. The research was all in line, the writing was strong, but there was one peculiar note on the paper from my instructor: "These images are copyrighted, aren't they?" Now there were many times in high school where irony was lost on me - as it was and still is for most high school males - but this one didn't miss:

I had committed a breach of ethics on a paper about the ethics of photo journalism.

I felt like a complete dolt. Nowhere in my paper did the word "copyright" exist. It should have, and not just because I boosted about fifty years of award winning photography. Many photojournalists have come under scrutiny for the way they have manipulated photos, and it happens today with more frequency. The age of digital media makes this issue easier to abuse.

How do we teach students the ethics of using other's creative works? Thankfully, we have entities such as Common Sense Media, Power to Learn, and The Copyright Alliance to provide thoughtful tools and instruction to help teachers, students and parents. Creating learning opportunities for the school community is an important way to head off problems that are more plentiful with the advent of sharing digital media.

Go here to view the professional development plan. This is designed for early school year pre-service or half-day inservice
Go here to view the classroom unit designed for 11th and 12th grade Language Arts Students. This is designed to be part of the unit over citing sources and plagiarism.
Go here to view the parent/guardian presentation. This is designed to be presented as part of all of a regularly scheduled PTA meeting

Go here to see a brief presentation that introduces the concepts of copyright and fair use.

Including teachers, students and parents in the discussion regarding ethical use of intellectual property reduces the chances of issues becoming problems, and it significantly broadens the learning base.

There are other issues regarding cyber life, such as Cyber Bullying, Online Integrity, Security, and Privacy. None of these issues are more or less important than the other. If a student is online, then they all are at work at some level.

What do you think are important cyber citizen issues? How do you address them as a teacher? A parent? A student? Leave a comment and let's start a discussion!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

They Call it "Stage Technology," But ...

Henderson, Wells. "Wrench." 10/10/2008
But ... how is technology infused into the course?

Let's start by discussing our situation. We teach Stage Craft and Stage Design courses as Language Arts electives at our school. In the past, this has largely meant that these classes have a sizable effort toward putting together the technical requirements for one (or two) of our four annual productions. Basics of scenery building are the bulk of instruction, which includes a healthy dose of theater scene shop safety and instruction. Lighting and sound consoles have become more sophisticated in recent years, so a bit of instruction regarding programming cues is included.

"Tech" in this case means "hands on," which is a given when we consider everything we learn and teach given what our goal is: completed scenery, lighting and sound for a specific production.

"Tech" in the case of the 21st century classroom has a bit more of a role than just "the stuff that kids can put their hands on. Consider the framework for a 21st century classroom provided below, courtesy of the Partnership For 21st Century Skills:

Core Subjects and 21st Century Themes
• Global Awareness
• Financial, Economic, Business and Entrepreneurial Literacy
• Civic Literacy
• Health Literacy
• Environmental Literacy

Learning and Innovation Skills
• Creativity and Innovation
• Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
• Communication and Collaboration

Information, Media and Technology Skills
• Information Literacy
• Media Literacy
• ICT (Information, Communications and Technology) Literacy

Life and Career Skills
• Flexibility and Adaptability
• Initiative and Self-Direction
• Social and Cross-Cultural Skills
• Productivity and Accountability
• Leadership and Responsibility

How do you incorporate this material into a class that up untill recently was largely a class designed for kids to get an elective credit for doing something theatrically creative?

Fortunately, we have some tools out there that will help people like me who teach specialized classes. One that I recently used comes from Shaun Holloway, a principal from the Manson Northwest Webster School district in Iowa. Here is my self-evaluation regarding technology integration in my Stage Technology courses using his walk-through evaluation tool. You will notice that I have some work to do.

It's likely that there are many more teachers like me out there who need to evaluate and amend their teaching to take their classrooms - no matter what subject - into the 21st century. What changes do you need to make? What changes would you like to see in your student's classroom? Does this framework for a 21st century classroom provide everything the 21st century learner needs? Share your thoughts.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

ITEC 2011: From Mudbogs to Meadows

"Wildflower Meadow on Silver Forest Trail." KW Traveler, 2011
The Iowa Technology Education Connection (ITEC) conference is over; the dust has settled, and once again, there is much to think about. But as opposed to last year, when I compared the collection of information to a mud bog, I feel that this year was a meadow of daisies and wildflowers.

(I realize that this metaphor probably surprises you - and I must admit I'm a bit stunned myself by the overly-sappiness of it as well. Daisies? Wildflowers? Is this really BlamSpot? What's next - puppies, kittens and rainbows?)

Yes, daisies and wildflowers. A bunch of them, all brilliantly colored in the sunlight, swaying deftly in the refreshing breeze, no - and I mean NO - two alike ... and being part of it, if only for a moment, just makes you feel rejuvenated, content, and very happy.  And here lies the theme of this week's posting, because I think we've all been part of conferences that seemed more like drudgery than anything worth while. Here are the BlamSpot highlights from ITEC '11:

Presenter that challenged me most: Punya Mishra presented on the TPACK theory. From his TPACK website: "Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK), builds on Shulman’s idea of PCK, and attempts to capture some of the essential qualities of knowledge required by teachers for technology integration in their teaching, while addressing the complex, multifaceted and situated nature of teacher knowledge." While I won't attempt to impart everything that was presented - you'll get a good idea by visiting his TPACK website - it was the rare kind of presentation where you walk in with the attitude of "I don't know anything about this" and emerge with the revelation of "This really makes a lot of sense, and I want to learn more about it." When it comes to theory presentations, that's really saying something. Thank you, Punya, for taking the time to come to Iowa and sharing this with us.

Presenter that had the newest and most exciting information: Once again, Leslie Fisher came in and whirl-winded us through iOS5 apps for Mac products. I caught her act last year, and was wowed by her enthusiasm, her knowledge and her insatiable quest for digital devices and their quirks. This year was no different, especially given the fact that I took the plunge and purchased an iPad 2 right before the conference. Her sense of humor never overshadows the sensibility of the applications or technologies that she is presenting. She vows not to waste any time, and she delivers on that claim. In fact, she had us going to lunch ten minutes late. (I have yet to meet another presenter who can do that without the participants preparing torches and setting the room afire over the fact that they are being kept from sustenance.) My only complaint is that I have a lot of stuff on my iPad that I'm going to have to play with ... damn you, Fisher! (And thanks for coming back to ITEC. See you next year?)

Presenters that made me proud: I'm going to tout the efforts of the UNI Instructional Technology cohort members. These presenters work full-time in education while they pursue their MA, and still had time to prepare for the conference. They were a significant presence at the conference when it came to peer presentations. They included:

Courtesy Lisa Schaa, 2011
Sara Richardson, who had standing room only for her YouTube, internet ethics and educational games sessions. The folks in Fort Dodge, Iowa, are pretty lucky to have this amazing teacher librarian who is not just wicked-smart regarding ed tech, but is generous enough to share her talents and discoveries with those of us who can't be in her school.

Carrie Jacobs, who inspired many in her presentation about instilling cultural awareness in teens (as evidenced by the Tweets that were posted immediately afterward) and is an advocate for those students who are so often forgotten: the alternative high school student. West Des Moines has a real gem with her at the Walnut Creek Campus.

Courtesy Lisa Schaa, 2011
She was also part of the Flat Classroom presentation that included Deb Bruxvoort, Brandi Day, Jami ElliotCathy Olsen, and Lisa Schaa, who we affectionately call "The Beijing Babes" after their trip to China last spring for the Flat Classroom Project conference. Deb and Brandi aren't classroom teachers, but they bring a unique perspective regarding education to those of us who sometimes get too caught up in our own classroom work. Boone HS, West Burlington Elementary, and Stratford Elementary get some amazing energy from Cathy, Jami and Lisa. Thanks for sharing!

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the great organization and execution of another fabulous event by the ITEC board. Let's not try to imagine the number of hours it took to bring all of this together - we'll just agree that it was probably in the neighborhood of a gazillion. The record attendance of the event reflects the quality of the conference, and I'm plenty happy to extol their efforts. A tip of the hat to them.

Did you attend ITEC? If so, who were the presenters that made a difference? Challenged your status quo? Crammed your head full of neat stuff? Made you proud to be a teacher in Iowa? Please, share your thoughts!

And so, for 2011, it's daisies and wildflowers this year instead of mud. Perhaps I'm just that more in tune with instructional technology this year, or maybe I was better prepared to ingest the information - but either way, I'm better off today than I was last week. Thanks again to all who were a part of it.

Module 4: Integrating Digital Technology

How do you integrate technology?

It's a deceptive question. We may think it's easy to answer, but in reality, there are many different levels to "I use [insert technology here] in my classroom." And while we all want to think that we are technology superstars and are integrating technology at the highest level, you may be surprised to know that "the highest level" may be a very simple integration for some tools.

If you're interested in know where you stand on Planet Integrating Digital Technology, check here the Technology Integration Matrixes: one if from the Center for Instructional Technology at the University of South Florida, and the other is from the Arizona K-12 Center.

For this week's Selection And Integration of Instructional Technologies assignment, I have selected five technologies that we have either used in the past or will be integrating new this year. Here is the link to the original Google document for the five technologies that I use in my courses, using the FSU TIM tool. Below is the one example that I use the most, and for which I have the best understanding:

Google SketchUp. I use this application in my Stage Technology courses to both demonstrate 3-D drawings of stock set pieces in our scene shop, and for students to create digital models set pieces, props, and entire sets for their projects - and our productions.

Age Group: students in the 9th-12 grade in both a classroom setting and in the extracurricular venues

Description: Stage Craft/Stage Technology is a course that is dual purposed: a) to teach students the basics of technical theater - safety, set construction, light rigging, sound design, costume and makeup considerations, and all of the planning that goes behind these aspects - and b) to give them the practical hands-on experience of creating what is planned. Usually one set for a play is the big activity. Part of that planning will require some technology - SketchUp is a great entry-level 3-D modeling tool that gives students practical experience with design. Using the 3-D warehouse where models of basic scenic elements can be found, students will design set pieces, props and other scenery for a play of their choosing.

  • Students will perform the basic design operations in the SketchUp program
  • Students will collaborate with other students and designers by contributing to the 3-D Warehouse
  • Students will design and edit a drawing of a set piece, a prop or a set desgin for a play that they choose
  • Students will articulate and defend their choices for their design, and be able to idtentify which element they collaborated with other students/designers
  • Students will cite outside designers/resources used to complet their design.

TIM Cell: “Active - Adaptation”

Explanation: At first, I thought that it would be better suited for the Active Adoption, but as I review how I use the technology in the projects, it’s clear that there are opportunities for collaboration. While SketchUp is not set up for collaboration, it does allow for sharing files and projects to its 3-D Warehouse. Students can give and take as they need. 

Fitting into teaching: While there are few programs that allow for 3-D modeling at what I would consider entry level, SketchUp is about the only one that is available to students for no cost and allows for give and take in terms of completed models. For it to be truly collaborative, an additional tool is need for information exchange/communication (such as Google Chat, Twitter/TweetDeck, etc.). The program allows for student to create sets from scratch, borrow stock set piece drawings, download drawing of objects that can be used as props, and tap into a collective of SketchUp users to answer questions that will assist students when they come to a more complicated task or run into problems.

BAM! (Taking it to the next step): Taking this to “Active - Infusion” would provide for the lack of direct communication that is outlined above. Rather than wait for a more interactive version of SketchUp, taking this to the infusion level would be making available to students access to communication tools that they would select as they see appropriate.

How do you integrate technology? Take a look at the TIM links, and consider how you integrate various technologies. Then, using the language of the TIM, share with the world.

Monday, September 19, 2011

UPDATE: Deskless in Cedar Rapids

At least two people have requested that I update my blog after going a few weeks without a desk. So, I guess I can honestly say that there are people waiting with baited breath to find out how the grand experiment goes.

Lammers, B. (09/09/2011) "Look Ma, No Desk!"
Here to the right is a picture of the space that was formerly my desk. Making use of bookshelves, I have arranged my computer workstation, and the essentials that I need for my class. The plastic bins along the top right of the shelves contain the student supplies that had been garrisoned in my desk. They are there for the students to use, whenever they need. Easy access, and so far, no one has abused the system to open their own black-market office supply operation. I've noticed that the use of highlighters has increased now that students can retrieve them on their own. The most essential paraphernalia is housed in the plastic bins below the computer - again, formerly housed in the hallowed space that was the center top drawer of my desk. There is space for additional shelving, and I am still reconciling what I will do with that space. So far, though, that corner of the room is far more organized, far more neat looking, and the function is right up to speed with the form. This photo would suggest that this experiment is a raging success.

Lammers, B. (09/09/2011) "I Swear, Ma - I don't know what happened"
Until you see this picture at the left, which is the opposite corner of the room. Yup. There is still some work to do, and this is where the experiment is not doing so well. Immediately you will notice that there is an object that looks remarkably like a desk ... with a computer atop it ... surrounded by papers ... and stuff ... lots and lots of stuff.


This WILL be a student workstation. It will, I pledge this to you here. Right now, it is a place where my paperwork is backing up after a week of Homecoming activity, set building, and InstructionTechnology study work. There are piles both on the shelves and the floor. This kind of organization was once the exclusive domain of the desk - and I have yet to weed through the chaff, so to speak. The upside is that I do have a great deal of file drawer space now, so there's at least the opportunity to develop a new routine where papers will land with a sense of order. The downside is that right now, the top of the cabinets is home to a bunch of stuff - crap, if you will - including an eMac that needs a new power supply. In addition, on the workstation desk there lies:
  • a plastic spoon
  • a broken CD case
  • two flash drives that went through the washer/dryer
  • a light bulb (maybe it works, maybe it doesn't )
  • a bottle of Simple Green (with a creatively amended label)
Lammers, B (09/09/2011) "Green Cleaner."
Some habits die hard, and it appears I need to work on really getting rid of the bunker mentality. However, the positive goals of this exercise are coming to fruition. I move around the room and interact much more than I have in the past. I am doing less on the computer during class time - although I do find that silent sustained reading really is a good time to take care of the essentials (take attendance, respond to parent emails, update calendars and class blogs, etc.) I don't see this part as a failure, but as separating the essentials from the non-essentials. So, the work will continue.

I'll update this grand experiment at the mid-year point. Who knows - by then, I'll either have the shelves in "Amen Corner" cleaned, or the desk will be back and I will have succumbed to my erstwhile ways. But, so far, so good. Is there anyone else out there who has taken on this unique challenge? If so, post a comment or response.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

You're Gonna Need A Bigger Boat

Image credit: Elysia in Wonderland. "Jaws," 2008.
By now, those of us in education likely have a solid week under our belts - or at least here in the Midwestern US. (I know, for some reason, we like to start school in the stinkin' hot part of summer. We're funny that way.) For many of my colleagues in this part of the world, the routine has once again begun, and about now is the time when we figure out if the new activities we are using are working. We're finding out if all if those great ideas we've collected since last year can be implemented. We're finding out if the materials we have prepared and are presenting to our students are going to float.

Do we need a bigger boat?

For me, it's possible. The beginning of the school year is always busy, and with my Technical Theater contract, we hit the ground running with our first production. I'm not swamped yet, but here are the big things that are happening (and perhaps not happening) so far in my classroom so far:

1. No teacher desk. So far, so good, and I'm planning an update after the Labor Day weekend to show you how that's working. For details of what this means for me and my students, see my previous posting.

TM Microsoft, 2010.
2. All school district computers (or at least the vast majority) have been upgraded to Windows 7. While we all feel fortunate that we are now up to the current version that the rest of the world is using, the jump from Windows 2000 has provided the predictable headaches: permissions not being set correctly, incompatibility, older non-Windows files not working as normal, etc. Most of these problems are by our own doing as a district: not all of the previous software has been installed, or newer versions of applications have not been tested for compatibility. We've been told that this will all be rectified by the time we get back after Labor Day (and you'll pardon my lack of confidence with that prediction).
  • What this means for me as a teacher: about half of my Google Doc presentations are not working predictably; two critical software applications that I have used regularly have yet to be installed; creating new instruction to teach students how to navigate Windows 7 and Office 2010; communication between my and the technology department are delayed because many others who are having the same issues are also trying to communicate their needs.
  • What this means for my students: time lost to me scrambling for plan B when the unpredictable issues happen (and while that's always the chance we take with technology,  this year it's a daily struggle); students not having access to programs they have used in the past; limitations (so far) on using Web 2.0 tools; learning and adapting to Windows 7 and Office '10.
Image credit: lgb'06. "Technology is not technology," 2010
3. District and building directives to - wait for it - integrate technology. Did I pick the right MA program, or what? I am now hearing from administrators a few of the things we've been studying and researching in our IT program - and it makes me smile. Finding ways to connect with students and parents, using emerging technologies for learning, and thinking outside of our antiquated brick-and-mortar box to accommodate student achievement are at the forefront. It's been a slow journey, but it appears to have some momentum
  • What this means for me as a teacher: using newly acquired knowledge and materials in my classroom with not just the approval of administration, but their understanding as well; validation for our efforts as a staff; motivation to build upon what we have started.
  • What this means for my students: a unified front encouraging technology in our schools (as opposed to hit-and-miss efforts by individual teachers); more opportunities to use technology; the appearance that the school technology is lame, useless, or that we just don't care.
Image credit: Ice Birdy. "Teamwork," 12/31/2008
4. Intensified efforts to increase student achievement. This is nothing new at all, but with each year, there are always some additional steps in our effort. Our PLC efforts have created formative assessments and student learning expectations - and this year, we will continue to implement and develop evaluations for our students and the way we teach. A new and more intensive attendance policy will help us keep tabs on students to a) identify patterns of attendance that directly impacts learning, and b) keep students safer by knowing exactly where they are physically. An intervention pyramid guiding our efforts is at the center of this policy.
  • What this means for me as a teacher: concentrating on learning rather than teaching; continuing to build professional bonds with teachers beyond our school walls; pay closer attention to chronic attendance problems and follow the new specific procedures related to the district policy.
  • What this means for my students: a teacher that is focusing on their learning and new ways to improve it; specific goals to focus on in each class and - eventually - each unit taught; heightened awareness of absences and why they affect their own acheivement.
What condition is your boat in? What additional things are on board? What has been jettisoned? Please share your thoughts and experiences - and let's hope there isn't a large set of nasty teeth lurking below.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Deskless in Cedar Rapids

Image credit: Andhij. "Messy Desk," Jan. 31, 2006.
Allow me to begin by saying "no, the cutbacks were not that severe this year." I do have a desk.

I'm just getting rid of it.

I can year your thoughts. (Oh, yes, I have that power.) "WHAT? Give up the very thing that symbolizes the power and majesty that is teaching? Where will you sit to evaluate assignments? Where will you put the many apples that adoring students will surely present to you as a token of their appreciation? What will you hide under during the 'duck and cover' drill?" All good questions I assure you. (For those of you post-baby-boomers who don't understand what a "duck and cover" drill is, take a moment to stroll down cold war lane and see what many of us lived with as children. Chillingly heartwarming.)

If there is one lesson that I can definitively say that I've learned so far in my Instructional Technology education, it is this: the new normal isn't normal. What we've been teaching with is OK, but it doesn't match with what students and parents expect. Technology moves at what might as well be a million miles an hour, and we are expected to not just keep tabs on it, but use and teach with it. Student achievement is a hot button issue for just about anyone who cares about our future generations - and we need to monitor and constantly look for ways to improve how our students learn. Change is constant, and we in education are notoriously resistant to change. (Well, fine then - if you're the type that keeps count, then I guess that's about four lessons that I've learned.)

So what does any of that have to do with me not sitting at a desk?

For one, the physical nature of my desk resembles a bunker from the MaginotLine - a weak fortress that gives one a false sense of protection. I have what is best described as a "nook" set up with bookshelves flanking the desk; a defensive perimeter if there ever was one. What message does that send to a student? Do not disturb? Out to lunch? Hunkering down for the next onslaught? I've got something more important to deal with? Take your pick - none of them are good.

Image credit: Lammers, B. "Items from my desk cleaning" August 19, 2011.

A desk also holds a great deal of crap. (Yes, I said "crap.") One of the items from my repository that helped me arrive at my decision was a file folder with several IEP documents - from seven years ago. I know that IEP's are very valuable, but I'm pretty sure the students they documented are no longer in our educational system. Other vital items removed include: a box of ball point pens (completely dry), a package of sticky-notes (that won't come off without tearing), a cassette tape of a "sanitized" George Carlin routine on euphemisms, graduation announcements from four years ago, a smattering of rusty paperclips, a steak knife (and I SWEAR I have no idea where that came from), and nearly a dozen M&M's that probably escaped their package during the Clinton Administration. (They might be Reses Pieces, but I'm not eager to find out.) It also contained the usual trappings that I would use on a daily basis, but certainly I could have used something much smaller to contain these items. What message does that send? I'm a pack-rat? I have poor organizational skills? I don't pay attention to my own surroundings? Again, not something to crow about.

I think everyone also understands that while we put things in the desk, we also keep things on the desk, and this is the front line of impression making. Got a dirty desk? Ho boy ... too bad for you. Neat and tidy piles? Good boy! Good girl! Have a cookie! (And wipe the crumbs up when you're finished.) We do judge people by the appearance of their desk, right or wrong. Does a dirty desk mean you're a poor teacher? Right now, on my desk top (which I haven't cleaned yet) you can find various piece of hardware, markers, cables for the computer, copies of our literary magazine from last year, and an odd combination of small lumber pieces - and it's thoroughly scattered. I know what those items are there for, but what message does this send to students? Again with the organization? Train wreck? Lack of focus? Incompetent?

Enough with the office furniture postmortem. Aside from removing a mess, what will not having a desk mean for me as a teacher?

One: More student monitoring. If there was ever motivation to keep moving around in the classroom, not having the anchor that is a desk is a good place to start. True, there will be times where I'm circulating through silent sustained reading time, but I've never heard anyone tell me that I'm monitoring students too much.

Two: More classroom movement. Since I won't be sitting, I'll be walking - which, when it comes to activity, trumps sitting every time. I realize that there is more to losing weight than just walking around a classroom, so let's not alert Jenny Craig just yet. It surely can't hurt, though - and I need all the help I can get.

Three: Relinquishing computer time. Considering just about every sort of data that we keep is stored on the computer - grades, attendance, participation - there is plenty of opportunity to be in front of the computer for significant portions of the class time. The problem is that you can get a bad case of the "might-as-wells" when you do that: "As long as I'm at the computer, I might as well (insert computer aided task here.)" That quickly becomes time away from students. Considering I'll be working on my education in Instructional Technology, there will be plenty of time in front of a screen outside of class time.

Four: More meaningful student interaction. Not necessarily more, but better. Creating meaningful interactions with students is something that we all want to do, and some of us do it better than others. I need to be one of those on the "better" side. I'm certain I've determined that it can't be done from a desk.

The arrangement will be tricky at first, and I know that the students who have known me for three years will be on my case right away (because, as they all know, Lammers loves him his desk.) However, letting go of the "fortress of old office supplies and stale candy" may be the spark I need to focus even more on what is happening in my classroom. I know it smacks of gimmickry, but given that the classroom of this century shouldn't look like the last one, it may be the start of something challenging and changing.

So, am I killing a sacred cow? Making a mountain out of a molehill? Barking up the wrong tree? Taking a solid stand? Searching for tomorrow? (Getting carried away with cliches?) Please comment to share your thoughts, and share some of the more interesting finds from your desk.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Happy First Anniversary, BlamSpot!

Ah, the end of another school year (and the beginning of the Summer Term), punctuated by periodic blogging here at this spot. What have we learned? How about a retrospective of postings, followed by hard-core analysis by a color commentator and former big-league blogger? An option for a full-length feature film? People have always told me that Tom Arnold bears a passing resemblance to me, or vice-verse - I'd be OK if he played me in the film. Maybe he can talk Arnold Schwarzenegger out of retirement, now that he's out of a job, and apparently single.

Hmm. Too much. Let's just review the highlight reel, shall we?

May 2010: Early in my blogging career, I started with a serious tone, taking on Twitter, text messaging, online distance learning, and exploring new technologies. Very serious, I was. But the blogs lacked a little something - my voice was not very authentic. I was trying to make the blog something that someone else wanted, and not something that I wanted. That changed quickly.

June 2010: I find my voice. I started incorporating new technologies in the classroom, and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. I proclaimed there was no crying in instructional technology, extolled the virtues of high
speed Internet in the dorms, got my geek on, addressed my inner curmudgeon, railed at Steve Jobs, and even managed to sneak in a Blues Brothers metaphor. Oh, the heady times during the EITS summer session!

Fall, 2010: The start of a new school year challenged me to become an agent of change: adopting more technology in my classroom and advocating for more in our school. I learned that video gaming can save the world - or could lead to it. Pee breaks during class chat - is that a bloggable topic? You bet! ITEC 2010 was a highlight of the fall term, as well as our musical Chicago, where I attempted to use running a spotlight as an example of instructional design theory, and celebrated the innovation of my iPhone's light board app. A long day at an in service was fodder for another entry, although upon further reflection, I may have more optimistic that I should have been. At the end of the fall term, finals and technology failure inspired thoughts of insurrection - but only in my mind. The thoughts may have been critical, but the delivery was more light-hearted.

December 2011 - January 2011: Blog entries equalled my ID journal entries, so there was a flurry of activity. Finding my Smart Board grove, lamenting a lost blog posting, and examining the demise of the school librarian/rise of the school information technologist explored some career possibilities. These posts also reflected some issues that cropped up during the Technology in Education course. During a snow day, a cousin's Facebook posting inspired some reflections of a long distance playdate - viewing and discussing films via the PlayStation. I took some real-world experiences from both in and out of the classroom to make the connections that I had been seeking: how does technology help us learn? What can we learn from the digital natives? What can they learn from we teachers?

February, 2011: Through a well-placed paw, my faithful companion and study-buddy Bernie managed a self portrait, which resulted in a little feline reflection. (He's not as excited about instructional technology as the rest of us.) A flurry of "official announcements" from friends and relatives on Facebook begged for some commentary as well. I could have extended that to another episode in May when a colleague announced to the world on Facebook that he would be leaving his job for another. It was a little rough for the students to find this out online - which I feel emphasizes the point I was making that not EVERYTHING should be announced online.

May, 2011: With no requisite logs or blogging assignments, the spring stayed thin. This month was marked by less instructional technology and more "other things that are pressing in my world." Techies pulling double duty by coming in for the matinee of a Children's Theater production, then dropping everything to get ready for prom (and destroying the myth that techies are a bunch of trolls that are as ugly as a mud post), and a celebrity sighting during our trip to NYC that lacked recognition - or cognition, for that matter - commanded my blogging attention. Perhaps not the most academic of topics, but meaningful - and hopefully enlightening.

With the summer courses come more opportunities to blog. We begin the process of writing the graduate paper. Daunting? Yes, but with the cohort number comes strength. Issues in Technology will follow swiftly in June, with more material to delve into. Which brings me to my number one technology implementation for this year:

Blogging for Understanding. Why would anyone think that this is not a valuable tool? As a Language Arts teachers, we teach writing for understanding. Blogging just takes that into another venue - the online world - that allows for additional steps: comment and response. So I'm a big fan. And this spring, when I wasn't blogging as much, I felt like I was missing something. The break was welcome, but absence made the heart grow fonder, so to speak. There are tens of thousands of authors in the blogosphere,  many who discuss instructional technology. I sometimes still feel like a neophyte, but I need to remember that I'm not trying to teach the world - just share some thoughts and insights regarding my discoveries - and inviting commentary as well. Let's be honest - it's a little daunting to try to teach the world.

I've never been really good at keeping a journal, even when assigned as part of a course or workshop. I would always start out strong, then decide that the initial effort was well beyond expectations and throttle back. Not so with blogging. I think the appealing aspect of blogging is the ability to include multiple media in a post, and that it is a far less formal way to make commentary or observation. It was interesting to review a year's worth of postings. There has been a lot of ground traveled regarding instructional technology - and other things pressing in my world - and already I can see where my attitudes have changed on some issues.

Thanks again to my good friends, instructors, colleagues and classmates in the UNI 2010 Instructional Technology Cohort. The net we have created for each other is strong and reassuring. TECH UP!!

And now, for my favorite anniversary gift to give:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

This Is Why TMZ Will Never Hire Me

Image credit: Huffman, Todd. "Paparazzi." April 23, 2010

Recently my wife Pat and I received a rare treat: sitting in the live studio audience for the May 7th Saturday Night Live show, where Pat's daughter works as a writer. We were able to shake the shackles loose for four days and have a great NYC experience. The SNL show - which is rumored to be the second-hardest ticket to get in town - was amazing. Even those who may be down on the current season as television viewers would have found the experience really rewarding, especially those of us who dabble in the technical theater side of things.

There were a lot of great moments during the trip, from a very cool Sunday AM in Washington Square in Greenwich Village, people watching and listening to a great NYU jazz combo, to riding bikes on a very crowded Hudson River Greenway. We ate our weight in great food, and I even took a half hour to sail one of the remote control sailboats in the Conservancy Waters in Central Park while taking pointers from a three-year old Polish boy. (I'm sure his instructions were crystal clear. I just didn't understand Polish.) The last main event was a fantastic dinner at Spice Market in Manhattan's Meatpacking District, which is what I will use for today's point:

Know thy culture, know thy surroundings.

First, if you ever do NYC and want to really treat yourself to an amazing dining experience, make two things: 1) reservations well in advance at Spice Market, and 2) additional room on your credit card. (It'll be worth it - trust me.) When you get there, keep your eyes open. We didn't know until about halfway through our dinner that this restaurant is a destination for those who are well-known, dare I say, even famous. I happened to look up as a series of strobe flashes went off outside of the main entrance for about three seconds. It took me a moment to know what this meant - paparazzi - before a trio walked in: a large body guard type, leading a pair who were wearing trendy fedoras. There was something vaguely familiar about the woman - an attractive blonde - but I figured that if this couple were REALLY FAMOUS, I would have recognized one or both of them. Since I didn't, I figured she was a socialite or someone who was nearly famous. The pair was ushered down stairs to a private room, and that was the last I saw of them. I should mention that my wife, who was sitting next to me, and her daughter and her boyfriend, sitting across from us, were in the middle of a discussion, so they didn't see any of this. I brought this to their attention when there was a break in the talk, but when they asked me what they looked like, I said "an attractive blonde woman and a guy in a goatee, wearing trendy fedoras." (That description merely eliminated only half of the population in Greenwich Village.) I assured them that I didn't think that they were REALLY FAMOUS, because if they were REALLY FAMOUS, I would have recognized them. We finished our meal while talking about other more important things.

At this point, I should mention that when there are reports of nearly famous to REALLY FAMOUS people out and about, there is a smaller band of alternative paparazzi that hang around with cameras at the rumored locations to catch a pic that they can keep for themselves or perhaps even sell for profit. I should also mention that they are about a step-and-a-half away from being full-fledged stalkers. To be polite, not all of them are in the best of mental health. It was one of this alternative paparazzo that plays a key role in this story, because of the question he asked us (more like shouted) as we left the restaurant:


See, I thought she looked familiar, but apparently she is not REALLY FAMOUS, because if she was REALLY FAMOUS, I would have ... recognized ...

Ah, I got nothin' at this point.

Apparently I need to relax my stance of never watching reality TV or paying attention to trendy things ... and perhaps listening to current music would assist me as well ... and reading the entertainment news might help, too ...

We laughed in the cab ride home that we had to rely upon a near-stalker to tell us that I saw Christina Aguilera and didn't know it. I wasn't certain that he was correct, considering the volume of his voice and the slurred speech, but we thought it was amusing.

The next morning, as we were waiting at the airport, I decided to see if I was really that vacuous. I Googled "Christina Aguilera dinner Monday May 9." Here is what I got:

From justjared.buzznet.com, May 9, 2011

Yup. That's them. That's who I saw.

I suppose there is something comforting about the fact that I don't drop everything when I see someone famous. You can also argue that if I would have recognized her, I may have come completely unglued and looked like a raving lunatic. The fact that I didn't gives me said earlier comfort.

I am also well over the fact that this lack of recognition of Ms. Aguilera makes me anything between "just shy of being hip" to "old geezer." (This freedom occurred many years ago when I dropped a "Captain Kangaroo" reference in my 9th grade class and not a single student knew who the hell I was talking about.) I can live with not being hip. When you teach high school, you're hip for about your first three or four months of your career. After that, no matter how you dress, what you listen to, or the references you drop in class, you're beyond hip. There's no great ceremony that comes with that, by the way. It just oozes over you, it's irreversable, and you're usually the last one to know about it.

So, when you go to NYC, spend a few weeks ahead of time boning up on the latest REALLY FAMOUS folks and their trade. Hopefully you'll come off looking better than I did.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

We Do Look Good When We Clean Up

Photo Credit: Lammers, B (4/30/2011). "Playtime Prom-py."
On Saturday, April 30th, two very important events occurred at Washington High School: the last performance of the Cedar Rapids Children's Theater production of Snow White, and the annual dress-up event known everywhere as Prom. Not only did they occur on the same date, but overlapped by an hour.


Yep. We had people in the cast and crew who also wanted to - and I know this is hard to believe - go to prom with their dates. (Where did I go wrong?) So, what does one do in this situation?

Easy. Get your hair done in the morning, do everything within your power to preserve the manicure, arrive at the theater just in time to take your postion and run your cues, get dressed up and show off the garb between the 2:00 and 4:30 shows to have your picture taken with your favorite people in the world - your theater peeps, climb back into your grubby theater gear, run your first few cues until well meaning (but experience-deficit) directors take over for you, back into the crinoline, sequins and heels, run like hell to the promenade that started a half hour after the begining of the show, and let the evening begin.

Normally we don't have this problem, but avoiding Easter weekend, State Large Group Music contest, AP testing, and other sundry events, Prom and Playtime Poppy colided. This happened three years ago, and the results were far less happy - a cast member and his date missed the Grand March by mere moments. No one - and I mean NO one - was happy about it. This year we were able to plan accordingly so that we wouldn't have a repeat of that sad, sorry moment. I'm happy to report all made it and had a blast.

Even though we techies live in the shadows of the stage, wear black and insist on having dirt on our hands, we do enjoy the momentary "dressed to the nines" moments. And just look how good we clean up.