Thursday, July 17, 2008

K12 Online Conference Final Reflections and Project

K12 Online Conference Final Reflections
I took the K12 Online Conference as an online course for graduate credit for several reasons. First of all I wanted to ensure that I would make the time to check out a majority of the sessions that were offered. I also wanted to use the course as a way to increase the size of my personal learning network. Lastly, I wanted to start blogging on a more frequent basis. I’ve made progress on all three personal goals through taking this course.

I now have completed all 5 keynote presentations and 16 of the various other sessions that were offered. I found all of the presentations to be tremendously valuable. I have pointed co-workers and students to some of the materials in the conference as well as have used some of the presentations in courses that I teach at Saint Joseph’s College and the University of Southern Maine. This conference is creating a tremendous online vault of great ideas and thoughts about teaching and learning using technology. Unlike a traditional vault these presentations are openly available to anyone who wishes to view them.

As I have taken this course I have continually added to my network. I have subscribed to many of the presenter’s blogs and Twitter accounts. This has helped me get further connected and help keep me as current as possible. My use of Twitter has really skyrocketed through taking this course. I started using it heavily after NECC 2007 in Atlanta, Georgia. I now follow 275 people (and growing). I’m not sure how many more people I can add and still be able to follow what is going on. I find that the flow of information that comes from Twitter with my current network to be manageable. I’m trying not to let it get out of control.

Taking this course got me to blog much more than I have in the past. To accomplish this I set up a Google Apps account with a custom domain that I purchased ($10/year for I’m surprised that more educators are not taking advantage of this incredible deal – especially bloggers who are already using Blogger for their blogging engine. While I have written more this year in my blog through taking this course and other writings, this is the area I want to continue to work on most. I need to use my blog as a place to post my thoughts, ideas, and reflections. This will turn out to help my own professional development and get me involved in the conversations. I have been a lurker of the conversations for many years now. I want to become more than that. Taking this course has put me in the right direction for this to take place.

Final Project
I teach in a middle school that serves students in fifth through eighth grades. My seventh and eighth grade students work in a one-to-one environment with Apple iBooks provided by the State of Maine. Our district purchases laptops for all students as they enter high school. These laptops are used for each student’s four years of high school. My middle school and the elementary schools are now benefiting from these laptops trickling down to us. This influx of laptops is getting me closer to having my students in fifth and sixth grades working in a one-to-one environment as well.

My school had two labs filled with 25 eight year old iMacs. Due to space issues I needed to give up one of the labs for classroom space. I saw this loss as an opportunity to do something new in my building. I wrote a proposal to empty the second lab as well and replace the old iMac computers with 10 new iMacs that could be used as a multimedia lab set up in more of a studio style (inspired by Clarence Fischer) than a traditional desktop computer lab. I want to see more work done in my school with digital video (inspired by Brian Crosby’s keynote and Dr. Tim Tyson) and podcasting (inspired by Cheryl Oakes, Bob Sprankle, Alice Barr, and Jen Wagner).

As a result of taking this course I have decided that I would like to delve into the world of podcasting as my project. I am going to assemble a group of students that will create a news-style podcast of happenings in our school. I want to learn more about this with my students. I plan to start out simple and just do an audio podcast show. As our skills improve, I wish to move into video. I’ll use the knowledge I’ve gained from using Blogger as my blog engine for this course to set up a blog that will be the home of this new podcast. We will house our episodes on servers located within our district.

The idea I have for the implementation of this project is to take advantage of a last period study hall that all seventh and eighth grade students have that do not take band/chorus. I’ll recruit students who are interested in being part of this group. We will develop our own professional learning community to learn the skills we’ll need to make a quality podcast. I’m sure our episodes will improve dramatically as the year progresses. It is my hope that the inclusion of seventh and eighth grade students will create a training cycle after this first year. I would like the eighth grade students to help get the new seventh grade students trained in upcoming years.

It is my hope that this becomes a student-driven production. I want to see the students take ownership of this project. I truly feel that it will only be sustainable and successful if the students take pride in their production of this show. I hope to slowly back off and be seen as merely an advisor as opposed to the focal point of the production. I feel that I’ll know this project was a success when this happens. So keep your eyes (and ears) open in the fall for the Frank Harrison Middle School Podcast. I want the students to come up with the name of the show and domain so I’m not sure where it will be located, but a link will be provided from our school web page.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Reflection on Jeff Utecht's Presentation: Online Professional Development

As I watched Jeff Utecht's K12 Online Conference presentation I had to laugh. It's the middle of July, I'm working on a K12 Online Conference session created last October, my Twitter is flowing with information coming out of Ewan McIntosh's live keynote at the BLC Conference (I actually paused the presentation for a while to drop in on the Ustream of the keynote) and I'm interacting with others through email as this all occurs. My own interactions sort of mimicked the interactions Jeff had in his presentation. I love how he just sat and demonstrated how he connects with his network through these tools and more. Through my work on this course I have grown to see the power of the network and there's no looking back now.

I used to use my RSS aggregator as my main way of connecting with my network. I started small by subscribing to David Warlick's and Will Richardson's blogs. As I read their thoughts on their blogs they connected me to more and more bloggers that I found interesting to read. Since last summer and my experience at NECC07 I have been using Twitter much more as my way of connecting to my network. I had found the graph on the presentation's wiki really interesting because it absolutely nailed me as a Twitter user. When I first signed up for my account I found it foolish to see what others were doing. I really didn't care that someone was having a BLT sandwich for lunch. However, as I got to use it more and more I found that there was a ton of value within that network. The key is getting through the start of it and building a significant list of people to follow. Just as I have to skim my feeds in my RSS aggregator I have to do the same with Twitter. I now find Twitter to be an indispensable tool.

As I think about this it makes me ponder the new skills required to learn in this sort of environment. More importantly, are kids learning how to do this? Kids are known as multi-taskers. Do they know how to simultaneously follow a Twitter stream, RSS feeds, Instant Messenger, and a steady flow of email without losing their focus? Is it a big deal if they lose their focus from time to time? I often lose my focus and end up in all kinds of different directions. As I mentioned earlier in this post I set out this morning with the goal of watching this presentation. About half-way through the presentation I stopped it and started watching the BLC keynote address. As I watched the keynote address I was interacting with others in the Ustream chat room and Twitter (I actually got the link to the Ustream through Twitter).

If anyone out there is interested in following me I can be found:

My blog:
My Twitter:
My Skype: michael_d_arsenault

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Reflection on John Pearce's Presentation: Me Blog? No Way!!!

Blogging is often an idea teachers think will be a good addition to their classroom. John Pearce described many reasons why teachers would want to use blogs as well as topics of concern in his K12 Online Conference session, "Me Blog? No Way!!!". For blogging to be successful in the classroom teachers must think about the pedagogical reasons for why they want to use this tool. Hopefully, the pedagogical reasons brought the teacher to the idea of using blogging in his/her classroom in the first place. I have found that when we just decide to use a tool for the sake of the tool itself, it is not sustainable. When we focus the use of a tool to learning objectives and essential learnings and see success in that connection sustainability will ensue.

The idea of a teacher using a blog to learn was particularly interesting to me as well. I have been reading blogs for a number of years at this point. I have learned a lot from my virtual professional learning network. The people in my RSS reader have proven to continually keep me up to date and stretch my thinking on many topics. The battle I find myself in is continually trying to make time to write and be more reflective in my work. Being part of the network should include adding to the conversation. I have posted comments on many posts that I have read over the years, but I want to be seen as someone with his own ideas and thoughts.

I have used blogging in my college courses for three years at this point. All my students write their thoughts and reflections in blogs. Edublogs is a great tool for this purpose. The magic of RSS then brings the conversations to life. Each semester that I teach at least one person gets a comment from someone that they wrote about. David Warlick has been a great commenter for my pre-service teachers over the years (we read Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century as our course text). Just last week, Vicki Davis and Jeff Utecht commented/linked to a student in my graduate course on technology integration. These connections create "teachable moments" that cannot take place without blogs. How many students get the opportunity to have a conversation with the people they are reading or reading about in a class? Why isn't this more common in education today?

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Reflection on Sylvia Martinez's Presentation: Web 2.0 Share The Adventure

As I watched Sylvia Martinez's K12 Online presentation, "Web 2.0 Share The Adventure" it brought me back to yesterday. Yesterday I was fortunate to take part in Edubloggercon East 08 in Newton, MA. Early in the day I had the chance to discuss whether teachers should know about all the tools they use in their classrooms with the attendees of this "unconference" and particularly Ewan McIntosh. It was a great discussion. I found myself disagreeing with Ewan on this topic.

I feel that teachers do not need to know how to use each of the tools their students use to demonstrate their learning. The classroom teacher should be an active participant in observing their student's work throughout the process and ensure that their students are achieving the learning goals of the activity. Ewan feels (please correct me in the comment section if I'm not articulating this well) that a teacher should know how to use the tools that their students use. I'm curious how Sylvia Martinez would respond to this discussion. After viewing her presentation, I would guess she would be in agreement with me.

There are so many web-based tools available to students and teachers to demonstrate learning I do not see how a teacher can know them all (or should). Should students be limited to the handful of tools a teacher may be aware of and know how to use? Should all students demonstrate their learning using the same tool? I believe this can provide great opportunities for students to help teachers learn about more and more Web 2.0 tools - let their students teach them how to use them.

The key here for me is that the teacher can not leave the student to his/her own accord to just complete the project. The classroom teacher should be continually assessing how his/her students are progressing towards the completion of their project and how well they are reaching the learning goals of the project. Students are willing to learn new tools on their time. I have found in the past 6 years of working in one-to-one environments that students really enjoy teaching their teachers about new ways to use technology in the classroom. Why hold them back?

On a separate note...
I am looking forward to the creation of a student podcasting team at my school in the fall. I have a new lab set up for multimedia work and I'm tremendously excited to learn with my students as we create podcasts for our school community and the world. I'll use many of the ideas that Sylvia mentioned in this outstanding presentation to move us forward.

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Reflection on Shawn Nutting's Presentation: Creating a Paradigm Shift

Last week I taught a course at the University of Southern Maine for teachers looking to learn new ways to integrate technology into their classrooms. It was a great experience to work with some tremendously dynamic teachers from a variety of districts. Watching Shawn Nutting's K12 Online Conference presentation, "Creating a Paradigm Shift in Technology," made me think of some of the conversations that took place last week in this class.

One such discussion involved blocking sites at school. I've always viewed my job as one that is designed to remove barriers from teachers to integrate technology into their classrooms. I have found that the barriers keep teachers from using technology. After you hit your head against the wall so many times, it starts to hurt. Why do network administrators spend so much time making it difficult for teachers to use the technology available to them?

My feeling is that schools are hiring more and more "geeks" that do not have a background in the classroom because of need. Networks, servers and everything we deal with in technology have become so much more complex in schools since I started with technology more than a dozen years ago. This has created a need for people with a greater set of tools than most educators can bring to the table. These new employees come from a background of security and lockdowns that do not necessarily go hand in hand with most schools educational missions. We need to keep the decisions that affect content and our educational missions in the hands of educators - not network admins.

I'm glad to say that we block a minimal amount of Internet content in my district. The only glaring content we block that I would like to change is streaming media. Unfortunately, our bandwidth can not support the number of videos, music and more that would be accessed in our one-to-one environment. We've been looking at improving our bandwidth to accommodate these needs. It is my hope that we'll only be blocking material that we are obligated to block due to CIPA in the next couple of years.

The other piece from Shawn Nutting's presentation that I would like to applaud is how his district is leveraging teacher leaders and students to improve the use of technology in his schools. We have a number of teachers who are doing great things in their classrooms. I do my best to highlight their work and have them be seen as leaders. Many teachers will work with these savvy users to include some of their ideas in their own classrooms. We have not used students in the past with repair issues. However, we do utilize their skills each summer when we offer our summer technology course. The students do a great job helping out the teachers who take this course and provide some great feedback during our discussions about technology use and our students' futures.

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Thursday, July 3, 2008

My Daily Bookmarks 07/04/2008

Reflection on Ben Wilkoff's Presentation: Starting From Scratch: Framing Change for All Stakeholders

Change is always difficult. I find schools are particularly difficult places to get change to take place. Ben Wilkoff describes issues around change in schools eloquently in his K12 Online Conference Session "Starting From Scratch."

It's easy to complain about schools and their shortcomings. I've yet to find a school that is perfect in each and every way. I'm fortunate to work in a school that is very successful in many ways in a community that supports education 110%. We still work hard each year examing pedagogy and student work to get better and better.

Many educational technology bloggers write about their frustrations with schools and their reluctance to change. I had a professor in my undergraduate studies that referred to his education students as "curriculum winners" - we learned best the way that teachers taught. I feel he is correct. Schools tend to be self feeding institutions that perpetuate the status quo. I feel that this presentation demonstrated ways to avoid the status quo and how to deal with the various stakeholders to make change for the improvement of student learning.

I found Ben Wilkoff's process to be very similar to the backwards planning process. He promotes striving towards what we want to see in education. This doesn't necessarily mean scrapping everything that is currently done but merely examining the type of learning and pedagogy we wish to see.

...the ways in which we act and talk about school directly impacts the schools we have... Ben Wilkoff

This statement has been ringing in my head since I heard it early in the presentation. I have worked in several schools throughout my career. Many of these schools were not high performing schools. It is interesting how the perception of a school and the aspirations of its staff, students, and community affect the quality of instruction and expectations. Changing aspirations is a very important part of the change process.

Technology is not a passing fad (as referenced in the ending video segment). Teachers need to continue to use technology to create authentic work for their students. Web 2.0 tools can help with this. Ben Wilkoff included a link to his 101 Resources document. If you have not seen this document download it and peruse. We have used it in our technology professional development sessions. Teachers have found the resources within the document to be really useful in the classroom.

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Reflection on Cheryl Oakes' Presentation: Flat Agents of Change

I often tell people that I've learned more in the past 3 years by reading blogs and listening to podcasts than I had learned in all my years of formal education combined. It was interesting to hear Bob Sprankle make a similar comment in this presentation about the effects blogs and podcasts have had on his professional development. My professional development and growth is something I completely attribute to my network. By network I'm not talking about wires, ethernet ports and hubs. I'm talking about the people that I follow and those that follow me. This "following" takes place in three major spots for me. The blogs I follow are all aggregated in my Bloglines account. My podcasts are managed in iTunes. My most influential following now occurs within my Twitter network.

About a year and a half ago Alice Barr was pushing me to get involved with Twitter. I set up an account but didn't see it as a valuable tool. I thought the idea was kind of strange that I would follow what others were doing. After attending NECC last summer in Atlanta I heard more and more people talking about the power of the Twitter network and decided to go back to it. I must say that I tend to head to Twitter now before I go to my RSS reader for information. Twitter is generally much quicker in returning hot topics to me than my RSS feeds. If something big occurs in my world, it is sure to be spoken about in Twitter.

My professional world has truly flattened. My network involves people on 5 continents and many different countries. Time zones and distance are not a problem with my network. As Bob Sprankle mentioned in the presentation. This does not need to take up your life. You can check in and check out at times that work for you.

I did try making a podcast as part of this presentation and added it to my page on the Seedlings Ning. I have been following the Seedlings Ning for a few months now and have found this to be a ever growing network of educators who are willing to be there for each other and support each other in many different ways.

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Reflection on Vance Stevens' Presentation: Motivating Student Writers by Fostering Collaboration through Tagging and Aggregating

Students write constantly in school. Unfortunately, most of that writing is mainly seen by two people - the student and his/her teacher. Blogs open student writing to the world. This can be a powerful motivational force for students to produce quality work that is good enough for a world-wide authentic audience.

As I watched Vance Stevens' presentation with his Writing Matrix Project collaborators I found myself thinking about the tremendous learning the students are gaining through this project. If we are truly preparing students for their future we must teach them how to navigate and manage information in a digitally networked world. The tools are simple, the implementation takes time and effort. The gains will be tremendously evident and worth this investment in time. Students need to know how to make information work for them. This information needs to find the user as opposed to the traditional ways we search for information. Using blogs, RSS feeds and tagging students can create a steady flow of information that they are invested in and collaborate with others that share those interests.

RSS is the key to all of these great information resources. Teachers need to learn how to use RSS for their own professional practice and how to use it in the classroom with their students in order to work smarter - not harder. I have been pushing these tools to my teachers over the past couple of years. This year I want to take a more aggressive move in using these tools in more powerful ways.

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Reflection on Anne Davis' Presentation: Putting the Pedagogy into the Tools

As I read Anne Davis' blog post about Blogs and Pedagogy I found myself gaining a sense of affirmation to the ways I've used blogs in my courses that I teach at the college level as well as the way teachers in my middle school have implemented blogs. It also made me think of new ways to stretch the use of blogs in our classrooms.

I really loved the idea of creating a "writing time" where all students and staff would be writing. Many schools implement a silent sustained reading period into their schedules. I've never heard of implementing a similar time for writing before. This could be a great way to get our students (and teachers) to write more and more. I have never considered myself a tremendous writer, but I do find that as I write more, my writing does improve and my voice becomes stronger.

As I explored the tools that Anne Davis suggested in the sidebar I did find some great resources to add to my account and it made me think of a project I do with one of my foreign language teachers. Her students create postcard-like placemarks using Google Maps My Maps feature. I find My Maps much easier to deal with than making placemarks in Google Earth since it offers a rich text editor as opposed to using HTML tags to create links and insert pictures. Once the student has created their placemarks they can simply click on "View in Google Earth" to download a .kml file of their map. The .kml file will open in Google Earth and allow them to see their placemarks. It is magical to see the excitement as students see their information come to life in Google Earth.

To learn more about this project visit the teacher's web page or download a sample. If you click on the image above you can view one of the placemarks created by one of her 7th grade students.

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