Tuesday, December 31, 2013

11 random facts. Because Andrew.

I was tagged by 3 friends in the blogging homework meme but decided to break the rules and post 11 questions about education that need answers rather than 11 random facts and responses to someone else's 11 questions. It has been brought to my attention (ahem.... Andrew) that, while ignoring rules is admirable, posting questions for others without responding to any myself is not quite fair. So, in the spirit of equity, below are 11 random facts about me for anyone who may be interested. Some of these are not-so-random for those of you who know me well.

1. I've always wanted to be an astronaut. Still do. I'm a huge nerd when it comes to all things space. As a classroom teacher, I was selected for a week-long NCCAT seminar at Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. It was, without a doubt, one of the best weeks of my life. So much fun. At the time, my first graders were convinced that I actually went to the moon.

2. I'm a recent Mac convert. I've been PC my entire life, with the exception of iPad, iPod Touch, & iPhone. Last summer, a local school district partnered with me so that my STEM campers could use the district's iPads. I used iMovie on the MacBook Air that was with the iPad cart to create videos for campers' parents. That was the turning point for me. After using the MacBook Air during the summer, it was really, really, really tough to go back to using my PC. Since last summer, my husband has surprised me with both a MacBook Pro and an iMac. I'm completely spoiled now and love my Macs.

3. My husband and I have two beautiful children (6 and 2 years old) and are in the process of adopting siblings through a local adoption agency. We're still several months away from being licensed and are super excited about expanding our family!

4. Katie Wood Ray was my writing methods professor and student teaching supervisor. For most of you, that probably means nothing. But for some of you, you know that's a big deal. Katie is a Heinemann author and speaker on writing workshop, and I was most definitely in the right place at the right time in my undergraduate program. She is the reason I am a professor.

5. I didn't want to be a teacher. Like, ever. I always did well in school and was encouraged by family and others to be a doctor, so that (and astronaut) is what I always thought I would do. I can't remember ever wanting to do anything else. I was a pre-med biology major when I first went to undergrad, but decided my sophomore year that I didn't have the stomach for it. Since I'd never thought about another career, I was lost and had no idea what to do. I had a long conversation with my advisor, and she recommended that I take an introductory education course. After just a few class meetings, I found my calling. I honestly don't know how I'd missed it all along.

6. My first year teaching, I taught in Marietta, GA. The move from student teaching in the rural mountains of NC to teaching just outside of Atlanta was like culture shock for me. I faced a lot of challenges that year, as do all first-year teachers, and I learned so much from my students. After that year, I moved to Hickory, NC, where I live today.

7. I've owned 9 cars, and I've been driving for 18 years. Two reasons: I've had several accidents (only one of which was my fault) and my husband works at Carmax.

8. I play piano. I took lessons from 6 to 16 years old. I don't play nearly as much as I'd like, mostly because my free time is spent on doctoral work. I've played for a couple of weddings, and my favorite thing to do is play duets my mother.

9. I almost flunked keyboarding in high school. I was a really fast typer because for several summers I did clerical work at my mom's office. My keyboarding teacher didn't understand how I moved through assignments so quickly, and I think she didn't like my attitude about it all, which probably wasn't great. My mom came to the school to talk to the teacher, which was the second time she'd ever done that. (The first time was in 4th grade when I went from being the kid who loved school so much I cried when I had to stay home on sick days to being the kid who was literally sick to my stomach every morning because I hated school so much. My teacher was a very, very not-nice person.)

10. I'm allergic to furry creatures, which is sad because my daughter wants a dog in the worst way and I refuse to take a pill every day or get regular shots. I wasn't always allergic to furry things. We actually had dogs and cats while I was growing up, and it never bothered me. I developed allergies in my early twenties, which my doctor told me is completely normal. Apparently someone can not be allergic to something one day and develop an allergy the very next. I'm hoping one day the allergy will go away as quickly as it came.

11. I was on the TV show Club Dance on The Nashville Network when I was an undergrad at Western Carolina University (Go Cats!). For one of my PE credits, I took folk and line dancing. The culminating assignment for the class was an appearance and group line dance on Club Dance. I'm pretty sure I have it recorded on VHS if anyone is looking for a good laugh.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

11 Questions that Need Answers

You may have seen the blogging homework floating around your PLN. Bloggers are sharing info about themselves, then tagging other bloggers to do the same. I have now been tagged by 3 friends, so I decided it's time to write a post. Thanks Jaime, Craig, & Jill for sending this my way. I'm going to play along, but I'm not going to play by the rules. Instead of sharing 11 random facts and sending 11 questions to other bloggers, I'm going to ask 11 questions that need answers. These are the questions that keep me up at night.

I'll tag 11 bloggers in my post in the hopes of getting a conversation started around these 11 issues. Time and again, my PLN has come through for me in searching for answers to questions and, more importantly, finding the right questions to ask. So here goes...

1. How can we cultivate a risk-taking, innovative learning environment in a high-stakes testing culture?

2. How can we recruit promising prospective teachers and keep effective educators in the classroom?

3. How can we increase the amount of connected educators who actually do what they blog and tweet about?

4. If we know that collaborative planning is powerful, why don't we create time and space for teachers to do that regularly?

5. How are schools empowering teacher leaders?

6. How should we really be measuring educator effectiveness?

7. What kinds of support do K-12 schools need from teacher educators and educational researchers?

8. How can we empower educators to use classroom assessments to inform instruction rather than externally controlling the assessment environment in our classrooms?

9. Why do we insist on teaching kids to hate reading by pushing programs that use extrinsic rewards?

10. What do the best school administrators do? How can we spread that to less effective administrators?

11. How can we expand collaboration across schools so that we continually help each other better meet the needs of our students?

Responses from my PLN:

Derek McCoy, North Carolina principal and valuable member of my PLN, posted his responses to my 11 questions here. Check them out and post your own response to keep the conversation going.

Jennifer LaGarde, librarian extraordinaire and North Carolina Educator-on-Loan, developed 11 questions (about libraries) that need answers. Her questions for teacher librarians are thoughtful and urgent, particularly for libraries today.

My dear friend, North Carolina high school English teacher and #coflip co-founder Andrew Thomasson, posted his responses to my 11 questions here. As with everything Andrew writes, his responses are thoughtful and well-written. Andrew is also giving me grief about my posting questions without first answering someone else's, so I'll have to see what I can do.

In the spirit of the bloggers who tagged me in their posts, I'm tagging the following 11 bloggers that I hope will engage in this conversation with me. There are plenty of other folks who are non-bloggers that I hope will join the conversation.

Kurtis Hewson

Andrew Thomasson

Steven Anderson

Melissa Edwards

Andy Marcinek

Michael Maher

George Couros

Bill Ferriter

Jeff Carpenter

Steven Weber

Derek McCoy

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Are we avoiding best practice simply because change is inevitable?

Last week I had a brief conversation with a colleague from a different department at my university. The conversation went something like this:

Him: "You know, my theory was right."

Me: "What theory is that?"

Him: "I predicted that by the time I learned how to use the new management system, we would switch to a new one." (By the way, the "new" LMS he's referring to has been in place for several years now.)

Me: "Yeah, I know the task force is working to select a new LMS this year."

Him: "That's why I didn't bother to figure out how to use that one. I knew that by the time I learned it, we would move on to something new."

Me: (like a coward) "It can be hard to keep up sometimes."

Since that conversation, I've thought of so many better things I could've said instead. Here are a few of them, beginning with helpful responses followed by some snarky ones.

"When I was new here, I attended some workshops so I could learn how to use the LMS well. Did you participate in any of those?"

"How do your students feel about all of the paper you use in class? My students don't particularly like our LMS, but they like having access to course resources online."

"It might have taken you a semester or two to become familiar with it, but then you could have been pretty efficient with it for the past 4 years."

"I would love to help you transition to the new LMS once the task force selects one."

"That's why I never attend mandatory faculty meetings. I figure that once I get used to the meeting schedule, they'll change the date on me. Why bother?"

"Wow. I wasn't aware of your psychic powers."

"That sounds like a cop-out."

I hear conversations like this all too often in education. Let's face it, things do change. And often, the change is just some reiteration of a previous initiative. Educators who've been in the field for a while are quick to let you know that they've seen things come and go. They proudly state that they're going to "wait it out" because "this too shall pass".

While there's some truth to these comments, I wonder if that perspective is in the best interest of our students. Our students are the ones who suffer when we choose to dig our heels in and wait for the next big thing. Is it your students' fault that your district is implementing a curricular change that looks, at first glance, similar to something you did 15 years ago? And is it their fault that it's difficult to keep up with changes in technology? Our students deserve our best. Every. Single. Day. Even when it's not easy. Even when it takes more of our time. Even if it means we have to ask for help.

The next time you overhear or participate in a conversation like this one, I hope you'll be brave enough to encourage / challenge your colleagues to embrace change in order to better serve our students.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Differentiated Syllabus: Continued Revisions of a Tech Integration Course

I've taught seven sections of Technology in the Classroom across four semesters, and each time I've made substantial changes to the course based on my reflections and feedback from my students. I've blogged several times about the evolution of this course. As the semester comes to a close and I look ahead to next semester, I am again making course revisions. My students gave me some really great feedback, which I'm using to continuously try to improve the learning experience for students in this course. Here's some of the feedback they gave:
  • Make the virtual field trip assignment a graded assignment with more specific and clear criteria
  • Involve students more during Google Hangouts
  • Spend more class time on big assignments
  • Have more app / web tool smackdowns in class
  • Provide more support for the personal learning network assignment
I'm incorporating all of that feedback into the course design for next semester. I'm also doing something I've attempted to do previously but have only had success with once, during a course I co-taught with a colleague: I've revised the syllabus for this course to provide students more flexibility and choice. My new syllabus is designed as a menu, which is one format for constructing a differentiated learning plan for students. You can take a look at my revised syllabus here. Developing a syllabus in this format has forced me to think about which assignments are absolutely necessary for application of course content. What I've decided is that there are two non-negotiables for this course: developing a personal learning network (PLN) and blogging. Within both of those assignments, there is a great deal of choice, flexibility, and ownership. Students gather their own evidence of PLN development throughout the semester and use that evidence to justify a self-assigned grade for the PLN assignment. (See an example of a student's PLN evidence here.) Students also have several options for blogging prompts (thanks to a shared Google Doc from Alec Couros) and are encouraged to be creative in communicating with their audience.

Beyond those two assignments, I'm giving students choice with assignments I typically require all students to complete. In addition, I'm introducing two new assignment options I haven't used in the past: a Wikipedia assignment (thank you Bethany Smith!) and a plan for gaming in the classroom (thanks for the feedback Dayson Pasion).

As you can see, I've gotten help from many educators along the way, and as this course continues to evolve I imagine collaboration with other educators and feedback from students will continue to help me improve the course. One final note about collaboration for this course: I've been working with Chris Casal, a technology teacher / coordinator in Brooklyn, NY, to develop a collaborative learning experience for my students and his. We've been blogging about the experience here and are hoping to share our story at ISTE 2014 in Atlanta.

I'd love to get your feedback on these course revisions and welcome your suggestions for improving the course.

Friday, December 6, 2013

In Search of a Better Research Process

For the past three years, I've read thousands of pages of text and written hundreds of pages as part of my PhD program. The work of a doctoral program forces you to stay current with research in your areas of interest, critically analyze research literature, and contribute your own research to the field. While I've developed my own systems for reading, annotating, organizing, and responding to readings and research, I've also used a variety of processes for different assignments, depending on professors' expectations, the amount of collaboration involved with fellow students, and assignment requirements.

As I near the end of my doctoral program (graduation is only 8 months away!), I'm beginning to wonder what kind of system will work best for me. Efficiency and productivity are absolutely necessary, but I also need a system that allows for creativity and a wide range of functionality. One thing I've committed to (and added as a repeating task on Wunderlist) is setting aside time each week to read recent articles and books related to my teaching and research interests. With the desire to stay current and make time to engage in research, I am in search of a better process than I've used in the past for taking notes on my readings and allowing that to feed into my research.

I'm very much a verbal processor, and I know that I do my best thinking by talking (or writing) about it. (Talking is preferable, but it's 10:45 in the evening and I don't know anyone who wants to have this conversation with me at the moment.) So... I've decided to write this post to help me sort through my thoughts and hopefully come up with a process that might work for me. (Also, writing this post is a better alternative to writing up findings from a recent study, which is what I should be working on right now.)

I'm going into this decision with two solid options: Mendeley and Evernote. I know there are probably many, many more possibilities, but those are two tools I've been using for this kind of work and two tools that I know are well-suited for this kind of work. I've been inconsistently using both of them for similar processes, but in order to be more efficient and productive with my commitment to spending time each week engaged in this work, I'm forcing myself to weigh out these options.

What Mendeley has going for it...

  • Mendeley was basically created for this type of work. Mendeley is built to make the process of reading, annotating, and citing resources simple and organized. 
  • Mendeley makes it quick and easy to create a reference list and cite sources in my writing. When I'm consistently using Mendeley for saving, annotating, and note-taking, the writing process is a much more efficient one.
  • Mendeley's browser extension allows me to add web resources to Mendeley with one click. During this simple importing process, I can choose which folder to drop the resource in, give the resource a title, add keywords and tags to help with organization and search, and take notes on the resource to help with future work. In addition, Mendeley will automatically add bibliographic information to web resources when available. 
  • Connecting to other researchers is possible with Mendeley. I can share folders and resources with other Mendeley users, like people on my research team, folks in my department, colleagues with similar research interests, and critical friends, which I'm always on the lookout for, by the way.
  • With one click, I can search for related documents to the one I'm currently reading. By clicking the "related documents" button, I can quickly search through all resources I've saved to Mendeley for other sources that have similarities. 

Despite those amazing features, I have never been able to grab onto Mendeley and use it with any consistency. I've tried several times, each time spending a lot of time initially setting up folders, adding and organizing resources, and gathering bibliographic information, only to abandon it after a little while. I have friends from my doctoral program who swear by Mendeley and could probably make a living marketing Mendeley and training folks to use it, but it's just never grown on me. An attempt to use Mendeley on an ongoing basis would require a time commitment and mental investment on my part, and probably a repeating task on Wunderlist to spend a few minutes in Mendeley every day.

Here's why I'm thinking Evernote may come out on top...
  • I already use Evernote for gathering, organizing, and coding data. Since Evernote works with any type of data (audio, text, video, images, documents), I can easily import all data sources and organize them into notebooks. Nested notebooks allow me to create subcategories to take organization to the next level. Better yet, I use tags to code my notes, making the data analysis process more efficient. Perhaps the best thing of all is that I can access my research anywhere on any device, by logging into my Evernote account. 
  • I use Evernote for practically everything else that's non-research related, including:
    • Lesson planning
    • Shopping lists
    • Note-taking 
    • Party planning
    • Brainstorming
  • Evernote's search functionality is.... well, let's face it... second only to Google. A keyword search in Evernote will search through all of my notes, including text, images, and handwritten notes that I've scanned in or captured with the camera on my phone or iPad. This search functionality means I can find anything I'm looking for in the amount of time it takes to type a keyword. Also, since my data are coded by tags in Evernote, I can find what I'm looking for by searching through my tags. 
  • In addition to annotating and taking detailed notes about articles, Evernote also allows me to move directly from reading & annotating an article to brainstorming a research plan to gathering and organizing data without opening any other tools or programs. While there are countless programs out there that allow you to annotate and organize texts and other types of media, I know of no other programs that provide so much functionality to transform the reading/annotating process into a creative process. 
  • Evernote's shared notebooks allow me to collaborate with everyone on the research team. Any member of the team can add resources, code data, and brainstorm from any device. 
  • Since I use Evernote multiple times a day for other tasks, it would require much less of a time and mental investment to create and sustain a workable system for my research.
So there you have it. It looks like Evernote is my choice, at least for now. While writing this post, I took a break and popped into Evernote to set up a few nested notebooks in my "Research Interests" notebook. My next step is to explore some possibilities for a research workflow in Evernote. I'll let you know how it goes. Stay tuned....

Instructional Tech Tutorials from Pre-Service Teachers

Each semester, pre-service teachers in my Technology in the Classroom course create multimedia presentations to help teachers use technology in meaningful ways in their classrooms. These presentations are designed to help educators make sound instructional decisions about technology integration. Explore the presentations below to find out how and why to use these tech tools in the classroom. Please share this post with other educators to help them learn from these pre-service technology leaders.

Google Hangouts by Jared Clark & Emily Pinnix

My Fitness Pal by Kenny Dockal, Michael Hedrick, & Andrew Thomas

Padlet by Lindsay Guill, Katie Owenby, & Charlene Taylor

PowToon by Brooke Bolin, Melissa East, & Jesse Waycaster

Socrative by Leigha Banner, Prasilla Castillo, & Laura Hofeldt

Socrative by Quinn Scarvey & Robyn Tewksbury

Twitter in the Classroom screencast and Prezi by Morgan Mitchem & Samantha Williams