Bidding adieu to textbooks…

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Andrew Wertheimer

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Andrew Wertheimer

This summer our high school math department will be leaving their old, heavy, dusty textbooks behind and will be developing and moving their curriculum online.  While this may seem like a considerable charge (for a team of five) there are several reasons why they decided – Now is the time to move!

  • Money talks – Especially when there is none.  Just like most districts in the state of MN, our district is facing budget reductions.  There is no money for new textbooks.
  • New Standards – The state of MN has been shifting and restructuring the math standards and many of the current HS math courses need adjusting to match those standards – starting in the 2010-11 school year.
  • Current textbook Use – The team has identified that the  majority of our students do not use textbook as learning resources but use them for homework assignments only. They are heavy, dated, and lack real world application.
  • Open Education – New open education resources like Hippocampus, Curriki, or Connexions are free online sites with organized learning modules so teachers do not have to reinvent the wheel. (many are multimedia rich)
  • Learning Styles – Textbooks only address a limited number of learning styles and are generally not for the visual or auditory learners.  They are not interactive, very impersonal, and lack the collaborative learning students today crave.
  • Access 24/7 – The math department has already made the decision to begin recording video SMART board lessons/lectures/demonstrations, storing them on Youtube, and organizing the content within Moodle.  Students will have 24/7 access to these resources, and can watch and (RE)watch the recordings as many times as it takes to understand the concepts.  (Many students will not ask questions in class in fear of looking  “stupid” in front of their peers)
  • Living Curriculum – Since the team will be creating the curriculum – they will also be able to adjust and improve upon the courses as needed.  Forever.
  • Future  Delivery of Public Education – Reports indicate that half of high school courses could be online by 2019.  Governor Pawlenty recently proposed to require every high school graduate, beginning in 2013, to take an online course, participate in an online experience or participate in online experiences.  Developing a blended curriculum in the math department will prepare our students AND teachers for the eminent shift in the delivery of public education.

There may be many more benefits than the ones I have identified above.  There will also be roadblocks that we will have to address. (like computer access)  We will tackle those problems as they occur.  I am looking forward to this new journey and the opportunities it will give our students!

Teachers computers on lockdown…

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Daniel Y. Go

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Daniel Y. Go

I can relate to  Doug Johnson’s blog post The Changing Role of Tech Support.  In his blog, he describes how some district’s:

“…technology departments are raising barriers rather than creating possibilities about new resources – especially when the objections seem rather spurious (security of GoogleApps, bandwidth for YouTube, predators on Facebook, licensing of Skype, etc.). Are the concerns real or just because the way of doing something is different?”

In a recent discussion…  blaming problems of spyware, malware it was the opinion of some districts tech departments to block and lock down everything – including teacher systems. Software like Deep Freeze, was being installed on teacher computers and teachers did not have “administrative” rights to bypass this security allowing them to install software, including opensource/free apps.    They (techs) decide what apps are allowed on the machines and teachers are left to talk the techs into installing the software for them, when it is convenient to the techs.

One example given was a district decision NOT to support or install JING, a free screen capture tool from Techsmith.  The district only supported Camstudio, another free app.  As an advocate for transparent educational technology – I really want my teachers to find the tool that they are most comfortable with to adapt and – most of all – integrate into their classrooms to support student learning.  I am more proud of the fact they are recording tutorials/resources for their students rather than scrutinizing what tool they want to use to do it.

Doug describes this problem as techs being reluctant to change.  I would agree.  Just as teachers need to move from the “sole givers of information” techs also need to move from the “sole givers of the technology”.  Do you think a better understanding of classroom pedagogy and instructional design would help these reluctant districts  accept that teachers need to have the flexibility to find, install, and practice with emerging tools to match and support their students individual learning styles and needs?

I will admit – I genuinely enjoy collaborating with (not policing) teachers when trying THEIR new ideas within their classrooms! The benefits to our students have been AMAZING!

Going Google – part 2

It has been approximately 2 months since our district went live with Google Apps for Education.  Almost immediately, our schools were buzzing with innovation and increased productivity!  I have developed a presentation for other districts who are considering implementing the Google apps.  We will go live with our students this April/May.  Good luck to you and if you have questions – please send me an email (!

Click the FULL SCREEN Button to view the ultra tiny print!

Going Google

Our Google Apps logo

Our Google Apps logo

Back in December, at our District Technology Committee, we were discussing  technologies  like online learning, cloud computing social media, collaborative learning, and  mobile learning when  I had mentioned  Google Apps for Education.   This was a free suite of tools (Gmail, Google Docs, Google Sites, Google Talk,  Google Groups, and Google Calendar)  that could be managed under our districts umbrella.

Our district was having email issues and we would be looking at purchasing a new server….or another option would be to look at Google Apps as Gmail (Google’s email) was one of the apps we could utilize RIGHT NOW.  Going with Google Apps, just for Gmail alone, would save our district around 5-6,000 dollars. There was no “licensing” or yearly fees.  It came with a FREE spam/Virus checker, and it was all hosted AND backed up on Google’s infrastructure. One other big problem Google apps was going to help solve for me…was the increasing number of  SMART phones making there way into our district.  Staff wanted the ability to access email on their phones.   Because many of these phones were personal, we couldnt standardize on any one.  Google Apps solved that problem and is completely compatible with the Window, iPhone, Blackberry, and of course Android phones.

By the time I left the meeting, Google Apps was a GO!  Because many of our service agreements were coming up for renewal – We needed to act fast!

Google had a great 6 week deployment plan that was very helpful in our deployment.  Even though there is a short inservice scheduled, our hopes are that staff will  take a self learning approach and take advantage the newly created Byron Apps training site. ( developed by using Google Sites and a FREE template) Also, because this is Google, and we were all use to “Googling” for information – it is simply amazing the resources available on the web OR Youtube to help users find print or video content about whatever help they need within Google Apps.

This past Friday, we actually went live with the new application.  On Thursday at 3pm we cleared the queue and shut down the email server.  At midnight, the switch occurred and when we arrived at school Friday morning, mail was already beginning to arrive in our gmail inboxes.  (I had expected it to take 48 hours )  It was business as usual.   Over the next few weeks, staff will be working on uploading their email and because we used the email client Mozilla’s Thunderbird, I found a sweet little add-on, called Zindus, that would allow users to synch their personal addressbooks with Byron Apps Gmail.  (after some much needed clean up of course!)  Also, adding an Imap account in Thunderbird,  for the new Byron Apps gmail, would allow users to copy and Synch emails too.  This is going to take some time for staff, but will be well worth it in the end!

Here is a great video from Google that explains why YOU should go with Google Apps too!

My learning addiction…

Flickr image by CarrotcreativeSeriously folks – if you want a great support group while keeping a pulse on the latest technology and research,  I highly recommend you start using TWITTER!  I can not tell you how many times I have fallen into some great discussion, great research, and great resources.  Below are groups that I follow.  Check them out – find someone who interests you and by all means FOLLOW them!

On a side note – you must must must download and install an Twitter application, like Tweetdeck, to manage and track all of this information.  You can also follow and unfollow from this application.

Jen’s hints for a building a good Twitter learning community

  1. I follow people who have interesting things to say or share!
  2. I do not automatically follow everyone who follows me.
  3. When I follow someone – I look and see who they follow – after all, they get their information from somewhere.
  4. Look for the big thinkers – the people, authors, specialists  you have admired for awhile…Find them, follow them. You will be actively learning WITH them!
  5. I am not afraid to block people either.  There is alot of Internet Marketers and even some spammers (I havent had any issues in a while) that will follow me – well – if they are not up to any good I BLOCK them.
  6. Contribute to the masses – if you find something interesting, worth sharing, tweet it.  We cant learn without you!
  7. If you have a question – ask (tweet).  There are alot of helpful people out there!
  8. Its ok to shut twitter off!  Sometimes all the tweeting can be distracting – so if it is interrupting you – by all means – shut it down. (only temporarily though!)

carrotcreative. Twitter Pack. [Online Image] (March 2008).  Retrieved December 8, 2009 from Flickr Creative Commons.

Facebook, Friending, and Security

This summer I was fortunate to collaborate with Doug Johnson, Blue Skunk Blogger, on the “Guidelines for Educators Using Social and Educational Networking Sites”. [Version (1)(2)]

Starting this week, I will be traveling to our buildings to discuss with teachers about friending and security settings within one of the most popular social networking sites… Facebook.  I have created a slideshare (below) to coincide with the discussion.  If you have trouble seeing some of the slides, it will be helpful to put it into full screen mode.

Teachers, please be informed and make good choices when creating your social profiles and posting personal information in the online environment!

The Rubber has Met the Road

The Long Road - Flickr photo by Ohad

The Long Road - Flickr photo by Ohad

Two weeks from today, schools in Minnesota will be in session.  Our homes  and schools are in a whirlwind preparing for the 09-10 school year.  Parents are hopefully finishing their school shopping while many of our teachers are beginning to get their classroom ready for their incoming students.

But – will all our classrooms truly ready for these learners?  For the past 3 years, Byron has been fortunate to have great thinkers share their thoughts during our summer’s professional growth academy. In 2007, Dr. Scott McLeod started his virtual keynote address s by quoting Bob Dylan’s phrase  “Times are a changing…”  The following summer, Doug Johnson described  Schools and Libraries for the Net Generation. This summer, David Warlick presented to a group of 50+ Byron educators about the need for Byron school district to Redefine Literacy for the 21st century and the importance of educators to develop their own personal learning networks!

Today…times are not only changing – they HAVE changed.  I began my journey with this district 13 years ago and as I reflect on how the world has evolved….it is astounding!  Back in 1996, the district installed its first LAN with 30 Windows 95 – Pentium 133 MHZ desktops.  Email was a luxury, gradebooks weren’t electronic, word processing wasn’t quite the norm, and no one had even heard of Google. Today, email is viewed as an archaic method of communication, students and parents have portal access to their teacher’s gradebook, desktop word processing is being replaced with cloud computing, and students come to class with Google in their pockets.

This year is pivotal. I have had many educators come to me with BRILLIANT ideas –  Blended learning, Wikis, Classroom Blogs, Video projects, podcasting,  and classrooms infused with Web2.0  tools to  assess their students’ learning.

So what is the worry?  I am fearful that there are still educators who are dusting of the curriculum and lesson plans that was utilized back in the days of the 133mhz Pentiums.   Furthermore, I am even more worried about the future of the students whom will sit (and get) the same education as students did 13 years ago.  As many of our educators are rising to the 21st century education challenge, taking risks,  continuously trying to improve and develop high quality, relevant courses and classrooms, there are still those whom are perfectly content teaching as they did in 1996.   Is this still acceptable?   Are these classrooms preparing our students to truly be lifelong learners in a global economy?

Experimenting with the Slideshare Widget.

As I have been working on an online course I will be presenting in a couple a weeks, I wanted to show how a widget works within a blog or content managment system.  It basically saves the end user a few steps to review the content.  (more intereactive)  I could also embed audio that would make the content even more engaging.  As you look at the following presentation, do you have any advise for me to make my course expectations better?

If you think cell phones do not have educational value – Think again!

I stumbled on this story from ABCnews that highlighted a program out of India where students have English tutors via cell phones.  I think it is very thought provoking that schools in other countries are embracing this technology while US schools still ban it.   “They take the phones everywhere – so ANYWHERE becomes a classroom.”  It is an amazing story and I encourage you to watch the video.

To view the video – click here!

Moodle focused professional development

I was recently asked whether or not Moodle should be a main topic in training our teachers and administrators in online learning.  Here is my response:

Moodle is a vehicle, a tool and/or container for online learning. There is no doubt in my mind as online learning or hybrid courses expand in our schools, that  teachers are going to need a session on tips and tricks in Moodle.  However,  what I see as a bigger need, is continuous sessions on how effectively utilize online learning to support and meet the diverse needs of our learners. Moodle is not the cure-all, and should not be the only tool considered in an storm of new tools and enhancements. A two hour session is great for our teachers who are hand-holding, hands-on learners. HOWEVER, more importantly… we will need to develop networks of learning to support this endeavor when teachers need it  – by teachers who use it… not when WE decide to schedule it. Online professional development, just as online learning for students, will be driven by the needs of each individual teacher.

As for the administrative training…that is a different beast. Many administrators, do not understand the benefits of online learning and have not “bought in” to its effectiveness. Many of them haven’t even taken an online course and now are the key decision makers in the policy and procedure of online learning? That is ludicrous. If you think of the journey to is supported by years of classroom experience, followed by some administrative theory and practice. This a whole new landscape!!! Should Moodle be the focus of this training? I say no. Can it be embedded? Of course. Our administrators should be encouraged to take online training, participate in the learning communities right along with our teachers.  Actually, I take that last statement back.. Why do we have to encourage this learning? Shouldn’t they WANT to do this for the benefits of our schools?