Sunday, November 27, 2011

Too Much Technology?

I understand the value of technology, I really do. Being connected via Twitter, blogs, online courses and professional development opportunities has helped me grow more professionally and personally in the last year than I could have ever done on my own. But even with all the benefits I wonder if sometimes there's just too much technology. When is enough, enough... or too much even?

This isn't a new thought for me; it's something I've been wondering for a long time. Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but I spend so much time on my computer that when I'm out and about I simply want to be out and about. I don't want email notifications. I don't want to see who's updating their FB statuses. If I'm out shopping, then I need to get that done. If I'm having dinner and drinks, then I want to be focused on the people who are there with me in that moment. Why do people need to be checking their phones ALL THE TIME?

Besides being frustrated with people who can't step away from their phones, I also don't get the whole app phenomena. Even though I have an iPod touch that my hubby got me for my anniversary last year, I rarely use it for anything but music. My favorite app? Solitaire - it helps me fall asleep at night when I can't. I can't justify spending the money on most apps, and most of the free ones -- I just don't see the point.

There are two of us here, just me and my husband. There are four laptops, if you count my work issued computer, a DVR, an Xbox, a Wii, a PlayStation 3 (which is for sale if anybody wants it), a Droid, a BlueRay player, a Sirius radio that hubby can carry around because the headphones double as an antenna, an iPod touch and an iPad (another item that is school issued). That's a lot of technology for two people, isn't it? Or are we just like everybody else these days?

What really got me thinking about this today is that my hubby told me he would like a Nook Tablet for Christmas. I asked him, "How is that different than your phone? Do you really need both?" This was followed by a huff and a puff and the comment that he would find something else he'd like to have. It's not that I don't want to get the poor guy what he wants. He certainly works his tail off, he has had a crappy year, and he deserves any gift that he gets. I just don't see how it's any different from what we have now, and if I'm going to spend that much money I'd like to get something that's different from one of the tech tools that we already have lying around the house.

So, am I alone in these thoughts? Am I being a fuddy-duddy? Or is there a point where the technology is simply redundant and isn't adding any value?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Learning and Coaching

It's been a while since I've taken any sort of grad courses, but my PLP experience last year taught me that some of the best learning isn't always attached to graduate credits. Even though I joined my team in continuing with Year 2 of the PLP program, I decided to kick it up a notch and take one of the courses they offer. In all honesty, I could have taken just about any course offered by PLP, but without the attachment of grad credits I was paying out of pocket. I had to pick one.

I made the decision to take the Connected Coaches course that ran from mid-September through mid-November. I picked this course mostly because I would like to continue to be part of PLP after my part in Year 2 is over, and I thought applying to be a coach would be a great way to do that. I'm also hoping that my district will consider beginning to use coaches to assist teachers, and I thought this course would provide a fabulous foundation should I choose to pursue that track with my teaching career.

Still waiting to see what happens with the first part. I know I have the skills I need should the second part ever come to fruition. Could not believe all of the other benefits I got from this course.

First and foremost, I met an amazing group of people whom I am pleased to call friends and have as part of my PLN. It was very daunting to sit the first evening and listen to the credentials of this group: PLP community leaders, administrators, speakers, school founders... I could go on. They pushed me and my thinking, and I know I got so much more out of this course thanks to the discussions and conversations that I had. It just goes to show how vitally important relationships are, even in an online setting.

Next I learned and practiced skills that I found extremely useful in my classroom. I came into the course with my focus on coaching adults, but as the weeks went on (and let me tell you, 8 weeks was too short!) it became clearer and clearer to me that the skills we were learning are skills that every teacher needs if they are trying to shift his or her classroom. This course really solidified for me that I don't want to be a teacher any more; I don't want to stand up in the front of the classroom and spew knowledge. My students should be the leaders in the classroom, and I should be coaching them and facilitating their attempts to take charge of their own learning. This flip is going to be a long process with 9 and 10 year olds, but the skills I developed to build relationships, listen and answer questions are going to help in this process.

Finally, and this is certainly not all I'm taking away from this course but what I'm focusing on here, I realized how much work I still needed to do on listening. In our fast-paced world I think few of us can really say that we are in the moment when somebody speaks to us. We distracted by many shiny things, including our own desire to have a voice, and often don't truly given attention to the people with whom we are speaking. During this course I learned to slow down and really listen to people, whether that listening be in person or reading posts carefully in online discussions. I got so much from our discussions because I read carefully and thought about what each person said rather than just jumping in to do my own posts. And now in real life I am trying to do the same thing. Each time I'm in a conversation, be it with an adult or a student, I try to focus on that one person, think about what they are saying, and respond as though they are the only thing that matters to me at that moment. Because they should be. Trying is the key word here. I'm not there yet, but I'm definitely getting better.

Having gotten my Master's, my principal's certification and taken 30 additional credits, I have certainly been through my fair share of graduate classes. Honestly, none taught me as much as what I learned during my Connected Coaches course. It just proves the power of learning that can happen when you're participating in something because it's your passion.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Using iPads in the Classroom

Having a cart of 30 iPads for my classroom should be awesome, right? I know it should; however, I've been very overwhelmed being the teacher who was selected to roll out iPad use in the classrooms at my new school.

My first challenge has come in the form of technology management. In addition to being given the iPads I also have been given a majority of the responsibility for their upkeep: read that to mean I do all the charging, syncing and updates of the 30 iPads to the best that I can. I have an additional laptop that is specifically setup as the hub for our cart, but the initial set-up and subsequent sync attempts have not gone well. Even though I'm trying to use the same profile for each iPad, I have often having to restore the iPads from their original factory settings to successfully sync them, and things such as which apps sync and the pages on which those apps appear need to be reset for each individual iPad. I've checked here, but I'm wondering if anybody has found any other tricks that work to solve some of these issues.

Another challenge is sorting through the massive amount of information available to me. There are tremendous resources, like those that Cybraryman provides, blog posts from teachers who are doing the same thing I am, and list upon list (take another look at Cybraryman's page) of the best education apps for iPads. I feel a great responsibility to NOT waste the district's money on apps that will not be effective tools for our students, but most don't have a true preview available before purchase. Not that I don't trust everybody's thoughts and suggestions, but it would really be nice to try out these apps before purchasing them. Is there a resource that you have found that really helps you select effective apps?

A third challenge, and perhaps this is just me being too hard on myself, is how I want to use the iPads. I don't just want them to be a glorified worksheet. During my searches today I found this article that really speaks to how I'm feeling. If I'm going to use iPads with my students I want the use to be meaningful. But where I'm at in the roll out, are practice type apps meaningful? Until my students and I get used to using the iPads is trying to do more impractical? I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue.

Our goal is to roll these wonderful tools out for the rest of the school in January, and I worry that if I feel overwhelmed other teachers will, too. Perhaps my struggles are more about me trying to roll out these iPads perfectly when that truly is impossible. Maybe I should just let everybody else have a shot at them and see what happens.

What do you think? What tips or suggestions do you have for me?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Central PA is Spinning

The only thing that people around here are able to talk about right now is the PSU sexual abuse scandal. I've remained fairly quiet about the whole situation, but because it's weighing pretty heavily on my mind I wanted to share just a few thoughts.

1. There are 8 children whose lives have been irrevocably altered. This media fiasco is making a mockery of the trauma they have suffered from and will make it that much harder for them to recover from what was allegedly done to them.

2. It will not matter the number of firings or the names of the people who were fired. These actions and names will not change the fact that it appears as though people knew this abuse was taking place and did nothing to stop it. It also appears as they did nothing to keep more children and young adults from being placed in dangerous situations.

3. I don't know what it says about the people in my little neck of the woods, but the exchanges I've been seeing on Facebook and on local news sites have absolutely saddened and disappointed me. While I understand that people are very passionate about this situation, I cannot believe the rude, disrespectful, and in some cases downright hateful comments and posts I have been seeing. What kind of people are we if we cannot read and respond to each other in anything other than a hurtful tone? As I sit and watch adults treat each other in such a way I begin to understand why our elementary kids have a difficult time being kind and respectful to each other.

As I shared in my Facebook post on the topic:

Perhaps because of all of this, one person, who might not have said anything before, will stand up for and report a child, a woman, a man, or an elder who is being abused. And that is when some good will come out of this awful situation.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Sharing is Learning

If you read this blog you probably already know that last year I had the opportunity to participate in a pretty meaningful professional development experience and become part of the PLP community.

As I was thinking back to how far I have come in the past year with my use of technology both personally and with my students, the development of my PLN through Twitter and reading blogs, and the transformation of my beliefs about the educational system, I realized that so much of this is dependent upon my participation. Never has, "You get out of it what you put into it," meant so much to me.

My learning and my transformations have taken place because I have had many opportunities to participate in communities and chats that all seemed to share a common set of norms or ground rules. While I could probably go on for quite a while with this list, the ones that stand out the most to me include:

- The contributions of every person are valuable.
- We should share openly and honestly.
- Be supportive of each other
- Believe that everybody has something to contribute.
- Be grateful for contributions and for participation.
- There are those you can help and those you can learn from.
- Encourage more sharing.

Last year when I started this journey, I was really nervous: nervous about tweeting, nervous about writing a blog post, nervous about commenting to others, and nervous about taking part in any discussions. I was nervous because, to be honest, I didn't think I was smart enough. I didn't think that what I had to say was important. Who am I, and why would anybody want to read anything I write? So I watched, but it didn't seem quite right.

I'm not sure what exactly made me finally do my first post, but I think I reread it about 15 times before I pushed the reply button. Even after all that rereading, I wasn't really sure that I had much to say or that anybody would want to read it.

What I ended up finding out was that somebody WAS interested in reading it, and I ended up participating more and more: in chats on Twitter, through my own tweets, by posting on my blog, by commenting to others, and by participating in community discussions. I haven't looked back since because I have learned so much this past year, and most of my learning has come from all of the sharing I do and the people I have met through these discussions.

Each of the norms that I listed above, in my mind, emphasizes how important it is to participate and be supportive of each other in this online community. We are beaten down and battered so much by people outside of education, we should never do it to each other. Yes, we can disagree; yes, we should push back. But it should always be done in a respectful and caring manner. We want to get everybody participating because our collective knowledge and insights are so powerful.

If you're just getting started with this online journey and you're nervous, that's okay. If you're worried you're not smart enough - you are. You can help others as much as you can learn from others. If you think you don't have much to say, it's not true: everybody's contributions are valuable. I hope that this post will encourage anybody who's been worried about being part of an online community to take at least one small step to joining a conversation. You will be glad that you did!