Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Creative Commons for teachers

I LOVE this slideshare! It's by Rodd Lucier, from The Clever Sheep website. First, it's excellent for explaining the Creative Commons. It talks about how the Creative Commons got started, and how to use it, and what sites allow you to access works tagged with the Creative Commons license. Second, it's an excellent example of an audio slideshare. I learned about a number of different sites that use the CC license.

Send this to your librarian friends and all your teacher friends. Here's the link to the slideshare page:

Or, just send them the link to this blog post. ;-)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Another fun e-missions day

I had the pleasure of visiting a 6th grade class today as they experienced the Montserrat E-missions activity. And, to top off the day I got to work with the Hurricane team and help them out a bit. These sixth graders were in the Cedar Crest Middle School. Their teacher, Ms Brown, and their technoloogy Integration Specialist, Ms Schomp, had them well prepared. This wasn't the first time a team from this school had done this mission, so they had large laminated versions of the maps and the students were writing on them with erasable markers. They plotted the hurricane's path on the large map and used protractors and rulers to help them find the distances. But then, how to find the speed? The knew how far it had gone since the last reading, but how to figure speed was eluding them. Once they had that part figured out, they were off to the races.

What was fun was seeing them question the results of their calculations when, for example, it showed that the hurricane had changed directions or had slowed down. Or when they began to see that it was drifting northward and would miss the island. "Are you sure?", someone would question. "Yes, I'm sure. Write it down. Hurry!", would be the response.

I watched the communication team start off rather timidly, but ended up in control, sending messengers to the various tables to get data or to give the latest news. And when Mission Control would ask for their attention so she could share some videos, all eyes were on the screen. Or when Mission Control described Volcano bombs starting fires, or ash piling up six inches, all eyes and ears were on alert. "That will all turn to mud. The cars can't drive in the mud." And when Mission Control reported that the Evacuation Team had successfully managed to get all residents of a particular town to safety, the rest of the class applauded their success.

What a VERY COOL activity that is. It's not new, by any means, although some missions are newer. If you've got access to some video conference equipment it's great. If not, they'll use Skype. Either way, this is an activity that you REALLY should look into. The website  has all the information and materials that the teacher would need. This page gives more information about how to prepare. And here is another good informational video. Don't let the part about having four weeks of curriculum scare you away. It's not what you may think when you hear that phrase.

There are several different kinds of missions, from this island disaster to a Space Station to Mars, and more. And, the targeted grade levels range from elementary to high school. There is NOTHING in here that's NOT to like. From communication skills to math skills to to probem solving and collaboration skills, this has got it all. And, it's SO MUCH FUN!

Teachers - worried that you won't know what to do or how to manage the technology, sign up for a free training session here. Once you experience it I know you'll want to do one of there for your students, as well.

Trust me on this one. Science and Math teachers can collaborate to do this with a class. You wouldn't want to combine classes, though. Then the teams would be too big and not every student would necessarily be involved. Treat yourself and your students to an e-mission. And, if you're relatively local for me, invite me in to see it in action. I can't get enough of them.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

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Monday, December 14, 2009

My hope for PA's SAS Portal

I'm in recovery mode right now after about six weeks of intense work with the PA Department of Education and the PATIMS (Intermediate Unit representatives) and the Classrooms for the Future Mentors (now known as the 21st Century Teaching and Learning Program) as we put together a four day Institute designed to unveil the Standards Aligned Systems and the SAS Portal. It was a wonderful, albeit exhausting, experience and I'm very excited about the potential that this brings to Pennsylvania. This SAS system is unique to PA in many ways, and I really believe that it has the potential to put PA on the global map for Education.

One aspect of the portal will be a section containing lesson plans that have been submitted by PA teachers, vetted, and arranged by topic and standard. That will mean that any teacher can go to the portal to find quality lesson plans that focus on a given PA Standard and, soon, down to the Anchor level. Imagine a time when we can say to businesses that every child in PA is being taught to these standards.

There is one part of this process that I'm hoping will change just a bit, however. That is, the way that lesson plans make their way onto the Portal. Right now, lessons are submitted and reviewed by a small group of people who make the determination as to whether or not that lesson makes the grade and gets published. But, I'm hoping that YOU can help to make that determination.

Here's the vision: Teachers submit lesson and Unit plans to the Portal. Those plans must identify which standards and anchors are addressed in the lesson, etc. But then you - we - have a chance to rate it. There could be several categories for rating. One rating for how high it reaches on Bloom's New Taxonomy, maybe, and one rating for how it ranges in terms of its approach (didactic to constructivist, etc), another for its appropriate use of technology, another for its inclusion of "21st Century Skills", etc. And, there would be a field in which we could add a comment about the lesson. We could use that field, perhaps, to suggest an alternative website or to suggest another activity for the lesson. There would be a check box there, as well, so that we could flag those comments as being inappropriate - in case that's a concern. You get the idea. YOU/WE do the vetting.

The pluses to this kind of system, in my opinion, are many. First of all, instead of a small handful of people (who have the experience and subject matter knowledge of just a few) deciding on what qualifies as excellent, it's teachers from around the state - even from around the world who are making that determination. Subject matter experts with Masters degrees in their fields, and possibly many years of classroom experience. If you're familiar with the book, The Wisdom of Crowds, then you are aware of how powerful it is to have many people involved in making a decision like this. Instead of someone with limited science background judging the lesson, it's perhaps hundreds of science teachers deciding.

Another plus is that the vetting/rating process is continuous instead of occurring just once - a snapshot in time of what someone thought qualified as a good lesson. The world around that lesson could have changed drastically, but the lesson plan and its rating might not have. But, in a system that allows us to rate the lesson, that rating, as well as the comments to the lesson, change all the time to include better resources, better strategies, etc. One of our mentors, Ralph Maltese, a former Teacher of the Year in PA, commented to me recently that he had gone to the IMDB website to check on an old actor who was a member of his family. He was surprised to see that the actor's popularity had dropped by 6%. But, the guy has been dead for years! The point is that perceptions change over time, so what once was considered to be an outstanding lesson might one day be outdated.

In a system where we're asking for the professional opinions of our teachers to determine what is good and what could be better, we're providing constant professional development. Teachers visit the site, look at a lesson, read the discussions about the lesson, join in on those discussions, and thereby make the lesson better. Everyone benefits. And, how cool would it be to have the world be able to watch the growth of our teaches through their dialogs with other teachers? And, how cool would it be if a teacher in another country were to also suggest ways to make the lesson reach globally.

Yes, it's true that some teachers might refrain from submitting a lesson plan for fear of criticism. True. But, if I submit a lesson and it's not rated a 5 out of 5, I'm going to find out why not and adjust it accordingly. Everyone learns. Everyone - including the students - WINS!

I had a chance to talk with one of the developers of the portal and, as it turns out, this idea was already presented to the Department but was rejected. The thought was that they didn't want anything on the portal that wasn't excellent to begin with. Not a criticism of those who rejected the idea; that was just their thinking, I'm told. But, I think that when they start to REALLY think about it, they'll change their minds. I'm SURE of it.

So, keep your eye on PA, folks. "Something is going to happen. Something wonderful!"
(UPDATE 12-15-2009)
I just heard that the decision has been made to include many (if not all) of the ideas expressed here. VERY VERY GOOD NEWS, INDEED!!!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Amazing Apple Support

This is not meant to be an ad for Apple Computers, but it can't help but be. Here's the situation.

For a few weeks, now, I've noticed that the battery just wasn't holding a charge. I "recalibrated" it several times, but I'd get, at best, 30 minutes out of it. But, I didn't want to take the time to set up a Help ticket and run to the Apple store somewhere or to a certified repair shop to get it replaced. (The last 30 days have been CRAZY busy) So, I put it off until yesterday afternoon.

I logged into the Apple support page with my serial number (that was easily found under the Apple menu) and when I was looking around I found a button to click to have THEM call ME. I decided to try it. I entered a few bits of information about the problem and clicked the button, wondering how long I'd have to wait for them to call me back. It was within the MINUTE!

The support person walked me through the steps to find some information about the battery, and we discovered that it was, indeed, shot. He transferred me to another teachnician (maybe 30 seconds wait time) and within the next two minutes I was set up for a new battery to be shipped to me.

Now THAT is what I call SUPPORT! I LOVE my Mac!

The battery arrived this morning. I made the call Thursday late afternoon, and it's here at my door on Saturday morning. THAT'S service!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A Flashback

Just now, at the PASAS institute, I had the opportunity (in context) to relay the story of my first day of school. It was a frightful experience to relive it, for some reason.

I was five yrs old, about to turn six yrs old in two months. I was very excited to be there. One of the first things the teacher did was to distribute tablets and pencils to each child. WOW! A brand new, big yellow tablet of my very own. Then she gave us each our own pencil. This, in 1953, was another big, fat, eraserless pencil. Remember the kind? Another wow! This was going to be GREAT!

The girl in front of me was the daughter of the man who owned a local 5&10 store. Remember THOSE? The five and dime. She lived on the right side of the tracks - one of those with some money. She came to school with her OWN tablet AND a pencil. Not me. Our family didn't have the spare change to buy me a tablet of my own. So, this was my first experience with it.

The girl also knew how to draw five point stars, and she ws busy doodling and drawing starts on her tablet. Another WOW! I looked over her shoulder and watched her draw a star, and then I tried to draw my own on my brand new tablet. Oh the things I was learning already.

Then I became aware that the teacher had told us not to make any marks on our tablet. Oh no! What was I to do? No eraser - and I don't even know now if I would have known how to use it. Now what?

I remember her coming along my left and seeing the stars on my paper and saying (were floames shooting out her nostrils, too?), "I TOLD you not to make any marks on your paper!" What could I say? Probably not much, but I didn't get the chance. She picked me out of my chair and put me face down across the desk and admonished me to, "Stay there!"

I an still see her walking to the front of the room and picking up a leather strap. It reminded me then (and now, of course) of a strap from a Barber Shop. She came back and swatted me THREE TIMES with that leather strap. For drawing stars on my paper.

I was petrified of that woman from that day forward. I cried every morning and every afternoon of that school year. EVERY morning and EVERY afternoon. (I walked home for lunch) I would walk out our back door and out our sidewalk that went out to the garage. I SHOULD have turned left behind the garage and walked out that alley. But many were the days that I would hide in the garage. My mother would watch for me to appear on the other side of the garage on my way out the alley, and when I didn't appear she would come out to the garage to find me. In the corner of the garage was a square hole that lead out to the dog pen where we kept our beagle. He had a regular dog house out there, too, but he could come into the garage when he wanted to. I used to hide in the dog house, too. I'd crawl through the hole, the dog coming to lick my face because he thought I was coming ot visit. But, I'd crawl into the dog house and hide. For drawing stars on my paper?

Going back to school after a long break was AWFUL. For fove or ten days I had been safe at home, but now they were sending me back to that monster. I was terrified EVERY DAY. It effected my health, and I contracted a case of pneumonia, which was, thankfully, quickly detected and cured.

It reminds me of what a motivational speaker once told us at a back-to-school inservice day. He said that our most important job that we have as teachers is to smile. (Groans) Yes, it is! Unless that child feels safe and welcome in your room, little or no learning will take place.

So, it was so odd that the telling of this story this afternoon should evoke such an emotional response. No tears or anything, but a real sense of horror - all over again. Fifty four years after the fact. And all because of some stars on a brand new tablet.

(image: CC licensed at Flickr by ckroberts61)

K12 Online Conference

With all that has been going on in my life of late I completely forgot to remind you of this year's K12 Online Conference. What is it? Here: "The K-12 Online Conference invites participation from educators around the world interested in innovative ways Web 2.0 tools and technologies can be used to improve learning. This FREE conference is run by volunteers and open to everyone. The 2009 conference theme is “Bridging the Divide.”"

This is FREE professional development of the highest caliber.  You'll recognize many of the names and faces of the prsenters, and I am CERTAIN that you will enjoy and grow professionally with every second that you spend watching the videos. This is GREAT stuff. DO NOT MISS IT!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Grad student looking for help

I have a soft spot in my heart for the Grad students who are desperately trying to gather some research data to support a thesis or for an assignment that's required for their Doctorate degree. They are working SO hard to get this degree, yet the obstacles they face are many.

While I don't normally do this, I wanted to point you a survey that maybe your students would want to take a few minutes to complete. Why would they want to take the time? This one will award TWO randomly chosen entries a $25 cash prize.

Now, I didn't take the survey, so I don't know how the winner will be notified. But, I do know the person behind this survey and I know he won't be selling the information or spamming anyone, etc.

Anyway, maybe your class would take it, or maybe even your son or daughter. The odds of winning are pretty darned good, too. And, they'll be helping a grad student on his way to earning his Doctorate.