Technology Reviewers Club

Earlier today I was tossing around an idea on Twitter about having a “club” that would try out new tech tools for feasibility prior to full scale introduction to all of my students.  Part of this comes from the frustration of account creation for 100+ students when not every service is used extensively or by every student.  The other part of it comes from the reality of our school’s new proposed schedule for next year.

The Basic Idea

Kids could be pulled from throughout the building: 6th, 7th, and 8th grade.  Tools that would be used throughout the course of the year could be introduced to them.  These students would need to be somewhat tech-savvy already, prepared to reflect on the ease of use of the tool, benefits of use, negatives, and overall usefulness large scale.  Each student would start with a blog through Edublogs service.  On their blog, they would post their thoughts and reflections about using each tool.  Initially, I would be suggesting the tools that students would be using.  Some tools might be web-based, others might be open-source or otherwise available on school hardware.

The students would serve as my guinea pigs, trying out the tools from the student perspective.  They would look for pitfalls, best use scenarios, and general ideas about each tool.  When the tools are rolled out later in the year, they would serve as my “experts” to help out the new folks.  By pulling students from throughout the building, I could share ideas across all grade levels.  The amount of account creation would be minimal initially (just for the club members) so if the value isn’t there, the investment is low.

Next Steps

Some other thoughts for the “club” would be to prepare screencasts or tutorials for the use of the tools in the classroom. We could possibly set up a Google Site or a wiki where this information could be stored. This club would be a good place for quickly trying out up-and-coming web tools for communication, collaboration, and content creation.

Scheduling

This might be difficult to pull off as an after school club, but our school is looking at a new schedule for next year.  Our normal morning advisory time is being shifted to the end of the day. Partly to accommodate the students who leave early for sports, keeping them from missing as much class, partly to start the day with academic material, and partly for the opportunity to begin “Club Days”.  These would be weekly or bi-weekly (hasn’t been decided yet) and would be a 30 to 45 minute block of time for teachers to hold clubs during the school hours.  Many of the clubs would rotate each 9 weeks, some would be yearlong and others would run for a semester.  I think this kind of schedule is great for those students who are unable to participate in after school clubs, and ideal for the Tech Reviewers Club idea.

Is anyone out there currently doing something like this? I’d love to hear thoughts and ideas for this type of group.

Tech in 20

This year, I’m taking on a new venture in PD with our staff.  Though I’m not the tech coordinator in our building, I feel like it’s time I make a more concerted effort to share some of my tech experiences with our staff.  With that in mind, I’m implementing a program called “Tech in 20.”  I first heard about this idea from David Bill’s EduCon 2.1 session of the same title.  The idea addresses one of the major issues with teachers learning new technology tools…TIME!

Without a doubt, integrating technology takes time, something that is often not available to many teachers.  The goal of Tech in 20 is to provide staff development experiences that last no longer than 20 minutes.  These experiences are used to introduce topics to teachers and then let them explore their use in the classroom.

At our school, we have monthly technology meetings.  I found that those meetings were often being used for the introduction of tools.  I felt our time together would be better used if we could discuss ways of integrating various tools into the classroom.  Tech in 20 should help balance the two situations.

What’s The Plan?

The basic idea is to hold weekly 20 minute sessions on Thursday afternoons.  The schedule for the beginning of the year will be made in advance, then we can address tools as they come up during the school year.  I surveyed our staff at the end of last year to gauge their interest in 19 different tools.  From there, I picked the first six topics we will cover.  I believe the majority of the other tools will be covered, as well as additional tools throughout the year.

Each session will start with an overview of the tool.  I plan to show as many academic uses of the tools as possible to get the teachers thinking of ways they can use them in their classrooms.  After the overview, we will spend a short time either demonstrating the tool or having a question/answer session about possible uses/pitfalls.  Each session will have a corresponding page on a Google Site which I have set up for the program (http://sites.google.com/site/bcmstechin20). The session pages will have brief overviews of the tools, links to additional resources, a list of the attendees for reference by those who couldn’t make it, and a video recording of the session.

That last part is going to be interesting for me. I intend to stream out each of these sessions via LiveStream.com.  The link for the LiveStream channel is http://www.livestream.com/bcmstechin20.  The recordings will serve two purposes.  First, those who can’t attend or “don’t get it” can have a place to go and watch the discussion that happened during our Thursday session. Second, I hope to have some folks at other schools join us and perhaps even watch the events live with their staff.  Perhaps we’ll even reach a point where viewers pose some questions or provide some answers about how tools can be used in the classroom.

Why Am I Doing This?

There are a number of goals for this program:

  1. Meet teachers where they are – Too often, tech tools are demonstrated one time, and you either get it or you don’t.  For many teachers, the reasons to integrate a tech tool don’t manifest themselves until long after the training has ended.  Some teachers still need training on “basic” tech skills.  Providing those in 20 minute sessions means that those folks who have mastered a particular tool or topic aren’t tied into an hour long PD session that isn’t moving them forward.
  2. Just In Time – The recordings and session pages will allow teachers to revisit sessions as the year progresses. Perhaps they have no use for Twitter at the time of the Tech in 20 session, but later in the year decide they want to give it a whirl.  Going back to the session page they have a video of the session, links to additional resources, and a list of the other people who were there.  That way there are more people to help present uses than just the tech coordinator or myself :)
  3. Move Conversations from the Tools to the Pedagogy – There are so many tools out there, that we as teachers have no way of ever entirely keeping up.  If we spent an hour long PD session on each new tool, that would be our entire job, never getting to the point of implementing them in the classroom.  These quick sessions should allow us to cover a number of tools and get them more frequently used in the room.  That way, during our monthly meetings, we’ll be able to spend more time on discussing the best ways to implement the tools in the classroom.
  4. Keep it Simple! – With the sessions only lasting 20 minutes, much of the extraneous discussion has to be kept out. This should help us focus on the topic at hand, get the basics, and then allow teachers to explore on their own.
  5. Connect with others – Both in school, and across the county/state/country.  There are a ton of folks looking into using these tools in their classrooms, so why not connect with them and build a support group beyond our building?  The brain power of many is far greater than the brain power of just a few.  Hopefully we’ll be able to harness some of that.

So there you have it.  My basic plan for the year.  We’re planning to meet on Thursday afternoons at approximately 3:20 pm EST.  We’d love to have you join us!  Our first sessions are tentatively: Tech 101, Social Bookmarking, Blogging, Video Embedding, Senteo, Creative Commons, and Flip Video/Movie Maker software.

I’d love to have your thoughts or suggestions for the program!

Photo credit: “Clock” by Darren Hester, licensed through Creative Commons

Middle School Matters

The guys over at Middle School Matters have gotten around to posting their latest podcast, which includes a great discussion about the concept of Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0.  The episode also includes my response to their previous show.  I want to thank Troy and Shawn for this chance and look forward to more discussion (hopefully about other topics, now that we’ve beaten and dragged this horse).  Here’s the link to the show…listen and drop these guys a comment!

MSP2 Elluminate Session: Interactive Notebooks

Just wanted to make sure my readers had a heads-up on a session I will be presenting for the Middle School Portal 2: Math and Science Pathways project.  The session will be Wednesday, July 29th at 2pm EST.  It will take place in Elluminate, through LearnCentral.org The link below will allow you to preregister for the session.  It should last about 45 minutes and will be an introduction to Interactive Notebooks.

Few things about middle school students drive teachers to the brink of insanity faster than organization (or lack thereof) and homework. Join us for a discussion of one way to help combat both problems while also addressing multiple intelligences, differentiation, and student choice.

Interactive Notebooks are a way to help facilitate all of these things by allowing your students to be creative and have a choice in the way they process information. This informal chat will address the beginning stages of starting to work with Interactive Notebooks, guide you through the process, and point you in the direction of more resources.

Facilitator: Todd Williamson

To register, go to: http://www.learncentral.org/node/14771

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