Tweet and Blog for Ed Tech

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May 122010

Today, ISTE is urging anyone involved in Education Technology to speak out in support of the Enhancing Education Through Technology (ETTT) program, which has been merged with a new program, Effective Teaching and Learning for a Complete Education.

President Obama has called for the merging of these programs, effectively ending the ETTT program as it currently exists. What this means is that there will no longer be separate funding just for educational technology.  Those of us who integrate technology into our teaching on a daily basis understand its vital place in our classrooms.

Please make your voice heard! You can send your story to your Congressperson, or contact your Congressperson to tell them not support the end of this important program as it currently exists.

Also follow ISTE Connects on Twitter for more updates and important tweets or join the campaign by writing your own post and tweeting in support of the program using the hashtags #edtech and #ettt.

Feb 252010

Recently I’ve been contemplating what I teach, why I teach it and how I teach it. As a technology teacher I know my job is to teach, well, technology. But these days there’s no such thing as teaching technology in isolation. Correction. There should be no such thing as teaching technology in isolation.  As such, I try to find ways to incorporate the core academic standards into my lessons while also teaching students how to use technology to achieve learning goals, process information and collaborate.

I’ve been struggling with whether maybe I should be focusing more on teaching technology more specifically. After all, my students lack knowledge and skills in basic technology tools like word processing and finding, saving and manipulating files.  They learn most of these skills through the projects we do, but is that really my job? Should I be doing less long-term integrated projects and more short term projects that teach specific tech skills?

Another thought: why is it important that my students learn these skills?  I always tell them that when they are looking for a job they will need the skills that I am teaching them.  But how many of my students will actually enter such kinds of jobs? Or, by the time my students are employable (for some that is 3-4 years from now) will even the most menial jobs require a basic knowledge of computers and using technology for productivity, problem solving and collaboration? 

How should we be teaching technology skills to our students? Should the plan be different for students with limited access or limited skills?

Feb 042010

I just had to share a smile in all of the doom and gloom I’ve been sharing recently.

Background: One of my students has spent the last few weeks saying, “I don’t know _____” …fill in the blank with whatever assignment we’re supposed to be working on.  It got to the point where I was feeling hopeless. He would sit for 45 minutes repeating this over and over no matter what kinds of supports, ideas and explanations I tried.

Finally, last week, I pulled him aside and had a short conference with him.  I can’t remember exactly what we talked about, but I know I was exasperated.

Back to today:  We are making avatars for our VoiceThread project.  Here it came: “Ms. Hertz, I need help. I don’t know how to make a face.” “OK, M___, I’m coming.”  I showed him the circle tool and modeled it for him, then deleted what I did and let him play around.  About 10 minutes later, he came up with this:

Next he began working on his Three Little Pigs illustration.  He was drawing the wolf, a brick house and the pig.  He pulled me over. “Ms. Hertz, are wolves furry?” “Yes,” I replied. He pointed to his drawing. He had used the chalk tool to blend the edges of his lines to make his wolf look furry.  I could barely hide my joy. (OK, I didn’t hide it at all.)  “See,” I said, “you can’t know how to do something unless you try it first!”

Later that day, his class came for Computers (I teach him every day for an Enrichment period in the morning).  For weeks we had been struggling with his Storybird story. “Ms. Hertz, I don’t know what to write. Ms. Hertz, I need help. Ms Hertz, I can’t find that picture.” In 2 weeks he hadn’t even completed a cover yet. You get the idea.  Today, he sat down, chose a cover picture, wrote a title and completed his first page.  I wanted to hug him.  (The only reason I didn’t is because he probably would have been embarrassed or confused, I know him well enough at this point!)  When he was done, he asked, “Can I work on my drawing?” Sadly, we were out of time, but it was thrilling to see him suddenly not afraid to take risks and motivated to try something that was a challenge.

These small victories and celebrations mean so much to me. Today was a reminder why I could never see myself doing anything else.

Dec 222009

Last month I had the amazing luck to receive a tweet from a fellow educator, Gerardo Lazaro, who teaches at St. George’s College in Lima, Peru.  He asked me if I was interested in doing an online collaboration project with his students.  I immediately jumped at the opportunity.  We weren’t really sure exactly what kind of project we wanted to do, though we knew we would do it with 6th graders since he teaches middle school and the oldest students I teach are in 6th grade.

The Planning
Finally, after a few weeks of playing “Twitter tag,” we found time to Skype and discuss an online video conference with our classes.  During our 2 hour Skype session, we pulled together the whole plan.  We were able to share our vision for the conference, share links and use his classroom wiki to do our planning. While Skyping, I pulled up his wiki on my computer by clicking on the link he provided in the Skype chat.  I immediately clicked on the ‘join’ button and he approved me to begin editing the wiki.

We had decided to have our students research a little about each others’ city based around these four areas: History, Culture, Geography, Political and City.  We split up the topics, each choosing one to edit.  When we were done, I used an iframe code to embed the wiki page and project description we had created on his wiki into a page I created for the project on my wiki.

When the whole thing was done and we signed off for the evening, I was blown away. In 2 hours we had planned a whole project and were ready to go for Monday.

That is the power of social media.

On Monday, we tested the last hurdle of the project: the actual video part of the conference.  My district blocks Skype (apparently it ‘does something’ to our network), we couldn’t get iChat to work because he doesn’t have a Mac, we couldn’t get AIM to work when we tried earlier in the week at work, or Oovoo either.  Finally, my brain clicked: Google chat with video!  We had used Google chat before to connect during the school day, so I knew it wasn’t blocked. At 8am Monday morning, 4 hours before our meeting, we tested it out. It worked like a charm.

The Meeting
At noon, my 6th grade class came down to the lab.  I had arranged the room so that the iSight camera on my Macbook was trained on them, and I had the desktop microphone I had purchased earlier in the week ready to go.  I called Gerardo up and there they were–a classroom of 6th graders smiling back at us.  We started with the typical nervous laughter, smiles and waving, and we started asking each other questions based on some of the research that we had done on each others’ cities.  At one point our students danced for each other and we were able to show each other our favorite drinks (a purple drink for them and Coke for us).  The students in Peru also got to describe some of their local cuisine, such as ceviche to our students, who named cheese steaks as their favorite. 

There were times when we couldn’t hear each other well, and sometimes my students and I had trouble understanding his students’ accents, but overall, it was a lot of fun!  And surprisingly easy.  Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, my students didn’t have a lot of time to do research, but Gerardo’s students were able to create presentations based on the research they did.  Sadly, my students were never able to see them because the site Gerardo put the presentations up on is blocked by my district.  As a side note, we had discussed the possibility of using VoiceThread to allow students to share their work and ideas, but that, too is blocked by my district.

They were, however, able to leave comments on my project wiki page for the students in Lima to read.

Unfortunately, it was the end of their school year (Peru is below the equator, so the seasons are opposite to ours), so we won’t be able to plan another meeting for a while.  Hopefully, by then, I will have better equipment and we will have more time to plan.

(and I will make sure my designated photo-taker takes photos of the other students, too!)

We had also set up Twitter accounts for both of our schools (@Bluford_Elem and @SGC_Senior) in case we wanted to students to Tweet answers to each other.  While that did not pan out due to planning limitations and my students’ unfamiliarity with the Twitter format, it is has opened up that possibility in the future.  I am also glad that I have a Twitter account for my school.  I hope to be able to incorporate it into our parent communication and perhaps further communications with other teachers and schools.

The Sad Reality

Sadly, within the network firewalls of the School District, many of the powerful social media tools available for connecting classrooms are not available to us due to poor understanding of their potential and unsubstantiated or illogical fears.  There is a whole site dedicated to connecting classrooms to authors using Skype.  The hundreds of thousands of students in classrooms in Philadelphia will miss out on this opportunity due to it being blocked. (Although I’m hoping to find an author willing to use iChat or Google Chat.)

What’s in the Future?
Now that I know how easy it is to plan such an event and even how fairly painless it is to pull it off, I look forward to similar experiences in the future with my students.  I am talking with a Kindergarten teacher in my building about getting an author or another class connected with his. 

I hope to do more collaborative work within my school and hopefully with other schools. It is so important for my students to interact with people outside of their communities, as many of them rarely get a chance to do so (see my previous post on this). A friend of mine who is a lab teacher in Germantown (a section of Philadelphia) and are planning a video chat with our students.  There are more social media tools I am hoping to use soon.  I will begin using my Diigo teacher account with my 5th and 6th graders for the research project they have coming up in the spring. I have already tested it with one of my 6th graders who is working on a separate project, and she loved it.  Hopefully tools like GlogsterEDU and VoiceThread will soon be unblocked so I can start using them!

Feel free to share your experiences with connection across continents or ways you have used social media in your classroom!

Nov 042009

Today we had district-wide Professional Development.  On Wednesday of last week the “Activity Catalog” in our web-based ‘PD Planner’ updated to show the options for the full-day sessions.  Immediately emails began popping up on the PTRN listserv.  There was NOTHING being offered for TTLs (Technology Teacher Leaders) or lab teachers.  As such, we were all forced to pick a session that may have had little or nothing to do with what we do on an everyday basis.

As a joke, I sent out an email saying “Hey, I’ll hold a workshop!”  Surprisingly, many people responded to me asking if I was doing a workshop, and that if I was that they would sign up.

This spawned the idea of proposing such a crazy idea to someone higher up, which I did.

A few hours and emails later, at the end of my PD session, through a beautiful act of serendipity, I was sitting in the same room as the head of Educational Technology who had received my proposal and was enthusiastic about the idea.

What followed was one of the most exciting and refreshing conversations I’ve had here at SDP in a while.  Especially with someone way up on the ladder! It turns out that we have a subscription to Elluminate and that there is a possibility that I could run an Elluminate session.  WOW!  (I hope I don’t get in trouble for broadcasting that here on this blog.)

On the walk back to the parking lot I ran into a former colleague of mine who is a lab teacher.  He said, “Thank you for putting that idea up there on the listserv. I’m behind you all the way.”

When I got homeand had a moment to breathe, I created a Google Form to collect information on what kinds of PD people would be interested in.  Some topics included:

  • using Google Docs in the classroom
  • creating a class wiki
  • creating a PortaPortal or page
  • using iMovie, Garageband, Audacity or Windows MovieMaker in the classroom
  • tips for managing the role of TTL (Technology Teacher Leader)
  • running a server-based environment (Workgroup Manager, Apple Remote Desktop)
  • podcasting

Here is a screenshot of the survey:


I created a discussion on our Ning (Philly Teacher Techs) and included a link to the Google form.  I then sent out a message to all of the members asking them to fill out the survey to help me know what kinds of PD people want.  I also added questions asking whether people would be willing to help present or present their own workshop, whether people would prefer a webinar or a face to face workshop and whether people would be willing attend knowing that they may not get Act 48 hours for it.

Within 5 minutes of sending out the link I had no less than 7 replies in my spreadsheet!

This is proof enough that there is a high level of interest in professional development geared around what teachers want and that it is not being offered.  I know this is based on the topics I chose. I have seen one or two of them listed perhaps once or twice during the school year as an after school workshop with a limited number of openings that usually close up, but most have never been offered.  However, the topics that I’d never seen offered were the topics that most people chose!

What makes the job of a lab teacher so hard is that we often work in isolation.  While grade teachers have their ‘grade groups’ or ‘grade partners’ with whom to bounce ideas off of, we do not.  There is (usually) only one of us in the building.  We also often wear many hats which are not technically in our job description.  As a result, the job can get pretty darn overwhelming.

My goal for starting these workshops is to build a learning community for us so that we have someone to reach out to in times of need and so we have others to share our own ideas with for feedback.

The most amazing thing?  Out of 8 total responses so far, 100% said they’d be interested in helping present and that they would participate knowing that they wouldn’t be compensated.

Already it is obvious that these workshops will be effective because teachers WANT the information and are willing to SHARE information and it is RELEVANT to what they do in their classrooms.

I see a small ray of light shining at the end of the tunnel and the best part is: I don’t have to make the journey alone!

lab photo courtesy of Extra Ketchup on Flickr

Aug 052009

This summer I have been teaching Project Based Learning to a small group of 7th & 8th grade boys at a camp in Philadelphia. My classroom is a Study Lounge in a dorm with a dry erase board that barely erases, desks with chairs attached and carpeting throughout.

I have been teaching an Ecosystems unit to my campers in a carpeted room with no sink, few tables and ALMOST NO TECHNOLOGY!

As a lab teacher, it has been a struggle as well as a good reason to reflect:

Do my students feel as frustrated as I do? Can I teach without technology? Can my students learn without technology?

My lessons this summer are very hands on and interactive to meet the needs of boy learners (see Kent Manning‘s blog Motivating Boy Writers). Still, I felt like I wasn’t doing my best teaching sometimes because I didn’t have access to a computer, and even if I brought my laptop in there is no wireless connection. I had to reserve a special room just to show them some Discovery Education Streaming videos I had found about what we were studying. I began to worry: “Can I teach without technology?”

I found myself struggling to engage my boys in the short 1-2 page reading selections we completed despite trying several different methods for making the experience as engaging and interactive as possible. I tried Think, Pair, Share, I tried to do a Jigsaw activity and I tried just the plain old ‘read it’ technique. My students had trouble concentrating, and even if they didn’t have to read the whole selection and knew they would be teaching their peers about what they read, they did not seem motivated to read. What I failed to mention is that they were reading selections about animals they had right in front of them in the classroom.

Then, today I was actually able to squeeze my boys into the only computer slot available all week. We had recently gone on a trip to the Schuylkill Environmental Center and hiked around for a few hours. We saw Bullfrogs, Wood Frogs, Snapping Turtles, American Toads and more! I decided to have them use Glogster to create a research report on an animal we had seen. Once they saw what Glogster could do, and I reviewed the assignment and the kinds of things they needed to find out about the animal, they were instantly motivated. Even those who struggled to read or concentrate were quickly able to find the information they needed and then put it onto a glog. We only had an hour to complete the whole project, but I was proud of what they turned out.

for the full glogs: &

I couldn’t help but wonder: are we all 21st Century learners? I felt like a better teacher while using technology and I watched my campers become truly engaged with the content they were reading. Does this mean that my students NEED technology to be successful learners? Or am I just a better teacher when using technology?

Are we reaching a point where we as teachers are becoming ‘Digital Natives’ like our students and therefore require these techie tools to be successful?

There are students across the world learning new things every day (and surpassing us in test scores & job readiness) without the resources that we have. What are the implications of this?

Some links on this topic:

Teach Paperless: What Makes a Good 21st Century Teacher? (this is a great blog about learning in the 21st Century) (a website dedicated to Technology in Education)

Education World-Technology Integration
(a site with resources for teachers trying to integrate technology)

Cool Cat Teacher Blog
(a blog about successful teaching and effective tools in Educational Technology)

Free Technology for Teachers
(a great resource for free online tools for teachers)

One thing I would like to find: studies, posts, etc… explaining how we don’t need technology to reach our students and to be effective teachers. Please advise!

Jul 152009

In a recent blog post, Scott McLeod asked “15 questions to ask about the technology leadership in your school district.” Many of his questions got me thinking about how we plan for technology in our schools and in our districts. Many of the questions of leadership can be solved through good planning. (you can read my response to his blog post about this, too) With good planning, questions of roles and responsibilities can be easily solved. So can problems with hardware-to-faculty or hardware-to-student ratios or whether technology is being used effectively to engage and instruct students.

With all the talk of Glogster recently, I decided to create a visual depiction of the planning process. There are 7 main steps to good technology planning:

1.) Create a team: Make sure the team consists of members of all stakeholders (parents, community members, teachers, administrators….)

2.) Assign roles: Describe the roles and responsibilities of all team members.

3.) Complete a Needs Assessment: Conduct surveys, conversations, observations to assess what your school/students/staff need to increase effective use of technology to promote teaching and learning.

4.) Set measurable goals based on the Needs Assessment: Once you know what the needs are, set a few realistic, measurable goals (goals with a timeline and with a way to measure effectiveness or success- i.e. test scores, observed behaviors…).

5.) Plan for tracking and monitoring of goals: Make sure that one of the team members is assigned to monitor the progress of each goal.

6.) Collect data: Have each team member collect measurable data about their goal for future use.

7.) Assess goals, revise, revisit and rewrite: Once your goals’ time period have passed, look back on whether they were effective. Keep good initiatives going, revise ones that were fairly successful but need some changes and scratch those that were not effective.

This cycle starts again at #3 (Needs Assessment). It is up to your school or district to decide how often you will go through this cycle. Usually it is from every 2-3 years.

Make sure you include a budget and budgetary concerns in the plan and that funding of the Technology Plan mirrors the school or district’s budget plan.

Please feel free to comment or add anything I may have left out!

Link to the full-size Glogster image

Technology Planning resources:

National Center for Technology Planning

Guiding Questions for Technology Planning

Looking for your state’s plan? Just do a search for : “my state technology plan” and it should come up. These plans are public and should be available for viewing.

Jul 122009

When I read Scott McLeod‘s call for a Leadership Day, asking bloggers to reflect on and advocate for preparing our students with 21st century skills and improving student outcomes, I was very excited. What a great idea to have everyone reflect on the same topic in their blogs. We were guaranteed to get many different perspectives because everyone comes from a different situation and/or different role in education.

I decided to review the newly released NETS for Administrators and choose some areas that I felt were important to my school and my district. I found these areas to be relevant to my role as a lab teacher and as a teacher in an inner city school:

2. Digital Age Learning Culture
Educational Administrators create, promote, and sustain a dynamic, digital-age learning culture that provides rigorous, relevant, and engaging education for all students. Educational Administrators:

b. model and promote the frequent and effective use of technology for learning.

c. provide learner-centered environments equipped with technology and learning resources to meet the individual, diverse needs of all learners.

4. Systemic Improvement
Educational Administrators provide digital-age leadership and management to continuously improve the organization through the effective use of information and technology resources. Educational Administrators:

c. recruit and retain highly competent personnel who use technology creatively and proficiently to advance academic and operational goals.

When thinking of the best way to convince administrators of the importance of ed tech, all I could think of was how it would mean the most coming from those it would affect the most: the students. In a large city like Philadelphia, we need good leadership to make sure that our students do not fall behind their suburban peers or leave school without the skills required for the job market.
I interviewed 4 of my campers this summer, all of whom attend different schools throughout Philadelphia. They were excited by the idea of incorporating iPods and cell phones into the classroom, though some had reservations. Many of them described the lack of resources in their schools, or the ineffective use of resources such as computers and whiteboards. The discussion was refreshing and hopeful. Many of these students attend schools with limited resources. They know what they are missing out on!
This video is their testimony.

As adults, the children in our care are our responsibility. It is the job of administrators to lead effective schools and progressive districts. Our children are aware when they are under-served and they know when their teachers are not effective. And someday, these children will be the leaders, so let’s prepare them for that role.

More on Leadership Day 2009

Jul 052009

A few hours ago I read Lee Kolbert‘s blog entry about vendors at NECC 2009. I wanted to comment, but worried that my comment would be too long. I decided to respond and piggyback on her entry with my own!

As a ‘Newbie’ to NECC, I had heard mixed things about the Exhibit floor. “Don’t waste your time,” some said, “they’re just salespeople.” “Check it out,” other said, “you can learn about new and upcoming technologies and get free stuff!” I decided to meet them somewhere in the middle by visiting a few booths, but trying not to get stuck listening to a sales pitch.

I found the Exhibit floor to be worth the small amount of time I spent there (about 1 1/2 hours over 2 days). I checked in with the Discovery Education booth where I met people who work closely with my school district. A colleague (Tracey McGrath) had brought me to the booth recommending that I become a Discovery Star Educator, which I am working on as I write this blog entry. We have a license in Philadelphia for Discovery Streaming, which allows you to access Discovery Education’s huge library of videos available for download and streaming for members. While I did not sit for a presentation, as a user of Discovery Streaming, I know what a great resource it is for teachers. This vendor was providing a great resource to NECC 09 attendees.

I also stopped by the Tech4Learning booth, where a presentation had just started. It was led by a real teacher who not only introduced us to the various softwares (Pixie, Frames, Twist, Image Blender, and more), but showed us examples of student work from her classroom using some of these tools. I have been trying to find an alternative to KidPix for the last 2 years, and by visiting the Tech4Learning booth, I now have a software that I fell in love with (Pixie) and can now present to the district as a new tool for the classroom. Tech4Learning also has tons of online resources as well as an online community for users of their products. Plus, after sitting through a short presentation, I was awarded a CD with free licenses to 5 of their software products!

I also attended sessions with SMART and sat in on a Promethean presentation. Both of these sponsors added content to the conference by stoking the fires of imagination about what can be done with Interactive White Boards in the classroom.

While these are just some of the examples of booths that I visited, I have to agree with Lee that vendors have something to offer NECC (ISTE 2010 next year). That is NOT to say that ALL vendors added something to the conference. What I think would be useful for 2010 is the ability for attendees to rate vendors based on certain criteria. For example: quality of presentations, interaction with attendees, relevance to ed tech and whether they add anything to the conversation and dialogue about ed tech at the conference.

If you did not visit the Exhibit floor in 2009 and are leery of vendors, please take 30 minutes in 2010 to check it out!

Please leave comments about vendors or tell me about some vendors I missed and should have checked out!

Thanks to Lee Kolbert for the thoughtful commentary that started me thinking about corporations and ed tech!

Jul 042009

PortaPortal & delicious are 2 social bookmarking sites. They allow you to save links that you want to go back to and organize them by topic or tag.

I decided to experiment with PortaPortal instead of my 2 Delicious pages (Page for K-3rd & Page for 4-6th). At NECC 2009 I sat in on a session that showed a screen shot of PortaPortal and I immediately thought that it might be easier for my students to navigate than the current tags I use on Delicious. First of all, I would only need on page for all grade levels. Also, I could add links that were visually organized under a particular topic. This would eliminate the need for my students to find the right tag cloud on the right-hand column.

My Delicious Page

My PortaPortal Page

The PortaPortal page is also much easier to build since it eliminates the need for properly tagging links and then grouping them. Instead, I can choose a title for the link and make sure that I create it under the proper category. One down side is that there are only 5 categories allowed. Maybe I have not found the setting to change this yet, but I looked! You can also put icons next to your links to draw attention to them. For instance, if you wanted your non-readers to be able to find the link for the day’s lesson or project, then you could mark it with smiley face icon or something similar.

I am not looking forward to the process of transferring all of my links over to PortaPortal. 2 years worth of links–hundreds per page!

I am still building the PortaPortal page, though I will add the link to it below for feedback. One thing about PortaPortal is the ads at the bottom. While I teach my students that nothing you get is for free and that we need to be smarter than the advertisers by not letting them distract us from what we really want to be doing, it will be eye candy for my students! I know I’ll have some kids going to instead of 3rd Grade Literacy and then needing redirecting.

Here’s the PortaPortal: please give me ideas and/or feedback on either my Delicious, my PortaPortal or both!