Professional development must be crafted to respond to a wide range of learner readiness, interest, learning style, and comfort level. Specific examples of techniques include providing many opportunities for reflection, conversation, and reading of professional materials. It is imperative to cultivate a nurturing learning environment where teachers can be mentors to each other, engaging in peer observation, collaborative planning, reflective assessment, all with the existence of on-site support. That being said, what are some of the best strategies for introducing teachers to new tools - and especially how these tools can enhance teaching and learning? Just to brainstorm a bit....

Weekly Workshops - Some technology coordinators conduct weekly workshops; Tech Tuesdays, Wacky Wednesdays.... The drawbacks of weekly workshops include the fact that teachers are so busy with what needs to get done, in addition to their home life, that afternoons might be tough for some.

eNewsletters - Teachers might enjoy reading a regular newsletter or blog post about current technology and specific examples of how students can use a tool to demonstrate what they've learned or communicate an idea or story. On the other hand, with all the information teachers are bombarded with, especially emails, how much more information without the benefit of face to face interaction would be too much?

Online group or webinar -  Using some kind of social networking tool like Ning or Google Groups would allow for some degree of interaction. The ability to ask questions and get feedback is a real bonus and if screencasting and or handouts with step by step instructions can be included, many teachers might benefit from the learn at your own pace feature. However, if technology is already an obstacle, using technology to learn more technology might block out some learners.

I'll be exploring some strategies for reaching teachers and I hope that I can find a good balance of making good use of teachers' time and getting the information out in a way that compels them to act on what they've learned.

 

As you can tell from the collection of resources on this website, I love to find new websites that teachers can use with their students to enhance their lessons and activities. New sites are developed every day and I'm very grateful to two busy educational bloggers for helping me learn about them.

The first of my favorite bloggers is Richard Byrne and his blog Free Technology for Teachers. I found Richard through Twitter and I've found that his blog is amazingly informative and practical from a teacher's standpoint. He introduces his readers to new tools, new sites, and rich resources on a daily basis. He not only summarizes the content but explains the application of the resource for the classroom.

The next blogger that I read on a daily basis is Larry Ferlazzo and his blog Websites of the Day. Larry is an English as a second language teacher and he evaluates every site that he find for usefulness for his ELL students. On a regular basis, Larry compiles a list of websites that are "the best" in every imaginable topic. He also explains how the site or resource can be used with students.

I appreciate these two awesome educators. I learn something every day from reading their blogs.

 

In a recent blog post, Dr. Scott McLeod put out an appeal for bloggers in the educational technology world to write about leadership. As I reflect on the posts of others and examine what it means to be a leader, I wanted to take the opportunity to introduce you to my dear friend and mentor, Sr. Mary Therese Freymann, BVM. Sr. Mary Therese has been in education since 1955 - most of that time teaching 8th graders. (Anyone who can teach 8th graders for over 30 years has got to be great, right?) She’s currently “retired”, which is a ridiculous term for her since at least 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year she works with inner city schools - writing grants, organizing and facilitating professional development, helping the Archdiocese of Chicago implement their technology plan and pretty much doing every thing she can to make sure that students in her schools have the resources they need to be prepared to live and work in the 21st century. I’m quite certain that she’s spending at least a few weeks this summer imaging machines (she’s on a Mac, by the way). She is one hard-working lady. By the way, her accomplishments include a ISTE’s Making it Happen Award, complete with Pink Jacket (not the one she’s wearing here)!

She has a tremendous capacity to persist under the most difficult circumstances and she remains positive and enthusiastic (not to mention she possesses a wicked sense of humor). She is the epitome of a life-long learner. In fact, she just waits for her teachers to say, “I’m too old to learn this stuff,” so she can remind them to take a good look at her and “do the math”.

I’ve known Sr. Mary Therese since I began my position as a technology coordinator for a large Catholic School in suburban Chicago around 8 years ago. I can’t remember exactly our first meeting but I’m pretty sure I met her at an ICE-COLD meeting. I do remember that soon after our first meeting she convinced me to take on the role of President of our chapter of ICE. I greatly appreciate how she must have seen something in me to encourage my own ambitions to be an educational technology leader. She brags about the time she encouraged me, “Of course you should present for the ICE Conference. You’d be great.” I think she was prouder that I was this past year when I was asked to be a “Spotlight” speaker (something she’s also done for the ICE Conference.)

When I reflect on what it means to be a leader, I believe that Sr. Mary Therese is such a person because she has vision, extremely high standards, and is influential because she takes steps to elevate those around her and expects us to use our gifts for the good of the students. If you want to know any of her secrets for remaining a life-long learner, you might send her a tweet!

 

One of the sessions I attended at NECC was Building 21st Century Skills into Core Subjects. As much as I love learning about new tools, I purposely look for opportunities to explore specifics on how technology fits in to core curriculum areas. This session consisted of a panel of representatives from NCTE,
NCGE, NSTA, and NCSS to discuss ways to effectively embed 21st century
skills into core subjects.

I’ve been to the website, The Partnership for 21st Century Skills. The best way to explain this organization is to check the About page on the site.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has emerged as the leading
advocacy organization focused on infusing 21st century skills into
education. The organization brings together the business community,
education leaders, and policymakers to define a powerful vision for
21st century education to ensure every child’s success as citizens and
workers in the 21st century. The Partnership encourages schools,
districts and states to advocate for the infusion of 21st century
skills into education and provides tools and resources to help
facilitate and drive change.
The resources available from this organization are quite significant. The workshop was introducing the latest in a series of curriculum maps the outline concrete examples of best practices in Science, Social Studies, Geography, English, and Math. These documents are definitely worthwhile for any teacher or administrator who is making decisions on shifting the learning environment to gain relevance in these changing times. The curriculum maps are a little hard to find. Here’s the link to the page with all publications - scroll down to the bottom to find the maps.

 

I try really hard to know as much as I can about current technology. Even if I’m not able to put every available tool or trend into practice in my personal or professional life, I pride myself on at least being aware of what’s going on out there among the most tech-savvy. I’ve been asked dozens of times, “How do you know so much?” My answer is, “I read a lot!” I read blogs, del.ico.us links, articles, and occasionally, books. I also listen to podcasts and watch videos of presentations, or sometimes at least look at the presentation, even if it’s without the presenter. I spend sometime everyday expanding my knowledge about what’s going on in the world, especially when it applies to education.
Here are a couple of the coolest tools that I use on a daily basis:

  • Del.icio.us - this is a public book marking site. I have collected over 1000 links. I always start by looking at “popular” and “recent“. One can find great articles, new web2.0 websites, and other useful web resources. I also have a network of educational technology experts that I follow and I check to see what they’ve bookmarked to make sure I don’t miss anything important.
  • Google Reader - This is an aggregator that helps me keep track of all the blogs I read and news websites from this site as well. When I find a blog or new site I want to follow, I copy the link and “add the feed”. Every time I return to my Google Reader page, the articles that have been posted since my last visit are available. I will eventually take advantage of the shared items feature so I can create a shared items page for my friends.
  • Clipmarks - This site/tool is hard to describe. Basically when I read articles that I want to keep for future reference, I use a clipmark to highlight the important parts of the article and the site saves my articles in a collection and using tags, I can access them later. It’s important to read what other people are clipping and “pop” the articles from others as a way to participate in the clipmark community sharing information.
When I find a resource, website, or article that I want to keep, I decide how to mark it for future use. I usually bookmark the site on Del.icio.us. If it’s an article that I want to refer to in a future presentation or blog, I use Clipmarks. Google reader lets me “star” a blog entry or news article. If I find a resource that I know is useful for teachers, I’ll add the site to my wiki.

I have a real problem with collecting all this stuff. I need time to sift through all the information and organize and annotate the best resources. I have a huge collection of interesting stuff. I just need to put it to good use.

 

In November, there was a lot of buzz about a particular librarian in New Jersey and her anti-wikipedia campaign. I read about it in one my favorite blogs, Dangerously Irrelevant. Around the same time, I was up against a very small battle with teachers regarding wikipedia. The argument against wikipedia is valid. The articles can be modified by anyone, creating an opportunity for inaccuracies. Teachers who are against Wikipedia want to take the extreme position that the site should be completely avoided. I find that once we discuss the format of the site including the features of wikis in general, safeguards put in place to prevent all out vandalism of articles, and the Nature Magazine study comparing the results to Britannica the tone of the discussion usually changes. I can usually convince teachers that Wikipedia is a fine place to start gathering information, particularly if one needs some basic background information. After all, Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia never intended for the site to be used for “serious research”. When teachers complain that students should never check Wikipedia because the content is created by “anyone”, they are missing the point. “Anyone” includes experts in the fields, graduate students, professionals (like teachers), and people who care a great deal about the content of the article because the subject matter is their passion. Just as we would never want students to use an encyclopedia article as the only source in an essay or research paper, we could recommend that if Wikipedia is used, the student must add a resource to their list of sources sited. In addition, high quality Wikipedia articles include a bibliography, from which further research can be done. I can make a really good case for using Wikipedia and I’ve even had a few workshop attendees sign up for an account and begin an article about their own school or parish.

Here’s the weird thing - with lots of discussion about how “dangerous” it is to ask the community or the public to write articles for one of the most widely used online encyclopedias, why don’t we hear an equal amount of caution about asking the community/public to tag and comment on the photos from Library of Congress’ Flickr collection? I see no caution that the public will negatively impact the integrity of the project with inappropriate comments or irrelevant tags. By the way, Library of Congress sounds ecstatic over the results of their pilot so far.