If you urgently need me...

If you are among the 1 or 2 people who actually keep up with my blog I can be reached on this beach from now until April 9th. You will find me there with a small blond boy, covered in sand and a baby girl doubling as a sand monster. I will be the one with a cold drink, a big smile on my face, and sand between my toes anxiously awaiting the arrival of the daily breeze so I can join my friend Mark and we cruise the turquoise waters of Las Terrenas with kites fully powered.

If I don't see you there, I guess I'll meet you back in the blogosphere on the 9th.

Nos vemos y cuidate!

In Response to Warlick's Question

Please look over at my colleague, Mark Picketts' response to Warlick's posting You just Got the Nod...

Some interesting changes that will take place here at Carol Morgan in the near future that should take us a step or two closer to having a school facility to handle the demands of the 21st century classroom.

Literature circles

This video about conducting literature circles is on Teacher Tube and was made by several of our elementary and middle school staff. Check it out and pass it on to your language arts teachers, reading/writing specialists, or anyone else who might find it helpful. It is a long video so it might take a while to fully load depending on your Internet connection.

Alan November Interviews Dr. Yong Zhao: Part I

I highly recommend listening to the newest interview on Alan November's blog if you can find the time. Some very good forward thinking and analysis about what American schooling is missing in his interview with Dr. Yong Zhao, what we are up against in terms of competing with Chinese and Indian schools. Anyway, I especially found the portions about students as contributors to communities a refreshing idea and one that i have been tossing around for a while. What would a school that based itself on student centered community projects and businesses look like. The kids would come to "work" not "school", they would contribute to a need of the community, they would learn while doing. Certainly this is not a radical thought, but getting there seems like a radical journey from the type of school that is the norm in the world today. My fourth graders for the last two weeks have been working on a business plan of their own that they will then have to execute. Most are selling baked goods but some are offering services. I really have gotten into this project with the kids and I think this is exactly the kind of project we need to see more of to make learning relevant to our students. My favorite student idea is offering the service of waiting in the lunch line for a small fee for students so they can go play . Who wouldn't want to pay that so they could max their recess time instead of standing in the cafeteria waiting for food. And, as the student pointed out (a fourth grader mind you), "there is no overhead in offering a service Mr. D., so I think we can get the most profits that way."


Warlick's got me thinking

Warlick's post a while ago has had me really thinking for the last week or so about my role and my title. Apparently I was not the only one either since the post "Are Computers a Tool?" has had 11 comments. This post started out with the following passage
There are a number of phrases that we use in our ed tech speak that, though useful in some contexts, might actually do more harm than good. One is Integrating Technology or Technology Integration. I’ve talked this one down for years, that it isn’t about integrating technology, but integrating the digital skills that are a crucial part of contemporary literacy. Integrate the skills, and the tech has to come along.
What has me thinking is this idea of Technology Integration and the notion of it carrying a negative stigma, or rather an unwelcome inferred message. I guess my problem comes when I look at my own role at my school, Carol Morgan. As the Elementary Tech. Facilitator (definitely not a Tech. Integrator) it is my job to meet with my grade level teams and to implement technology into their respective unit or lesson plans for a given cycle. However, I'm wondering, isn't that integration? Is it so bad if it is? Most of what I am doing is taking the traditional teaching lessons the teachers are doing in class and adding a tech. element to them . We are making students use digital skills to a task that could also easily be done with paper and pencil. So, am I facilitating or integrating? The computer and the selected program(s) we use for any given lesson is THE tool to take a traditional lesson to the next level but the deeper question that begs asking is what is happening in the classroom? If the computer is THE tool, then shouldn't the kids be on the computer for all lessons? Shouldn't every lesson, every day be about using Digital Skills? And, if this tool shouldn't be integrated but rather just used as if it was the same as a pencil (we don't have pencil integration specialists) than what would that look like? Would the classrooms here be 1:1, would every teacher here have advanced training/degrees in Educational Technology? If the computer is THE tool than what is the need of the whiteboard, the television, the desk, the book, or the pencil? What is the use of walls or the institution, why not just use the computer from home? Certainly I am not saying I am in favor of getting rid of "schools" as we know them now (walls, rooms, etc.)-not yet anyway, but where does this notion of the computer being IT, THE TOOL, THE ONE and ONLY stop? Furthermore, I'm not sure about your school but mine is no where close to being ready for a 1:1 classroom in the high school let alone in the elementary. As Jamie McKenzie often points out, it is less about the hardware, software and wires but more about pedagogy, questioning, and using the computer as a tool where and when it best fits.

At the end of the day for me, If I can integrate tech into what would be a standard paper and pencil lesson that also is getting kids to think critically, collaborate, and carry on conversation about the project or process and use their digital skills to accomplish a task then I go home feeling good.

I thought this blog would help me decide what to make my title in my signature on my outlook messages, but I am still going around in circles like I was when I started this post. I think this week I will settle on Jeff Dungan, Digital Skills Integration Facilitator Specialist. Yep, that should cover it.

1001 Project Update

What a long strange trip it has been....but we have made it. George, my third grade teacher participating in the 1001 Flat World Tales Project has posted his stories to the CMS Elementary Wiki. I will say this, I am impressed how George and his kids went about this project. George seeing an opportunity to tie the project into his curriculum had his kids explore "known" myths that the kids were familiar with. After partnering George with our writing specialist, Cassia they had kids dissect myths and determine what the "anatomy" of a myth is. From here kids were able to invent their own myths about certain aspects of Do Culture, Music, etc. Truly I am impressed and I think this pushed George's third graders to think a little differently about their writing. Did I mention the art to go along with the writings? Each student also has contributed an illustration of their story and Iminican Republic Geography, have not seen those but with the imagination I saw in the students as I looked over some of their myth stories, I no doubt will be equally impressed with those as well.

I will be honest about the next step of revision. I do feel a little intimidated for our kids being a grade lower than the kids we are sharing with and being the only non-native English speaking elementary class in the 1001 Project. But, I guess that is part of the experience and will hopefully be a cultural learning experience for our kids to read what native speaking children write like and vice versa on the part of the classes in the U.S.

Anyway, I have to now contact Terry Smith and Dean Meyer and let them know that kids can start revising our kids and to let them know that we will be doing the same for their students.

I'll keep you posted...whoever you are.

A Call to Question

I finally have found some time to update so here goes it. First some updates. I finally have a class here working diligently to catch up and get their 1001 Flat World Tales stories Posted. I have had a lot of contact with Terry Smith (Missouri) and Dean Meyer (Michigan) about pairing students up for collaboration and revisions. The wikis for this have been working well, and I have enjoyed setting up a wiki for the Carol Morgan School elementary classes. After playing around with it, a little I found it very easy to edit the navigation page, to build internal and external links, and to customize the site. I have a few ideas for future workshops for the CMS staff here kicking around now. George tells me that his kids will have their stories up and ready by the middle of next week and it is neat to see his kids engaged in the writing process. I also paired George up with our elementary writing specialist and she is pretty excited and is tossing around the idea of getting some of the younger elementary kids going on it as well. It was fun to see her get more and more excited as the details of the project became clearer and clearer. I think that is the nature of these international collaborative projects that once you understand how special the learning interactions can be, it is hard to think just inside your own classroom walls anymore.

Other related but different news is that I have led one of my 5th grade classes into the Comparing Our World project that Chris Craft started. Along with Kim Cofino’s class and Chris’ class we will be doing a cultural survey of our respective cultures based on aspects such as dress, food, traditions, sports, economics, etc. While this project is not as extensive as the other cultural project Kim is doing, International Teen Life, this will serve as a nice smaller scale project as we head towards the end off the school year. God, did I say that? It is hard to believe that there are only 2 ½ months left in the school year. It was nice to be able to Skype with Chris this week and toss around ideas and logistics to make his project even stronger. Thanks Chris for being open. Among some of those ideas were formation of some good essential questions to drive student learning and the outcomes for the project. It is our hope that with these in place, the reflection piece of this project will pack more punch for the students and will enable them to see the “bigger picture’ of why these types of international, cross cultural collaborations are essential for learning in the 21st Century.

This all brings me to my final point which I just touched on above, questioning. I am sure many of my readers (do I even have any??? Who cares I’m on a roll) are familiar with the work of Jaime McKenzie and his push for using questioning to stimulate higher level thinking and problem solving skills in our classrooms. As a science teacher I embraced much of what he preached and was happy with my kid’s results. With the right questions, kids are forced to actually think, and we get away from the regurgitative (I don’t think this is a word but I like it so it will stay) state that educations still seems content to languish in. We also get away from having to use plagiarism sites such as turn it in.com to check the originality of student work. With good essential questions there typically is no “right” answer ands they push the students to synthesize information that is presented and to form and opinion or viewpoint based on knowledge. I think this falls in line with what Clay Burell has been also discussing with how teachers might be the death of blogging. Really it all comes back to good educational design in the classroom, starting with the teacher asking him or herself, what is the essential understandings(s) I am trying to reach with this, blog, wiki, podcast,etc. Before we encourage staff to take this technological leap and to use these technologies, we first have to make sure that sound pedagogy is behind it. After determining essential understandings we then should consider what are the big, open ended, questions that we can ask our students to facilitate the higher level, critical thinking skills that we want our students to posses when they leave our classrooms. I feel without these aspects to any unit, assignment, etc. we are simply teaching traditionally, herding our students, and these technologies as Clay notes, simply become more technologically advanced methods of homework collection.

20 Minutes Well Spent

I want to share the link to the Meeting Clay Burell, Terry Smith and I had on Friday afternoon concerning Elementary Schools involvement in the 1001 Flat World Tales Project. The meeting, while very brief (20 minutes) was, as Clay points out, extremely productive for all three of us. Makes me wonder, what if we limited all staff meetings to 20 minutes? HMMMM?

Listen to the podcast HERE

What's Happening?

After reading Jeff Utecht's blog yesterday titled "We're gettin there" before leaving school, I knew I had to write the new going's on here at Carol Morgan. I'm not sure what is going on here in terms of tech. integration, but I have a really good feeling about the way things are going, especially in the last week. I have been working with teachers both in the elementary school and the middle school the last few weeks helping them develop projects. It has been great for me to get back with some of my old middle school colleagues after being in the elementary school and to catch up with them and see what they are doing this year. Here is a snapshot of what is going on.

  • Lissa Swiryn our 6th grade Language arts teacher who routinely uses literature circles in her class decided to give blogging a try. You can view her blog HERE. I set up her blog account with her, gave her a crash course on posting and showed her how kids can make comments and...BAM. She is off and running now. Here is a little blurb about how she gave the kids an option on what mode they could keep track of thoughts while reading

    • "Students are involved in literature circles and come together as a group each class to discuss literary concepts and answer questions. They read independently the night before each meeting. As they read, the students write down questions, connections, or emotions about the book. They have a choice to record these notes in the form of sticky notes in the book, in a written journal, or in a journal response on the blog."
I really appreciated Lissa's willingness to try blogging for the first time, but even more, I appreciated the fact that she did not force this new method in her class on her kids, instead she allowed the the choice to try it out voluntarily (See "Power to the Students"). She know tells me almost 100% of her kids are using the blog. Of course when pressed why they are using it more than paper pencil methods, most answer,"I don't know...It's just cool." Hell, if writing in response to a novel is cool in 6th grade, I'm a happy tech. facilitator.

  • Kathryn Wagner our ESL Specialist in the Middle School has just finished her first podcast with her students and is, I believe, a first here at Carol Morgan. You might say, Ok, podcast big deal, but if you know what a technophobe Kathryn WAS you might get how cool this one really is. Obviously as a first try the podcast is a little rough, but it is well thought out and the writing and composing and speaking (what I feel to be the real value of podcasts) have been worked on and revised over the span of a few weeks. Here is a little blurb from her SharksCast blog (the Shark is our mascot by the way).

    • "My Literacy Skills class is now working on the writing section of the year. One way that we are doing this is by writing for a podcast that we have created pertaining to CMS middle school news and a bit of the outside world. The name, structure, and segments of the podcast were all student generated. Each child is responsible for researching, drafting, editing, and finalizing their writing for their specific segment. After much listening and critiquing other podcasts, we have finally completed our first one. Because this is our first it’s very, very rough, but the kids are pretty proud of their work. To make this even more meaningful, I’m asking those of you who have speakers to share the podcast with your homebase today. Please inform the students that because the first time process was longer than we expected, much of the information is out of date. We plan on doing this every two cycles and we’d love to have the other 6th graders be a part of our process as we continue to get better, smoother, and more creative. I’ve attached a link to our blog which has the podcast link. Also, please encourage your students to log on at home and leave us a comment. Within no time, my students will be posting their own comments on the blog as well."
I am really proud of both these middle school teachers for taking the risk to try out new things in class, to push themselves, and to learn some new skills which hopefully will be incorporated regularly into their classes now. However, i think the bigger issue here is that there is a new spark going on here that is starting to catch fire. Of course we have a long way to go until the majority of our staff uses Web 2.0 daily in their classroom delivery, but I am really excited at this start we have going.

  • Mark Picketts, our HS tech facilitator is working with his students on presentation skills. Taking a nod from Chris Craft's blogs about presentations (Read, 'Don't read to me...") He along with our Seniors are working on perfecting their presentations for their Senior Extended Essay (Read S.E.E. on Mark's Blog). As a content advisor for one of these students I look forward to seeing and hearing the final products that the students have poured so much effort into.
I guess that's it for now, I have some good new stuff to update on Kim Cofino's wiki-Tech in the Middle. Before signing off, I would like to give a shout out to David Warlich's and Viki Davis' blogs today as they both have posts dealing with the devastation in Alabama and Georgia from the recent tornadoes. Take a look at David's picture he posted, it is worth way more than 1000 words.