The “E” in ePortfolio- A Reflection

This past fall our Superintendent shared with us her four main initiatives.  One of them to have every student K-12 create a living portfolio that showcases student learning.  The platform to deliver this… Google Sites.

What happened next was a concerted effort by our instructional team to help train teachers, support students and intentional time spent with students to get started.

When the educational world is in an uproar over testing and common core, ePortfolios show what can happen when effective instructional practices are in place and high expectations, married with freedom of choice, are communicated with students.  ePortfolios is authentic learning at its best.

But authentic learning aside, what happened with students is the story worth telling.

Students embraced the ePortfolios.  Eager to have choice in design and input on what would be included changed how students and teachers viewed learning.  It suddenly became about what is best about the student and not a compliance about products that “must” be included.

Follow the link below to our District IT blog to see how one student,  with teacher’s guidance, fully embraced the idea of ePortfolios and ran with it..

(Northwest ISD Instructional Technology Blog: “Making IT Click”)

 

When Control Sinks Your Ship…

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Co-authored by Middle School Tech Club Sponsors Susan Fitzgerald, Library Media Specialist and Kirsten Wilson, Instructional Technology Coach
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In days gone by, the teacher was the sage on the stage –  the expert in the room.  Today educators are working with a population of post-modern learners with needs and learning styles that are very different from their industrial-age parents and grandparents.  Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until  2003, according to Google CEO, Eric Schmidt.[3]
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With that in mind, it is unrealistic nor good instructional practice to presume the teacher remain the expert and captain of the ship.  For motivation, passion and creativity to be fostered in students, we have to stop being the tyrannical Captain and become the endearing Love Boat Captain Merril Stubing.
When we started this voyage, the intention of the Tech Club was to foster student engagement with the district’s implementation  of ePortfolios through Google Sites.  What happened then was much like the legend of Blackbeard, in that our well-intentioned Tech Club was “hi-jacked” and the resources were pillaged for their treasure by a group of Pirate Coders.
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These Pirate Coders, a group of 7th graders, took our Tech Club premise and revamped the course.  They needed a place to congregate, collaborate and create.  Perhaps they saw something in us that we weren’t even aware was in us… but somehow they knew we were up for a mutiny on the Bounty.  They wanted to overhaul the Tech Club for the purpose of learning coding and programming and we seized the opportunity for the challenge.
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The realization that there was a treasure to be discovered was during the HourofCode.org event in early December.  It was at this point that our students began presenting self-written code that created things such as browsers, calculators with square root function, and operating systems.
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As facilitators we shared the message of coding, created an online course to help access resources and allow for collaborative discussion forums.  Every time we met they collaborated, learned, and coached one another.  Soon we knew their message and passion-driven work needed to be shared beyond our school.  Our districts technology showcase TechnoExpo was the perfect forum to share the Pirate Coders’ treasure chest of learning. To a standing-room only audience, the Tech Club presented their message of passion about coding, goals and big ideas.  They were even solicited for their autographs… our Pirate Coders were legendary.
Pirate Coders (Tech Club members)  took the helm from there.  They were ready for their next voyage… they were headed into the winds with full sails. Together the Pirate Coders knew, to achieve their goals, they would have to organize their resources.  A constitution and bylaws was written, an executive council was elected, they collaborated through their Google accounts, and a platform for sharing lesson plans on coding (including languages like batch, c++, dos, and java script),  was developed.
Who knew letting these Pirate Coders take over our ship would have taken us to this place.  We haven’t reached our destination but we are so glad we changed from the traditional educational route.  We are here to keep them in safe waters, but not keep them from taking an exciting new course.  They set the course with their coordinates.  We are here to help maintain the ship… but they are here to navigate the ship.  For that we are glad… had we not seen the beauty in the horizon, we might had never left the port.
All photographs compliments of Sue Fitzgerald and Kirsten Wilson.

[2] “Clipart – Teacher Lämpel – Open Clip Art Library.” 9 Mar. 2014 <http://openclipart.org/detail/10362/teacher-l%C3%A4mpel-by-stefanvonhalenbach-10362>
[3] “Eric Schmidt: Every 2 Days We Create As Much Information As We ...” 2010. 7 Mar. 2014 <http://techcrunch.com/2010/08/04/schmidt-data/>
[4] “The Love Boat – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” 2004. 9 Mar. 2014 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Love_Boat>
[5] “Blackbeard – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” 2004. 9 Mar. 2014 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackbeard>
[7] “TechnoExpo.” 2013. 9 Mar. 2014 <http://technoexpo.nisdtx.org/>

This post is also cross posted at Tech Super Coders Blog.

Delivering a Message… the Power of Video

I have been participating in the #blogamonth challenge since January 1, 2014.  I needed a “push” to keep me blogging, or so I thought.  Then I realized, through the #blogamonth website I had more material to work from than I ever thought “worthy.” Which brings me to my first “video” that I share with teachers, administrators, parents, students and, frankly, anyone.

Obvious to You, Amazing to Others by Derek Sivers 1

I most often use this video when helping students brainstorm ideas for Genius Hour, but what I am finding that this video is powerful at encouraging teachers and administrators to take risks and collaborate more transparently, move from lurker to participant on Social Media when utilized for professional development.  I believe it may even be a catalyst for “closet bloggers” who have blog posts and even private blog sites but never make them public.

The second video was shared with me two years ago by my very progressive and forward thinking principal Michael Griffin (now Executive Director of Elementary Education in my district).  This completely changed the way teachers on my campus and my grade level team approached instruction.  Interesting enough, this same video was shared with my newly formed Instructional Technology Team at the inception of the 2013-14 year to help guide our focus as we moved forward to re-define instructional technology, first for our district, and secondly globally.

Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action 2

Finally, I would not be who I say I am if I did not include this final video.  Often the best videos are the ones that our own students create.  The video I am sharing is a math tutorial video created by a student on one of the campuses I support.  The crafting of the video, the variety of technology utilized and the level of engagement it demands of it’s audience makes it exceptional conceptually and technologically.  I use this as a way to share with teachers what students can do when they are given the freedom of choice and the content is evaluated rather than tool focused.

“Expert Math Project” by a 7th Grade Math Student

As a reflection, videos I select serve the purpose of learning to inspire, question and challenge.  If a video does not create a sense of urgency to be better, do better and create a passion for learning then it shouldn’t be shown; but in turn creates an opportunity for new, more dynamic videos to be created by us or, even more likely, our students.

How are you using the Power of Video to deliver your message, or even more, how are your students taking the learning goals presented to them to showcase their learning in a way so powerful others can learn as well?

1 “Obvious to you. Amazing to others. – by Derek Sivers – YouTube.” 2011. 2 Mar. 2014 <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcmI5SSQLmE>

2 “Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action | Video on TED.com.” 2010. 3 Mar. 2014 <http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html>

When being connected is more than a PLN…

My one year anniversary as an active participant on Twitter just passed.  In that time I have become a regular participant in several Twitter chats, began the very blog I am writing this post for, read “Teach Like a Pirate” and did my first online book chat, attended my first #edcampHOME, launched Genius Hour in my own classroom, encouraged others to embrace the idea of Genius Hour, entered into a new position as an Instructional Technology Coach and wrote my first educational magazine article (see my previous post- Genius Hour- From Another Perspective).

While I give oodles of credit to the impact of being connected through the formats of Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Google Hangouts…. Twitter having the greatest influence; the whirlwind of growth stems from much more than just being connected through Social Media.  Being virtually connected is an exercise in vain if the learning/knowledge gained isn’t carried back into the live learning environment of classrooms and colleagues.

It amazes me that when the senses are heightened with learning and growth how every contact, conversation and connection lends itself to strengthening and affirming that process. The articles that are shared with me, conversations of collaboration, current events, books, a sermon, and/or reflection, without intention, will present a common thread or threads of truth about this process of learning, teaching and connectedness.

My church’s recent sermon series is one such example of how being aware of our personal learning and the affirmation of the process comes from a multitude of formats.

The series was called: The Red Zone (it’s Texas and it’s Super Bowl season)

While the implications of this lesson were an inspiration and challenged me, I immediately saw the application of the five key words (Connect, Grow, Honor, Serve, and Share) in the realm of the professional educator.

Connect- To be effective we must connect through Social Media, in our Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), and with our professional associations. We can no longer be an island on our own.  We need each other, we need the knowledge; our students deserve a well-connected educator.

Grow- We must have a growth-mindset.  Learning is vast and inexhaustible.  At every turn new learning/knowledge is being created.  What was once a hard and fast rule has more than one way to get to the same solution.  We must be divergent in our thinking, flexible in our learning and adaptive in our approach.  There is nothing static in the instruction provided to our students. Why should we think our own professional learning would be static?

Honor- As we connect and grow it can be messy.  Honor the process.  Reflect often and celebrate the successes as well as the learning that resulted in the midst of adventurous risks that didn’t turn out as planned.  Honoring the risks, the learning both in the instruction and the reflection are essential.  Often this piece is overlooked. If educators don’t take time to honor and reflect on their practice nor give their students the opportunity to honor the process of learning, the significance of the growth that may have occurred is lost.  Honor gives learning significance; it provides a marker point.

Serve- Servant leadership has been given a substantial amount of attention in recent years.  How one serves as an educator is an individual choice, but this profession, as a calling and serves a greater purpose.  We serve to develop life-long learners, and grow future leaders.  Our presence and partnership with stakeholders impact community.  We understand our outreach, to be effective in the classroom, must go beyond the classroom.

Share- To be truly effective as an educator we have relied on the collaboration and mentor-ship of others. We in turn share our humble craft. Transparency is key as we share relevant strategies, effective interventions and innovative ideas.  To support one another we must be a willing, available and essential resource.

This job, that is a calling, brings its own set of challenges, celebrations, and surprises.  The beauty of a calling is that it is connected to every aspect of who you are, to the core.  While most who are educators agree this is a job like no other, I believe it is our connectedness that makes our individual way in which we approach the craft perfection. It’s not an easy craft, but when it is our passion intertwined with all aspects of life, the difficulties pale in comparison to the joy of the journey.

Genius Hour- from another perspective

I just recently was published in TechEdge Magazine through TCEA on the topic of Genius Hour. It was a huge honor and happened all because of connections both professionally through the TCEA network and through my wonderful #geniushour PLN.
The biggest factor in Genius Hour being a success was transparency, collaboration and continually keeping it student focused. Initially when the article went “live” a week and a half ago I was embarrassed by my colleagues congratulations. This whole journey and my passion to share has been driven by the lights that were brightened in my student’s eyes when they discovered learning from the most meaningful place… their passions. This wasn’t about my success or my teaching, this was about them. So it feels wrong to know that I published this article on the experience of their re-awakening to learning.
My solace is in knowing that the message cannot stop with me and knowing that in my new role as an Instructional Facilitator I can be an ambassador and guide for those teachers wanting to launch their own Genius Hour.
I have benefited from those that have gone before me because of their transparency, encouragement and humility. In the Genius Hour inner circle it isn’t about accolades or selfish gain. They all see the greater purpose… students being truly passionate learners and active positive contributors to their world.
So I share the link to my article, not for bragging rights but to provide yet another layer in the message of the calling to bring passionate learning opportunities to all classrooms and beyond.

Image of Tech Edge Article

Genius Hour, TechEdge Magazine, TCEA, February 2014, by Kirsten Wilson

I hope you enjoy it and it encourages you in your own journey or inspires you to take this journey of passionate learning called Genius Hour with your students. If Genius Hour goes viral the world will never be the same!

#edCampHome and #nisdpd: Taking Control of Your PD

Events:

January 4th, 2014 #edCampHome

January 6th, 2014 #nisdpd Northwest ISD Winter Professional Development Day

Premise of Events:

#edCampHome

Educators meet up through Google+ through pre-registered event organized by David Theriault, Kelly Kermode, Karl Lindgren-Steicher, and Shawn White

Pre-registered participants post in Google+ topics they would like to discuss or moderate and others can +1 or comment on that topic the day before

On the day an introduction occurs live in Google Hangouts, streamed through YouTube and followed through http://www.edcamphome.org while participants simultaneously chat/exhange ideas via Twitter. Once introductions are done and moderators are secured, invitations are sent to participants who have selected topics to participate via Google Form. Two sessions with this approach took place.

Finally, a Slam wrapped up where participants could enter into the Google Hangout and offer an application, insight or suggestion regarding some aspect of education and technology.

#nisdpd Northwest ISD Winter Professional Development Day

For the first time Northwest ISD Department of Curriculum and Staff Development turned to their own educators and expertise to provide one another the opportunity to share learning with one another. Teachers, Instructional Coaches and Curriculum Writers were given the opportunity to create, submit proposals and ultimately present relevant educational content for district employees. Participants were provided with a menu of options through an app that gave a brief description, time of scheduled PD and location.

Offerings were as vast in variety as any edCamp from what I could tell (my experience still is extremely limited). Often courses met needs for fellow colleagues that are in the moment and speak to the specific learning needs of the teachers in our district. There were two 75 minute sessions in the morning, with time for reflection and sharing on individual campuses in the afternoon. Size of the district created an interesting dynamic that resulted in secondary teachers attending professional development tailored to 6-12 grade on one high school campus and elementary teachers attending sessions tailored to K-5 instructional needs on the other high school campus.

My Role:

#edCampHome

This was my first edCamp. I was an active participant in the “Genius Hour/20% Time” and “GAFE Discussion.” I was very nervous about getting all the technology working right with the Google Hangouts (this was my first experience with Hangouts). Because of my naivete with Hangouts I played it safe with content and chose to go with content I was more familiar with rather than content I had no previous knowledge. I kept wondering if there was a protocol or etiquette to Hangouts as we met, and was I following it. However, I knew the premise from my previous research on edCamps was a round-table discussion and collaboration/sharing was essential to the success of a session.

Unfortunately, I had to leave before the Slam session was over but listened in for a little while. I hope to budget my time the next time I attend and edCamp where I can stay for the entire Slam.

#nisdpd Northwest ISD Winter Professional Development Day

I have presented at several of my District’s professional development days, but this one was different. Not only were Teachers given choice on what they would attend, but presenters were given full freedom to develop and design their training to offer. This was unprecedented and the excitement for those presenting and those participating was palatable.

During this time I was a facilitator for Eric Braun of 30Hands.com who joined us virtually through join.me and a presenter for Genius Hour. In both cases I was hoping to share ways that teachers can enhance instruction and student product through technology integration and challenge them to move into the modification and redefinition levels of learning with technology.

Reflection:

#edCampHome

This experience was a series of firsts for me. My first edCamp, Google+ active community, and Google Hangout. I was a bit overwhelmed before it even began and looking back I think that kept me from picking sessions I knew nothing about. I already was feeling like a fish out of water with all the firsts that were occurring to add to that seemed more than I was ready to process. Now I think I should have just jumped into it. I held myself back.

Despite the mistake of not jumping into unknown with more verve I did learn so much my mind was still swimming 24 hours later. I also fostered new professional relationships, and continue to have my theory that choice and social media (particularly Google+ Communities, Google Hangouts and Twitter) are the future of authentic educational professional development.

My take away that I want to explore more was from Nikki Robertson’s share during “GAFE Discussion” where she shared about her teachers using Doctopus and Goobric: http://www.nikkidrobertson.com/2013/12/google-drive-doctopus-goobric-pd-session.html

There was a word of caution from our moderator Ryan Archer, who had experienced some challenges with teachers becoming frustrated with these two Google Apps. I like the sharing and transparency that took place. Nikki’s exuberance and Ryan’s cautious bidding helped me to mentally prepare as I step into this new “try it.”

My wish was that I had not run out of time to participate. Because of time I had to leave before time was over for the Slam session for #edCampHome. This is where each person that signs up in a Google Spreadsheet Doc can share in 2 minutes or less a new technology application, idea or idea. I have heard the 20 minute Slam session is like winning the Technology Application Idea Lottery. The next #edcampHOME is in July… I will make sure to plan so that I am able to stick around for the Slam! (Here is the YouTube of the entire Instructional Before, Mid and Slam Session part of #edcamHOME: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8hvq4tHepw )

#nisdpd Northwest ISD Winter Professional Development Day

I loved this day for what it was… and the promise of what it may be progressing towards. In many ways, even though it was more structured and had more of a lecture/presentation format, it had the subtle undertones of an edCamp. People voted with their feet. Participants determined for themselves what they would attend based on their professional growth needs.

My perspective as a presenter was different from a participant, but I heard the buzz of excitement about what they learned in other sessions. I saw teachers immediately putting into action strategies, technology and instructional practices that afternoon and into the next day.

I sensed the journey of change that began about a year ago with professional development in our district, that was gradual before January 6th, go from ideas and conversations to a full on implemented head-long run into professional development designed, driven and delivered by teachers for teachers. I saw what had been pockets of collaboration blown wide open where sharing is at a frenzy, and teachers freely turn to their right or left in a room full of instructional engineers to further their own learning.

I am excited, as I said before, about the promise of what is coming. I don’t know fully what it is, but change is in the air for our district and the approach to professional development. The change, I sense is sweet and swift. It will challenge us all. It will redefine us all. Most importantly it will benefit our students and their learning in ways our imaginations can’t even begin to fathom.

Final Thoughts
While the two Professional Development opportunities I participated in were vastly different and my role was vastly different, they are similar in the deepest and most important way. They both provide choice and put the responsibility for growth and learning firmly in the hands of the educator. Traditional professional development frameworks address learning in a one-size-fits all, lecture style, sit-n-get, sage on the stage style. Both #edcampHOME and #nisdpd Northwest ISD Winter Professional Development were progressive and forward-thinking. Attendees of either or both left with knowledge and possibility that when acted upon will do what we all hope: make the experience and environment for learning for our students challenging, motivating, engaging and future-minded.

How to Eat an Elephant…

As we begin fresh with a new year, I know many of us have recharged, reflected and refocused.  We have personal and professional goals we have set for ourselves to better ourselves, better our world and better relationships.

When my students are faced with a new and sometimes daunting task I always refer to the riddle: “How do you eat an elephant?” they always smile (some giggle) and reply, “One bite at a time.”

Before we go head long into this year fire in our belly to achieve it all, a few words of encouragement and advice that may help you take that elephant and make it bite sized.

First, if you have set a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” (BHAG) or goals… good for you!  However, with big goals there can be a lot of small accomplishments along the way.  Be sure to break it down into smaller goals and celebrate achieving those goals in between.

Second, as a connected educator I have sometimes become overwhelmed with the amount of things to learn.  Instead of trying to “swallow the elephant whole” pick one thing at a time; “eat the elephant one bite at a time.”  Challenge yourself to learn at least one new thing or take one new action with instruction per social media chat, training or PLC meeting. When teachers attend my trainings I encourage them to take one thing from my professional development courses and use it immediately; then come back and revisit the other actions, resources and tools once they are ready. I have made it a practice after participating in a Twitter PLN chat, attended a training or collaborated during a PLC to jot a quick goal statement… i.e. “I will use One Note as a way to organize information and documents in regard to how I document/track the IT support I provide to my campuses beginning 2014.”

Third, reflect on your progress, challenges and new learning that has occurred in this journey of bettering yourself and the world.  It is in this reflection period that some of the greatest learning occurs for myself and my students.  This step sometimes creates more profound learning than the learning that led up to the reflection.

Finally, share with others both your goals and the results of your journey to achieve these goals.  Everyone needs accountability and encouragement.  Additionally, your insight, learning and knowledge is as unique and valued as you are.  You matter and the message your journey toward your goals provides you matter too.

I have a few Twitter PLNs that are helping me with a few of my goals. One is #blogamonth to keep me on track to share with others my learning along the way.  The second is #500in2014 which has helped me to keep running… this year running at least 500 miles.  Setting goals is admirable, sharing with others is both heroic and a bit daunting, but knowing you have the support of a virtual or face to face community is priceless.

What are your goals for 2014? It’s not about eating and elephant whole, but one bite at a time.  Feel free to share your goals or comment.