Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Perhaps Small Is The New Huge

cc licensed image shared by flikr user pulihora

Forty two million new web pages were created last year and educational technology expert Adam Bellow recommended in a session at ISTE (Interational Symposium on Tech Education) trying just one. Perhaps small is the new huge.

Thinking small, or rather thinking focused, is an initially counterintuitive insight to have taken from a conference of the massive scope of ISTE. I went to San Diego, guided by numerous blog posts on how to avoid being overwhelmed by the immensity of the event: plan "must dos" in advance, leave time for serendipitous conversations, and wear comfortable shoes so as to be able to cover as much ground as possible at least literally if not figuratively.

Taking the advice seriously, I planned my ISTE strategy, making the deliberate decision to veer away from the "big names" of ed tech (although I couldn't resist learning at sessions with several ed tech leaders whose writings have guided me). Instead, I sought to connect mostly with by no means "small names" but with important voices not necessarily acclaimed; in the trenches teachers striving to make a positive difference in their schools by integrating technology to improve the quality of learning for their students. I was profoundly inspired by the array of talent among presenting teachers who are engaging students in blogging, electronic portfolios, collaborative writing, multimedia presentations, and global collaborations. I was similarly impressed by the tremendous ability and accomplishment of participants at the conference learning together. I found guidance and wisdom in areas of great interest to me.

I returned home and reflected, intending to make some initial decisions on how I might bring my learning at ISTE back to my school, wondering whether I as a principal might potentially teach courses in which students create and collaborate through blogging and electronic portfolios. Instead of rushing forward with plans, I gave myself permission to slow down and with the more relaxed pace of summer, allow learnings at ISTE to unfold and take shape in my mind without deadline. As the days and weeks passed, and the blog posts I intended to write about my experiences at ISTE swam in my head without making their way quickly into writing, I kept hearing the conversation beneath the conversation at ISTE - the passion of teachers, the gratitude toward principals who nurture and support teachers' passions, and the frustration with principals who do not as effectively nurture and support teachers' passions as effectively as they might.

I had come to ISTE with the essential question "how can I as a principal more effectively support teachers in my school to improve learning?" I wondered whether in answer to that essential question, the greatest insights might come not from the content of sessions, but rather from the emotions and longings teachers expressed quietly between the lines and beneath the content of sessions. I imagined what teachers at my school might present at a conference like ISTE and recognized a plethora of possibilities: using interactive white boards interactively in kindergarten and first grade, ipads as assistive technology for special education students, social media with training wheels: edmodo as a tool to introduce elementary school students to on-line creative collaboration, engaging families and students in learning through engaging teacher web pages, from voice threads to voki: giving voice to student voice, and flipping the classroom for the tech tentative teacher. The potential for creating a platform for teachers to share and to shine was sounding more and more compelling.

Paradoxically, perhaps the greatest gift I received at the ISTE mega conference was a new set of lenses through which to look at professional learning; focusing on small as the new huge. Forty two million new web pages were created last year. Even the most tech tentative among us can try just one. Perhaps that humble beginning will make a potent difference. Perhaps, just perhaps, small is the new huge.

Cross Posted on sharingourblessings.wordpress.com

Sunday, July 08, 2012

ISTE2012 IS OVER - NOW WHAT?

So, it has been over a week since I've returned from the best experience to kick start my summer: the ISTE12 conference.  Thanks to the generosity of the Avichai Foundation, I got to spend 4 glorious days in sunny San Diego, learning all about education in the 21st century.  In my previous blog post, I reflected on the "wow" effect this conference had on me.  In this blog post, after being back for over a week, I choose to focus on the take aways and lessons learned from this conference.  First and foremost, I think that the success of this conference is in the opportunity it gives educators to network and learn from each other.  In planning for the conference, I was so focused on choosing and re-choosing the sessions.  As great as those were, I think I learned the most from the people I had the privilege to interact with and have discussions with, and most importantly, will continue to remain in touch with. I got a chance to meet and learn from some gurus in the field, and I'm so grateful for that.  But, meeting educators from all over North America, connecting and learning from them, being able to continue these connections beyond the conference, is invaluable. Second, I was re-introduced to twitter. I had an account that I signed up for a long time ago. I was not really using that account much.  When at ISTE, you kind of have to tweet, just like the saying goes "when in Rome...". Everyone was blogging and tweeting. So did I.  Every session mentioned twitter (at some point), and I kind of got into it. The truth is that I really got back into it, and I haven't stopped ever since. I'm so impressed with the wealth of information that can be found on twitter,that I'm embarrassed that I haven't kept on top of my tweeting in the past while.  As a matter of fact, I've been following so many new hash tags and been so involved in new discussions, that it feels as if ISTE never ended.  And then there is what comes next, which is sharing.  I've taken so many notes and learned about so many apps, initiatives, ideas and projects, that I am bursting at the seams. I am trying different things, setting up initiatives for the fall, trying to bring forward different suggestions and idea to my team, wanting to implement some of the wonderful things I've learned about. That is what proves that ISTE was indeed worthwhile, if the takeaways from it can or would be implemented, if it was inspiring enough to be taken further.  I'm excited about the possibilities and am determined to take it further. Yes, it is kind of overwhelming... So many notes have been taken at the conference, so many ideas and apps have been introduced.  Trying to implement it all is simply impossible. But, I'm lucky to work with an amazing team of educators, who are used to me getting excited over new initiatives that have to with technology.  They are "on board" with me, willing to try it out and implement it with my support. What will be implemented at Associated Hebrew Schools this fall? Well, we intend to experiment with QR codes. This was a big take away for me.  I saw some great examples of using those in educational settings, and the away that the codes make teaching come to life and that is certainly one thing that we will implement in the fall. Also, our school has purchased several iPads this summer that will be deployed in September. Many of the sessions I took gave me tips, tricks and ideas of how to deploy and use those iPads successfully, not to mention a huge list of apps I would like to explore. A very exciting thing to look forward to. A third initiative that has been brewing in me since coming back from ISTE has to do with student blogging. I've attended several sessions outlining the success of allowing students to blog, the way different educators have implemented student blogging in their classroom. I've even learned about the flat classroom project where blogging connected children from across the globe. I intend to pursue this with my colleagues and take it further into the implementation stage.  Lastly, I would like to further my colleagues and my learning through our PLCs (I believe that it is PLCs in Canada and PLN in the US).  Sharing knowledge and ideas, learning and reflection can all be done through these wonderful networks and communities. Whether in school, on line, or otherwise, I look forward to sharing and continuing my learning and experimentation with technology in the classroom to promote student engagement and success. Once again, thanks Avichai for all that you've done to get me to ISTE. Todda Rabba! Wishing everyone a great summer,  Avital Aharon Associated Hebrew Schools Toronto, Canada

Friday, July 06, 2012

ISTE 2012: Large-Picture Take Aways


The learning that took place at the ISTE Conference (at least for me), took place everywhere: in the exhibition hall, the various sessions, the lobbies, outdoor patios, meeting rooms and shuttle bus, not to mention our Avi Chai sessions each evening.  There are a lot of great teachers and administrators out there and I found myself trying to absorb as much as possible throughout.

That being said, the experience was also overwhelming, especially when I stopped to think about the work ahead and the feeling that no matter how pro-active we are, the risk of treading water or falling behind the eight ball looms heavily in my thoughts.  How can our school, or any school, implement all of the tools, applications or educational approaches that were presented at ISTE?  How can I possibly follow and learn something from all of my new twitter connections?  How many of the various tools presented in the exhibition hall can any one school adopt, even if budget were not an issue (which it is)? 
Then came my AHA moment…provided by a wide variety of my ISTE “teachers.”

§                     Take away one or two terrific ideas, tools or implementation ideas from any given session or discussion.
§                     Don’t worry about the tweets you miss.  Rather, be excited to learn new ideas from the tweets you were able to read and process.  Whatever you DO read and learn is more than you would have discovered only a few days ago. 
§                     Share, share, share.  Do you have a great idea that worked in your school?  Don’t be proprietary…why shouldn’t students everywhere be able to benefit from your spark?  I met a young Spanish teacher who decided that she could not teach 11 year old kids using a 13 year old textbook.  So she created her own online textbook using weebly, which anyone can view and/or use.  Take a look at this:  http://spanishtechbook.weebly.com/
§                     Don’t be afraid of failure…your own and those of your teachers.  That’s how you learn.
§                     Put the education process in the hands of your students…let them own it.

So what am I going to do this summer to prepare for the 2012-13 school year as a result of participating in the ISTE Conference?

First and foremost, I am going to develop a number of action plans for the upcoming school year, focusing on:

1)      Establishing a resource wiki or site for our teachers suggesting various web tools and providing links to some of the wonderful projects and tools I learned about at ISTE.  I look forward to having teachers add their resources to the reference site as well as feedback from others who have tried new approaches or tools.
2)      Outlining a course of professional development for our faculty for the 2012-13 academic year.  The plan will include a combination of peer mentoring, online professional development,  as well as discussions, demonstrations and presentations on curriculum development and technology integration.
3)      Widening my own personal learning network – this was one of the main messages I took away from the ISTE Conference.  In order to grow professionally and impact the learning culture at our school, I must expand my PLN and learn from the experience of others.  I am awed by the quantity and quality of dedicated education professionals who are willing to share their ideas, knowledge and skills with anyone.  I intend to take advantage of their openness and smarts (and in turn share my newly acquired knowledge with colleagues at our school).  I will encourage our faculty members to establish and/or widen their own PLNs for the same purpose.
4)      I will investigate the concept and implementation options of blended learning to see if and how our students can benefit from this educational model, both in their secular and Judaic studies.

This is a great beginning and I am excited and grateful for the opportunity provided by the Avi Chai Foundation.  I hope that other members of our faculty and administration will be able to attend ISTE in future years.


Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Controlling the Technology Curriculum


Controlling the Technology Curriculum

“The war between the digital natives and the digital immigrants is over, and the natives won.”  (Marc Prensky in opening ISTE keynote).  The statement points to  technologies promise for student empowerment.  Yet, just as in earlier eras when learning centers, project-based learning and differentiated instruction held such possibility, there is always a pull in the opposite direction. 

Prensky got it right in the imagery of  a “battle”.  Those of us who believe in constructivist learning, need to leverage technology for this purpose.  Alan November's workshops were all about this - empowering our students to construct their own knowledge. The other guys (top down educators) who were quite apparent in many of the packaged education technology solutions presented in the exhibition hall will use technology for their ends -  skill based learning sells.  To be sure, there is a role for skill based learning - but a limited one - one that is in the service of higher order thinking.  But the natives will move on taking their learning outside of the classroom as they do now if school use of technologically reduces to skill-based learning only.

The ISTE conference was transformative for me in that it gave me the time, space and connections to reflect about these "big" technology issues.  In the past, I would have sent only my technology teacher to a conference like this.  Thank you Avi Chai for having the wisdom of sending a Head of School.  I now can engage (and already have) my whole staff to think carefully about our technology goals for our students.  I can envision a future and build capacity in the school to set us up for best practices in this area.  This week, I sent an email to my parent body and my staff explaining Alan November's lesson about searching for credible sources on the internet.  Although it is summer, I received more responses to that note than I have to most blogs and emails that I sent throughout the year to our community.

A few more thank yous are in order:  Thank you for bringing the day schools together - it was always comforting to see and to chat with colleagues in what could have been a very overwhelming, impersonal experience.  Thank you for orchestrating complicated food needs.  Finally, thank you for making me into a tweeter, albeit a timid tweeter, but a tweeter nonetheless.


Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Twitter Comes to Life at ISTE

I have written in the past about the importance that I attach to the social network Twitter, but the true importance of it was driven home to me on several occasions during last weeks conference of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). I knew going in that there would be many people there that I knew about via Twitter, perhaps because I follow them or perhaps because they are "Twitter rock stars". However, my own personal "Twitter moments" at the conference made the event something that it would not otherwise have been.

To wit:

1) No sooner had I boarded my plane Sunday morning and settled into my seat than the woman across from me asked me if I was going to ISTE. Turns out it was Dr. Shira Leibowitz (@shiraleibowitz), Principal of Solomon Schechter in Westchester, NY, an avid and respected tweep, both in Jewish and general education circles. Finally putting faces to the avatars, we had some fruitful discussions, occasionally joined by Dov Emerson (@dovemerson), founder of #jedchat and Assistant Principal at DRS-HALB on Long Island.

2) While waiting to enter the opening keynote, I finally met in person Debby Jacoby (@debbyj18) of the BJE in San Francisco, someone with whom I have been corresponding all year - to the point that we have already collaborated on several projects. I should note that that last statement is not strange in the twitterverse - several presentations at ISTE were co-run by people who considered themselves colleagues and friends yet had never met before coming to San Diego.

3) I walked into the conference on Monday morning and noticed a semi-familiar looking individual sitting on the floor (which is common at ISTE) perusing his daily schedule for the day. Taking a chance, I said, "Mr. Amidon?" - and Tyler Amidon (@mramidon), who I had only corresponded with via #edchat, looked up, recognized my Twitter name written on my badge, and wound up following me to the first session of the day. We would attend several other sessions together during the course of the conference, and have continued our dialogue in the week since. As he tweeted to me following the conference: "Chatting now will be that much richer now that I've shaken your hand!!"

4) I attended a panel session about flipped learning moderated by Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergman. During the session, I was tweeting notes and questions that I had about what was being discussed. Common practice is to do this mainly for those who cannot be in the session but want to follow it anyway (multitasking is very vibrant at ISTE). After I tweeted one question about something one of the panelists said, I glanced down and saw that he had tweeted me back an answer. This back-and-forth continued for a moment or two, and in the meantime others noticed the discussion and jumped in.

Now for the cool part. No sooner did the panel end when the person sitting in front of me turned around and asked if I was Rabbi Ross (my Twitter handle). When I replied yes, he introduced himself as the person who had just tweeted me a question, and we began speaking about creating online materials for Judaic Studies classes. As we made our way towards the door, someone else stopped me, and it turned out that she had also been following the tweets and suddenly we had a very rich conversation among five or six people about some new ideas in the Jewish classroom.

5) Of course, part of the way that I choose the sessions that I attended - out of several hundred choices - was by seeing which twitter heroes I wanted to hear from for more than 140 characters. As such, I had the pleasure of hearing Chris Lehmann (@chrislehmann) discuss his successes at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher) speak about wikis and the flat classroom, and George Couros (@gcouros) and Patrick Larkin (@patrickmlarkin) discuss visionary leadership and digital citizenship.

What is common in all of these anecdotes, and probably thousands of others that people could tell from ISTE, is that they highlighted the fact that Twitter is just a tool, but a very effective one. While I have learned much from so many people in snippet-length tweets, the most important thing to come out of all of that is the basis for real human interactions and relationships. Having interacted with people via Twitter, I knew to seek them out to learn more from them. I agree that networking with people in a blind fashion is missing something, but there is no question that it can certainly be a step to greater things.

(Cross-posted on jewishedd.blogspot.com)

Twitter Comes to Life at ISTE

I have written in the past about the importance that I attach to the social network Twitter, but the true importance of it was driven home to me on several occasions during last weeks conference of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). I knew going in that there would be many people there that I knew about via Twitter, perhaps because I follow them or perhaps because they are "Twitter rock stars". However, my own personal "Twitter moments" at the conference made the event something that it would not otherwise have been.

To wit:

1) No sooner had I boarded my plane Sunday morning and settled into my seat than the woman across from me asked me if I was going to ISTE. Turns out it was Dr. Shira Leibowitz (@shiraleibowitz), Principal of Solomon Schechter in Westchester, NY, an avid and respected tweep, both in Jewish and general education circles. Finally putting faces to the avatars, we had some fruitful discussions, occasionally joined by Dov Emerson (@dovemerson), founder of #jedchat and Assistant Principal at DRS-HALB on Long Island.

2) While waiting to enter the opening keynote, I finally met in person Debby Jacoby (@debbyj18) of the BJE in San Francisco, someone with whom I have been corresponding all year - to the point that we have already collaborated on several projects. I should note that that last statement is not strange in the twitterverse - several presentations at ISTE were co-run by people who considered themselves colleagues and friends yet had never met before coming to San Diego.

3) I walked into the conference on Monday morning and noticed a semi-familiar looking individual sitting on the floor (which is common at ISTE) perusing his daily schedule for the day. Taking a chance, I said, "Mr. Amidon?" - and Tyler Amidon (@mramidon), who I had only corresponded with via #edchat, looked up, recognized my Twitter name written on my badge, and wound up following me to the first session of the day. We would attend several other sessions together during the course of the conference, and have continued our dialogue in the week since. As he tweeted to me following the conference: "Chatting now will be that much richer now that I've shaken your hand!!"

4) I attended a panel session about flipped learning moderated by Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergman. During the session, I was tweeting notes and questions that I had about what was being discussed. Common practice is to do this mainly for those who cannot be in the session but want to follow it anyway (multitasking is very vibrant at ISTE). After I tweeted one question about something one of the panelists said, I glanced down and saw that he had tweeted me back an answer. This back-and-forth continued for a moment or two, and in the meantime others noticed the discussion and jumped in.

Now for the cool part. No sooner did the panel end when the person sitting in front of me turned around and asked if I was Rabbi Ross (my Twitter handle). When I replied yes, he introduced himself as the person who had just tweeted me a question, and we began speaking about creating online materials for Judaic Studies classes. As we made our way towards the door, someone else stopped me, and it turned out that she had also been following the tweets and suddenly we had a very rich conversation among five or six people about some new ideas in the Jewish classroom.

5) Of course, part of the way that I choose the sessions that I attended - out of several hundred choices - was by seeing which twitter heroes I wanted to hear from for more than 140 characters. As such, I had the pleasure of hearing Chris Lehmann (@chrislehmann) discuss his successes at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher) speak about wikis and the flat classroom, and George Couros (@gcouros) and Patrick Larkin (@patrickmlarkin) discuss visionary leadership and digital citizenship.

What is common in all of these anecdotes, and probably thousands of others that people could tell from ISTE, is that they highlighted the fact that Twitter is just a tool, but a very effective one. While I have learned much from so many people in snippet-length tweets, the most important thing to come out of all of that is the basis for real human interactions and relationships. Having interacted with people via Twitter, I knew to seek them out to learn more from them. I agree that networking with people in a blind fashion is missing something, but there is no question that it can certainly be a step to greater things.

(Cross-posted on jewishedd.blogspot.com)

The digital experience is all the rage now and people talk about there being two kinds of populations of users:  a) digital natives – mostly the younger generation who have grown up with technology and the internet and who have organically lived with it as part of their day-to-day experience. They know and understand how to use it and how it works.  And, b) digital immigrants – mostly those of the “older generations” ; those of us who came to it later in our lives as it became more prevalent in society and daily usage.

I am a digital immigrant. In fact, I just recently got off the boat!

While, there is clearly a huge reality gap between learning about technology and being a real immigrant to a country, I can’t help but think about my parents’ immigrant experience as a metaphor.  Like my parents who arrived on these shores in the previous generation and were strangers in America, I too sometimes feel like a stranger in this new world of technology.  I’m trying to learn the language (I know some  words and phrases to get me by) , I’m navigating the social and cultural ways  of this new society, and I’m trying to figure out how I fit in. Thanks to the Avi Chai foundation I had an opportunity to chip away at that last week at the ISTE conference in San Diego.

My school is going through a similar experience.  That is, we are a young institution only now entering this new world of technology.  We’re just learning the new language and finding our way in this new world. We’re beginning to seriously explore how we can use technology to support the kind of teaching and learning that we do in our school.  I know there are many other schools out there who share this reality. Schools who have watched technology and the digital workplace explode but who haven’t yet fully joined in, either because they weren’t prepared or didn’t have the staff members or leadership ready to invest in this new language and life style.

At my school we understand that the time has come. None of us can any longer afford to sit on the side lines and watch our students live digital lives without both joining them and stepping in to guide them.

I came to ISTE this week with many questions and walk away having answered some and generated others. The good news is that I’m slowly finding my way around this new world and learning to ask more pointed questions, and beginning to recognize the questions I still need to ask and conversations that I still need to have.  I’ve shared many of these thoughts with my fellow ISTE participants last week over dinner and many offered suggestions. To those of you out there in the blogosphere: I welcome your input as well. I’m hoping to learn from many of you. 

The operative question for me, at this point, is how do I help my staff come along on this immigrant journey with me and my leadership team colleagues.  My school is a young institution, thankfully already with a culture of active learning, differentiation, and reflection.  At faculty meetings and in professional conversations we’re already talking about how to structure our classrooms and design our curricula and programs in ways that engage students according to their needs, offer kids choice in their learning, and involve collaboration and authentic audiences.  Our teachers are already “guides on the side” (as opposed to the “sage on the stage”) and direct their students through constructivist exercises, inquiry and projects. But, for the most part, we don’t fully understand technology nor are we yet taking advantage of the very real potential that technology has to extend our kids’ learning experience.  Yes, we have a handful of Smartboards and a library of laptops, but we use them in pretty limited ways.  A few teachers know how to use the Smartboard and our laptops are used mostly for word processing and searching the internet.  I walk away from ISTE with the recognition that technology can support , enhance and extend the kind of active learning that we already do in our school. But how do I help my staff (and myself) get there?

We are a small school and don’t yet have the budget for an Educational Technology Coordinator to introduce and lead our motivated staff through this “immigrant experience.”  I’m still working through how I, an immigrant myself, can lead my colleagues through this new experience.  I’m looking to you,  fellow educators already familiar with, and committed to,  technology and the active learning it supports, to guide me in integrating it more into my school and helping my teachers maximize this active learning.  I welcome your input and look forward to hearing what has worked for you.

Gary Pretsfelder
Head, Elementary School
Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Words of Woofdom from the Bearded Dog









Originally posted Monday 25 June. Sadly - never appeared on this blog - sucked into the Bermuda Microsoft Triangle.... rescued only by the kindness of the mermaids.

Arff! Me hearties - the dog is back in action.

Here in sunny San Diego in a balmy air-conditioned room, enjoying the wonders of ISTE 12.

Arrrrr - wonders indeed. The Dog wonders how a board that has more than 20 000 people at one convention could allow a key note full of product placments and advertising!!

The dog was not amused.

But - the dog believes in looking on the bright side!

He is very greatful to Avi Chai for bringing him out to the West Coast where he just cannot sign the many report cards waiting on his desk.

And arrrrrr - when the dog smells the sea, he perks up and his tail has been known to wag!

ISTE, the sea, happy doggy!