Saturday, August 25, 2007

Teaching Teachers

This week I had the opportunity to teach staff in my district how to use SmartBoards. This is the second SmartBoard class I taught. The first was in April. Thinking about it now, it amazes me that I first got trained in the use of the SmartBoard and accompanying software last August. Then 8 months later, I was proficient enough to teach others. One year later, I am teaching my second group of teachers.

Now, if you ask my husband, he will tell you that the reason for that is I spent hours and hours at home learning how to use the technology. And stayed many hours after school practicing on my SmartBoard.

But if you ask me, it is really because I wanted to learn, was vested in the process due to my desire to use the equipment with my students, and, here is the most important part, was NEVER afraid I'd screw things up so badly that I would ruin the board, the software, or my computer. And that is what I kept thinking about this week as I taught my colleagues.

Each day, as I taught new skills, I watched my class members go through one of three emotions. One: Wow! That was cool and I can't wait to try it over and over again. (This was not the most common feeling.) Two: Wow! That was cool. Let me watch again and then I'll attempt it, slowly, cautiously, but willingly. (Fairly common.) Or Three: Oh no! My brain is on overload, I cannot handle anymore. I will try it if Lisa comes and watches me do it, making sure nothing goes wrong. (More common than I was happy with.)

Fear seems to hold back a great many people when it comes to learning new technology. And I think it all comes back to lacking basic computer understanding of how a computer works. When I taught my class how to use their thumbdrives (most of them cut open the packaging on their very first thumbdrives in order to use them), there was a clear lack of understanding about what this piece of equipment would do. The greatest fear was that it wouldn't actually save anything. Everyone kept waiting for a signal to let them know it had saved properly. We had to go back through it again and again, with me showing them how to find files on the drive so they could prove to themselves their file was really there.

In fact, even finding the correct drive on the computer was tricky. Which drive is it? What happens if you save into the wrong drive? Where will your file go? Will it mess up the computer? When I asked my class on the first day to go home and download the Smarttech software so they could play, all but one came back the next day saying they were unable to accomplish this task. When asked why, they told me they got various messages they didn't understand. We ran through it again and I sent them home on day 2 to try again. I got five phone calls that night. One didn't notice the message at the top of her screen preventing downloads without giving permission. Two were nervous when the computer told them it was saving the file to a temp file in the c drive. One called to have me walk her through problems, just nerves. One cancelled the download in the middle, not realizing this would prevent the program from downloading completely. Basic problems: fear and lack of computer literacy.

So now I am thinking about my students. The saving grace for 10 year olds is that they have no fear. They don't really care if they mess things up...the teacher will fix it. So they try everything willingly. And they learn at an incredible rate. They also learn how to fix their mistakes so Mrs. Parisi doesn't have to keep doing it for them. (Use the undo button BEFORE you close the program, Check your wireless network connection to see what system you are on before you complain that you have no internet service, etc.) They are easy to teach and enthusiastic about it all.

How do I reach the teachers? Keep my cell phone handy for those panicked evening phone calls, send out e-mails with informational website URLs, stop into rooms and see what new ideas they come up with, point out how much they learned and were able to accomplish.

And remind them over and over that playing around is important. Any file they lose can be remade, any program they crash can be reinstalled or reloaded, and, really, as long as they don't spill their coffee on it, they are not going to "break" the computer. Just have fun! I think I will make this my mantra for the year. Just have fun! Not a bad way to go through life...and technology.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Power of the Internet

I don't mean for this blog to embarrass anyone so I apologize ahead of time to all my online friends. But I began thinking, as the summer winds down, of all I've done this summer (see my last blog). And I realized that the greatest accomplishment of the summer was making connections online. Now I know all of you understand the power of the Internet when it comes to making connections. Social networks, Skype, instant messaging, and Twitter, among other apps, have all dramatically increased their clientele (and revenues) in the past year.

But what I am amazed about is with whom I am able to connect. For so many years, I read my teaching magazines and my educational technology magazines. Over and over again I read about incredible people creating collaborative sites, amazing websites for children, speaking at conferences, writing books. I dreamed about hearing them at conferences, and occasionally did. But, this summer, I connected with - actually conversed with - many of these people. Mostly we talk about education, but sometimes about more mundane issues like our children, homes, the local weather. We go skating in Second Life, chat in Skype about Harry Potter, share blogs, Twitter messages back and forth.

And, through these people, I meet others. Durff and Alice Mercer invited Wes Fryer to a webcast and I got to be in a chat room with him! In Second Life's Blogger's Cafe I sit with Jen Wagner and Colleen King and along comes...Bob Sprankle! And we talk. Like real people. Only in a fake world.

Now I know this sounds a bit like hero worship (and to be honest, it is) but these are people I read about in my magazines and books...Jen Wagner of Technospud, Colleen King of Math Playground, Durff, who shows up in all the blog comments with so many intelligent things to say, Alice Mercer, who I viewed in ClassBlogmeister first. I was inspired by them and learned from them.

And, now, after the summer, I feel I can call these people colleagues and friends. I meet them in various arenas, chat with them comfortably, and laugh about daily life with them. And that, I believe, is the ultimate power of the Internet. That I can connect with everyone on an equal footing. Imagine what we can learn from each other!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Winding Down My Summer

As my days of leisure (ha) dwindle, I am beginning to enter panic mode. What did I plan on doing that I never accomplished? What do I still need to do before school starts? Do I really have time to accomplish what I need to? Do I have time to write this blog when I have so much to do?

So first, in order to, perhaps, make myself feel better, I decided to think about what I did accomplish this summer. So here is a list of 10 things I completed. Let's see:

1. I cleaned out all my closets and donated a ton of old clothes.
2. I refaced and painted the shed.
3. I weeded the beds in the yard. (Okay, I only did that once and by now you can't even tell it was done but...)
4. I learned how to webcast. Although I am not graduating from the Webcast Academy anytime soon, and still am in the planning stage of a second show, I feel this is still an accomplishment of which I can be proud. 5. I met an incredible amount of educators who love to collaborate and with whom I will be connecting during the year.
6. I learned to sit down and chat in Second Life. (I would love to say I mastered SL but all I really learned to do was sit and stand. But at least I met some people to talk with. Blogger's Cafe Rooftop is fun even if I can't build anything.)
7. I discovered and have been using Twitter.
8. I sort of mastered Skype.
9. I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. I also read many other books but that was the one everyone was talking about that I HAD to read.
10. I went through Responsive Classroom training. Can't wait to put it into use.

Now coming up with 10 accomplishments was difficult for me. My list of things that I should have done but didn't (mastering Google Earth, graduating from Webcast Academy, completing my wiki and SmartBoard lessons for my class in October, cleaning out my kitchen cabinets, getting into a good workout routine before the start of school, etc.) is a much easier list for me to create.

But maybe now it's time to let that go. It's time to see if I can move on without beating myself up over what I didn't accomplish this summer. And be proud of what I have done. On to the 2007-2008 school year! Let's see what we can accomplish together!

Friday, August 10, 2007

All About Vacations

August's O, The Oprah Magazine gave some interesting statistics about Americans and vacations. The average polltaker on has 14 vacation days per year. 14!

As a teacher, I have the luxury of many more than 14 vacation days. Contractually, I work 183 days per year, 7 hours per day. That's what my contract says. My contract also gives me one hour of duty free lunch each day, although I do understand that many teachers in the country do not have that same privilege.

So what does that mean for me? Most non-teachers think it means I have a part-time job...that I work my 7 hours and go home, finished for the day, free to partake in hobbies, side jobs, fun. Most non-teachers think that three weeks of vacation per year, 2 months off in summer, and all those extra national holidays means that I have plenty of time for travel, visiting with family and friends, playing.

Why then, when my IGoogle countdown shows I have 25 days left of summer vacation, was I in school today working? And why, then, were most of the school staff with me? Why have I been talking all summer to my teacher friends online and finding that they all were in their classrooms, or in the library, or online doing work that would enhance their classroom next year? Why do I come to work an hour early each day, joining the majority of staff members? Why do so many of us work through that duty-free lunch, stay until dinner time, spend extra hours on district committees, taking education classes, meeting with students and parents?

When I first started teaching, I took a class with a teacher who laughingly told us all that every time she traveled, she searched for books and souvenirs that she could bring back to her classroom. She went sightseeing with her classroom in mind, taking pictures and choosing activities that would lend themselves to lessons. I remember thinking then that this teacher needs to get a life. How sad that she couldn't even enjoy her vacation.

Last week I went to Niagara Falls...the Canadian side. I was unplugged from the computer for four days (which was extremely difficult and is a whole other topic of conversation), with my husband and my daughter, away from all distractions. And, while thoroughly enjoying the time spent with my family touring the area, my mind kept wandering to my classroom. On the third day, I planned a trip to Welland Canal Lock 3 to watch a ship move through the lock system. I took video and many pictures and collected material from the museum. Afterall, I teach the Erie Canal and part of that unit is understanding the lock system.

So I realized that 22 years into my teaching career, I have become that teacher. And I understand that teachers need all those days off to regenerate, remove themselves from students for awhile and be with adults, having adult conversations. But mostly, teachers need the time to regroup, thinking about what they've been doing, revamping styles, replanning lessons, finding new material, thinking about their students' learning needs and preparing themselves to meet those needs head-on.

Teachers need all the extra hours before and after school to improve their teaching conditions (technology committees for better technology, staff development committees to design valuable staff development, etc.), rewrite lesson plans for this year's students, write new lessons to meet the new class' needs, meet with colleagues to plan new units, design field trips, create content for teaching curriculum.

This is not a part-time job, we do not have job free vacations, we do not shut down at the end of the day and turn on again the next morning. Teaching is very much a full time job, even without taking into account the emotional aspect of working with different children with different problems each day. And the longer I work in the field, and the more time I spend outside of my contractual school day on school, the more I take offense at those in this country who still believe teaching is an easy part-time job.

At least those of us in the field know better. Teaching is a challenging, always changing career that I relish. Even though I work long hours and use most of my vacation days on schoolwork, I wouldn't trade it for anything. I do love my job.