Friday, June 25, 2010

We interrupt your irregularly scheduled educational ramblings... bring you eerie/ whimsical foxes frolicking in what appears to be a red, empty diner.  (Sandy Skoglund's Fox Games installation at the Denver Art Museum.)

For my major pre-ISTE sightseeing day, I was debating whether to go to the Denver Art Museum or the Museum of Contemporary Art (not to be mistaken for one another).

Then I found out out that the Denver Art Museum building is by Daniel Libeskind, which made my decision for me.

Libeskind designed the Jewish Museum of Berlin, which I visited during my National Endowment for the Humanities Teacher Institute on the Holocaust in 2008.

His spaces force you to interact with the setting, not just the exhibits.  There are unexpected angles, nooks, patterns of light.  You round a corner and see somewhere you have just been from a completely different perspective.

Even if you can only spend a couple of hours, it's worth the price of admission just to explore the space.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Free Web Tools vs. Expensive Online Learning Platforms

My district spends what is probably a LOT of money on AngelWeb, which is an online learning platform.  Lots of my colleagues adore it.  You can use it for quizzes, polls, discussion boards, blogs, bookmarks, etc.  I keep going to trainings, keep thinking about using it... and keep not doing it.


So far, AngelWeb doesn't do those things as well as the free tools I'm already using.

I use Wordpress as my class hub.  I can do polls there, or use PollEverywhere during class.

Posterous provides password-protected blogs with personalized themes, and UNBELIEVABLY easy addition of media content.  I'll be using it for e-portfolios next year.

Edmodo gives me a private Facebook-like messaging space that I can use for discussions.  I can also set up a "fun" group for the  "Hey what's up?" chatter.

Diigo provides an easy way for me to do bookmarks.  AngelWeb doesn't let me use tags, and with 300+ bookmarks and counting, I need them!  With Diigo, my students can also post and annotate links to my class account, which I'll be taking advantage of this year.

Google Docs is my weapon of choice for class files.  I'm having a little trouble with students not being able to access public files from some browsers, but I have a "dummy" Google account for kids whose parents are concerned about having them set up their own.

The main area where AngelWeb would come in really handy (and the main reason my colleagues like it) is giving quizzes and tests.  You can maintain a huge question bank so that every kid has a different test.  That's not something I really need.  If I want to do an online quiz, I can use Google Forms. (It's not self-grading, but again, that's not something I need.)

Sure, it's a pain to maintain a bunch of different accounts, and it has taken time for me to introduce and implement these in class, but the extra functionality is worth it.

So why is it that these free tools look better, are easier to manage, and are easier for students to use than the Very Expensive systems so many districts pay for?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Johns Hopkins/ISTE Certificate Program... Ready, Set, GO!

Last week, I began the orientation for a one-year graduate certificate program in Administration and Supervision through a partnership between Johns Hopkins and ISTE (International Society for Technology and Education).  Our face-to-face kick-off is at ISTE 2010 in Denver at the end of the month, and then my cohort will work together all year until our capstone experience at ISTE 2011.

I joined the program for a few reasons.  I've become very interested in moving into a technology position, such as a school technology coordinator, or perhaps a district trainer.  I checked into a few Ph.D and Ed.D programs. However, the more I have integrated technology into my classroom, and the more trainings I've done, the more I realize I have to learn.

I'm most hoping to improve in the area of leadership/professional development. As a grade level team leader this year, I've realized that leading teachers is like herding the proverbial cats.  Cats with strong opinions and nice loud voices.  I hope to gain skills that I can put into practice at my small team leader/occasional trainer role for now, then expand later as I take on new responsibilities.

Although I'm an online course veteran (my Master's degree from the University of South Florida was almost completely online) I can already tell that the JHU/ISTE program will be in a far different league.  It's going to take more attention and more collaboration than any online experience I have had so far.

I've blocked out my 60-90 minutes a day for class time (at least for now-- may need to bump that up) and prepared myself to feel like a small fish in a big pond!  I'm also gearing up for more chat-based teamwork than I've done in the past, and will be setting up a Skype account to work with teammates.

As a writer, I've got my work cut out for me.  My classmates are very articulate, both on discussion boards and chat, and the level of discourse is going to be higher than I'm used to.  Even though this makes me nervous, it is also exhilarating to be working with teachers of this caliber.

So... Denver, here we come.