I’ve started grad school…

May 4th, 2011 | Filed under: Graduate School, professional development

This week I started life as a student again. Like riding a bike!

This week I started course work through Michigan State University’s online program toward my Master of Arts in Educational Technology (MAET).

I’ve realized over the course of my brief but intense teaching career that technology in learning is something I want to know more about. I’d been asked by many why I didn’t just get my Masters in Education when I got my license since I already had a degree under my belt (and the classes were the same), but at the time it didn’t seem like something I wanted to pay extra for. At this moment I have no aspirations of being an administrator (though it seems that every back is wearing a target in education these days) and a Masters of Education seemed like a stepping stone towards that and little more. I’d toyed with the idea of getting a graduate degree in something more content focused, such as history or media or even literature again, but none of those grabbed me.

I am an English teacher, but I always felt a little too interdisciplinary for the English department. I liked to walk around, talk to other teachers, and daydream about collaborative projects we could do together if it weren’t for state testing, time constraints, and all the other excuses you can imagine. I needed something that wasn’t an umbrella degree like education, but wasn’t so focused that it limited me to certain content. I found in the MAET program something that spoke to me – a chance to take all of my raw ideas about tech and learning, reflect upon them, and hopefully coax them into some focused philosophy while picking up skills along the way, though that philosophy part might be a reach. My education philosophy seems to change with every day I learn in virtual networks or even talk with a fellow teacher. One shared link on Twitter can get me thinking and wondering about everything all over again. Uncertainty – it’s a nice place to be sometimes.

I’ve started a blog (Mary gets her MAET…still working on that title) separate from my usual teaching blog (See Mary Teach), because I want to keep my course work separate from my usual ruminations in education. Also, some of the content of my MAET blog might be a little dry for some (I’m getting ready to write an example blog post about the differences between web pages and blog posts for my CEP810 course, for example). This is always a challenge for me – to decide how I am going to use one space over another and what tools I’m going to use to achieve the goals. I’m an early adopter of many online apps and tools and often find myself saying things like “wait a minute, I have 45 different ways to take notes…is that necessary?” And determining the answer to questions like that – to finding the right tech tool for the job – is something I hope to become better at through the course of this program so that I may model it for the students I have next year and in the future. And I’m just excited to be talking about teaching and learning in another space in such a complicated time.

I will be cross-posting content from See Mary Teach and vice versa from time to time and while my grad blog is separate, I encourage anyone interested in following it to do so. I plan to be transparent in my learning and opinions of the courses and program as I move through them and I welcome your feedback and interaction.

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Giving myself room to learn…and my film-making debut

February 23rd, 2011 | Filed under: professional development, teaching, technology

I’m a proud proponent of technology integration in schools and I’ll happily talk about it til the cows come home if you let me. I’ve got all sorts of ideas about the opportunities for deeper learning afforded by many social media like blogs, Twitter, Skype, and wikis, to name a few. I could go on and on. But there’s one area where I feel like a total fraud…

I’ve always talked about wanting to make movies and digital storytelling projects with my students, but never had the chance to given resources in the buildings where I’ve worked. I secretly let out sighs of relief after learning this fact. Shame on me.

Even in my personal life I’ve limited myself to snapping photos here and there and taking videos on my digital camera. The videos have just ended up on my Flickr in their entirety. The idea of editing and piecing together something more cohesive just seemed beyond me and difficult.

But I’m happy to say that I have never been more wrong about something.

I’m doing work again for Powerful Learning Practice in a Program Administrator role. This is a great job because it allows me to work while collaborating with teachers around the world and I get to attend webinars with thought leaders around the convergence of education and technology. I’m there to work, but I always walk away with a renewed sense of inspiration about my practice as a teacher.

Such was the case last week. I helped moderate a session with teachers from Texas. Dean Shareski was presenting on video techniques in the classroom. He asked participants to take a video of themselves using the built-in cameras on their computers or devices they had with them and to upload those videos, each around 10 seconds, to his Flickr. In less than 10 minutes a page in Dean’s Flickr was populated with videos of teachers around Texas trying their hand at video making. Dean then took all the videos and edited them into a short.

After seeing the ease with which me and the other teachers learning in this session were able to tell short stories about ourselves in video, I was ready to try it on my own. I was inspired.

Dean shared a video he made using the 5 x 5 format, which involves telling your day in five, five-second video increments. It’s fun and gives people a taste of life in your shoes. I decided to try something similar using a terribly old camera – a point-and-shoot Canon Powershot that is around six years old. The camera records video in a fuzzy fashion, but it’s what I had at the moment.

Throughout the day I recorded snippets of my life here and there. I’d get the camera running, set it down, and record. I captured much more than five second increments and I knew I would have to edit the video to create a more clear story. I sat down with my memory card and proceeded to upload the videos from my camera into iMovie on my Macbook (it took a while for my computer to load each video even though they were quite short).

Once I had all the video clips in iMovie, I set about playing with the program. I’ve never even opened this program before this project. I learned how to play each video, right clicked around to see a drop-down menu of options, hovered my mouse over different buttons to get informational text (maybe this should have been a screencast…another thing on my list to try). As Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach often tells educators participating in PLP, we learn through playing and we need to give students and ourselves time to do that. Rather than get frustrated with not knowing the program right away or seeking out tutorials online, I just let myself goof around for a while.

Eventually I figured out how to edit a part of each clip (click until a yellow box appears and drag each side of the yellow box to the part of the video you want to clip). I selected five-second portions from each video and dragged them into the project window. I played it over and over as I added and edited, making little adjustments here and there.

Once I was satisfied with the clips (there were about 12), I needed to add some transitions. This couldn’t be any easier. You just drag a transition of your choice in between the clips where you want a transition and that’s it. You can make the transitions longer or shorter if you want, but I stuck with the default of .4 seconds. The last thing I needed to do was add a frame at the beginning and end of the video to give some information. I dragged a title screen to the beginning and one at the end, choosing a black background and adding my text.

Export the video and it’s ready to upload wherever. Not including the time I spent recording here and there during the day before, this whole project took me an hour – and that was without any experience in iMovie.

My point in writing this post isn’t to paint myself as some sort of tech savant able to catch on quickly – I’m not. My point is to show teachers that you don’t need to wait for someone to show you how to do these things. You don’t need a long in-service with tutorials. Just give yourself a small chunk of time to play around with a new technology. These days user interfaces have never been easier and more intuitive – you practically have to try to screw some of these things up. Hey, but if you do screw it up, learn from that failure and try again. And you don’t need to be an expert to know how to use these tools with your students. You’re an expert in teaching. Make sure your students know what you expect from them and decide what tools might help them achieve that and then let them loose. Allow them time to play, don’t stand in front of the room making everyone try each and every tool together. Be there to help and let students that have figured it out help the ones a little farther behind. It will be messy. No doubt about that. But you and your students will come out on the other side with highly transferrable skills and techniques to demonstrate learning. Plus, it will be fun. I promise.

And without further ado, I give to you A Quiet Day filmed in my still-very-new home of Breda in The Netherlands…

A Quiet Day from pickledtreats on Vimeo.

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January and my month of free learning

January 18th, 2011 | Filed under: professional development

January seems to be the month for virtual and online professional development in the education world. Maybe it’s the beginning of a new year and everyone is hopeful and in need of new ideas to see it through, but I’ve been swamped with plenty of free opportunities (I ain’t complainin’.). I’ve signed up for two asynchronous workshops through EVO (Electronic Village Online) on digital storytelling and podcasting for ELL students. The workshops last for five weeks each and I’ll emerge on the other side with lots of new ideas for how to enhance learning for my future ELL students. If (ahem, when) I end up working at an international or bilingual school these skills will be crucial. While in America my work with ELL students was limited, in a foreign country it becomes the rule. I need more teaching strategies in my quiver and I jumped at this free bit of PD. I love conferences just as much as the next person, but when I’m far away on another continent with mere pennies in my bank account, I thank my lucky stars for the generosity of others online.

While those workshops are going on I also participated in the English Companion Ning winter webstitute “Work With Me,” which focused on collaboration. I’ve also registered to virtually attend EduCon 2.3 later this month, but for the moment I’d like to reflect on my experience with the ECN Webstitute. Photo by Mark Brannan.

I’ve been a member of the English Companion Ning since it’s inception. I was quite active in the beginning and relied on the encouragement and help of the educators there greatly during my student teaching. When I got my first teaching job I was swamped and struggling to stay afloat and I disappeared for a while. I’ve been slowly getting back in, reading posts, and thinking about how to help the teachers that meet there with ideas or just a pat on the back. I knew that the people I worked with in those spaces would welcome me back no matter how long it had been since I dropped off the grid. Such was the case last weekend when I dove into the Websitute.

The first session was with Penny Kittle. I’ve just started reading her book Write Beside Them, so I was stoked about this one. She shared a video of her students collaborating on a project focused on analyzing the craft of the author. Quite a few students who read The Hunger Games were working together and since I’ve read this book I can understand the excitement of the teens that came across in the video. But more important than the enthusiasm was the authentic analysis and discussion of the book bubbling forth at the table. A later interview with one of those students seemed like perfect justification of the hands-off, fellow learner/facilitator role I like to take in my classrooms and which I describe in my philosophy. The student, Amelia, said she was thankful Penny didn’t give her the answers – that she and her classmates were able to uncover meaning on their own, allowing them to delve deeper into those ideas and come to their own conclusions. She went on to say how difficult writing a paper about a book, or about anything, was if the ideas weren’t her own. (Yes!) The discussion that ensued in the forum included materials and pages from Penny’s writer’s notebook, questions about practical things like assessment and class time, and the general idea sharing I’ve come to love from the EC Ning.

The next session was about collaboration with colleagues and again the organizers posted a helpful video of one of their sessions, which didn’t focus on failures of students or behavior issues – the general bitching that can occur in meetings like this. Instead these educators were talking about what worked and the things they were stuck on – they were trying to figure out how to bridge gaps in their lessons and help students make deeper connections. They talked about what worked, what didn’t, and what they were going to try next. They trusted each other and felt safe tossing out any and every idea all with the goal of helping their students. I stuck around for a bit of the forum discussion, but around that time my coffee ran out and I had to go to bed. It’s an unfortunate side effect of living in a different time zone and trying to participate in U.S.-based PD. Next time I’ll take a midday nap.

Both Penny’s session and the collaboration group reminded me how important it is to document great things happening in your classroom and with colleagues. Sharing is crucial to the success of learning networks and professional spaces like the EC Ning. Lots of great things go on in classrooms and school buildings around the world, despite what talking heads and pundits say to fill 24-hour news cycles, so documenting it goes a long way to showing the greatness of teachers and helping others become great.

I was disappointed I couldn’t make the live Elluminate sessions later in the Webstitute, but I learned a great deal from the discussions I had on the EC Ning and simultaneously on Twitter. If I had a recommendation for the next webstitute it might be to hold the forum discussions asynchronously across a few days or a week. There was a mad dash to post and participate and respond (all great things!), but one could only keep up with constant browser refreshing. If the organizers wanted a live chat maybe a private chat room would have worked, but then we would lose the ability to upload and share documents in the context of the discussion (a great feature of Ning forums). Not sure what the answer will be, but my international time zone self would love a more aysnchronous workshop. Live events like Elluminate talks can never be asynchronous (though archives are available), but the forum discussions can be. The EC Ning has done this to great effect with its virtual bookclubs.

Over the course of the Webstitute I also joined the EngDo collaborative – a wikispace of document and resource sharing for educators. I’m still trying to piece together how this space will be different from the EC Ning, but my hope is it’s a more organized place for resources and collaborative documents while the EC Ning is mostly a forum where people post resources sometimes.

Lots to do and think about after just one weekend of real-time professional development. I’m off to work on assignments for my digital storytelling and podcasting workshops. I’m thankful to have such a great network of teachers on Twitter. I would have never heard about EVO if Larry Ferlazzo hadn’t posted about it one day.

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What to do with all this time?

September 21st, 2010 | Filed under: professional development

Since completing my teaching assignment with Green Run High School in Virginia Beach in June, I’ve made another big change. I now live in The Netherlands. As romantic as it all sounds, leaving your home country for a new one is complicated in ways that defy explanation. Paperwork and regulations, many of them in a language not your own, compound the complexity. Needless to say, I haven’t been able to just step foot onto Dutch soil and walk into a teaching job.

So what is there to do with all of this time and mental freedom? My biggest fear is that I will squander the time and look back with regret. Fear of regret may be my biggest fear right now. In response I am cultivating a plan for my own year-long professional development program. I say a year because, while I may have a chance to substitute teach, I most likely won’t get a real stab at teaching again until next year when school starts again.

Rather than look longingly at tweets from some of the teachers I follow about their new lessons and successes in the classroom, I’m going to draw inspiration from them, and the many other blogs and books I read, to fuel my teaching career. I plan to comment on blogs and join the discussions, to not just read but reflect and analyze and reflect again. Bookmark the great stuff. I’m going to try my hand at podcasting and video blogging. I’ve started a blog about my expat experience and am looking into freelance writing opportunities I might otherwise pass on if I was teaching. A year off doesn’t have to be a dip in your CV – it can be an opportunity.

While I spend a lot of time scouring my general education and English education Twitter lists for thought-provoking links and ideas, I’m trying to branch out. Because, let’s face it – I have the time. I started by checking out this TED Talk from Sir Ken Robinson recorded in 2006.

If you’re not familiar with TED Talks, you’re missing out on high-quality inspiration and mind expansion. TED is a network of conferences running under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” They’re short, sweet, and powerful. Speaking of teachers I follow on Twitter, Meredith Stewart discussed the many ways TED Talks can be used in the English classroom and offers some specific talks and ideas for lessons on her blog.

Robinson is inspirational and funny despite the jarring message that schools are killing the inherent creativity of children – that by the very nature and structure of schools we are snuffing out much of the creativity upon which our future depends. I was very fortunate as a child to experience the Montessori school method for preschool and kindergarten. While getting more distant by the day, my memories of those years are quite fond. Learning to hold a baby by playing with a doll. Practicing pouring from a pitcher. Learning multiplication with big blocks covered in gold pearls. Feeding the hamsters. Painting on the sun porch and hanging the tempera image on the window for drying and display. And the best part – having my own choice in what I wanted to learn or practice that day.

Who says we can’t do those things with our high school students? Why are choice and freedom talked about as important to students, but never actually implemented? Is it because we can’t seem to reconcile our need to “control” students with our knowledge, deep-down, that they need freedom and ownership more than anything else? And what is the source of that need to control students?

You can follow me on Twitter @pickledtreats.

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