Finding time for tech

September 21st, 2012 | Filed under: teacher productivity, technology

I’m a month into my second year of teaching at the International School Breda in The Netherlands and I already feel much more prepared for it. We’re still in start-up mode at ISB, with lots of protocols to be established and policies to draft and things to discuss, but it’s amazing what a difference a year makes. Not to mention we’ve doubled in students this year. Sure, we still only have a little over 40 students in the secondary, but coming from 18 last year that’s certainly an uptick. 

One of the things I wanted to address this year (one of the many on my year-end reflection list) was how to teach little tech skills here and there. Sometimes skills just don’t fit into a unit or I realize in working with a new student that there’s a bit of a skills deficit I hadn’t anticipated. Our students all have laptops and use their machines every day, so they catch on pretty quickly by being thrown into the deep end. However, I still get numerous questions “Miss, if I download a game will it make my computer slow?” or “Miss, I want to start using Evernote, but how does it work?” or “Miss, I want to put a lion on my desktop background.” 

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Baddog_

Many of these questions come from our youngest students who are just getting to know their new computers. They really like changing the backgrounds and using PhotoBooth on their Macs to take wacky portraits of themselves. These may not fit into my unit plan objectives, but I think they’re important enough to find time somewhere in the day to address. Personalizing your computer can make the whole experience a lot more enjoyable and productive!

Here’s what I do:

  • Capture questions for later. All questions are saved for technology class unless they are urgent. I teach both English and tech, so I get these questions a lot from my students, especially in the first month when many are getting their new computers. I try to save them for technology class. 
  • Just Google It! or Ask Your Neighbor. I encourage students to ask each other and to utilize YouTube tutorials. “Google is your friend,” I tell them. It might be faster for me just to show them myself, but that takes away from my time and doesn’t contribute to my overall goal in learning for my students. I want to foster independence and problem-solving. Learning how to find your own answers is a skill!
  • Plan a “Get to Know Your Laptop Day”. I ask students to make a list of the little things. What do you want to learn? What’s bugging you? What are those lingering questions you keep forgetting to ask? Periodically we address them in a technology lesson with demonstrations. While this may be a question unique to one student, I try to demonstrate for the class what I’m doing since it often helps the others. I encourage students to jump in at these points as well. Most recently a student wanted to learn keyboard shortcuts. I demonstrated how to find them in most app menus and introduced them to dashkards – a Mac dashboard app that serves as a cheat sheet for keyboard shortcuts. It’s pretty much the only reason I have for using my dashboard. 
  • Tech Tip Fridays. I got this idea from my summer experience in Dublin with MAET. My professor Leigh Graves Wolf would start each day by asking the class for tech tips. We would each get a few minutes to share a tech tip if we had one. My youngest students really love Tech Tip Friday, because they take the helm and show the class something cool. There are often a lot of “oohs” and “ahhs” and “I want to do that!” It also makes the presenting student the expert and I can send students to him or her rather than having them come to me for everything.

Our school is small and we don’t have a dedicated technology integrator. In many ways, that is my job, but it has to be a small part since it’s not official and I have so many other roles that take precedent. But more and more I see ICT skills as something all teachers should be prepared to teach. We say in our school (and I imagine in many other international schools) that all teachers are language teachers. I think we’re also all ICT teachers. 

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Bilal Kamoon

I try also to use this workflow with colleagues. I’ve saved one afternoon a week to stay after for meetings and technology integration-related tasks, which makes me available to meet with teachers who have those “little questions.” 

Going forward I’m planning to start a tech help team with the students. I’m hoping to make this club a useful part of the school and empower the students to help the teachers learn new things. I’m not sure how to execute it just yet, but in a small school we need all the help we can get!

Wearing many hats means you need to set boundaries. I found last year that I would dive right into helping a colleague or answering a question even when I should have been focusing on something else more pressing. I’m hoping these little changes help me do that this year. 

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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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Student teaching starts next week!

August 27th, 2009 | Filed under: preservice, technology

The time has come.

I start my student teaching experience officially on September 8th, but I’m spending some time next week getting to know my cooperating teacher and the school through staff meetings and orientations.

Needless to say I’m a ball of nerves right now, but I’m so excited to start.

I’m going to be reflecting on my experience here often. My goal is at least once a week, which will help me stay on track with the required journal portion of my portfolio.

As a writer and former newspaper reporter, I was thrilled to be paired with a veteran teacher that spent nearly 20 years in the newspaper business before embarking on a nearly 20-year (and counting) career in education.

I’ll be teaching 9th grade English and journalism (all grades). The journalism courses produce the school newspaper five times a year. They don’t have a Web portion up yet for the paper, but my cooperating teacher, I’ll call her Mrs. D, said I could make that one of my focuses during the internship – to help the students develop a Web site for the paper. She also expressed an interest in getting students’ portfolios online as opposed to on discs and asked for my help there.

I’m excited to be able to utilize my training as a reporter in the classroom and that I’ve been lucky enough to be placed with a teacher that is excited about what I am bringing to the table, such as my enthusiasm for technology.

On first impressions, I can tell Mrs. D has very high expectations for her students. She makes no bones about what she expects from them, which I greatly respect. Some of my best teachers were the ones that pushed me so I could finally see what I was capable of achieving.

This is going to be a difficult 14 weeks, but as they told us in the orientation, “you can do anything for 14 weeks.” I just have to keep telling myself that.

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I switched to Diigo

March 11th, 2009 | Filed under: personal, technology

So, I’ve been using for quite a while now to track my bookmarks. If you’re unfamiliar with social bookmarking, here’s a good explanation by Common Craft. But basically it’s a Web-based way to track you bookmarks and share them with others if you want (you have the option to keep them private as well). has worked really well for me so far. You can tag each bookmark, make notes and search within the bookmarks. Most of mine deal with crafts, vegan cooking and education stuff. You can check out my bookmarks here.

But…something better came along.

Diigo is just like, but with some awesome extras, my favorite being the ability to highlight parts of a Web page and make annotations within it. This solves my need for an online notebooking service. Google is doing away with its Notebook, which I loved, and I’ve been searching for a good one ever since. I’ve been testing Zotero, but haven’t enjoyed it as much. With Diigo I can highlight the parts of the page I like or plan on using in a paper, for example, and make notes of where I want to use it.

And there’s a social part of all this, of course. You can add friends on Diigo, see their bookmarks and see the annotations of every other Diigo user that has made their bookmarks public. So, for example, if I make a note on a page, you can check out the same page and tell Diigo to show you my notes. And you can make your own notes – or even respond to mine!

Another feature I like is the ability to mark a page or article as “read later.” Often, with, I would tag an article and plan to go back later, but I’d never get around to it. Out of sight, out of mind. With the Diigo toolbar, I’m reminded of the articles I need to check out. It’s a small thing, but I like it.

The biggest thing that sold me on Diigo was that I didn’t have to leave I uploaded my bookmarks to Diigo and can request Diigo to post my bookmarks and tags to concurrently using the “save elsewhere” feature. Seriously!

There has been a lot of discussion on Twitter and forums about moving to Diigo and I decided to go for it. I’m loving it so far and I’m sure there are great features I haven’t used yet. This article really sold me on the reasons to switch.

Here I am on Diigo – let’s be friends!

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A lesson about Twitter

March 2nd, 2009 | Filed under: personal, technology

No sooner did I post about how much I want to utilize online networks, such as Twitter, to communicate with my future students did I make a huge, embarrassing mistake via tweet.

Imagine sending a personal e-mail, full of that dirty language you need to get in check before you start teaching, to everyone in your address book. I did that today, but with Twitter. It could have been a lot worse considering the friend to whom I was trying to send the text message, but still very embarrassing.

To explain, I have Twitter set up through my cell phone and can send text messages to it from wherever. I should have been more vigilant about checking my to: field when I responded to my friend’s message. Luckily I could delete the tweet from my page, but it doesn’t change the fact that I exposed (hopefully only) a few of my Twitter followers to my nasty sailor mouth! No offense to sailors with clean mouths out there.

I have to thank @msstewart for letting me know that if I plan to communicate via Twitter with my future students, I can’t send tweets out like that one. I would have never known had she not said anything. I definitely agree that swearing and sharing personal info with students is not a good idea, especially via Twitter, which is why I plan to have a separate Twitter account for students/parents if I decide to go through with it.

I hope everyone learns from my lesson here – even when a friend sends you a shocking text that gets you cursing, don’t respond via tweet. Check your to: field constantly!

And in an attempt to laugh about this, which I’m trying to do, check out the Twitter Hall of Shame. A few of these are NSFW – aren’t you glad I warned you this time?

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Communicating with students

February 27th, 2009 | Filed under: teaching, technology

I’ve always had plans of how I want to communicate with my students outside of class, should the need arise. I know I want to utilize blogging in some way, e-mail of course, instant messaging and Twitter. Maybe not all of them at the same time, but I’ve thought about being available via instant messaging for homework help and sending notices and reminders out to students and parents on Twitter.

But after reading about a Wisconsin school board’s decision to ban communications between teachers and students on social networking sites and instant messaging services, it looks like not all schools are ready or willing to take on such a “risk.”

This is a bummer, because I think the reward far outweighs the risks involved. In a middle school class today I heard students discussing chats they had the night before with classmates and comments they left on friends’ pages. The students are already there – I don’t see the problem in teachers meeting them where they are to remind of a test prep session after school or of a homework due date. If teachers know their own boundaries, and I believe most of them do, things will be safe.

Thanks to Dean Shareski for getting me riled up with his insightful post.

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