Thursday, June 27, 2013

Summer Development Immerses in World of Plenty


I love summer for so many reasons, but near the top of the list is the time it offers for me to refuel for the school year. One of the most important ways for me is attending summer workshops and visiting family--both providing me with ample food for my thought table. This summer I went to an Edtechteacher workshop in Chicago on ipads. I knew of edtechteacher from articles I'd read online and various links and mentions on Twitter, but I hadn't yet had a direct interaction with them. What I found was a three-day workshop on technology integration led by two passionate teachers who have adopted the "tread fearlessly" mantra needed for successful tech exploration and integration. How I marvel at the experience their students must be having as these two, Shawn McCusker and Heather Chambers, lead them into creative modes of critical inquiry and production. Consider the impact of making a short film composed of Vines that illustrate autobiography for Chambers' psychology class or McCusker's strategy of having absent students Skype into class and participate in discussion via Today's Meet for his history classes. Brilliant ideas that are sure to engage and stimulate students.
At the end of the workshop, edtechteacher founder, Tom Daccord, shared big picture thinking about meaningful tech integration and the need to consider our use of technology in the context of Ruben Puentadura's work on the SAMR framework for tech integration. I loved Daccord's comment that "the best tech integrationists practice convergence," rather than replacement of technology for other more traditional tools that support higher level thinking. Daccord stressed that teachers need to focus more on the "formative process" more than on the "summative process" in the integration of technology. A critical point here being that the student who masters how to use the flashing transitions or video embedding on a student-made website must be questioned about process and mindful use of tools over how polished or produced a final project might be. What enlightened thinking and so important in our age of flashy highly produced work that may or may not offer examples of critical, original, and creative thinking. Daccord stressed the importance of asking students about the choices rather than marveling at the final product. Consider the implications of this thinking for our current focus on testing rather than on embracing process. We seem to be missing the forest, I think.
Always interesting at tech events are the tools getting the buzz. Prior to the conference, we were asked to load our ipads with a number of apps. Here's a small sampling of some that we worked on that stick out to me as having great application for education and beyond.
Evernote: This tool keeps coming up. At every tech event I have attended in the past few years, techies are talking about the power of this online notebook, filing cabinet, information repository. It's free and offers a powerful way for students to use technology that is not machine dependent. I used this last school year with students primarily as a way to encourage taking notes online. I never had a student who was unable to access her notes as long as some internet device was available. On more than one occasion, students reported how thankful they were to have their notes available online. Perhaps most powerful is the ability users have to email articles, images, and links to their notebooks making them truly a transformative tech tool for information gathering and organization.
Notability: As an English teacher, I am always interested in tools that promote active engagement with reading. This tool allows users to actively mark PDFs. My favorite application of it of this summer? Downloading and signing my completion certificate from the workshop and instantly emailing to record-keeping at my school and signing a tuition form for my kids that I could instantly email back. Awesome. McCusker showed how he used to gauge a student's active reading of a shared article. He had the student email him his actively read article when completed as a homework assignment. McCusker was able to assess the student's generalized information about the reading quite quickly. McCusker prompts students to read materials and mark them them so they don't have to re-read it to get important content in each section.
Today's Meet: Mccusker and Chambers described this tool as compartmentalized Twitter. It allows students to have quick communications within the group. McCusker illustrated how he used it to have a "back channel" of discussion during films that may need a sensitive or guided approach. He used it to allow discourse during a film on 9-11. In another terrific example, Mccusker shared how he'd set up a Today's Meet for students to have discussion during the Presidential debates. He encouraged parents to chime into the shared reflection, urging focus on the strategies used in the debate rather than inviting discourse about politics. Brilliant. In the SAMR framework, this example offers a redefinition of tasks in that the use of technology allowed for the "creation of a task previously inconceivable."
Twitter: It's hard to overstate the importance for teachers to engage with Twitter. Though the sheer volume of material shared can be overwhelming, it's important to commit some time each day to connecting with other professionals. As one moving into a new role this coming school year, I have found Twitter to be critical in helping me set up support networks to help me navigate my own changing landscape from full time classroom teaching to technology integration and helping my school connect students to our local community. The woman sitting next to me in the conference, a tech integrationist from a suburban Chicago school, shared that she commits the first 15 minutes of each day to exploring her Twittersphere. Personally, the richest reward in using Twitter begins when others begin connecting and retweeting each other's findings. What tremendous opportunity for expanding one's professional network! I am increasingly aware of the superstars emerging in the Twitter realm--they are the ones sharing good information and responding to others.
I suspect that the tools I highlighted here are well-known to just about anyone navigating web tools for education. I think, however, that I will continue some discussion of the other perhaps lesser know apps in another post in the hopes of not overwhelming the brim of this cup that is about to runneth over. So more later as I have the luxury of summer to see exactly what I loaded onto my ipad and how I muddled through in the sandbox time of my workshop. What an exciting time to be a teacher.

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