Sunday, July 31, 2011

"We don't use Google"

I returned from the Google Teacher Academy (GTA) yesterday. Today, I went to the baptism of my cousin's daughter. My mother told my aunt (who is a first grade teacher) where I had been. I'm not sure how my mother explained it, because I'm not sure she understands most of what I do with technology, but my aunt responded, "Oh, I don't use Google." She then continued to say, "Well, maybe sometimes to do a search, but my kids are only first graders....they don't use computers."
As I'm reflecting on my experiences at GTA and trying to make sense of my next steps, this revelation from my aunt angered me a bit. I teach at a K-8 school and sometimes hear elementary teachers say, "We won't use this or my kids can't do that." But, I've seen it. My 5 year old niece regularly plugs away at my brothers old laptop. I don't pay attention to what she is doing, but she is certainly doing it with purpose. While directing my school's musical, a parent that was helping me would regularly bring her 3 year old to rehearsals. That 3 year old would take her iphone out of her mom's purse and knew enough to open a video app, choose, and play the video she wanted to watch.
How do these kids learn to do these things? Their parents give them access and the freedom to use and learn. Unfortunately, some parents do not. And thus, it is important for teachers to give kids that access.
A kindergarten teacher I talked to recently was getting an IWB the same brand as mine (Interwrite). She was asking me what tablet she should get to control her board remotely. Rather than use the tablet provided by Interwrite, I told her I use an iPad2 with VNC to control mine. No sense in getting an Interwrite tablet that only does one function when I can get an iPad and use it for multiple applications. Her response was, "Well, my kids couldn't use an iPad. They couldn't hold it and use it right." I told her I was sure there was a case that you could get that makes the iPad kid proof. And, low and behold, there is. She still went with the Interwrite pad.
We even had a 3rd grader this year get a Facebook page (with his parents' permission) and began messaging all the older kids.
That is the problem I foresee by assuming elementary kids can't or don't use computers: if they aren't taught appropriate and productive uses for them, they will find the inappropriate and unproductive uses.
Elementary teachers out there who aren't using computers with their kids, get on it. They are using computers, tablets, and devices. And push them. Don't just play typing games. Let them collaborate, let them produce original content. It is possible. And, it will make my job easier when they get to 7th grade and I don't have to spend so much time breaking bad habits.
People like Rich Colosi, who was at the GTA with me, and Diane Main, another GCT, have done a lot of amazing technology projects with elementary kids, among many others.
If you are concerned my aunt will recognize herself in this post, don't worry, if she "doesn't use Google", she will never find it. And, if she does, well then hopefully it will convince her to connect her students with technology.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Thoughts on Flipping my class....

Ever had one of those moments where you can’t remember when you first heard about something? I’m flipping my classes this year and get asked a question a lot lately….”Where did you hear about this?” Well, I can’t remember. It was one of those late nights when I was surfing the web looking for something else. I don’t remember what it was, but somehow I landed on a Youtube video created by the Camtasia folks with Aaron Sams.

Now, let me preface this by saying, I already flipped my English class in essence. I use a version of the Writing Workshop model, where the majority of student writing is completed in class with my supervision. However, if you are familiar with the Writing Workshop, it requires a 10-15 mini-lesson to start most class periods. With 40 minute class periods, I just didn’t have the time for that on a regular basis.

With that being said, I still didn’t make the connection that the flipped class could work for me. I did, however, have a co-worker looking for ways to differentiate his math instruction. I forwarded the video onto him and left it at that. He got very excited about trying it for a variety of reasons and began asking me questions, because it sounded very similar to what I was already doing. It was at some point during those discussions, and subsequent research, that I realized I could blend the flipped model with the workshop model and buy myself more in class work time, while still delivering the necessary content that would have been in the mini-lessons.

As I researched more, I followed the ning, and came across the flipped classroom conference. On a whim, not really expecting to get it approved, my co-worker and I showed it to our principal (including all associated costs) and to our surprise he said, “Go for it.”

Attending the conference was the best decision I could have made. I absorbed so much information from @jonbergmann, @chemicalsams, @bennetscience, @agudteach, and several others at the conference. It brought a great deal of clarity and confidence to this model being possible. Unfortunately, I haven’t found another English teach doing the flipped class the way I’m electing to do it, which is fine. I met @agudteach and got some ideas from her and also realized I could not only flip my English class, I could flip my Reading/Literature class as well.

The last couple weeks, I’ve been producing videos almost non-stop. I was averaging about 2 a day for awhile. I decided to take a break for a vacation and to clear my head. I’ll be back at the videos late next week, but then I head to the Google Teacher Academy in Seattle for 3 days. My goal is to have every video needed for 1st quarter created before school starts, which I estimate will be in the range of 40+ videos. Since I teach both 7th and 8th grade, I can double up some of the videos for more than one class.

I’m still searching for an English teacher to collaborate on some videos with me. I recruited the help of a former student to make some and she’s done a bang up job. She wants to be a teacher (why, I don’t know) so if you want to hire her to help with your videos, I’ll put you in touch with her. You can check out the videos I’ve made so far on my Youtube channel. I know some of them aren’t very good. My plan is to go back and re-do some of these after I get better and quicker at making these videos.

I’ll keep you updated on my progress using the flipped class. And, if you know of an English teacher that wants to collaborate maybe through Skype or just dividing the workload, let them/me know.

Getting into the Google Teacher Academy

I’ve been meaning to write this post for quite some time now. I’ve been travelling quite a bit and used that as an excuse to not sit down and write. Reading Brad Wilson's post about not getting accepted to the GTA in Seattle and others posting on their experiences leading up to GTA, I decided it was time to put fingers to keyboard and output my thoughts on my process to getting accepted to GTA.
I knew that thousands of people applied world-wide and resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t get in. I wasn’t so much concerned about putting together a good application. Moreso, it was the fact that as a second career, I’ve only been teaching for 5 years now. My school is small and really doesn’t have a reputation for being innovative. My principal, however, allows me a great deal of freedom, so I have done a significant amount of technology integration and cloud computing in my classroom. So, while encouraging other teachers to join me (it pains me to walk the halls and see posters and dioramas littering the walls and eventually the trash), I haven’t had a lot of success in that regards. I participate actively in National and Local professional organizations (NCTE, ISTE, NWP, etc.), but I was concerned Google wouldn’t see me as enough of an educational leader yet.
I mentioned that teaching is my second career. Well, my first career was as a television commercial writer and producer. So, the video part of the application didn’t concern me at all. Many GTAers complained about having to condense into 1 minutes. Well, for a man who spent 10 years writing 30 second commercials, 1 minute was about 30 seconds longer than I needed. I put the video part off until last. I also consider myself a pretty good writer (kind of comes with being an English teacher) and therefore attacked the application as I teach my students to do!
My first steps were to pre-write. So, in true Google fashion, I created a Google Doc and copied all the questions into it. Then I began listing everything I wanted to incorporate into the answer. I decided the best approach was to just be honest. Now, when I say honest, I’m not saying I considered being untruthful. I just felt a lot of people would get into the trap of trying to write what Google wanted to hear. If I did that, I might leave out some of my assets. I also chose to write in a somewhat informal tone as though I was speaking to someone at Google personally. I will admit, the word restriction was a bit difficult. I could have probably used about 50 more words per question. But, remember, I used to write 30 second commercials for a living, so being concise has never been much of a problem when necessary.
Like I said before, I wasn’t concerned at all about the video. I was most concerned about writing an application that made Google realize I was worthy of this opportunity. After I wrote my answers and edited, I shared my Doc with a co-worker and asked her to do one thing: read my answers and make sure I answered the question. How many times have we as teachers read answers to questions on a test or assignment that are well written, contain a lot of information, may even be entertaining, but doesn’t really answer the question? With that step complete, I moved on to the video.
I would speculate that most applications (and probably most video producers) start with a script of what they wanted to say or at least an idea. And, on some projects, I would to. On this project, I treated it like a commercial and went for an image or a single message I wanted my viewer to come away with. I knew it would be impossible to “say” a whole lot in one minute and also make it engaging and memorable. From my television experience, many local commercials are bad simply because the product or store owner wanted to get too much information into the spot. Thus, you are left with a talking head or voice over boringly droning on about this or that. National commercials focus on an image or an impression they want you to walk away with. Think of soft drink commercials or car commercials. The goal is to get you to recall their product and investigate more when it comes time to purchase those items. Not to get you up off your couch to go to Ed’s Mufflers because they offer this and that and those, etc, etc. I hope I don’t insult some of my cohorts, but I wanted Pepsi, not Ed’s Mufflers. My message being: in my classroom, motivation is created by the kids being allowed to experience innovative and creative means (ie technology).
I took a different approach to this video. I decided to do the music first. For two days, I listened to music on my ipod, on my sirrius radio, I asked kids what some popular songs were and listened some more. One song kept catching my attention and that was “You Just Can’t Get Enough” by the Black-Eyed Peas. I really liked the intro female’s voice in the song. So, I downloaded to my ipod and went for a run. I put my ipod on repeat and ran for about 45 minutes. I focused on what images came to me as I heard the song over and over. Eventually, it hit me that stop motion fits well to the beat of this song. Long story short, I decided to use a series of “scenes” in which a student is so engaged in using technology the world goes on around them without them even noticing. Note: if I had a more time, I probably would have done a day into night into day kind of thing, but I was working with free talent and I didn’t want to take up too much of their time.
To make the video, I didn’t even use a video camera. I used a Nikon D-40 that I use for our school’s yearbook, put it on a high shutter speed, and took a series of high quality images. I then edited the music bed to include the intro to the chosen song, but only play the music the rest of the time. I experimented with a few different edits, but couldn’t smooth them out enough for my liking.
Last, I needed some audio to fill the void left by taking out the lyrics. In a moment of inspiration, I decided to have several of my students read some lines about being addicted to innovation, technology, etc. Then, I planned this big cameo appearance at the end in using stop motion to reveal my message on our school marquee. That failed miserably, but was salvageable enough to keep in the video (mainly because I had nothing else and no time to create anything else).
For those curious, I edited this in Video Pad. It is a free download program that does some simple video editing.
Here is my video:

Then, it was time to wait. Fortunately, I had two conferences to keep me occupied. I attended the flipped class conference in Woodland Park, Colorado and then almost immediately turned around and attended ISTE in Philadelphia. I was eating my lunch at ISTE sitting on the patio outside the convention center when I heard a woman at the table next to me say, “I got an email from Google saying I didn’t get accepted.” I immediately took out my phone and checked my email. There it was, the email I’d been waiting for. And, I was in. I’m still finding it hard to believe I was accepted. I’m getting to know many of the people via Twitter and now Google Plus. I’m sure at the end of #GTAWA, I’ll be singing the chorus from my video song….”I just can’t get enough.”