— Eye On Education (@eyeoneducation) July 31, 2012
This is a very useful site for writing prompts.
I had never been to an “unconference” before, but when I heard the organizer of SocialEdCon Unconference introduce the event, I knew I was in for something new:
“Write your ideas that you want to discuss on the top of the poster board. Each of you can look at all of the ideas and put check marks beside the ones that interest you, and then that will drive the topics that we discuss today.”
I leaned over to my husband, Brad Flickinger, an “unconference expert,” and whispered that I’d love to learn more about educating teachers about technology. He told me to go up and write it down. Fifteen minutes later after the milling crowds of educators thinned out from around the poster boards, I saw my idea surrounded by checkmarks. The organizer announced that Teaching Teachers about Technology would begin in five minutes on the right side of the room, and could the person who wrote the idea down please moderate and share at that session.
I was here to learn from others — not lead a session — but I jumped into the deep end of the pool of unconferencing.
As the Director of Instructional Technology for the Poudre School District in Fort Collins, Colorado, I’m responsible for the professional “technology” development of nearly 1500 teachers. Teaching teachers about technology is the main responsibility of my job, and finding new ways to support teachers is always on my radar.
What I loved about the unconference is that I had the opportunity to share some of the great ideas we have in place at our district; but more importantly to me, I was able to learn from others and hear about their great ideas that I could modify and use within my own district.
What Did I Share?
Currently, our teachers attend five days of professional tech development every three years, during which they learn about Google apps and other web 2.0 interactive tools. I shared some of the most effective practices for finding ways to teach teachers!
1) Show, don’t tell.
Our technology tech trainers create three-minute video podcasts that show teachers in action using the new technology at the front of their classrooms. We also include pictures of the lesson plan, rubrics and students’ work at the end and link it to the state standards so that new teachers can easily steal ideas. Here’s the link so you can steal ideas, too: http://www.psdschools.org/academics/instructional-technology/techcellence
2) Teach with TV.
Each month, tech trainers produce an in-depth, 20-minute tech show which features our new technologies being used in the classroom. These shows are broadcast on our local TV station, but are also on-demand so that teachers, parents and students can search them on our website. Check out all of last year’s shows: http://epresence.psdschools.org/1/Page/Published/5.aspx
3) Be “liked.”
We created a Facebook account, TeachTechPSD, where we post weekly updates on new technology, pictures of classes using tech and other fun things we are learning about. When teachers come to training with us, we ask them to “like” us so that, when they check their own accounts, they will quickly see what we are up to. Facebook is currently blocked in our district and on teacher computers, but we found that teachers were very willing to check us out after hours!
4) Chirp about your accomplishments.
Our Twitter handle is @TeachTechPSD, and we tweet twice a week about timely information that teachers need. One great example was during the final week of school, when we tweeted about how to put their school email on auto-respond!
5) Blog about it.
Using WordPress, we created a blog, TeachTechPSD, which has become the storage vault for all our content creation. Twice a week, we write a short post that presents a tech tip our teachers can learn in under five minutes. We also update our blog anytime a new podcast is posted or a new TV show is aired. It has become our one-stop shop for most teachers wanting to keep abreast on what is happening in technology in our district.
The Top 5 Ideas I’ll Bring Back to my District
1) Have each grade level at an elementary school learn a different tech application.
Students will gain exposure to a variety of tech tools by the end of elementary, whereas teachers need to learn only one tech tool.
2) Host a teacher tech playground in a fun location.
Choose someplace like a restaurant or unusual business, where teachers will get the opportunity to meet off campus and play with a variety of tech tools.
3) Create tech field trips.
Divide teachers into groups, making sure that you have a tech-savvy teacher or a technology coach in each group. Send them out into the community to record information about fun activities that students can do. Upon return, use that new tech tool to create a presentation or description, and then present to the whole group. Teachers learn not only about how to use a new tech tool, but also more about the activities where students can participate in their community.
4) Save five minutes at the end of each staff meeting to have a teacher tech smackdown!
Teachers have 45 seconds to share their favorite app or web 2.0 tool with their colleagues in a fast-paced, engaging way. Make sure your moderator keeps everyone’s time limit the same. Anyone who wants to learn more can always meet up with the presenters after everybody has shared.
5) Create a virtual learning commons area.
This is a resource where teachers can go online to check out the new web tools that are pre-screened for them.
I survived my first unconference and fell in love with the idea. I panicked over leading the group, but I gained more than I presented . . . and isn’t that what it is all about?
Backwards Planning Takes Thinking Ahead
Start with the end, a veteran teacher told me my first year teaching. In my young, inexperienced teacher mind, that meant “fun project.” And though there’s not a thing wrong with fun, the end assessment needs to be about the learning and not about the product. Starting with the end means we need to put the skills, knowledge, and concepts students will learn first, then the product second.
In our daily lives, think of all the ways we imagine something first (the end) and then next do the planning. Here’s an example:
You have vacation time coming up. Do you want The Experience to be a whirlwind, stimulating, possibly educational one, or maybe tranquil, low maintenance, and stress free? If you pick the latter, you’re probably heading for the countryside or to a beach. If you are all about the first one, you are gearing up for a city trip with many sites, museums, galleries, and possibly even a little night clubbing. Either way, you will plan accordingly: the mode of travel, accommodations, food, and any outings. The desired end result, the experience, will influence your planning.
So how does this look when we plan for our students?
- Look at standard(s).
- Make a list of the skills, concepts, and knowledge kids need to learn.
- Next, design the final assessment/project where students will demonstrate understanding to mastery of these skills, concepts, knowledge.
- Then, create a set of lessons that lead up to that end.
- Once you’ve done this, reflect on the set of lessons, making sure all the skills, concepts, and knowledge for student success with the end assessment are being taught.
Summer is a great time, if you haven’t yet, to dive into the Common Core Standards and do some backwards planning. It’s also a time to develop some really enriching, fun projects that you can justify as standards-based and rigorous (a popular word right now in education). Because let’s face it, once the new school year starts, speaking of whirlwind…
What exciting and inspiring projects are you planning for your students this school year?
Photo credit: Veer
Special education graduation rules could increase dropouts
TUPPER LAKE – School officials are concerned that new graduation requirements for special education students could lead to more students dropping out before finishing high school.
Kelly Wight, director of special programs in the Tupper Lake Central School District, told the school board Monday night that soon, the state plans to phase out diplomas that special education students are currently able to get, called Individualized Education Program diplomas, or IEPs.
Now, students with disabilities have the option of graduating with an IEP diploma if the district’s Committee on Special Education decides that it would be very difficult or impossible for a student to graduate with a regular diploma. They instead create a plan for students with specific goals outlined that need to be met in order for them to graduate.
But because No Child Left Behind, the federal education act, dictates that all children should graduate high school with a standard diploma, the state has been working to get rid of the IEP diploma in order to keep getting federal funds.
This year, the state Board of Regents voted to eliminate the IEP diploma entirely. Next year’s senior class will have the last students who can graduate with an IEP diploma, Wight told the school board.
“I think that this is the one of the biggest changes in special education since – in the last 20-plus years, really – since the laws for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act were passed,” Wight said.
Students must have 22 credits and pass Regents exams in math, science, English and two social studies to graduate with a Regents diploma.
There was also an option for a local diploma, which was given to students who could pass a Regents Competency Test but not all the other Regents exams. That option was ended with students going into grade nine in 2011, Wight said. Juniors and seniors next year will be the last ones who can get local diplomas.
In the future, the only other option for students will be to earn a “skills and achievement credential.” Wight said that option will be limited to students with the highest level of special needs.
“These are students typically who don’t have language skills, don’t have the ability to write and to do all the things to take a test,” Wight said. “So a very, very small window of the population that would qualify for that,” only about 1 percent of students, Wight said.
So almost every student, regardless of special needs, will need to meet those Regents diploma requirements to finish high school.
“It really means that in a very short period of time, essentially every student has to achieve every single standard and has to be prepared for the same outcomes as their non-disabled peers,” Wight said.
To achieve that, Wight said the Tupper Lake district will need to move its special education resources more into the general education classrooms. That’s something the district has been working toward in recent years.
School board members asked if the change would have an effect on the special education budget, but Wight said that since she’s been working in that direction with staffing changes in the last few years, she doesn’t think it will have a significant impact.
School board member Paul Ellis speculated that the change may keep students in high school for more years, costing the district more to accommodate students with special needs. Wight said that’s possible, but she doesn’t see it as likely.
“There are so few students who even see a fifth year of high school as something they’re willing to commit to,” Wight said.
Instead, it could lead to students dropping out before finishing high school.
“Before this affects budget, it’s going to affect graduation rate,” said district Superintendent Seth McGowan.
“That is my biggest fear, because we don’t want students to see this as a hurdle they can’t get over,” Wight said.
Out of the 65 students who graduated this year, 15 had special needs. Four of them graduated with IEP diplomas, eight with local diplomas and three with Regents diplomas.
“It would significantly impact that group of kids,” Wight said.