Monday, July 4, 2011

Some Post ISTE11 Musings - with more to come

It is always interesting to me to see the buzz build the closer the ISTE conference gets. Then I am at EBC11 and the conference has started and then all of a sudden it is over. Time goes by so quickly once the conference gets started. Yet, there is so much to absorb that I will be pouring over the ISTE website to look at videos of different presentations and keynotes over and over again to try to absorb even more. Of course there is always the #ISTE11 hashtag to take me to other areas of learning as well.

There is never just one take away from this conference because there is always so much to learn to try and do things better. To listen to people and how they make things happen at their schools or districts and to try and figure out how to tweak that to make it happen in my own. So many ways and so many ideas. It almost becomes overwhelming. Overwhelming until I remember one simple thing - it is about the kids.

Many of the discussions that I had during my time in Philly and the ISTE 2011 conference kept bringing me back to the idea of relationship. Relationship with admin, faculty, staff and students. Along with the idea of relationship, we have to TRUST for that relationship to grow. In order to trust we have to let go of some of the things that get us where we are today and part of that letting go is the death grip on ego. Trusting our students allows us to open our networks. Trusting our faculties and staffs to be the professionals they truly are allows us to be about what they need to teach and our students need to learn.

Relationship is so very important in all we do, that this conference continues to be an important encounter for us all. Trust yourself to learn something new with each and every encounter you have even if it is a social encounter, trust that the presentation may well have something you need to hear or know and if not then quietly and respectfully move to another one. Trust that being quiet allows you to hear from someone else, trust that you are here for a reason and you make a difference. Trust that thought you have that has been marinating in your mid is useful and needs to be put out htere. Trust that the feedback you get is important and valuable and not a personal attack.

Thank you to all the people I met for the first time face to face and my sincere apologies to those I missed. Thank you for the time you spent sharing and caring and most especially for the work you do each and every day. You all continue to teach me a lot and for that I am truly thankful and I hope to continue to learn more from you each and every day.

So much to learn and so little time.

I Like to Drive

As a young boy growing up I always looked forward to vacation and the ride we would take to wherever. The big station wagon and the road newly being constructed on the way to San Antonio or the west Texas heat on the way to New Mexico. Either way we were going to see relatives and we got to travel. No ipods, no TV's built into cars or dvd players for that matter. Merely a book, non-tinted windows and the incessant cries of "are we there yet" or "how much longer" from any of my 4 other brothers and sisters or myself.

The landscape seemd to go on forever, games in the car helped to pass the time and yet as I grew older I couldn't wait to be able to fly wherever I wanted to go. I could get there quicker and see more, do more and not waste time. I could look out the window of the plane and see all of the land at once.

However, last year my wife and I decided to drive to NECC/ISTE. See the country again for a change. Relax in the car. So we packed not only our things but some from our friends as well since we were going to meet them at the same place. New Mexico, Colorado, Estes Park, Denver, the ISTE Mansion, Amarillo and home again. 10 days. Lots of sites and new place to rediscover.

This year with Philadelphia being the goal, we went through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, the Smoky Mountains, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania and on the way back we added Tennessee and Arkansas to the list of states. The ISTE Mansion aptly renamed the ISTE Row House was the destination for yet another ISTE Conference. With some of the same folks a memorable trip was had yet again.

I was aksed if I didn't like to fly and I would have to say the answer is no. The joy of the road is a simple one - we have a beautiful country. We also have a great deal of freedom to move about the country. No matter what the politicians decide, we are living a great life with wonderful freedoms and abilities. The cool thing about traveling in that manner is that with the available technology, we can look up anything we see and decide if we want to go and explore more. We have that freedom.

Today as we celebrate the birth of our nation, know that we have all been placed in this time and this place for a reason. But along with that, we have many wonderful men and women that have fought and defended the right we have to move about the country whether by plane, train or automobile. My prayers on this day will be for all the men and women who are put in harm's way and for their families who also have sacrificed much. Be safe out there, come home soon and I will continue to pray for peace. Thank you all for that you continue to do day after day and for all those who have gone before you.

So much to learn and so little time.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Pre-ISTE 2011 Musings

As I sit and contemplate the beginning if ISTE 11, I wonder how many are concerned with being heard, seen, or just being noticed? Lately there have been many wonderful posts about what to do and how to approach ISTE and the immense overflow of input that people will face as they try to ingest the gluttonous amount of stimuli. I have even already heard someone state "I am star struck." So many people are here to be heard, so many here that need to be heard and so many that want someone to hear them.

Recently Bud Hunt had a post wondering if we are listening with all of the talk and "chatter" that is going on. While Beth Still has done a good job trying to include more people, especially the "newbies," I still wonder if we are reaching out enough to truly be inclusive?

There are many folks who have worked hard to attain the "status" they have and I do truly applaud them and I hope they continue with their work and forging the way. There are many trying to be heard and will all of the talk and noise going on I sometimes feel that it is hard for anyone to hear over the din. Everyone knows there are problems with schools, everyone knows that the politico's are trying to balance budgets on the backs of teachers and schools, and everyone knows that the economy is hurting everyone.

As I look around, many of the things were are doing today are merely a GUI digital version of what we have been doing for years. One of the differences is that we can do the same things with people from all over the world. I have so many questions rumbling around in my head and the main part of ISTE has not even started. I guess my main point is all of this is YES, we do have problems but what are we doing to solve them? What are WE doing to make things right? How are we as leaders laying it on the line to make it better for all those who are trying, who do give a damn, who do reach kids each and every dayand may not even have the electronic tools that some of us have?

How are we supporting what our children need? I believe that tech directors ( and yes I am one) or the keepers of the networks, need to loosen their death grips on "their" networks. The world is unfiltered. Does that mean let it all through? No, of course not. To me it means block the crap but still teach our children to continue to refine their crap detectors. Show and model responsible citizenship and in order to do that we have to allow our colleagues to be the professionals that they are each and every day.

We also need to listen and we need to listen the old fashioned way with mouths shut and both both ears open with an open mind. We may need to do it the truly old fashioned way by repeating what the other person says and stating it so that they have an opportunity to say no this is what I meant before we even formulate an answer. I must admit that when I first started as a tech director it was all about the hardware, the stability and the speed of "my network." Now I work with my boss and the curriculum director and it is in the educational needs of our students and school that drive what our network does and definitely not the other way around.

Fortunately, I have a great boss that allows me a lot of freedom and as a result this is my 13th or so ISTE. But 4 years ago I met some folks I consider true leaders who helped me to understand and truly "get it." I am just thankful that the Lord helped me to be open minded and willing to continue to learn because that way I can take the time to hear what is being said and continue to learn from there.

I hope you have a great experience at ISTE and don't merely run from one thing to another. Take the time to truly engage with people, listen to what they are really saying or askingand most of all learn what you need to learn to help you resolve some of the issues that you may have in your classroom, in your building, in your district or state. Just know that there are people willing to help and support you.

It took me a while to figure it out. Enjoy your time in Philadelphia.

So much to learn and so little time.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Getting Back to Basics

I had a chance to present at the Region 10 ESC Technology Planning Conference last week and had a great time meeting new folks and learning some new things. My presentation "Twitter? Really" Show me why and how!" was received well, but I learned a lot in the middle of my presentation. When I asked who had questions a woman raised her hand and asked "So what is the difference and the importance of the "@" & the "#"?" I quickly applied the brakes and we slowed down to address the question at hand. Along with that were several other questions that were all about basic tweeting.

So what did I learn? No matter where and when we are presenting are we taking care to make sure that we are reaching out to those who are just starting to dip their toes in the water or maybe those who are eyeing the kool-aid stand but not sure they really want to buy the drink itself? I wondered how many walked down the hallway and went in to the presentation which I would have loved to be in titled "Tweeting Out of the Box" and were lost as to what was going on?

I know sometimes I have been so immersed in what I have been doing and have become so very comfortable that I forget new people come to the well each and every day looking for ways to communicate and finally willing to try something different. My hope is that those in my session feel that once they left they could contact me and ask questions at any time.

How do you handle the new folks when you are confronted with those questions when presenting? We talk about how students learn in different ways and at different times but are we taking the time to make sure those adults who have come to learn are getting the same attention?

So much to learn and so little time.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Are you equitable?

Equity - a wonderful word as long as everyone has it, but we know that isn't true. Everyone does not have equity. Schools are not funded equitably, unions are not treated equitably where there are unions, people are not taxed equitably and on and on. What about in a classroom? How does equity play out in a classroom full of students? Students - both boys and girls are the first to pick up on who the favorites are or who is "in" or who remains on the "fringe." Do teachers know? Do we fully understand the ways that we help to keep someone on the outside while allowing others on the inside? I would like to think I do things the right way but I also know that in reflecting on my own practices, I am more than willing to help those who are willing to incorporate new things in to their classrooms and those who just don't get it. I am not talking about using "tools" just to use them. But that is not right wither. So what about the child who is given greater access to a teacher than another student is given? Equitable? We talk about bullying a lot and in so many different ways, but are we helping to establish a bullying system by these seemingly small inequities of access to a teacher or to technology? Is it any different that through my actions I am able to keep someone on the fringe as opposed to the "inner circle?" Is that merely a more subtle type of bullying? I have a lot to learn and so little time left to learn it, but I am looking for some real answers to these questions because I know that I am really thinking about how I might be creating inequities as a result of what I do. Anyone care to jump in and help out? I hope so.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ejection Fraction

In the last 6 months I have learned a lot about this phrase ejection fraction. As defined on Wikipedia "ejection fraction is the fraction of blood pumped out of the right and left ventricles with each heart beat." Now this post is not about personal health but rather educational health and just what is left beating as states begin their budget cycles.

Here in the State of Texas, a non-union, right to work state, the estimates so far are that the number of teaching positions cut could very well come close to 100,000. Possibly 4,000 in Dallas alone. The numbers coming in are staggering. Word is that out of 11,000 school districts in Texas, only 40 are solvent. We have been bleeding out for some time if that is truly the case and the percentage of what is pumping is dropping more and more each day.

Tonight I saw different tweets from friends Ryan Bretag, Jon Becker and Angela Maiers in relation to homework their children were doing in Ryan's case, the desire to find the right school in Jon's case and trying to know and find out that her children were cared about and for in Angela's case. Frustration was the course of the night. The pulse continues to get weaker. The number of people that joined in those conversations lending support and talking about it also showed a great deal of frustration from throughout the country.

What does any of this have to do with ejection fraction? The heart of any educational facility in my opinion rests on the heart and passion of the very teachers in the building, the people that are passionate about what they do and the children that are under their care each and every day, and yet, people elected to office continue to perform heart surgery with axes instead of scalpels. There are many people that have said it so much better in so many more ways than I could here. I simply hope that those teachers who work with kids are not on automatic pilot because they are worried about their jobs, I hope they are not mailing it in waiting for the axe to fall on them while supposedly educating our children for their future.

It is during times like this that so many people I have know have risen to the top of their game and continue prove to people over and over again that the reason they are in that classroom is that they are passionate about what it means to be a teacher. I hope for our children's sake that some folks were having a bad day and I hope for our schools sake some people in charge start thinking out of the box, otherwise we may learn how upset our teachers, parents and children can be when the revolution shows up here. The pulse continues to get weaker.

So much to learn and it needs to happen now.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

E-Books and Bring Your Own Technology

This year we made some major changes at our school. After upgrading our infrastructure last summer to have wireless throughout, we then progressed to allowing students to bring their own connectivity. This year we asked them all to bring their own connectivity and we added e-books. We are about 85% electronic books throughout our grades 6-12. We made recommendations to parents about what level the machines should have. We have areas where students can plug in to charge up and for those who may have had difficulties obtaining their own equipment we took our COWs (computers on wheels – the big carts) and cleaned those machines up as much as possible and loan those out to students to use. They take them home after signing an agreement that they will be responsible and if not then they are charged a fee for replacement.

The main focus this year is the E-Books. The school is fortunate to have an instructional technologist that works here who has taken the bull by the horns and wrestled this program into submission so to speak. Christine Voigt has replied to several people who have asked about e-books and here is what she has to say:

“The eBooks are online digital editions of the actual printed texts. The advantage is that they have interactive content in addition to just being a PDF. The world language teachers really love their eBooks, because it allows student to hear and in some cases interact with the languages they are learning. Video and audio clips that previously were only available in class via DVD (or in some classes video tape!) are now integrated with the eBook so students can access them anytime, anywhere.

All the eBooks are online subscriptions. The students login to the publishers website and have a digital bookshelf with titles they need for their classes. What I like about the online login is the fact that they are not tied to one computer. If their computer breaks, or the battery dies, etc. they can login and get their books on another machine. All of their notes, highlights, and work are tied into that online account.

We use eBooks from Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, and also use CourseSmart for all courses that use college level texts (primarily our AP classes).

The only texts that can be accessed on an iPad are the once from CourseSmart
- they have developed their own App for the iPad that is really quite nice.
The regular texts rely on multiple plug-ins such as Java or Flash and they will not work with the iPad, smart phones, or Kindles.

Although many of the publishers strongly encouraged and even gave us bundled pricing for purchasing physical books and the digital ones, we opted to go with eBook only. Overall it was a bit cheaper and we saved a lot of shipping costs, and many trees in the process.”

One of the nice features in most of the e-books is the fact that they will speak. So while the machine may not have text to speech the books do. Our biggest struggle for the students is to make sure they have downloaded all the free Adobe apps. Things like Adobe Reader, Adobe Flash, Adobe Air and Adobe Shockwave. All of these play a role in some of the more in depth parts of the books for demonstration or even speech.

So very much to learn and so little time.