June 13, 2010

Year in Review: Teacher Web Pages

Tomorrow is our last full day of school and we have much to celebrate about the school year 2009-2010. From my perspective I am impressed by the progress we have made sharing student learning using teacher web pages. Whether the teacher is using a FirstClass web page, a Blogger blog, a WordPress blog, a Blogmeister blog or our new Yarmouth Google sites they have taken off and are helping each other place videos, student writing and digital photos online. The increase in videos is a result of student use of PhotoBooth and teacher use of our FlipCams. The resulting videos are being posted on SchoolTube or through connecting to our Yarmouth WebApps server.

We have reached the point where a teacher web page with updates displaying student learning is an expectation by parents, teachers and students. There have been many factors that contributed to this. One very important one has been time during faculty meetings and team meetings to learn some of the basics of setup and some options about what is available through a "speed-geeking" session in February. Each week when classes come to the computer lab I get an opportunity to check in with teachers about questions or support for adding media to the classroom web pages. This might be testing the new Flash uploader for sets of photos on a WordPress post, creating an iPhoto web page, a Photopeach slideshow, recording student voices on a Voicethread or finding classes to Skype with around the country.

As we start to think about next year my goals include having students use the cameras to record learning events and even help with the uploading for viewing via. a web link. I know for myself that it is a challenge to keep a blog or web page up-to-date. As we all develop and become comfortable with some simple procedures for posting it becomes easier to keep things current. A goal for myself is to continue to work on the YES Technology site and more frequent updates there about what we are learning each month.

Do we need Interactive White Boards (IWBs)?

Many times it comes up in a conversation, "Why don't you have any 'SmartBoards' (Interactive White Boards or IWBs) at your school?" I have been answering this question for the past few years with the response that when we have met the goal of one projector for every classroom then we will be ready to look at the option of adding whiteboards. Some people can't resist asking me if I had no money restrictions would I want them in classrooms. The buzz for IWBs, especially when districts are building new facilities, has been increasing for the last few years. At the spring CUE conference Robert Marzano presented data from a study that indicated better test results in classrooms using IWBs and clicker response systems. This research was funded by Promethean, a company that makes IWBs and response systems. Currently Marzano and his team are conducting workshops on the use of these tools.

Given that we operate in a world of limited resources I continue to believe that putting cameras, microphones and mobile computing tools in the hands of students along with a projector to allow students to share their work and teachers to bring the outside world into classroom are priorities ahead of IWBs. The other day there was an article in the Washington Post raising some of the questions that I have. In my professional network I recently saw this posting in Tech & Learning that struck a chord for me:
Before wasting thousands upon thousands of dollars on costly interactive whiteboards take a moment and think. Will my teachers really utilize these boards to enrich instruction in a way that justifies the cost or might my students be better served by having access to technology in their own hands? A school can start with just a projector and save thousands of dollars. You can always purchase IWBs at a later time. In fact while IWB companies fund research that shows they are effective, more and more people are finding that student achievement is no higher in classrooms with IWBs than those with projectors only. To date in five years of searching and upon visiting many classrooms, I still have not seen instruction enhanced with an IWB. It may be happening somewhere, but I haven't seen it. Smart principals should ask those teachers who want interactive whiteboards to write a proposal to justify the expense and that proposal should clearly explain and state compelling reasons explaining how IWBs will result in more effective instruction than if they used a projector alone. If they can make a case, consider the purchase. If you find, as I have, that they can accomplish most of what they are talking about with a laptop (ideally a tablet) and a projector, you may want to reconsider.
Author: Lisa Nielsen is an educational administrator and permanently certified teacher with more than a decade's worth of experience working in educational innovation at the city, state, and national level. She currently serves as Technology Innovation Manager for the NYC Department of Education.

June 1, 2010

Supporting Administrator Uses of Technology

The goal I set in the fall for my focus this year was to provide support to the building principals at YES and Rowe School on the uses of technology, especially for communication and PowerSchool. We have spent time on backing up files to the server, accessing email and contacts on their iPhones and the various ways an administrator can access student data using the online testing sites maintained by NECAP and NWEA. Some of the time has been spent responding to questions they have that come up during their work. Now that we are making more use of the Yarmouth Google Domain all administrators are learning to access shared documents with teachers, teams and other administrators.

In the last year there has been a substantial increase in the information available in PowerSchool for viewing student and class data. As students take standardized tests and participate in common assessments we are now able to view those scores in PowerSchool in a short time frame so that they can be used to inform instruction. Teachers are beginning to enter test data on their own which decreases the time and errors made as sheets of data go from one person to another. Collaborating with administrators on their own knowledge, learning needs of teachers and changes we can make to PowerSchool as we support uses of data fits with the first of our current District Goals:
 Teacher teams will improve student achievement based on their analysis of student learning results, with a specific emphasis on improving achievement in mathematics and literacy.
The observations included in my professional portfolio for the 2009-2010 school year are based on this goal as they are written about the biweekly meetings and a full faculty meeting.