Oct
22
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by on October 22, 2013

Recently one of my friends and colleagues, Rodney Turner, shared a blog post titled Tech and Trust written by Doug Johnson. In a nutshell, the post compares two very different philosophies of device and network management. He discusses the futile attempt by the LA Unified School District  to lock down the iPads that were recently distributed across the district and how students found a way around to circumvent the measures. The he discusses a forward-thinking high school in Connecticut where safe and responsible internet use is woven into all lessons. At New Caanan High school students are allowed the freedom to make mistakes. These mistakes are turned into teaching moments where students can learn from their mistakes. Students at New Caanan are encouraged to explore their interests and create new information all while under the guidance of trusted educators. The teachers at this school act as guides during the learning process, not roadblocks.Just days before Rodney shared this post I had a conversation with a colleague from my region who works in a district that is 1:1. He said that if a student violates one of their technology policies then they will suspend their internet privileges for 15 days. One student had his computer access revoked because he left his laptop out. (It was a 7th grade boy.) Since this school is 1:1 I can only assume that most assignments are completed online or at least require the use of the Internet. So I asked how teachers handle situations where students have lost their access. He told me they have to have something “printed and ready to go.”

WHAT!?! Really?!? I was fired up, but I walked away and I let it go. (If you know me then you know that is not an easy thing for me to do.) I tried to push the conversation out of my mind until I read Doug’s post on trusting students with technology.  The part of the post that really stood out to me was the quote from Jonathan Kozol’sbook Savage Inequalities in which he stated, “Children in one set of schools are educated to be governors; children in the other set of schools are trained for being governed. The former are given the imaginative range to mobilize ideas for economic growth; the latter are provided with the discipline to do the narrow tasks the first group will prescribe.” 

I could not help but recall the conversation from earlier in the week and feel the students in that district are getting cheated out of some very valuable lessons. Instead of having a logical consequence the main tools they use for learning are ripped away from them for weeks at a time. What I really wanted to ask (but didn’t) was what the consequence would have been if Little Johnny had left his textbook in another class. Would they have denied him access to his book? I don’t think so. If he had left his crayons on the other side of the classroom would he have lost his ability to use them for three weeks? Again, I don’t think so. So why do some schools feel the need to punish students by taking away the very tools they must have access to in order to learn? How can ANY district that claims to value education have such punitive policies in place? I just don’t get it.

My solution would be to create a variety of groups that would be assigned different levels of access to the Internet. Students who show they are mature and responsible would have full access to the Internet (obviously with the exception of what must be blocked.) This would include music, social networking, and other sites that are typically blocked because they are seen as purely entertainment. If a student abuses these privileges then they would be placed in a group that does not have access to all of the social sites. They would have to earn full access back over time. I realize there is an issue with who would have to move students back and forth between groups, but it can be done efficiently. In this system students still have a consequence, but a consequence that does not interfere in their education.

 

Sep
03
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by on September 3, 2013

Earlier this evening  Scott McLeod shared this tweet:

Screen Shot 2013-09-03 at 7.44.27 PM

It made me laugh a little because I used to be that teacher. During the second semester of my second year of teaching I had a couple of students who were the bane of my existence. They would constantly ask to go to the bathroom because they knew they were supposed to go before they came to class. Well I got smart and I showed them who was in charge. I limited them to two bathroom passes each quarter!

I was so proud of my rule change and I could not wait to share my brilliant idea with my principal. Instead of telling me right up front that my idea was the most asinine thing he’d ever heard,  he gently guided me to that realization on my own.  He started by asking how many students used the bathroom more than what I believe to be a reasonable amount of times each week. (It really was just 2 or 3.) It was on that day that I learned to never, ever make rules for all based on the actions of a few.

Then he asked me the most obvious question of all. “What are you going to do when a student asks to go to the restroom but they are all out of passes?” He pointed out that all I was doing was setting myself up for a power struggle and he was right. I also learned that day to never make rules that I could not enforce consistently.

A couple of years ago I came across this brilliant post by George Couros called One Rule. I have adopted the Nordstrom rule for my classroom and it has led to some great discussions with my students. I don’t waste class time providing them with a laundry list of all of the things they can’t do. Instead, we spend time discussing what using our best judgement looks like. They tell me what it looks like, I don’t tell them. This might not sound like a big deal, but it makes all of the difference in the world.

If you are a new teacher the best advice I can give you is to empower your students and pick your battles wisely. Getting hung up on how many times a student uses the bathroom is not the mountain that you want to die on.

 

 

 

 

I was finally able to carve out some time to write my post for Leadership Day 2013. I’m a few days late, but I think this Scott will forgive me. While I’m writing this post specifically for administrators, I think everyone can benefit from what I am about to share.

How familiar is this scenario? You come across a tool or article that you think your staff would be interested in so you email it to them. Your email reads something like this…..

I just found this great website that I thought you might want to use with your students. Here is the link: www.blahblahblah.com

Sincerely,
Your principal

Most teachers check their email at school during the few moments they have here and there. Chances are that most of your staff will never look at the email you sent ever again. (Hey- I’m just being honest!) The resource you tried to share might have been something really great, but unfortunately you will never know because you have shared it Web 1.0 style. Even if a few teachers check out the resource you shared there really isn’t a way for them to easily discuss how they are using it. If you really want  something to stick then you should consider using Diigo.

So what is Diigo? My friend Steven Anderson recently wrote a post that provides a fabulous overview so I  do not feel the need to do anything beyond write a simple summary here. Diigo is a social bookmarking tool that allows you to organize, annotate, and share your bookmarks in a variety of ways. I think one of the most powerful features of Diigo is the Groups feature. As a principal, you could set up multiple groups within your school. You would want one group that would include all of the teachers in your building. Then you might have a few more smaller and specialized groups set up for different grade levels or classes. (While you are at it, why not set up a group for ALL administrators in your district where you could begin sharing resources across the district?)

There are multiple ways to save bookmarks on Diigo, but my favorite is to install a Diigo extension on my browser. (This is where the awesomeness begins to happen.) When you bookmark a site you can (and should!) add a description of what you are bookmarking. This helps those you share it with (or who come across it if they are following you on Diigo) understand why you bookmarked it. Next, you can add tags, or important words that identify what you bookmarked. This makes it a cinch to track down bookmarks later on so it’s important to complete this step. Finally, you have the option to share to a group. Let’s say you found a blog post about using how to use Google Maps to help teach about the Civil War. Chances are this would be of interest to your social studies so you could just share it with the Social Studies group.

Setting up groups is easy! Inviting teachers to join is easy, too! All you have to do is invite them on the group management page. Once your teachers set up a Diigo account they can join the group or groups you invite them to and they can determine how often they receive the links that are share in that space. Members of the group can also add links that they want to share. They can also comment on bookmarks. This is a GREAT place for teachers to share how they are using different resources in their classrooms. Administrators can also make suggestions for how they see teachers using the resources they have shared.

This is where Twitter comes in. Many educators are completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of useful information shared on Twitter. I think one reason many educators avoid Twitter is because they don’t have any idea how to organize and manage the things they find there. Often times we “favorite” tweets that we intend to read or share later, but it never happens. Luckily there is a simple way to fix this! By linking your Twitter and Diigo accounts together, your favorited tweets will automatically be saved on Diigo. This is a HUGE time saver! All you need to do from here is figure out when you will go back and tag, describe, and share the links. It doesn’t take any more time to do this than it does to share resources through email, but sharing through Diigo helps create a sense of community.

One of the best things about Diigo is that when you save bookmarks there you are building a library of resources for your teachers. And those bookmarks will be there for new staff members as they join your team. Imagine how reassuring it is for brand new teachers to walk into a job and have a wealth of ideas and resources that have been vetted by their administrator and coworkers!

The other really slick thing you can do with Diigo is leave stick notes. Imagine for a moment that you want to share an article with your staff that you want to discuss at your next meeting. You can highlight section that are of particular importance and you can leave a sticky note on the page that can be shared with members of a group. Those members can comment on the original note or leave notes of their own. How great is it to be able to have a discussion right on the article itself!

If you included the few simple ideas I have shared you in your routine, you would be incorporating nearly all of the ISTE NETS for AdministratorsGood luck!

 

 

When school starts back up again in a couple of weeks my students will be using Chromebooks. Due to recent deep cuts in our budget we had to come up with a plan to replace our aging laptops. While I was 100% in favor of this change, I had not actually spent much time on a Chromebook. When I was given the opportunity to take one for a test drive I jumped on it.

To see the exact specifications for the Samsung 11.6″ Chromebook please click here. If you have trouble making sense of the techie jargon this is what it boils down to. This Chromebook is fast, light, and has no moving parts which means there is less to break.

I was curious how long it would take to set up so I had my daughter time me from the second I got the Chromebook out of the box and plugged in. I even documented the event in a 13 second time-lapse video.  Since I already had a Google account it took less than two minutes for me to turn the Chromebook on, log in for the first time, and get onto the Internet. Each time after that it took about 5 seconds to boot up. That is fast! (Especially if you are used to working on PC’s that take 4-5 minutes to boot up!)

My only complaint about the Chromebook is that it doesn’t have a backlit keyboard. However, for a price tag of under $250 this is definitely not a deal breaker. The other drawback about the Chromebook is that it isn’t possible to download software, but that is not what they were designed to do.

The Chromebook is touted as the computer that is always new and only keeps getting better. This is because updates are automatically pushed out every six weeks or so. While there are some apps that work offline, the Chromebook is designed to work best while connected to the web. Since wifi exists nearly everywhere this isn’t really an issue. The Chromebook will run for about four hours before it needs to be recharged. While this isn’t great, it isn’t terrible either. One of my favorite features is the matte screen which made it much easier to see when working outside in the sunlight.

After spending a week on the Chromebook, I am convinced I could use it as my primary computer. For the average user who spends most of their time surfing the web, is familiar with Google Apps, and is comfortable working in the cloud, the Chromebook is a fantastic choice. If you are in the market for a new computer and you don’t need to use specific software, then I would highly recommend the Chromebook.  This would be a great option for a student who is heading back to school. My daughter, who will be a freshman in college, is taking one to school with her.

 

Full disclosure: Staples.com provided me with this product for review. The thoughts and opinions expressed are strictly my own. Feel free to shop their entire line of computers and laptops online.

Aug
01
Filed Under (PLN, Uncategorized) by on August 1, 2013

I was so excited to see my great friend Kristina Peters send this tweet this morning:

Screen Shot 2013-07-31 at 9.59.53 PMI added the official hashtag #NEAdminDays to Tweetdeck and I was looking forward to following along virtually. Most of the tweets seemed to be coming from the same handful of accounts. I used a site called HashTracking to run some numbers to see what the conversation surrounding the hashtag looked like.  There was a total of 235 tweets sent using the hashtag and over 50% of those were retweets. The official account, @NCSAToday, sent nearly half of the original tweets. The top 3 tweeters sent 78% of the tweets associated with the hashtag.

There are approximately 1000 principals, superintendents, curriculum directors, and other educators attending Administrator Days. Many of these administrators have heard both Scott McLeod and Eric Sheninger speak at past Administrator Day events about the power of being connected. I’m willing to bet that quite a few have also attended at least one of the Administrator Bootcamps and learned more about how to use Twitter from Lynne Herr and Jackie Ediger.  I, along with a couple other people, wondered why so few people were tweeting when they more than likely have Twitter accounts.

I’m incredibly passionate about being a connected educator. My network has helped shape me into the educator that I am today. My beliefs regarding education have been heavily influenced by my PLN (personal learning network) and I have been provided with some incredible opportunities because of the connections I have made over the years.

I want to throw down a challenge to those administrators attending Nebraska Administrator Days this year. (For those of you who are already connected and reading this please share with those who are NOT connected so they can participate in this challenge.) I think part of the reason some administrators don’t dive into Twitter is because they don’t see the value.  It is so easy to get fired up about using Twitter, but that energy can fade very quickly if you don’t feel like you have a clear reason or purpose to tweet. I have come up with a half-baked plan to encourage Nebraska administrators to really start using Twitter to its full potential.

The following challenge is only open to Nebraska administrators who are not already consistent users of Twitter. Here’s the challenge:

  1. Make a commitment to use Twitter on a regular basis for ONE FULL SCHOOL YEAR. I would define regular basis as several times a week. (Using Tweetdeck and setting up different columns to follow different hashtags will make this so much easier. Make sure you are using the web-based  version of Tweetdeck. The one that you might have installed is crashing because it is no longer supported.) 
  2. Follow and interact with educators both inside and outside of Nebraska. Nebraska teachers and administrators are fantastic, but I can’t say enough about how important it is to connect with others who can provide us with different perspectives. If you want some suggestions for some great people to follow then check out this list created by the one and only Tom Whitby. If you want more suggestions please contact me and I will be happy to provide more names! (Email- [email protected] or tweet me–-@bethstill.)
  3. Follow a variety of people including teachers! We have a lot to add to the conversations as well and we can be fantastic resources when you are searching for things to share with your teachers.
  4. Follow George Couros. Once you follow him and read his blog you won’t need to ask why I said you have to follow him. He’s absolutely brilliant. (Please don’t tell him I said that. I don’t want him to know that I think he walks on water.) You will also find some great resources by reading Connected Principals and keeping tabs on the School Admin Virtual Mentoring Program.

If you stick with this for a full year I can say without a doubt that you will have your “a-ha” moment at some point and you will be hooked. There isn’t a chance you will stick with Twitter until you have that moment. My hope is that this challenge will be enough to get you active enough on Twitter so you can experience that a-ha moment.  If you signed up for Twitter within the last few years, but never used it, now is the time to give it another try. I understand that the mere promise of an a-ha moment is not enough to keep you tweeting so I’m upping the ante. If you fill out this form by September 15, 2013 and fulfill the four stipulations listed above, your name will be placed in a drawing to receive one full day of professional development by yours truly at some date during the 2014-2015 school year. This means enough to me that I’m willing to use my ONLY TWO personal days to come to your district. My only requirement is that your district pays for my travel and lodging expenses. This is a pretty good deal! Most of the educators I know who consult charge anywhere from $2000-$4000 per day on top of their travel expenses. By now you are probably wondering why I would do this. I believe that if you become a connected administrator then many of your teachers will follow suit. If your teachers get connected it will be beneficial to your students. This really matters to me so I’m willing to invest my time sharing my knowledge and skills. 

My areas of expertise include building a personal learning network, using digital tools to find and organize information, blogging, Moodle,  teaching in blended environments, creating online classes, and using Google Apps for Education. I have presented on these topics at a variety of conferences across the country over the last few years. By the end of this year I will be well-versed on Chromebooks, too. I will work with you to create a customized workshop that will fit the needs of your teachers. 

So what do you say? What do you have to lose by either creating a new Twitter account or dusting off an old one that you had every intention of using at one time? Tim Garcia, principal at McCook Elementary said it best this morning when he sent this tweet. I hope you will step out of your comfort zone and take me up on my challenge to dive into the Twitterverse!

Screen Shot 2013-07-31 at 4.30.56 PM

 

 

 

 

Don’t forget to fill out the form!

Updated on August 1—

I forgot to include an explanation for how I will track this challenge throughout the year. Once you fill out the form I will add you to a list called NEAdminDays Challenge that I will create using Tweetedeck. I will be able to follow you much easier this way. If you subscribe to the list you will be able to follow it, too! This is definitely not a gimmick to get new followers. I’d be honored if you followed me, but it is definitely not one of the requirements! The only person you have to follow is George Couros. The rest of the people you follow is up to you!

I figured by turning this into a friendly challenge it might be the catalyst to connect you to each other and to other super educators from around the globe. Please share this with the people at your table today and in your districts when you go back home. Feel free to turn this into a challenge at your own school. Get your teachers in on it! Have fun with it. Getting connected is about learning and growing. The form will be open until September 15, 2013.

Here are some additional resources to help you start your journey: