Friday, June 28, 2013

ISTE 2013 Reflections

I had an amazing experience at the 2013 ISTE conference in San Antonio this past week (June 22-26) and will be reflecting on it for quite some time, I'm sure. It was a different experience than I expected, but one that nonetheless exceeded all my expectations. My #iste13 notes are public, and I welcome comments and questions to help me further reflect.

The conference was big in every way. In fact, its size made for some difficulties, like full sessions and wifi issues. But overall, the size only added to the social aspects of ISTE, which were easily the highlight of the event. Having a chance to catch up with some old friends and meet and have face-to-face conversations with people I've interacted with on Twitter was worth the travel alone. The feeling of collegiality and acceptance at ISTE was almost overwhelming, since it seemed that I was rarely not caught in an engaging conversation with someone, whether sitting in the Bloggers' Cafe or just walking through the halls of the convention center. The Twitter activity was nothing less than amazing too, with over 50,000 Tweets logged during the event. It'll be interesting to read through them over the rest of the summer.

We had some great #coffeecue meetings, where we talked about gamification, PD, and social media tools like Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., and we had a great #brewcue at a local San Antonio favorite, The Friendly Spot. I learned a lot at ISTE, and I'll briefly highlight some of my more-specific takeaways from the conference.

1:1 Program Administration and PD

Saturday's HackedEd "unconference" was fascinating. In fact, I barely said a word, while I instead listened to the compelling insights that others had, based on their experience. In particular, I was very interested to hear what advice educations were willing to offer on professional development and working with 1:1 programs. Specifically:
  • Several people advocate the importance of getting teachers comfortable with the devices that their students will be using, if different from their own. Our teachers have PCs, but most students will have Macs.
  • The importance of visiting other 1:1 classrooms was underscored, and I think that we need to put more emphasis in doing this next year, when we begin our program.
  • An organized LMS is key, which will be another priority of ours in developing courses with Instructure's Canvas.
  • Interestingly, devices amplify what you do well and what you don't do well. We'll need to keep a close eye on this next year.
  • With that, teachers must be willing to not be the expert with the tools in the classroom anymore.
  • It's important to give only 1 or 2 tools for teachers to learn in the first year of a program. Next year, we're starting with 7th grade only and will be focusing our attention on Canvas and Google Apps.
  • Finally, some educators suggested that a good PLN is more valuable than a TIS or other person whose job it is to facilitate technology integration. We need to think about ways to build a stronger PLN at our school.

After reading Jane McGonigal's inspiring book Reality is Broken (on our #caedchat summer book list!), attending the Epic Leadership workshop, and talking to others about games, I have a new appreciation for gamification and the value of play in the classroom, namely, that the intrinsic principles of game mechanics (i.e. what makes a good game) can often be more valuable than the game itself. I've also come to learn that games don't just imply video games but can include almost any activity structured around solid gamification principles. Games can be played by students, but they can also be used with faculty for professional development and even to simply boost morale. I have some ideas for next year that I'll write up elsewhere.


I thought all three keynotes were epic wins. Sunday night, McGonigal highlighted the importance of gamers as "super-powered hopeful individuals" who are motivated by creativity above all other emotions (despite creativity not being an emotion).  She stressed that, when we're designing games for classroom, we should be thinking about positive emotions that gamers crave, in addition to points and achievements. And most of all, she stresses that we must "empower students to make contributions to the world now, not when they're adults."

Steven Johnson's Keynote on Tuesday morning was based on the premise that "not all great ideas are eureka moments." In other words, good ideas don't just happen but are the product of long-term thinking. In Johnson's words, an idea "is not a single thing; an idea is a network." I'd never thought of ideas in this way, where diversity becomes paramount. "When we surround ourselves with people who are different, we become smarter," Johnson stressed. With this in mind, I now believe that it's even more important to visit other regularly schools for professional development, given that "chance favors the connected mind." I'm going to make it a point to read his book Where Good Ideas Come From this summer.

Wednesday afternoon's closing keynote by Adam Bellow, adorned with his Google Glass, was both impassioned and emotional. He underscored the importance of creativity in the classroom, especially the role we educators play  we who "are the artisans, craftsmen, and chefs that make technology matter." As Socrates said and Bellow reiterated, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” I understand this to mean that we shouldn't spend our time and energy looking to the past or arguing about what clearly doesn't work. Instead, we need to build new "superstructures" together (cf. Reality is Broken p. 318) that pave the way for more creativity in education today.

I appreciated the fact that the three keynotes echoed similar ideas but that each of them approached these ideas through their own unique lenses. That different insights reveal the same things about the current state of education has got to say something about the importance of these ideas, I think.

In the end, it's about the ideas, not the tools. We want to be social. We want to collaborate and help each other. As McGonigal, Johnson, Bellow and others have emphasized, we want to play hard and do meaningful work, and we want valuable feedback on our efforts so we can do even better in subsequent attempts. We want these things because, as the field of positive psychology is demonstrating, our brains have evolved to depend on them. With this in mind, my overall top takeaway from the whole conference, perhaps, is my own modified understanding the relationship we have to the technology we use. It seems to me that this relationship is Darwinian, in that the most successful tools we use have been selected for, based on their ability to give us these very things that our minds crave, like playful connection and meaning. If a particular tool doesn't allow us to do these things, it won't be very successful in the long run because no one will use it.

So, our task in going to conferences like ISTE isn't to learn how to force technology into our classrooms, but rather to move our classrooms to be more collaborative, meaningful, and give better feedback. And we do so by being connected. Technologies like GAFE and Twitter that easily help us to do so are the ones that we will always come back to. From now on, I plan to focus on the ideas and let the technology fall into place naturally. Next up, #gtachi!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

InstructureCon 2013 and the LMS

Quick disclaimer:  I'm sitting the the Bloggers' Cafe at ISTE 2013 right now, which is an awesome feeling. I had an fantastically productive time at HackedEd 2013 yesterday, with a lot of new PD ideas, and this morning's Epic Leadership workshop on game mechanics with Jane McGonigal was just as good.  But I promised myself I'd reflect on last week's InstructureCon before I get too deep into ISTE.

Instructure, the company who builds Canvas, hosted their third annual conference devoted to using the LMS (a Learning Management System, or a tool for organizing a course around online materials). "InstructureCon", as they call it, gets rave reviews from participants in prior years, and I wholeheartedly agree. The conference was entertaining (lots of swag and great social events), bizarre (MC Hammer was the keynote performer), and it was additionally very useful to learn what others are doing with the system.

I have to admit that I've been a skeptical LMS user for many of the reasons Audrey Watters mentioned in her keynote. I was afraid that an LMS could stagnate course development and "sandbox" thinking too much, but after using Canvas for a year, I now see how powerful and useful of a tool it can be. It's entirely possible to build a de-facto LMS with GAFE, but one of the advantages an LMS can allow students to focus on the learning in a course, rathern than the technology. It also gives teachers who aren't otherwise interested in learning to wield technology a versatile tool to build a digital course. Despite some of my reservations and personal goals, I'm eager to move farther with Canvas next year and help our faculty to do new and engaging things with our students.

A particularly striking thought offered by Richard Culatta (@rec54) is that we shouldn't "put a thin coat of awesome-colored paint on top of something that is structurally flawed". Most participants at InstCon seemed to be aware of the idea that we need to be working toward change by pushing engagement and collaboration, lest Audrey Watters' fears be realized. This idea was clear in two ways, as I saw it.

  • First, Canvas pushes modular design to courses, in that it creates a clearly-organized system for students to move through a course. Moreover, the modules are (or should be!) interactive, starting with a hook and proceeding through interactive and collaborative activities that the system offers (e.g. discussions, collaborations, pbl and inquiry-based work etc.).
  • And second (and of particular thematic importance at this year's event), was the focus on API and LTI use. One of the advantages of Canvas over others LMSs, as far as I've seen, is its openness and ability to be customized by users. Instructure debuted their "App Center" last week, which promises to allow users to integrate third-party apps into their courses more easily.

With that, I'm looking forward to building clearer and more useful modules next year, especially now that we have mobile access to them, while integrating apps more easily (and hopefully writing a few of my own, too). I think we have an opportunity to do a lot of innovative things next year not only with Canvas, but with other online tools and most importantly, with the ideas that were in circulation next week. Richard Culatta also reminded us that, at the end of the day: "No one cares what courses you've taken. They care what you can do." It's time for all of us to "build our own awesome". Can't wait for InstructureCon 2014!

My more-detailed notes from #instcon 2013; comments/questions welcomed, of course. In particular, I'm very interested to hear how language teachers are using Canvas.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Summer PD Plans

Following up +Jennifer Peyrot's helpful post on her plans for "Summer Learning Fun" and thanks to the inspiration found in the scores of Twitter chats happening every day, I figured it'd be a good idea for me to consolidate some of my own plans for next year. I highly doubt that I'll get through everything, but I'm eager to get started, and I'm looking forward to talking with others about their own projects. It should be a fun and hopefully productive summer!

Reading I've been reading a fair number of books relating to education and pedagogy lately, largely inspired by the #CAedchat book club, and I've keeping my notes in an Evernote notebook. I'll continue to add to it and welcome any comments and questions. A few books on my reading list:

Thinking Next year I'll be teaching Latin IA to new 7th graders, which I've never done before. Our incoming class will be huge, and so I'm doubly excited to take on this task. Given that we shouldn't move too quickly with grammar in a class like this, there will be ample opportunity to explore the new ideas I've been absorbing from my PLN to build a strong community of invested learners right from the start. We'll all have laptops too, which will enable us to do things in class that we haven't yet been able to do. In particular, I'm interested in picking up a few ideas I've been thinking through over the past year, including:
  • learning more trcks with our LMS Canvas
  • developing mapping projects
  • developing activites using Google Forms and search skills
  • rethinking grading using standards-based grading (thanks #sbgchat!) and "crowdsourcing" grading
  • exploring digital storytelling (e.g. student videos, comic books, choose-your-own adventures, etc.)
  • playing around with TodayMeet for classroom management
  • working on a collaborative Latin penpal program
  • continuing to think through blog uses
  • considering how to implement "20% time" and #geniushour
  • thinking through "augmented reality" as a tool for education (thanks #patue!)
I've also been approached to teach an independent study in linguistics for a handful of upperclassmen next year, and I'm excited to start planning. Tentatively, the class will cover basic linguistic science in the first semester, then open to inquiry-based projects in the second semester. Because students will be on the other campus, I'm exploring ways to construct a partially online course, for which I could use #flipclass methods to provide content to students. Doing so would give students more flexibility to work the course into their schedules. It's very possible that a Google+ community, combined with Google Hangouts, could provide everything we need for the course.

Visiting I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to take part in summer conferences:
  • I'll attend InstructureCon to learn more about the Canvas LMS.
  • I'm excited for my first ISTE conference for everything on technology in education.
  • There are a number of edcamp opportunities later this summer, including #edcampsfbay on Aug. 10.
  • I'll be co-organizing the free PlaydateLA "unconference" on Aug. 17 to give other educators in the LA area a change to explore ways to use technology in education. All are welcome to sign up!
Exploring I'm very excited to join the computer science club next year, when we'll be shifting our focus to coding and working on Raspberry Pi projects. We'll also tackle some After-School Programming challenges.

Writing Finally, I'm very eager to continue some of my own work in Greek and Latin linguistics. I've got a book review to work on, in addition to a few papers I've been meaning to write up. By putting writing together with some of the other activities above together, I may hopefully come up with something to submit for CA2014.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Google Earth/Maps Latin Project

Thanks to inspiration from the Power Searching with Google course, I developed a digital Classical scavenger hunt for our last JCL club meeting of the year that takes advantage of Google's search-by-image feature. The experiment went well, and I'm looking forward to integrating the the use of images and Google Forms into my Latin classes next year.

I'm now thinking through ideas to use Google Maps and Earth, with some of the tricks I'm learning through the current Mapping with Google course. We will begin our 1:1 laptop program in 7th grade, and I'll have the pleasure of teaching our Latin IA course for the first time, including developing new collaborative activities and projects around the laptops.

I think that a mapping project of the sorts demonstrated in the course are perfect for our first project, based on the principle that "maps tell a story". Namely, We can let students choose ancient sites and build investigative tours for them using Maps Engine LiteGoogle Earth, and the fantastic ORBIS project (an ancient travel tool) at Stanford. With the markup tools that Maps/Earth provide, we could even have students create their own overlay of Roman sites that are either in ruins or obscured by modern structures. They could easily point out features that are otherwise very difficult to see today.

The best feature of all, perhaps, is the ability to record a tour in a .kmz file to share publicly and even build upon further. This summer, planning on building a tour of Hadrian's wall, including details of some Roman forts, as an example to use in class, and I'll share it through Twitter. I also welcome ideas or comments from anyone else who has done any similar mapping project. In particular, I'm interested in sharing our map work with other classes out there to build a library of tours of ancient sites. Let me know, if you'd like to participate!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

HW "Three For All" PD Program

I've casually mentioned our "Three For All" program for professional development to a few colleagues from other schools, and based on the questions asked about it, I thought it may be worth sharing to a wider audience.

We'll be starting our 1:1 laptop program next year in 7th grade, before rolling it out to 7-9 and 7-12 in the next two years, and to better prepare our faculty and staff to use the devices effectively, we contemplated all varieties of PD plans. Our school structure makes it difficult to offer blocked time for join PD, leaving it instead for faculty to do on their own. With that in mind, we contemplated plans that used words like "require" and "mandate" to make the importance of PD work clear, but because that approach didn't really capture our school's philosophy toward PD, for which we believe in autonomy and choice, nothing seemed right.

Our MS Head of School finally decided on one he called "Three For All", which asks all faculty (not just 7th-grade teachers) to complete 3 PD projects by the start of the next academic year on Aug. 27. In March, he revealed the program to the rest of the faculty using a video we put on YouTube, rather than through an email (which was very well received!). A single PD project could include almost anything, including reading a book and writing a review, watching a webinar or taking an online course, participating in a Tweetchat, attending a workshop or #coffeecue meeting, visiting a school, or even going to a conference. And if the conference offers multiple workshops, it could well count for three PD credits itself. We've created a document of suggested activities to encourage collaborative participation, but there were very few restrictions on the types of activities.

Because we want faculty doing the kind of work that they're interested and invested it, we also gave the option of requesting specific 1:1 tutorials or departmental workshops. If a teacher gave a workshop for others, that would count as a credit, since we want to encourage the formation of a support network within the school. But we also welcome departments to arrange for workshops led by experts they choose from outside the school in order to ensure that their PD time and work is valuable and most of all, to make it clear to our community that we support them in their "Three For All" activities.

PD work is recorded within a spreadsheet, and faculty are encouraged to share their work with the rest of the community on our faculty portal, where others can see what they've done and whether they found the project useful, while asking any questions about it.

Thus far, we all are quite happy with the results. In fact, in addition to the variety of work recorded, we've been pleasantly surprised at how many credits some faculty have already earned. By giving our community autonomy to select their own projects and trusting them to do the work responsibly, our level of participation is high. Moreover, more faculty are exchanging ideas with each other not only for "Three For All" opportunities but also for ideas to use in their classrooms next year. I'm still thinking through ways to facilitate face-to-face sharing (e.g. a "demo slam" or weekly coffee chats) and welcome any suggestions.

When we return to campus in the fall, our TIS team will lead an edcamp-like PD workshop, where we hope others will be willing to share what they learned over the summer. Most importantly, we hope that these sorts of discussions that the "Three For All" program has already sparked will continue to happen throughout next year and that we will continue to build a strong network of experts from within our faculty.

I welcome any questions or comments on the program, and I'm also curious to learn of other approaches to PD that other schools have found successful.