Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Holiday Shopping!

Tis the season!

The season when people call, email, text or stop by because they want to know "what computer do you recommend we buy for _____?".

This is really a difficult question for me to answer. Being the Chief Technology Officer, I cannot recommend ONE product over any other. I don't have secret deals. I don't know what store has the best discount. I don't have special coupon codes. I don't know which computer is going to be the best for what you or your kid needs.

I can only point you to places to help you find the best deal for what you want.

Seriously, this is THE list of places to go to shop for the best deals. This is where I go to shop for the deals I get for my family and friends.

First - learn smart. 

In 2009, I published this holiday shopping guide for the teachers and staff I work with. It is online and available still to help explain what to look for when purchasing a computer whether it is a laptop or netbook.

Second - shop smart.

CNET is awesome. CNET is like a shopping guide and consumer reports rolled into one. CNET evaluates all technology products. And for holidays, they have a directory to help you find products of interest to you. They can help you find a list of products based on exactly what you need.

Finally - price smart.

As for pricing, I suggest you look to Amazon or use a search tool like Google Shopping or Bing Shopping to find price ranges for what you want.

One last recommendation:
Find an actual store that sells the device you are looking at spending your money to purchase. Drive yourself and/or the person you are buying this for to the actual store and get your hands on the device. Hold it, weigh it, check to see that the keyboard is a size you like, etc. Gadgets are expensive. So just like any other investment, you need to get your hands on it to see if it is what you want before you spend your money.

Anyone have any shopping recommendations to add? Please add in the comments below! I am sure some of you know good ideas and tips to share.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Rethinking Classroom Design

I am huge into design and learning spaces. Last year while giving a standardized test, I spent my time walking around the room checking on the kids and also redesigning the room in my mind. If I were teaching in the room, how different would it look?

The answer is usually that the room would look completely different and that I would be broke and have an angry Maintenance Director upset that I didn't get approval first. That statement defines the learning spaces I taught in when I worked in classrooms.

So it is thrilling for me to see videos about not only classroom furniture design, but designs made by kids who will use those designs.

This comes from NBC News Education Nation 2011 blog "The Learning Curve" and today's post on Rethinking Classroom Furniture.

There are three videos toward the bottom of the page that I linked to above on Classroom Furniture. One is on the chair kids use. One is on the desk kids use. And one is on the locker space kids use. 

Who wouldn't want this furniture? Does this type of furniture make sense for kids?

And if you were to invite kids to redesign their learning spaces, what types of comments would you get about their current furniture? Leg pains? Back pains? 

For years I have sought to petition TLC or Discovery to bring back the Trading Spaces show and to create a spin-off or special edition called "Classroom Edition". Let's bring back simple design tips that can be replicated in schools by top designers!!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Summer Staff Development....Development

I know it is November but my mind is already planning Summer Staff Development. I am already in June and working out some fresh ideas for planning summer staff development.

I am being influenced by outside resources that are sparking innovative learning ideas to share this summer. I started reading Marc Prensky's book Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning and the ideas are connecting gaps I feel I have left out of the past few years of staff development. I haven't been doing integrated technology training. I have only been showing tools and leaving the guesswork up to teachers to figure out what to do with those tools.

I apologize for this error. And the frustrating thing is that I know better than to do this. So I am unlearning and now learning to develop integration training strategies for teachers.

Gone are the days of staff development focused on only one tool or one resource. Now we are looking to hone in on changing the entire structure of classroom instruction to make it relevant and interactive.

We are going to look to create the types of learning partnerships established in Prensky's book as well as in all true personal learning network research that are successful for establishing trusted cooperative learning environments.

So here are a few titles in development for this summer. This is on-going and we hope to have a variety of trainings for every type of teacher in the district. Below is a draft list of topics we are developing. I would appreciate input into developing more topics and ideas!

  • Exploring Setting in the Worlds We Only Read About
  • Community Service Learning Projects
  • Preserving Elder Voice
  • Flipping Out: The Flipped Classroom
  • Mobile Math Wizards
  • Partnered Learning Method
  • Evaluating Student Work
  • Asking Better Questions
  • Harnessing Search on the Web
There is also a topic near and dear to my heart that isn't so much for teachers but for anyone who engages in providing staff development. I believe we as a district need to develop standards for organized meetings and engaged staff development. We need to look into ways to rotate from the "sit and get" style of 1 speaker talking down to the audience.

We need to stop ignoring the intelligence of the room and capitalize on it by encouraging collaboration and partnering with our own staff. So there will be staff development on staff development as well!

Please let me know other ideas or concepts you would be interested in either learning or sharing. This is the time to start considering sharing ideas and developing our summer offerings! Thanks for any input!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Everyone's Got One

Remember when our Texas Education Agency announced Epsilen's Project Share as the unifying bridge to connect teachers across the state together in a collaborative system? This was to connect us not only to learn updates and news about TEKS and new standardized testing procedures, but a real collaborative showcase of best practice in the classroom.

It didn't live up to its promise as concerns about ownership and long-term initiative success for this type of implementation caused many of us to keep away. In its fourth year now, we are just now starting to see the content that was supposed to be available in year one.

But Project Share was initially conceived as the one online tool that was going to unite districts together. It was to be the state's portal for professional development and developing professional learning communities. It was also going to connect us to rich media content to create eCourses for students to access as a replacement to the TxVSN system.

And now we are fractured and will continue to fracture out as many of our vendors are now developing their own PLN portals. TEA supports Project Share. TCEA supports TIME from TIME is the portal where teachers can connect to their digital subscriptions based on the learning objectives matched to corresponding media. Along with the SKY system in Learning's web tools, teachers can create, share and manage content for complete lessons online.

Is this a good place to mention TCEA's goal?: "Our goal is to become the dominant force for technology in education."

Don't forget the  ESC Regional Service Centers are selling eduphoria! Suite which is about to release the Forethought Community and StudentObjects systems. These two additions will allow eduphoria! users to be able to share online courses and manage student learning online. Districts can toggle if they want to share their courses with other districts in Community. They can even manage fees for courses offered to other districts.

Several of the online SIS (student information systems) are now offering spaces for teachers to collaborate online and integrate with student accounts to share calendars. They can communicate with the students, share notes and even create course content inside the actual gradebook systems.

And Google has partnered with Pearson for HigherEd to create a system called OpenClass which is also an LMS system. So now Pearson resources will work inside an LMS that works inside of Google Apps for Education. Course content can be shared among teachers collaboratively as well as incorporate the vast Pearson resources (you pay for) and the Google/YouTube empire. I bet this opens up to K12 soon!

Like I said in the title of this post: "Everyone's Got One" and everyone's choosing sides. TEA supports Project Share. TCEA supports TIME. The Service Centers seem to dig eduphoria!. Districts are using Moodle, Joomla, Druple and whatever else they wish.

And when everyone's got one, we have many and not ONE. We aren't collaborating anymore. We aren't sharing. We are fracturing more.