Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

Global warming! Oh - wait - no - it's "Climate change." That explains why Houston is having its coldest winter in over a decade and may see several days of temperatures at or near freezing. Do I wrap outside hose bibs? Drip faucets? Run up in the attic and insulate every exposed pipe up there? Not sure yet.

I'm waiting to see what others are doing, but the only thing I'm even considering is wrapping the hose bibs. My house, however, has builder-grade insulation, which means the home's heat LEAKS through the walls like crazy. So . . . I'm fairly sure the hose bibs will be all right.

Muffin has strep throat. I have a sinus infection. And (I haven't blogged about this yet) my mom passed away on Christmas.

Interestingly, I'm not overwhelmed by it. Just learning to roll with the punches. More rolling with the weather. I'll let you know about how we come through!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.


-- Max Ehrmann, 1927

Saturday, January 2, 2010

We now return you to your previously scheduled blog, already in progress

2010 begins. 2009 was a memorable year. So many ups and down, including the Christmas Day passing of my mother.

I have come to the conclusion that all the ups and downs of the past few years were for a reason. I would not change or do without even the worst of them, because they have made me far stronger and more confident than I could have envisioned otherwise. So many new doors have opened to me, and I'm excited about what lies ahead!

Goals/resolutions for 2010? My usual: NONE! However, that doesn't mean I don't have a vision of what 2010 will hold. I will finish my master's work in March and graduate in May. I will continue going to karate, and earn my purple and red belts this year. I will open my heart even further, and invite in new friends, new experiences, and new learnings. I will love openly, give freely, and rejoice daily. And 2010 will be my best year yet!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Course final reflections

The description for this course is as follows:


"This course emphasizes techniques for improving instruction and learning through the application of the research on effective schools and on models of instruction. Topics include leadership related to curriculum, instruction, supervision, and theories and methods for adult learning and professional development. The principal as the leader of learning involves such tasks as teacher evaluation, supervision, mentoring, and effective communication."


 

This description does not appear to be significantly related to the course offered. As such, I had no idea that this course dealt with instructional technology. The course description makes no mention of the sole focus on technology of this course. In fact, the course description sounds as if it is describing a different course entirely. The description
does sound like a course in which I would be interested. However, once the course began it became obvious that my knowledge of technology and its use in education was more limited than I had thought. I discovered that I had a fair amount to learn about intellectual property, and about uses of technology to increase students' learning.


 

Once the course began, I began to see that I especially could learn a lot about creative uses of technology to increase student learning. While the course materials mentioned several means of doing so, especially areas such as project-based learning, I still am starving for more concrete examples of ways this is used, especially in math classes. Generalities do point in a direction, but until you give someone an example, it is difficult to envision their use. I still do not understand how to develop a project which will help students learn advanced mathematical concepts when they do not even know what mathematical concepts they may need in order to work on the project. Telling a student, for example, to develop a plan involving advanced use of force and motion without having first taught him vectors, would seem to work only to frustrate the student. On the other hand, how then is it different to teach a student the concepts of vectors and give him a web site or PowerPoint to develop on the project, versus having him create an actual model? Why is the former better than the latter?

The material in this course will, however, help me in my current job in that it has opened my eyes and made me more aware of concepts such as project-based learning, and about the wealth of intellectual property. I am much more sensitive now as I create work for my current job, whether it is a presentation about the course selection process, a lesson for my students, or the curriculum for a course. Additionally, I also am much more sensitive to the use of copyrighted material in class. Today was the last class day before winter break, and several teachers showed movies. In the past, they would not have even made a blip on my radar, but today it gave me great pause.

The assignments in the course did help me learn the material. However, I already had a blog, which I simply adapted for the course. I also use Facebook, Twitter, have a web page for the course, and text and e-mail so much that I had to go to unlimited text messages on my own cell phone. While my age puts me in the generation of "digital immigrants," I am fairly fluent. I even have been known to translate something for a "native," today even explaining to a student what a pdf file is.

I do think that blogs and blogging can indeed be helpful for education. However, the most recent set of readings also pointed out the pitfalls inherent in blogs. To begin with, there are inherent concerns about the suitability of anything students might post in such a forum. How to keep the focused, for example, on the course material? How to keep them from plagiarizing or cheating in the forum? Additionally, there are even more significant concerns, which had not occurred to me before, related to students' privacy. Is inviting students to participate in a teacher-created blog which is not sponsored by the school district a dangerous step to take? It would appear to be so, particularly without the wealth of recommended permissions, including those of the students' parents and the school's administration.

However, a blog would seem to be an extremely effective way to simply communicate information to parents. I am still uncertain about the advantages of a blog versus a traditional teacher webpage with a calendar or log of notes and assignments. The blog might have more room for a more narrative style of information, but this may not outweigh the ease of posting on a district's own web site. In my district, for example, teachers have web sites on which they can post course information, including homework, and can put a link for parents or students to e-mail them with questions. Certainly part of that web page could become something moderately close to a formal blog, while still remaining under the safe umbrella of the school district's purview. On the other hand, for a teacher at my school to create her own blog would require her using a service such as Blogger, which would take her outside the control and protection of the school district, and I am not certain that I would recommend her doing so at this time.

Blogs certainly would be extremely helpful for communicating course information both to students and to parents. Additionally, a school's administrator could use it as a less formal, more comfortable way of communicating with parents and the community at large, touting students' successes and upcoming events such as ball games and musicals. The administrator also could commend outstanding teachers, and even discuss in a conversational tone the impact of recent school news, such as a recent snow day at school.

I have enjoyed and learned a lot from this course. The course professors are the first with whom I have had direct communication throughout this entire program, although my January course will be my penultimate one. I appreciate the time and effort they have put into this, and the learning I have had from them.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Technology Action Plan

Introduction:



Technology in Pearland ISD is ubiquitous, and growing. The district recently "tweeted" one high school's actions in a state football semi-finals football game. Podcasts tell the community of news in the district. An online survey last week gathered input regarding a proposed magnet school in the district. An online program allows teachers to update grades and lesson plans 24/7, and allows parents to access their students' grades in real time. However, as good as all that sounds, the district's implementation of technology to aid student learning is still somewhat weak. This action plan will help to address that weakness and raise students' learning and success to an even higher level. In developing this plan, I interviewed instructional technology specialists, administrators, teachers, and students. I studied the district's improvement plan, and its technology improvement plan. I also analyzed our STaR chart data for the last several years, and observed teacher uses of technology day-to-day in their classes.



Organization chart: (see below)



In the Pearland Independent School District, policy for all district programs is set by the Board of Trustees, and implemented by the Superintendent, including technology programs and expenditures. The Director of Technology Services reports to the Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education. This does not imply that technology services affect only secondary education, but rather reflects an emphasis by the district to share the responsibility load among the various assistant superintendents. The Director of Technology Services oversees both the hardware and software sides of the district's efforts, supervising the district's Instructional Technology Coordinator, who is responsible for student learning through technology, and the telecommunications, network, and technology specialists who ensure the systems are up and running. This person also oversees the district's Student Information Manager, who is responsible for the implementation of the PEIMS system, as well as the grade book and data management program Skyward. On the other side of the chart is the district's Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction. This individual supervises the district's curriculum specialists, who work closely with the instructional technologists to identify and implement programs and products that will enhance students' learning.

The secondary campus principals also report to the Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education. On their campuses, they closely coordinate and work with the Site-Based Decision Making (SBDM) teams to establish and review the campus' educational plans, goals, performance objectives, and major classroom instructional programs. Among other things, the SBDM and principal work together to discuss the effectiveness of current technology, and identify new needs or adjustments to current offerings. On each campus there is a Campus Instructional Technology Specialist (CITS) who works not only to implement technology on that campus, but also to train the teachers in using the available technology. On most campuses, this person works closely with teachers and offers just-in-time training on the use of technology. For example, a teacher might want to implement a lesson about a particular new math concept, or review students before a test, and the CIT will help to set up an interactive clicker activity which will help accomplish that goal, helping the teacher learn how to use it just before the students need it.

Most importantly, however, are the relationships this organization chart does not show. On this chart, departments and divisions appear clearly delineated and compartmentalized. However, this is far from the truth. The CITS work with campus teachers, obviously, but also with the campus SBDM to help to determine needs and to review available resources. The teachers work closely with curriculum and instruction specialists to develop new ways to teach needed concepts. The CITS and Instructional Technology Specialists coordinate closely with the Curriculum specialists and with teachers to determine what technology will help meet their needs. A series of overlapping circles would better depict many of these relationships, than this straightforward progression of rectangles.





Professional Development:



Pearland ISD has a strong emphasis on technology, which can only be accomplished when all of its teachers, curriculum specialists, and even classroom paraprofessionals are best able to diagnose students' educational needs and meet them the best ways possible. Today, meeting those needs can be well accomplished through new technological advances.

First, however, students' needs must be accurately assessed. That happens through the district's myriad data gathering avenues. TAKS test scores are certainly one source of data, but the district also administers TAKS release tests annually, administers End-of Course field tests, TAKS field tests, and students' course grades. Additionally, the district has access to mobility information, socioeconomic status, discipline information, course grade and test performance history, at-risk status, and other demographic information. In order for educators to be able to use this data to help students, they first must be able to delve into its depths for meaningful information. The district has two sources from which such information can be mined. The first is the Skyward program, which tracks PEIMS data and student grades. The Eduphoria suite of programs are a second tool, through which the Aware component allows sorting and management of all quantifiable test data to which it has access. Not only are student's TAKS and release TAKS scores tracked in this system, but these data can be fully disaggregated. Students' full profile of strengths and weaknesses can be easily accessed. Teacher training for this area will consist of an initial, brief, in-person session which will help teachers simply see the types of data and its uses they can access via this system. Additional online tutorials will be made available so that when teachers need or want to access particular types of data, they simply need to access the online training for step-by-step instructions about how to access it, parse it, disaggregate it, and use it.

Secondly, teachers have access to a wealth of technologies which they either are completely unfamiliar with using, or have only a passing awareness of its existence. These technologies are myriad, and include interactive white boards, slates, graphing calculators, clickers, and other tools. Additionally, teachers have access to a wealth of programs that also will help with student learning, from word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation programs, to programs specifically designed to help students with particular subjects such as math. To help here, we will host a technology round-robin training day. Teachers will be allowed to select eight 30-minute sessions during the day, based on their wants and needs, and then rotate into and out of those sessions during that day. After the training day, all of the presentations and training materials will be stored on the district's web server, so that teachers can access them 24/7 either onsite or offsite.

Finally, and most importantly, teachers need the ability to brainstorm ways to leverage these technologies into totally new learning experiences for students. Simply using a new technology to teach an old lesson is no longer enough. Instead, the school's schedule will be adjusted so that every other Thursday morning, classes start an hour late. Students will arrive to school at their normal time, and be supervised in the library and cafeteria by paraprofessionals and administrators. Teachers will convene in subject-area and grad-level teams during alternating sessions. During these times, they will brainstorm and discuss upcoming lessons and topics of study, and seek ways to capitalize on overlaps and needs. Additionally, study teams will research best practices in project-based learning, and share these ideas during these meetings.

In short, this new learning will enable teachers to pinpoint needs, identify the technologies that are available to meet those needs, then have the time and information needed in order to effectively meet those needs and challenge students to new ways of learning.





Evaluation:



Evaluation is a means by which a program's effectiveness can be determined. If this program is successful, we will begin to see teachers accessing the online training more, and more frequently. Hit counters will make it easy to see whether this occurs. Additionally, teachers will begin to mention and use technology more often in their lesson plans. The online lesson planning software has check-boxes on which teachers can indicate what technology they are using, and monitoring this is a simple matter of pulling a report. Additionally, teachers will be using technology in a more innovative fashion, helping students turn from mere consumers of information to creators of knowledge. Monitoring and evaluating this area will occur during administrators' classroom walkthroughs and observations. Additionally, teachers' use of their web pages will increase significantly, as will the value of the information posted on web pages. Rather than a simple teacher biography, the web pages will begin to show items such as homework assignments and links to useful online resources. Teachers also will begin to create class blogs and/or wikis, for students to use in online learning. They also will share lesson plans and ideas via the Eduphoria program. Further and deeper use, disaggregation, and mining will occur much more often, and teachers will use the data to better understand and meet student needs.

From the Curriculum side, curriculum specialists and instructional technologists will team more closely to research, pinpoint, and share innovate means of using technology to help students learn. Most importantly, the curriculum specialists can research innovative lessons and projects that will more effectively help students use technology to reach higher levels of learning.

The technology department also will continue to research innovative learning technologies, focusing on the newest hardware and software available. They will work with the curriculum specialists to again identify helpful uses for the technologies, focusing on student learning rather than on innovation solely for the sake of innovation.

The district also will use technology more, and more creatively, to communicate with parents and other stakeholders. Training for parents and students about the new Skyward grade program will occur each semester. School and district web sites will be enhanced to include a question/comment section, on which parents and other stakeholders can pose questions that will be answered by district personnel. The district will improve its use of the Twitter technology, "tweeting" about district happenings and enlisting parents and other stakeholders to sign up for its Twitter feed. The district also will enhance its own use of administrative technology, including continuing to create and distribute podcasts, provide online audio recordings of board meetings, and utilize the TASB Policy Online portal. Additionally, teachers and administrators will make greater use of other online tools, including scheduling meetings via Microsoft Outlook.

When teachers and administrators attend professional development sessions, exit surveys will occur to measure their perception of the value of the training. Additionally, follow-up surveys annually will ask what trainings they perceived as most valuable, what they are and are not using that they saw in those trainings, and what they would like to learn in the coming year. The district's annual climate survey also will include questions about the perceptions of the effectiveness of technology use and levels of technology comfort throughout the district.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

STaRs At Dawson High School

Week 2 Assignment

Status of the Texas STaR Chart survey and implementation at Pearland ISD's Dawson High School