Archive for August, 2008

Information Overload? Join the club…

Posted on August 31, 2008. Filed under: Uncategorized |

by Kevin Merritt – Instructional Technology

If I may be so honest, there are times when I feel like I need to go crawl in a hole and escape the overstimulation of the digital world in which we live.  I sometimes want to follow the lead of my autistic nephew.  When he gets overstimulated by all the “action” around him, he goes to a quiet place in his house to regain some “sanity.”  I think he has a lot more insight than we give him credit for…

There is so much to learn, so many emails to read, so many new “technology initiatives,” and so many “tools” that we sometimes get overwhelmed to the point that we just need to stop and gain some perspective on what we are trying to do as educators.  Information is now delivered at the speed of light, and it comes to us in exponential amounts!

The technology and “tools” we as educators have access to is mind-boggling.  How many of us go to workshops and get some new “tools and resources,” but go back to our classroom and add that binder to the 35 others on our shelf with no time to sort through and utilize some of it?  This is happening even more so with digital information.  For example, we have emails coming from everywhere showing us all the ” new and exciting” things that we should be doing in the classroom.  We have websites and links to vast pools of resources, but struggle to make sure our daily lessons include an Essential Question and appropriate standards.  This can be frustrating for both new and veteran teachers.  It’s time to go find our quiet place…

There is an interesting article in the August 25, 2008 issue of Computerworld entitled “Too Much Information to Digest?  It’s Time for a Data Diet.”  It is not specifically geared toward education, but it does a good job of discussing the “information overload” problem in general as it applies to keeping up with technology.

Here are some things I am hoping to do this year to cut down on my “overload:”

1.  Get more organized – I am not the most organized person, so I am going to try to set aside a few minutes each day or week to get organized at work.  For those of us who are not as organized, this has a huge effect on other areas in our lives.  Simple things like filing papers, responding immediately to simple email questions so I can delete that email, and organizing the files and documents on my computer will most certainly help my stress level go down. 

2.  Cut back on email subscriptions and “junk” – I have so many miscellaneous emails some days that it just adds to my frustration.  I have to take time to skim them to determine if I can delete them.  Just get rid of ’em!  Remember that you don’t have to subscribe to every Podcast, RSS feed, and mailing list to get information.  If I want to find something specific, there is always Google…

3.  Focus my learning – Our staff has to be knowledgeable about many different things so that we can share these with our district.  I get overwhelmed sometimes with all the things I am supposed to “know.”  I want to become more knowledgeable  by focusing on one item, learning it fairly well, then moving on to another.  Right now, I feel like I know a little about a lot, but not a lot about each one.  As a teacher, you may want to focus on one new learning tool and learn it well.  If you are already comfortable with your Promethean/SMART board, consider focusing on a new tool, such as blogging, Google tools, or something of interest to you.  Don’t try to learn it all.  Remember, you still have to make lesson plans, incorporate Learning Focus strategies, address standards, handle discipline, etc.

4.  Take a few “mental” minutes daily – When I taught middle and high school science, I always got to work at 7:15 to “get it together.”  I was one of the 3 people there at that time, so I had some nice, quiet time to put things on the board, get manipulatives ready for my lesson, finish a lab setup, or even simply to reflect, pray, or just enjoy a quiet moment before the day began.  THERE was my quiet place!

5.  Decompress – I have been going to my local gym on a regular basis for over a year now.  I have not only lost 25 pounds, but I have also felt more energetic, slept better at night, and been better able to handle some stress without having a total nervous breakdown.  It really does help me.  When I miss a day here and there (I go 3 or 4 evenings a week) I notice a difference.

I hope some of you will join me as I seek to better myself professionally in a manageable way, relieve some stress, and keep everything in perspective!

I would love to hear from YOU about how you are making adjustments to have a more manageable school year personally and professionally.  Post your comments to the blog!

Have a great, MANAGEABLE, productive school year.

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Professional Development in a Flash

Posted on August 19, 2008. Filed under: Elementary School, General, High School, Instructional Coaches, Middle School, Teachers |

by Tim Cushman

The primary challenge in the successful implementation of technology in the classroom is the buy-in from the individual teacher.  Many districts elect to channel all of their technology funds into the purchase of hardware and software at the expense of end-user training.  This short-sighted approach leaves many teachers floundering to learn the new technology on their own time, often with limited access to self-study materials.  This frustration is enough of a roadblock for many teachers to ignore technology tools all together or to use them only at a very basic level.

I do have to wonder, at one point do we as professional educators include the pursuit of learning technology under the umbrella of personal growth?  I am not referring to simply staying current with a variety of new products in order to continually “wow” a group of students as a means of crowd control (listen to Wesley Fryer’s “Strive to Engage, Not Enthrall”).

Single Image Set
Image details: Single Image Set by picapp.com

Technology is a tool that serves as a powerful conduit to learning in the hands of the master teacher.  A colleague of mine, Tim Van Heule, often quips that, “the effective use of technology makes a good teacher better, but the misuse of technology makes a good teacher poor.”  Like a master craftsman building a house, it is about using the right tool in the right way.

I recommend the following method for staying current: read blogs, listen to podcasts, watch video tutorials.

Start Here
David Jakes provides an excellent resource on his wiki for teachers interesting in deepening their understanding of an array of technologies.  The tasks are straightforward and can easily be completed in fifteen minutes.  David’s site is full of great resources and is worth a thorough examination.  Do this if nothing else.

Blogs
Click here for a clear explanation of blogs and here to learn how to get blogs automatically delivered to your computer.

A few of my favorite blogs are dy/dan, edu.blogs, Ian Jukes, Steve Hargadon, The Strength of Weak Ties, and 2 Cents.

Podcasts
Click here for a clear explanation of podcasts.  iTunes is a great way to manage your podcasts.  Click here for a video tutorial on how to subscribe to podcasts through iTunes.

Video Tutorials
More video tutorials on the use of hardware and software packages are being posted online thanks in large part to the YouTube revolution.  Atomic Learning is well worth the money if you can afford it because of the volume of tutorials and the speed at which they load.  You can find some decent user content on sites like YouTube or TeacherTube if you don’t mind putting in extra time searching.

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Interactive Whiteboard Lessons – Best Practices

Posted on August 10, 2008. Filed under: Elementary School, English/Language Arts, High School, Instructional Coaches, Interactive Whiteboards, Middle School, Teachers |

by Tim Van Heule

Freshly waxed floors, sharpened pencils, and back-to-school packets… it’s that time of year, again.

It’s also time to start thinking about elements, basic or advanced, that can be present in your interactive whiteboard lessons – Promethean, SMART, etc.

There are some misnomers regarding interactive whiteboard lessons; I hear them often. “Oh, those colorful lessons may work well in the elementary classroom, but I don’t think they will work with my secondary students.” Or, “This works really well in my secondary classroom, but I’m not sure that the elementary students would be able to handle it.”

I’m not one for trick questions, but I do like to ask one question when I work with people on interactive whiteboards – “What elements of an elementary or secondary lesson are proprietary to their respective levels?” In my opinion, elements in an elementary lesson should also be present in the secondary lesson, and vice-versa.

Sharing written information, objectives or notes, with the students on the interactive whiteboard is the best way to get started, but the goal should be not to use the interactive whiteboard as a glorified overhead projector. Again displayed information is an easy way to get started using the board in the classroom, but it shouldn’t be the end goal. Filling the board up with notes and information can overload the students, and takes a great interactive classroom tool and turns it into nothing more than a static board.

Lessons on interactive whiteboards need to be “interactive.” Lessons can contain teacher made activities, or activities that are part of the software. Both Promethean and SMART have vast resources available, therefore, there is no reason to “reinvent the wheel.” Matching and sorting activities can be easily created, and information can be hidden and revealed using shapes or flash-based content, all of which can be found in either Promethean or SMART’s resources. Both companies have their own tricks that can also increase the interactivity of the lessons.

I’m not claiming to the be the expert on the presentation of information on interactive whiteboards, I just know what worked well in my classroom. I took a varied approach, beginning with brief displays of information, guided practice and independent activities, and finished with some form of assessment. Students should be up at the board, working independently, in groups, as a class, etc. The teacher should never be in full control of the board throughout the lesson. It’s important to ask yourself,”how have I engaged my student’s today?”

Example lessons are available upon request for those who are interested.

Here’s to a great 2008-2009 school year…

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    The School District of Greenville County – Instructional Technology Department

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