Do You Know What Today Is?

Birthday CakeIt is huffenglish.com’s 8th birthday! To make it even more special, I’m celebrating by writing this post in the Blogger’s Cafe at ISTE!

Of course, a cursory glance at my content for the last year or so reveals very little actual blogging.

Why is that? Well, I moved 1,000 miles away and started a new job. I now work at Worcester Academy, and this summer I begin my second year as their Technology Integration Specialist. I can’t think of a more wonderful place to work. They value my professional development enough to send me to the premier educational technology conference in the world, and I work with some truly amazing educators.

I have been really dissatisfied with the quiet on this blog. Even though I made some major changes in my professional and personal life over the last year, and I gave myself permission to let the blog go for a while, I have always maintained that people make time for things they consider important. People used to ask me how I had time to blog, tweet, etc. You know, all the social media. I said I made time to do it because it was important to me. And it is still important to me, but clearly not as important as some other things going on. I am announcing today that blogging has once again moved to my front burner, and if it’s not on the very front burner, at least it’s on the stove again. It’s been relegated to the recesses of the freezer as I tried to acclimate to my new home and job, but because blogging is important to me, I’ll be making time for it again.

Why is blogging important to me? It allows me to reflect on what I’m thinking and learning. Sure, I can do that offline in any one of a variety of note-taking apps I use or even with a pen and notebook, but the kind of thinking and reflection I do here on this blog transformed me as a teacher. Eight years ago, when I started this blog, I was an English teacher, and I had no idea technology integration specialists even existed, much less did I dream of ever being one. I assumed I would spend the rest of my career as an English teacher in Georgia. I am still teaching one English class, by the way, but who could have imagined I would be helping teachers integrate technology in Massachusetts? I didn’t even like technology when I started teaching, and I certainly didn’t think I was any good with it. Now I teach others how to use it in their lessons. Is that crazy?

You really never know what trajectory your career is going to take, and it is smart to make connections with really smart educators online and off, to participate in chats with other teachers when you can, and to tap all those great resources online and in your community. You just never know where your life will take you, and even if you plan it, opportunities will arise that you never foresaw, and doors will close where you expected them to be open.

I am the happiest I have ever been in my life right now, and a lot of that happiness has to do with my professional satisfaction. But only a few years ago, I felt like I was at a professional nadir, and my dissatisfaction at work made it hard to enjoy everything else. It is really true that if you find something you love to do, you really don’t ever work again.

Here is hoping you can find what makes you happy, too.

Happy birthday, huffenglish.com. To many more years of blogging! (And I mean real blogging.) Cheers!

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Seven Years of Blogging

It seems fitting somehow that my blog turns seven years old as I am currently attending my first ever ISTE conference. I am also starting a new job 1,000 miles away from the place where I have lived and worked for the entire time I have written this blog. I started this blog because I thought I had something to say about education, and I was impressed with what I was seeing in the edublogosphere (which was much smaller at that time). I didn’t try to analyze what I would focus on or what my audience would be. I just decided I would write about the things that interested me, and if they also interested others, so much the better. I still think that was a smart move because even when months go by without a post on this blog, I know that I am writing here still because I want to share something, not because of any expectation I set for myself. I have seen so many good bloggers quit over the years, and I think that they are partly crushed by unrealistic expectations:

  • They feel pressure to build a huge audience really quickly. I know how it feels to think no one is reading your posts. You don’t see comments. It feels like an echo chamber. But over the years, I have heard from lurkers who might never leave a comment but still get something out of what I post. There are a lot of bloggers with wider audiences, and there are all kinds of reasons for that, but I feel blessed to have a supportive readership.
  • They feel they need to focus on one thing. It’s true that niche blogs seem to do well—just a focus on math or technology or educational policy. But I think sometimes folks put themselves in the position of feeling like they can’t comment on other things because their audience expects them to write about one subject only. It’s your blog, and you should explore topics that interest you.
  • They set up a posting schedule and/or feel they must write every day. Write when the spirit moves you, I say. If you force yourself to write every day or to write according to a posting schedule, you are going to wind up treating your blog as work instead of your own reflective space. I am guilty of this, too. I have a posting schedule set up in my calendar. I was worried about how little I was posting, not realizing that part of my silence was due to some real unhappiness on the job. I determined that a posting schedule would solve my problems. I couldn’t follow it. I started feeling guilty, and I worried no one would stick with my blog. It didn’t turn out to be true, and putting that pressure on myself only made me want to blog less. Blogging when I want to about what I want to made me love my blog again.

This conference has been amazing so far, and I am sure that once I have had time to think, decompress, and reflect, I will have plenty of posts about it.

Image via Martin Thomas

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ITMA Project Update

A spider loves its workI apologize if you’re getting tired of these project updates. This ITMA project IS my summer, apparently, so I’m not really working on anything else to reflect on. Since my last update on June 18, I’ve done a lot. The first objective in the professional development wiki I’m creating is for the learners to create their own websites. I learned a great deal about video last week that will prove useful as I forge ahead, particularly with the podcasting lessons.

I have completed four modules for this first objective, which means my lessons on choosing a site type and selecting models; RSS and feed readers; selecting a site service and creating a website; and copyright, fair use, and Creative Commons are all finished.

I learned a lot I did not know about fair use. I am hoping that module will be informative for learners, too. It’s strange how some parts of the project I thought would take a long time haven’t, while others I didn’t anticipate taking much time took a lot of time. Case in point is the section on copyright, fair use, and Creative Commons. Altogether, I spent about 9 hours and 30 minutes on that part. Most of that time was research. On the other hand, I have already completed 3/5 of the module on adding content to a website (adding text, adding images, and adding videos). I worked on that part of the project for four hours today, but probably about an hour of that time was going back and finding the original Flickr images I used in the project and making sure I gave proper attribution. I really would have thought it would take longer, but with so many site services offering easy content management, it didn’t turn out to be difficult to learn how to do anything. That’s a good thing. I think the easier it is to create websites, the more encouraged the teachers who do the program will be. I really hope they utilize our Google apps and create Google Sites.

I am still not 100% happy with the quiz service I used to create the two quizzes on the site, but I have not yet found a better one.

If you want to check out what I’ve done, you can find the wiki here. If you want to check out specifically the parts that are new since the last time I discussed the project, take a look at these pages:

I track my hours using a time log in Word that details each task I’ve done and also in Excel, which figures out the math for me. As of today, I’ve spent 79 hours on the project. I am required to spend a minimum of 150 hours.

Creative Commons License photo credit: kadavoor.

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ITMA Project Progress Report

Caution Works in Progress & Reflection by u07ch on FlickrAre you getting tired of my progress reports on this project? I hope not! It’s all I’m doing aside from summer stuff—reading good books I don’t have the time to read during the school year, making pies for the family reunion, trying to figure out if the oven is broken (it’s not), and updating WordPress.

The project, if you haven’t peeked at it yet, is a professional development program that will allow beginners on up to learn how to create their own websites and podcasts and teach their students how to do the same. At this point, my storyboard plan has 48 pages, but I have discovered the need to add pages here and there, and the final project may be longer. I have (almost) finished the first two modules for the first objective: creating a website. I uploaded some screencast videos to TeacherTube not realizing their moderation process was so long. I don’t know why, given how much of my writing is available online, but I felt squeamish about posting the videos to YouTube. So I am still waiting for the videos to appear on TeacherTube, and therefore, the RSS module is not quite finished.

I don’t think I explained the modules before. The lesson on creating websites has five modules:

  • Module 1: Choosing a Site Type and Selecting Models
  • Module 2: RSS Feeds and Feed Readers
  • Module 3: Selecting a Site Service and Creating Your Site
  • Module 4: Copyright, Fair Use, and Creative Commons
  • Module 5: Adding Content to Your Site

I am in the midst of building Module 3. I have completed the first segment, which concerns wikis. I’m not sure if I will work tomorrow because it will be a busy day, but when I do pick up the project again, I will be working on the blogs page. So far, I am having a lot of fun creating the project. I am finding all kinds of websites, particularly blogs and wikis, that I didn’t know about.

I haven’t started the podcasts lesson yet, but it will have three modules:

  • Module 1: Subscribing to Podcasts
  • Module 2: Selecting Podcasting Software
  • Module 3: Creating and Editing Podcasts

You can check out the work in progress here, but it’s far from being finished. Still, I feel good about the progress I’m making.

Creative Commons License photo credit: u07ch

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ITMA Project Update

NECC 2009 Wednesday Day 4  - 07I am making some good progress on my ITMA project. You can read my project proposal here. I finished my instructional analysis, which was a lot of work, but valuable for planning.

I have just begun creating the actual project. I have been having a lot of fun with the project. So far, I have completed six pages on the wiki that will house my project. For the first module, I have teachers exploring what kind of website they want to create. I had a lot of fun finding models of wikis. Some teachers are doing some great things with wikis. Here is my model wikis page.

I’m possibly looking for something else to use for the personality quiz on types of websites. I don’t have a lot of confidence that the one I used will do what I need (it seems to limit the number of quiz takers, forcing me to reset the numbers). If you know of a good personality quiz maker that I can embed in a wiki, please share.

A while back I promised more regular posting. I am going to commit to three days a week for the summer, starting this week. Here’s the schedule:

  • Mondays: Reflections on professional reading, professional development and grad school.
  • Wednesdays: Sharing lessons, tools, or ideas.
  • Fridays: Wild card. Whatever I feel like posting goes.

Creative Commons License photo credit: krossbow

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Project and Report Proposal

working on my MacBookProThis summer I am taking a course called Project and Report as part of my instructional technology program. The goal of the course is to select a topic of interest and spend approximately 150 hours developing a project. My proposal was approved, and my adviser seem enthusiastic about it. Here is my proposal.

Project Description

I would like to create professional development program for my colleagues at the Weber School in Atlanta that will help them learn how to create and implement Web sites (including wikis) and podcasts in their classrooms. This professional development program will consist of a series of modules that my colleagues will be able to work through at their own pace. After they complete the modules, my colleagues will have created a Web site and podcast as well as a unit or lesson plan implementing the Web site and creation of a podcast in the classroom. I would also like to submit a proposal to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission in order to pursue accreditation for the course as a means for educators in the state of Georgia to earn professional learning units.

Objectives

  • Given access to a variety of Web site creation tools, professional educators will be able to construct a Web site for managing materials, communicating with students and parents, and sharing resources.
  • Given Audacity or Garage Band, a computer, and a microphone, professional educators will be able to construct a podcast.
  • Given access to a variety of Web site creation tools, professional educators will be able to execute a unit or lesson teaching their students how to use and construct a Web site.
  • Given access to Audacity or Garage Band, computers, and microphones, professional educators will be able to execute a lesson or unit teaching students how to construct a podcast.

Materials and Methods

I will create a wiki that will house the modules. On the wiki, I will create lessons in the modules that will be delivered through the following means:

  • Written tutorials on wiki pages.
  • Screencast tutorials (video).
  • Podcast tutorials (audio).

Learners will need the following tools in order to complete their tasks:

  • Computers.
  • Microphones.
  • Audacity or Garage Band audio editors.

I will need the following tools in order to create deliverables:

  • Snapz Pro X Screencasting Program.
  • A wiki site.
  • Garage Band.
  • Microphone.
  • iMovie video editor.

I will begin by creating a wiki that can be accessed by students (professional educators) can access at their convenience so that they can complete the course asynchronously. The wiki will include pages with written, video, and audio tutorials on creating Web sites and podcasts. For the purposes of this course, I do not plan to teach students HTML but instead guide them toward creating Web sites with WYSIWYG editors. Once teachers feel comfortable using the selected Web editors and programs, they will create and submit a lesson or unit plan implementing what they have learned in their classrooms (for example, a history teacher might create a lesson plan in which they will teach students how to create a podcast discussing a historical event).

Justification for Project

I met with my Instructional Technology department and other faculty members in order to determine what instructional technology needs they had that could be addressed through my project. They unanimously expressed their desire to learn how to create Web sites and podcasts for their students. They also wanted to be able to use these tools in their own classrooms, constructing lesson or unit plans in which they would teach students to construct their own Web sites and podcasts in order to demonstrate their learning.

In our most recent SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) evaluation, one recommendation that the SACS accreditation committee had was that we implement technology more effectively across the board. While our school offers several computer labs and appropriate equipment that would enable teachers not only to create their own Web sites and podcasts but also for our students to do the same; however, because we have not had professional development in creating Web sites and podcasts, many teachers feel uncomfortable with or uneducated about the process of constructing Web sites and podcasts. They have admired some of my efforts in use of Web sites and podcasts both as resources for students and as tools for students to demonstrate their learning.

Criteria for Evaluation

The criteria for evaluation will be successful completion of modules designed to teach various steps involved in the construction of Web sites and podcasts. Teachers will also develop a lesson plan or unit plan implementing Web site or podcast creation as a means for their own students to demonstrate their learning. Upon completion of the course, teachers will evaluate the course using a rating scale evaluation that rates the course based on the following criteria: clarity of instructions/tutorials; organization and ease of use; and relevance of the content of the course.

Creative Commons License photo credit: icatus

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Transparency and Reassurance

Bill Genereux has an interesting post about what he calls “The True Digital Divide.”  He discusses in detail something I touched on in my presentation at GCTE.  If we truly want students to engage with the technology and use the Web 2.0 tools available to them, we have to be leaders.  We have to use the tools ourselves.  If we want students to blog, we should be blogging.  I think educators blogging could be a very positive form of transparency.  In an age when people make a lot of assumptions about what is or is not happening in classrooms, often I think the teachers’ voices are missing, and blogging can be a positive platform to share what we are thinking and learning and doing.  On the other hand, I think it has become for many teachers who blog a platform to complain.  No doubt teaching is hard work, and sometimes it feels good to vent.  I personally think blogging is a terrible platform for complaining.  First, I don’t think most of us like to read it.  Second, it’s just not wise; Regnef High School anyone?  I am very interesting in posts and conversations that make me think.  So yes, we need to be using the tools, for as Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach notes, “Technology will never replace teachers. However, teachers who know how to use technology effectively to help their students connect and collaborate together online will replace those who do not.”  And of course, Alfie Kohn reminds us that sticking techy labels on tired or misguided practices isn’t the answer either.  Still, I think we’re moving into a positive direction when parents and students (as well as other teachers) can gain insight into what teachers are thinking and doing.  I have actually noticed something interesting: students joke about Googling me and finding lots of links.  I admit it’s true that I am in a lot of places online.  But I encourage them to read it and tell me what they think.  And when they do, they share their observations.  It can be a good thing when students, parents, and colleagues get a glimpse into a teacher’s mind and like what they see.  Transparency can foster reassurance.

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GISA Conference

I went to the annual Georgia Independent School Association (GISA) Annual Conference today.  I ate lunch with Megan; it’s cool to see connections I made through this blog become “real-life” connections as well.  Incidentally, Megan presented a session on using social bookmarking (such as del.icio.us).  The two sessions I went to were very interesting (which hasn’t always been the case at GISA — the session I presented last year included): Fantasy Literature (teaching The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Harry Potter along with Campbell’s ideas about the journey of the hero) and Blogs and Wikis in the Classroom.  Frankly, I confess I went to the latter to see if a) it would be better than the session I presented last year (it was), b) what the presenters would say.  I did not expect to learn about anything new.  Of course, I did learn about some things that were new to me, at any rate.

One thing that interested me in particular about the Fantasy Literature session was that so many other schools already have this class as an elective.  A teacher from Pace Academy shared his successes teaching the course to 8th graders, and a teacher from Griffin Christian High School shared that he teaches The Lord of the Rings for the first semester of 9th grade, teaching all the literary terms, etc., through the context of that work.  I taught The Hobbit one year — when I was a student teacher, in fact — and I found that students in general didn’t like it much, but I think as part of an elective, it would be a different crowd.  Frankly, I could see myself really enjoying such a class.

The blogs and wikis session introduced me to Voice Thread, which Megan mentioned also at lunch.  I imagine if you hear about something twice in such a short span of time, someone’s trying to send a message.  For the uninitiated, Voice Thread is online software that allows users to create documentaries using images and creating narration to accompany the images.  Check out this sample of its use: Slavery in America (by Jeff Morrison’s middle school students at the Lovett School).  Jeff (one of the presenters) also introduced us to TrackStar, which somehow went under my radar, even though I’ve used 4Teachers‘ other service RubiStar to create rubrics.

I am thinking about ways I might integrate some of these resources with my current projects — The Canterbury Tales and The Odyssey.  You can view Jeff’s wiki, which has links to a bunch of sources he shared with us.

One of my favorite parts of Jeff’s presentation was a video he shared:

As Jeff said, that is what it is like to teach.  Especially middle school.

By the way, I am now receiving e-mails when comments are posted.  I kept my eyes on the WordPress Support forums’ thread related to my problem, and eventually, someone posted a solution that worked for me.  I uploaded a plugin created to work around the problem.

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