A Space is Worth a Thousand Ideas: Word11 at the CSI Annex Toronto

Work area at CSI Annex

Imagine walking into the space above to learn. That is what I had the opportunity to do at Word11 in Toronto this weekend. Word11 was an event for bloggers to get together to learn and share about the purpose and business of blogging. The space is the Center for Social Innovation (CSI) Annex, one of two (soon to be three) properties run by the CSI.

Center for Social Innovation, you wonder? It is a community workspace. From their site, the CSI intends to:

“… catalyze social innovation in Toronto and around the world.”

Regarding the space, CSI states:

“Shared space forms the bedrock of our model. Being physically together is what sets the conditions for new relationships, new projects and unexpected outcomes.”

Shared working spaces are popping up all over the world. Check out the article, Collaborate, Create, Co-work, from the August 2011 issue of Go magazine. The article highlights co-working spaces in the U.S. including Sandbox Suites (San Francisco), Coop (Chicago), and WeWork (New York City).

Bloggers at Word11 were a collaborative group by nature, and the energy coming from the interactions was awesome . I had the opportunity to speak with a diverse array of people and found all the conversations rewarding. I definitely put myself in the casual blogger category, and the stream “developing the casual blogger” had many great talks. It was great to interact with such talented professionals and entrepreneurs.

It is no surprise that that the CSI Annex was the location chosen for the event. It got me to thinking about what if school spaces were designed like this? What could happen if students were able to cross-pollinate their ideas in collaborative setups, instead of like this:

Now I am not saying that every classroom is like this – that is simply not true. However, by and large, the design of schools built more that 30 years ago (which is most schools) have inherent space issues (aka walls) that inhibit the flexible, dynamic setup seen in co-working environments.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills just recently released a new publication and video titled Above and Beyond. The idea is to foster thinking about what they call the 4 Cs of 21st century learning: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. Here is the publication:  4 Cs Poster

And here is the video:

I know where I really want to work and learn, and I think our students want (need) such spaces as well. Thank you, Word11, for organizing such a great event in such a great space!

Image credit: BYU Observation Classroom from Cherice on Flickr

Off to Word11

I am excited to be going to Word11 in Toronto this Saturday, which is affectionately titled the blogging event of the century. It is a 24-hour  venue for bloggers to listen to speakers during the day, and get into serious writing/sharing/geeking out overnight. I’m only doing the day gig, but the whole thing sounds cool. Word11 is the new Toronto-area version of the previous WordCamp Toronto, which was a great experience. I’m looking forward to what the day will bring!

Staff Development Day March 2011

On Friday the district held a staff development day where we split up by curriculum area K-12. The focus for the day was on design questions from Robert Marzano’s The Art & Science of Teaching. Facilitators for each curriculum area were formed into what were called design teams, and included content teachers, administrators, and a technology facilitator. I was the technology facilitator for the Health and IDEAS team.

In our district, health education at the elementary level is done through the IDEAS program. The IDEAS teachers are gifted and talented certified teachers who provide level one gifted programming services to every student in the school. Elementary students have IDEAS class once every five days from kindergarten through fourth grade. At the middle school level, students have health class for 20 weeks in eighth grade. At the high school level, students can take the required 20 week class during any year.

One of the biggest successes is that it was first time all the health teachers K-12 had the opportunity to work together for a full day! Just the fact that they could have professional dialogue with all level colleagues was awesome. They really enjoyed the time to work and share together.

One of the biggest challenges health teachers have is that many times the content they teach is about things students should not do (tobacco, alcohol, etc.) and true assessment can be difficult. While a student can have all the knowledge about why smoking is bad and get a good grade on a health test, it is whether or not they choose to smoke when outside of school that is the true reflection of their skills. One form of feedback we discussed is the Search Institute Survey administered every other year by the Town of Amherst in partnership with district schools. It is an anonymous survey given to 8th, 10th and 12th grade students about their supports and behaviors related to the 40 Developmental Assets. Results for the Town of Amherst (not just the Williamsville district) can be found on the Town website. Individual schools have results for their buildings.

We spent part of the morning defining and refining learning goals and had work time for each level (elementary, middle and high) to have dialogue on topics of their choosing. We also allowed time for working with technology tools of their choice. All of the documents we shared went through district Google Docs accounts in a shared folder. We used Prezi for the main presentation points during the day (see presentation embedded above), and also show examples from Xtranormal and Animoto.

I have the good fortune to see the health curriculum through not only this dialogue day, but also through our district curriculum council. The health teachers presented their overall curriculum recently, and to me there are two overriding themes to all the units health teachers do:

  • goal setting
  • decision making

These themes are found throughout every unit, at every level. Whether it is an elementary student thinking about food choices, or a high school student thinking about relationships, these themes are essential to those conversations.

Part of the afternoon was spent focusing on providing effective feedback. As many health teachers are also coaches, we used the coaching analogy to talk about how effective feedback in the classroom should be like effective feedback on the playing field.

I have to say for me this was one of the most stressful days to prepare for personally since I was not that familiar with the health curriculum or the teachers involved. That being said, it is not the role of any one person to be the expert at everything. This day was about collegial dialogue, where everyone has something to contribute. The other facilitators I worked with were awesome. We had many meetings where we discussed and planned how the day should go. Once the staff development day got rolling and we were working together, it was great. Overall I think it  went very well. Feedback indicated that participants were happy, and they provided ideas on how we will structure the next day we are together, which is scheduled to be at the end of August. I feel much more comfortable about the next time we are together now that we have some momentum!

I’ll finish with a great Animoto video created by Tricia DeSantis (Assistant Principal at East HS) on learning goals – note the awesome soundtrack!

Glogging NYSCATE 2010

NYSCATE 2010 has begun in Rochester. I am going to try a different approach to posting snippets of my experiences (rather than a stream of tweets). Here is a Glog of workshops, ideas, blurbs, etc. that are coming out of NYSCATE. I’m putting this up on Saturday afternoon, and will hopefully add as the conference goes on…

Sunday night update – learned quite a bit about Glogster, including the need to save often in case your finicky wireless internet connection goes kapoof while working…

Monday night update – what a thought-provoking, enriching day. IMHO, Heidi Hayes Jacobs hit it out of the park with her passionate, intensely motivating keynote. Would need a thousand glogs to capture all her ideas…

Tuesday night update – NYSCATE delivered another great conference. Will need time to unpack it all, but I really did like glogging. There is definitely an artistic feel to putting together a glog – I’m going to put this one to rest for a while, but am very interested to revisit it, use it for talking points and reflect on what I thought was most important.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Roll your mouse over the Glogster banner for the option to view full size.

Three Great Conferences and Change in the Air

This week is shaping up to be very adult-learner centered. I’ll jump to the end of the week when next Saturday begins NYSCATE’s Annual Conference in Rochester, NY. NYSCATE always puts together a great program that combines visionary leaders, enriching presentations and hands-on training. This year the program looks to do that again.

What has my attention, though, are two virtual conferences happening earlier this week, though. On Wednesday November 17th, Tech & Learning is orgainizng Virtual Tech Forum. This is an online version of the popular Tech Forums that have appeared around the country for almost a decade. The lineup for the virtual event includes Chris Lehman, Howie DiBlasi, David Jakes, David Warlick and many more. The event is free (sponsored by Tech & Learning, of course), and all you have to do is register on their site.

Hmmm…top experts presenting online…no need to travel…much less expensive (as in free)…makes you start to wonder about f2f conferences…which brings me to the other virtual conference this week…

Running all week (Nov. 15-19) is the Global Education Conference, organized by Steve Hargadon and Lucy Gray. This conference casts a wide and impressive net about making learning global. Keynote speakers (63 of them!) are from well respected global groups such as iEARN and ePals, among many others. As of today, there are 397 sessions over the 5 days. All of the Global Education Conference is taking place free, online, using Elluminate (Elluminate being the sponsor).

Hmmm…free…online…conferences. What does this mean for the expensive (but still worthwhile) face-to-face conferences? It makes it harder to justify the time and money involved when there is starting to be a wide array of such events just a few keystrokes away. If we are in fact trying to promote global connection with technology, then it seems to make good sense that we gather that way also. Virtual events are by no means free – there are still speakers to be paid (maybe), bandwith to support (definitely), but their value to a wider audience is certainly excellent.

Change is in the air for how conferences will happen in the future…

Momentum

This coming Friday, October 8th, our district will be holding a staff development day focuesd on technology. It is going to be an exciting day, as there are many events planned. A quick overview:

  • Keynote by the ever-inspiring Alan November
  • Content-area breakout session (focused on instruction that incorporates technology)
  • Elective breakout session (focused on a technology tool)
  • Student Showcase

This is no small undertaking with a staff of over 1000 who will be in attendance. Figuring out how to effectively feed that many people is a job unto itself. District and school staff have been working countless hours for over a year to plan for this day. We have a few talented outside presenters coming in, but other than that, all presentations are begin done by our own staff.

Why, you may wonder, would we…

  • Coordinate the movement of 1000 staff and 100 students for 7 hours between 2 buildings (that thankfully are on the same campus)?
  • Take a perfectly normal gymnasium and supply it with enough computers,  power, and networking for over 100 students in 25 different booths?
  • Install and reinstall software in computer labs to accommodate different technology tool sessions?
  • Ask expert teachers who are mostly used to working wtih 20-30 of their own students to share their expertise with 100-200 of their colleagues?
  • Ask students, who would otherwise have a day off, to come in and share how they use technology?
  • Ask our custodial and IT staff to essentially transform the 2 buildings to a conference format beginning at 2:00 the day before?
  • Make sure that every professional assignment, from core subjects to paraprofessionals, has a session devoted to technology which applies to them?
  • Offer technology tools sessions that span the gamut of available resources?

The answer, in a word: momentum.

We have a lot to gain by taking a day to show off what we have, what our own teachers and students do, and provide some insight into where we want to go.

Here are a few more questions:

  • Will there be enough time to learn everything about a technology tool during this day? No – but there will be time to get one’s feet wet, and our professional development catalog has follow-up courses to support those interested.
  • Will teachers be exposed to current technology integration practices by their colleagues in other classrooms? You bet – that is the idea behind the content sessions.
  • Will new ideas and thought-provoking conversation be cultivated? Yes – Alan November is a master at this.
  • Will we celebrate what our students are doing? This may be one of the favorite parts of the day – our students will show off how they are using technology.

A lot of great learning and sharing will take place on this day. I think the main spark of the day will be to cause great momentum in the use of technology in the classroom. It’s going to be a great day.

Update 10/12/2010: I wrote this post a week prior to the event.  Since the day is now over, I have asked staff to comment with their reflections.

Image licensed from iStockphoto.com

On Conferences and Thanksgiving

On a certain Thursday in November, the tradition goes that one must stuff oneself with as much food as possible and spend the next three days going through withdrawal and recovering from such a fun endeavor. The weekend immediately prior to that day, in New York, one goes through a very similar experience at the NYSCATE annual educational technology conference. The difference is that what gets stuffed is the brain with new ideas, action plans and friends met during the four-day event.

In an effort to unpack all the information and try to come up with an action plan, here is my “top” list of items from the conference:

Top free resource to put into action: ePals

ePals is one of the original global collaboration websites. I’ve looked at it and learned about it many times but have never tried a project. Within a few clicks of visiting the site, you can be connected with a classroom anywhere around the world and get your classes working together. There were no formal sessions at the conference about ePals this year (that I’m aware of) but references were made to it regularly.

Top pay-for resource to put into action: SMART Notebook Math Tools (currently beta)

When math teachers get a look at the math tools in this add-on for Notebook software, I think they are going to freak out (in a good way). In a brief demo, I was very impressed by the new manipulation features available for shapes, graphing, and more. There is a new equation editor built-in as well, although that tool was not in the beta version.

Top cool future tech trend: Plugintothesmartgrid.com

David Jakes won the “cool new thing” demonstration hands-down when he showed this augmented reality simulation during his keynote. What is augmented reality? In a nutshell it is where you can take something in the physical world and augment its properties by interacting with a computer. Its easier to see in action – click on the link above, and if you have a webcam, try it out!


Top thinkers & doers: David Jakes, Sylvia Martinez and Brian Smith

The NYSCATE conference is about people and making connections. There are a lot of great people involved. Some of my favorites include David, who is a technology director in suburban Chicago. His down-to-earth and direct style is very engaging and motivating. I’ve attended workshops with him let that ultimately led to the project myself and my colleague presented this year, Google Lit Trips – What an Odyssey! Sylvia is the president of GenYes, and is refreshingly focused on involving students in all aspects of learning. Brian Smith is a technology integration specialist from the Rochester area, and is a key player in putting the conference together. He has created and maintained many of the tools that make NYSCATE work.

Top presenter who has it figured out: Harry Tuttle

There are lots of presenters who have it figured out, but one that stands out to me is Harry. If  you scan the presentation page at the NYSCATE wiki for his sessions, you notice something: the focus is on learning strategies, and not technology. Harry, a former board member of NYSCATE, has been presenting at the conference for years. I really like how he has always focused on topics such as thinking skills, formative feedback and assessment, and writing skills. There will always be cool new tools and tricks, but what will never change is the need for the focus to remain on learning and strategies to support it.

My hat is off to all those involved in making NYSCATE 2009 another great success!


Top resource I’ve known about but have never put into action
~ePals

Top pay-for resource to get going with
~SMART Notebook Math Edition

Top future-tech resource
~plugintothesmartgrid.com

Top thinkers and doers
~David Jakes, Sylvia Martinez, Brian Smith

The person who has it figured out
~Harry Tuttle – his presentations are about learning, not technology. Yes, he talks tech, but it is less important than the learning.

Content Tech: Riding the Digital Wave Conference 2009

Content Tech
Ideas for Technology Use in the Classroom

Erie 1 BOCES hosted the 5th Annual Riding the Digital Wave Conference at the Harlem Rd. Education Campus. Below is my under-5-minute wrap up of my experience. Click to play, and mouse over the lower right corner of the video to find the full-screen button.

Here are links to the sites highlighted:

Ben Higgins Technology Integrator Page
Lancaster Central Schools Digital Citizenship
Digital Dossier
vuvox

Reflections on Tuesday at NYSCATE

Conferences can be fun, educational, and tiring. When I woke up Tuesday morning at NYSCATE, all of this was in play. My session, Video in the Classroom to Captivate and Motivate (nyscate08g09), was scheduled for the first slot, and I was excited about it. I thought that after that, I could cruise through the last couple of sessions, maybe stay for the closing keynote, or get a head start on going home.

The great news was that as the morning and afternoon progressed, things just got better and better, and I left only after the last words of the conference were spoken…

My session went well – I’m a huge proponent of using video in the classroom, and was glad to share some of the things we do in our district with others. I think it was received well – there were many more things I wanted to share, but one hour goes by so fast!

The session on the XO laptop, Little Green Monsters (nyscate08h08) presented by Brian Smith, Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez was eye opening. I’ve known about and followed the XO for a long time now, but listening to them made me start to understand what it’s about. Pete Reilly summed it up best on his blog – check out his thoughts (and my comments there).

Next up was the session on Web 2.0 Open Source Server Based Apps (nyscate08i05) by my friend Steve O’Connor. I met Steve last year by coincidence at NYSCATE as he and I presented in the same room. Steve has the angle on where we will be going in Ed Tech – we want to use the neat Web 2.0 apps, but are concerned about safety/security/privacy. His take on this is right on the money, I believe. Check out his blog and session wiki page for more info.

Lastly was the closing keynote by Gary Stager titled, The Best Educational Ideas in the World. I’ve heard Gary on many occasions, but his presentation was so engaging and right on, that it did not matter how tired I felt – I left wanting more. I strongly recommend anyone who was not able to hear this talk, go listen to the podcast.

The theme of NYSCATE 2008 was Discovering Your Digital Destination – and for me the pathway was opened. A BIG thank you to all of the people who helped make the conference a huge success!

Image courtesy of leshoward on Flickr.

Reflections on Monday at NYSCATE

So for a new twist, I’ve taken the notes from the sessions I attended on Monday at NYSCATE (from scraps of paper, my iPod touch, etc.) and dumped them into Wordle to see if there are any over-arching ideas I heard (or more likely, focused on).

Here is the result:

I think it’s too soon to really process this, but I like how it makes one think.

The sessions I attended on Monday were:
Rod Serling Video Festival (nyscate08d13)
10 Standards-Based Formative Feedback Techniques for Your Classroom (briefly) (nyscate08d07)
Prensky Keynote
Where Teachers Learn, Where Teachers Teach (nyscate08e03)
Knezak Keynote
Leader to Leader (nyscate08f10)