Conferences Learning

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!


A Zillion Ways to Use Technology in the Classroom

I am a big fan of new technologies for the classroom. I am not a big fan of taking a new technology tool and coming up with ways to use it for learning. As much as I am a fan of mechanical tools, I do not dream up 1000 ways to use a screwdriver. When the job is at hand, and I know that a screwdriver fits the bill, I use it.

So where is the correlation between mechanical tools and technology tools? When you have a screw loose (pun intended), it is easy to assess what the problem is and what the tool is. It is not so easy to do the same in learning. Teachers know what their students need in terms of learning, but they do not necessarily know what technology tool can help them. This is especially true of web 2.0 tools, since new ones come out fast & furious.

The result? We get “*** (insert number) ways to use ****** (insert technology tool) in the classroom.” While this technique is meant to spark ideas and possibilities, I believe more often than not it promotes superficial investigation followed by a quickly fading interest and use. Technology tools are tools – definitely ones that have specific uses that may be new and unique – but are not one-size-fits-all. I am not saying that anyone intends them to be – just that the “*** ways to use” method promotes it.

I struggle with ways to introduce new tools to staff, as there is only so much time and attention that can be given. If tools are presented in the context of the job they are intended to help with (a toolbox), then it is much easier for people to see the need, then the tool to help with the need.

The best toolbox I have seen is the one provided by MCREL in the book, Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works. In the book, the authors take Robert Marzano’s research-proven instructional strategies and then categorize software tools that support the strategies.

Here is the graphic provided to illustrate the toolbox:

Conversations that start with the toolbox have questions such as, “How can I help students identify similarities and differences with technology? Using the chart, it is readily apparent that word processing applications, spreadsheet software, organizing and brainstorming software and data collection tools can support this need.

The next logical step is to analyze what specific tools withing those categories can help achieve the task. The book outlines many specific examples, but how can the need be addressed quickly, incorporating tools that may have come out since the book was written a few years back?

One way is with a wiki created by Stehpanie Sandifer, titled Web 2.0 & Marzano’s CITW. This community-editable wiki provides a directory of web 2.0 tools that support each of the strategies. This format is very useful as it can be updated regularly. It does not appear that too many edits have happened recently, but it is a great model for a living, dynamic technology toolbox for teachers. I just joined the the wiki and am hoping to contribute to it.

I’m going to keep looking, however, for a dynamic resource that allows the input of any technology tool, not just web 2.0 tools, withing the context of the CITW toolbox. There are many software packages out there that are not web 2.0 tools that can be included in the toolbox.

For me personally, one resource I’m going to check out is a book talk on Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, being hosted by ISTE’s Innovative Learning Technology Special Interest Group on their wiki.

It is definitely much harder to analyze technology tools in this fashion, but at the end of the day, I believe it is much more worth it to have the need, followed by the toolbox, followed by the tool to do the job.

Image citation:

“Matrix.” Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. 5 Nov. 2008

Content Area Focus Learning

Linking Design Questions, Instructional Strategies and Technology Tools

This coming school year our professional development program is focused on Marzano’s Art & Science of Teaching. Cross-district teams organized by grade or subject area (“Design Teams”) will be meeting to focus on design questions brought up in the book. Over the course of the next 3-4 years we will undergo district-wide conversations around the following design questions:

What will I do to…

  1. …establish and communicate learning goals, track student progress, and celebrate success?
  2. …help students effectively interact with new knowledge?
  3. …help students practice and deepen their understanding of new knowledge?
  4. …help students generate and test hypotheses about new knowledge?
  5. …engage students?
  6. …establish or maintain classroom rules and procedures?
  7. …recognize and acknowledge adherence and lack of adherence to classroom rules and procedures?
  8. …establish and maintain effective relationships with students?
  9. …communicate high expectations for all students?
  10. …develop effective lessons organized into a cohesive unit?

Woven into these questions are  Marzano’s strategies for Classroom Instruction that Works. My role as a design team facilitator is to help link strategies to technology tools that improve learning.

Last year I did an extensive book analysis of Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, where the strategies are analyzed for which types of technology tools can support them. Click here to review the final summary, along with links to individual strategies.

As we move into the design team process, I am thinking more about the link between strategy and tool. I just recently came across a very nice interactive graphic that depicts Marzano’s 9 strategies for classroom instruction that works, from a website titled Curriculum Portal (click the image below to go to the interactive graphic at the site:

We have an extensive toolset to help students learn within the strategies. Here is a sampling of the tools we have:

These tools fall withing the categories of technology as defined in Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works:

  • Word processing applications
  • Spreadsheet software
  • Organizing and brainstorming software
  • Multimedia
  • Data collection tools
  • Web resources
  • Communication software

For me the important thing is that questions about learning begin with the need, not the tool. A question that begins with, “How can a (wiki, blog, etc.) help students…” is incorrect in my book. A question that begins with, “How can students deepen their understanding with a (wiki, blog, etc.)…” is more like it.

I’m looking forward to some great conversations!

Content Area Focus Learning

The Writing Process

Clear, articulate, concise writing is important for our students. The mind of a middle schooler may often be anything but clear, articulate and concise 🙂 (and that is OK). What strategies can we use to help students acquire and integrate learning of the writing process?

Better Answers is a writing program we are working on here at Heim. It is a structured writing response model that builds on the strategy of cues, questions and advance organizers. The “Better Answer Sandwich” graphic sums it up best (click to enlarge):


Using this organizer, students are directed through the writing process using specific, direct organizational ideas. The program has been used in lower grades in the past, and is now being rolled out across the school.

How might technology support this process?  One way is with a new web resource we are piloting, the Glencoe Online Essay Grader. Teachers can assign essay topics to students, and students complete the essay online. In my first looks at the resource, there are tools that can be provided to students to formulate answers very much like the sandwich model. Additional supports (if desired) for students in this environment are sentence structure advice, spell and grammar check, and sentence diagramming.

Other technology resources to support the writing process include:

  1. Create a template in a word processing document that includes the steps of the Better Answers process. Students download and complete an essay using the steps as a framework.
  2. Use brainstorming and organizing software (such as Inspiration) to have students graphically complete the steps of the process, and then convert the graphic diagram to a word processing document.

Better writing is always a goal, and there are many technology tools to support it.

Content Area Focus Learning

Worksheets and the Internet

Content Tech
Ideas for Technology Use in the Classroom

Using a worksheet to research information on the Internet and fill in the blanks is a popular activity. In its most worksheetfundamental state, this is a form of the strategy cues, questions, and advance organizers. Students use questions on the worksheet to (hopefully) guide them through a website and acquire the necessary information.

When a worksheet is fill-in-the-blank, it tends to be a regurgitation of information found on the web. How might the strategy be more beneficial to the students in order for them to be not only exposed to the information, but begin to acquire, integrate and personalize the knowledge?

A word processing document set up as a KWL chart is one option. Since the students will be using the Internet for the research, using the computer to create the document is easy. Begin with a brief warm-up where students type what they know about the topic. After some sharing, move on to having them type what they want to know. Through the use of questioning, direct students to note any other information they should want to know if they did not come up with the questions on their own. During the investigation process, students look for the information based on their own inquiry, making the process more meaningful. At the end of the lesson, students indicate on the word processing document what they have learned. The entire document can be submitted or posted electronically with ease.

Worksheets structured to use the technology available can help to increase the acquisition of knowledge in many ways. Other thoughts/ideas most welcome!

Image courtesy of christopherl on Flickr

Russo's Ramblings

Flashback Friday: What Matters?

In this month’s flashback, one of the posts I wrote in August 2004 is What Matters? The two questions I posed regarding if using technology in a lesson are appropriate were:

  1. Does the technology allow for new and unique learning experiences that are not possible without it?
  2. Does the technology allow for increased, more efficient learning that is not be possible without it?

Those questions are still applicable, but as I think about how technology fits into the learning process, I believe the better questions are:

  1. What is the learning goal?
  2. How will you know when students achieve the goal?
  3. How will you foster progress toward the goal?
  4. How will you help students practice, review and apply the learning?

These questions look amazingly similar to the planning questions for instruction (courtesy of Robert Marzano), because that is where they come from. What is most important about these questions? The word technology is not used at all. From these goals, specific strategies for instruction are formulated, and from those strategies, technology tools can be selected to match the strategy (or not selected if appropriate). If a technology supports the strategy, then it is an appropriate use. Technology use because it is slick, new, or a substitute for real learning is not appropriate.

What Matters? Learning. Technology does not (a hard thing for a technology integrator to say…).

Image by Spitzgogo on Flickr