Tag Archives: training

Back to School – Are You Ready?


You walk into class the first day, ready to teach. You look out across the room, examining the the group of learners you see before you. What do you see? Usually it’s a combination of the following…

  • Golden Retrievers – Sitting in the front row. Always wanting to please and requiring constant affirmation. “Is this right? Is this what you wanted me to do?”
  • Storytellers – Constantly have their hand in the air, not because they have a question, but because they need to tell you about something that happened to them once – or maybe it was someone they know – or maybe it was someone on TV.
  • Otters – They don’t care what they’re doing, as long as it’s fun. These are the ones that were talking when you were were giving instructions so they have to ask the person next to them what you said. Then because they are talking to the person next to them, they miss the next thing you said so they need to find out what to do from the person sitting on the other side. Usually when you’re all done, an otter will ask, “Can you explain that first part again?”
  • The Insecure, “Hanging by a Thread” Emotional Mine Field –  Ready to snap at any moment. One wrong comment or look can set them off. Tread carefully.
  • The Eye Rollers – Don’t want to be here. What ever you’re saying must not apply to them so they don’t care. They usually sit in the back of the room with…
  • The Know-It-Alls –  Who are not paying attention to you at all and are working on something else or constantly staring at the clock wondering when you’re going to be done. The two most common replies from both of these types  are “Fine” and “Whatever”.
  • The Space Cadets – Their body may be in the room, but their mind is in a galaxy far far away…
  • The Organizationally Challenged – You don’t see them in the room because they’re running late. When they do arrive, you can’t miss them stumbling in and juggling four times as much stuff as anyone else. After they’re settled and ready to pay attention, that’s when they realize the one thing they need is back home on their desk.
  • The Defense Attorneys –  Known by their familiar battle cry, “That’s not fair!”  These are the ones that will put more time and effort into arguing why they shouldn’t have to do something than it would have taken to actually do it in the first place.
  • The Perfects – Perfect hair, perfect clothes, perfect teeth. These are the ones that really DO know it all. They’re always one step ahead of you and are your built-in spelling and grammar checkers.  You’re just one more rung on the ladder they’re climbing for future success and ultimate world domination.

Are you getting a mental picture yet?

Wait a minute! I forgot one important detail. Imagine that room you are in is not filled with students, but with teachers, and YOU are leading their back-to-school technology training.

Ever notice that a group of teachers is not that different from a group of students? Each one has their own issues and idiosyncrasies. Each one has their own unique set of experiences and learning styles. With a group of students we all know the importance of building relationships, building trust, and getting to know the way each student learns so we can tailor our instruction to help them meet our educational goals.  Yet so often professional development for our teachers is delivered in a pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all technology in-service.

This year our school principal has us reading “Leading and Managing A Differentiated Classroom” (http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/108011.aspx) As I’m going through the book I can’t help but think that teachers need differentiated instruction too.  Just like with our students, our goal with professional development is make sure that all our teachers master the skill we are presenting. If we want to do that effectively then we need to design a flexible technology training that takes into account the various strengths, weaknesses, and learning needs of our teachers.

For the Golden Retrievers it could mean providing that extra affirmation and feedback they require, but it also might mean answering their questions with other questions getting them to think through what they are doing and helping them to become independent learners and problem solvers.

For the Otters it might mean stopping every once in a while and asking them to echo back what you just said. or have them explain or “re-teach” the last few steps to the rest of the group one more time for reinforcement.

For the Emotional Mine Fields and the Organizationally Challenged, it may mean taking time to meet with them individually to find out what is going on outside of work. We know from Maslow (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow’s_hierarchy_of_needs) that higher level learning cannot occur if a student is lacking one or more basic needs (physiological, safety, love/belonging). Often times we don’t know all the crap that our fellow teachers are dealing with, so learning to empathize with their situation can help you understand better how you can help them learn.

The Eye-Rollers and the Know-It-Alls need you to show them how they can use what you are teaching them next week. Help them understand the relevance of what you are presenting and that this is not just one more thing that’s going to go into a desk drawer never to see the light of day again.

How do you deal with the other types of learners? I haven’t finished the book yet.  What strategies might YOU use to help them?

Not everyone in the room is starting with the same technology skill set, and not everyone is going to take what you’ve taught them and use it in exactly the same way. How boring would it be if they did? I suppose the important point to remember when leading your teacher trainings is not to focus on the technology, but rather all the wonderful faces in the room. Let them know it’s not about the tool, its about them.  Let them know you’re not just teaching a skill, you’re helping them to grow as professionals.

The Group Brain

What do you get when you take 75 educators from across the US and Canada, put them in blue shirts, house them in college dorms for week, give them training and access to top experts on the latest educational technology tools, and put them in teams to experience these tools hands-on to produce curriculum-based projects? You get the Discovery Educator Network (DEN) Summer Institute 2010.

You would think that after attending two previous institutes that the talent, dedication and love of learning shared by attendees and presenters alike would no longer amaze me.  You would think that I’d see the same or similar projects again and again.  You would think that my third institute could not possibly match the energy and enthusiasm of the previous two. And you would be totally wrong.  It was truly a mountain top experience – and I’m not just criticizing the countless stairs at Bentley University.

If I look back at the greatest professional development experiences I’ve had, the top three are Discovery Institutes. They do it right. First, they bring in top experts to train us.

  • We learned about Edmodo from Co-founder Jeff O’Hara who didn’t just present a session and leave, but stayed with us for two days!
  • We learned movie-making techniques from AFI’s Frank Guttler and Discovery’s Digital Storytelling guru Joe Brennan.
  • Dr. Lodge McCammon spent the whole day with us and shared his “one-take video” technique using his own original music and student creativity to teach core curriculum content. Who doesn’t enjoy a good song about linear equations?
  • Jim Dachos, the GlogsterEduMan, showed us Glogster and explained the new features of GlogsterEdu. (He and his team also threw us an ice cream party – in Glogster colors, of course.)
  • Then there was Lance Rougeux and the awesome team from Discovery who spent the whole week with us. They not only helped us dig deep and learn their product inside and out, but also shared their expertise in other web 2.0 tools.  One of them even got up at 5am every morning to run to Duncan Donuts to get coffee for us. I can’t say enough about the DEN Team and the work they did putting together this institute. (Many of them are pretty good actors too.)

But the week was not just devoted to teaching technology tools. Attendees are also expected to produce projects using these tools.

Here is where the DEN Institutes excel. They put us in teams, give us a project, and let us learn from each other. It was like being part of a group brain. If there was something I didn’t know, it’s a good bet one of the other teachers at the Institute could help. They help me, I help them, we work together and help each other – and learning happens. I completed 4 projects in 5 days! Best of all I had a great time doing it.

At the DEN Institute they understand that if teaching and learning isn’t fun, you’re not doing it right – and we definitely had fun. Staying in the dorms at Bentley made me feel like a college kid again. We’d stay up late finishing projects that were due the next day, share cool tips and tricks we’d learned, and just take the time to getting to know each other. Remember in college there was that one dorm that was always the party room? We had one of those too. One night I even got locked out of my room and had to crash on someone’s couch.

By the time Friday came around, none of us wanted it to end. The good news is, it doesn’t have to. Thanks to the DEN Institute I’ve added many new Facebook, Twitter, and Edmodo friends. I plan to continue the learning and friendships made in Boston, as I have with previous institutes. While I definately miss the face to face interaction – and the fun we had in room 105 –   I don’t have to lose that Group Brain.

Thanks Discovery for a wonderful week of learning and for connecting me with an awesome group of teachers.

By the way, if you’d like to see the project I worked on with David Fisher from Florida, here it is.  Enjoy.

I also created a Glog highlighting some of the projects and tools shared at the institute. CLICK HERE to see it.

The All Important Question

For those of you who don’t know me, I am a technology coordinator, tech teacher, technology coach, or for lack of a better title, the guy in charge of making sure our teachers and students are using technology effectively to support curriculum. My workplace is St. John’s Lutheran School in Orange, California. We are a K-8 Christian elementary school with approximately 680 students. We are currently finishing year 2 of a 3 year plan to implement 1:1 Tablet PC’s in our middle school. Students in K-5 currently share a single computer lab and also have one student computer in each classroom.

Last week my principal asked me these three questions:

  • How you would like to see instruction change as technology develops?
  • How does it transform instructional strategies?


  • How do we intentionally design and train staff to accomplish the desired outcomes?

This was my e-mail response:

Yesterday I had a teacher share with me that they would really love to have some of “those mini laptops” for their classroom. When I asked why, they excitedly shared their vision of students being able to take STAR Reading, Math, and Accelerated Reader tests whenever they wanted. Seriously, if that’s the only argument for putting technology in the K-5 classrooms then my answer would be a definite “No!”. Computer based assessment is not a transformative use of technology. It’s just using a modern (and expensive) tool to do something we’re already doing.

The ISTE National Technology Standards for Students say that we should be preparing students so they can effectively use technology tools and demonstrate…
1. Creativity and Innovation
2. Communication & Collaboration
3. Research and Information Fluency
4. Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
5. Digital Citizenship
6. Technology Operations & Concepts

In my opinion, we are already working on the first step toward transforming our instructional strategies through the process of curriculum mapping. Changing a mindset of “my textbook is my curriculum” to “my curriculum is my curriculum and a textbook is just a resource” is a monumental task. Once this has been accomplished then we can work on identifying lessons and activities that focus on curriculum goals and also meet these six areas of technology proficiency.

Preparing and training our staff to do this will involve tweaking a couple of other mindsets as well. First is that our students need to learn to be good citizens and demonstrate Christian morals and values in two worlds – the real world AND the online world, because they will be living and working in both. Our teachers need to be able to model and teach good digital citizenship to their students. This will involve training in web safety, appropriate use, and how to integrate our Online Behavior Agreement (PDF) into their Christian Learning curriculum and any lessons that involve using technology.

Second we need to help them understand that all learning and knowledge is not limited to the walls of their own classroom. They need to be connecting and collaborating with other people (subject matter experts) and classes outside our school, state, or even country. To do this, teachers need to develop their own Personal Learning Network (PLN) – an online community of professional educators for sharing ideas & lessons, getting support, and working together on projects. This will require moving beyond email and training them to use and integrate online collaborative tools and social networks into their daily life. It will also require some cooperation with our IT Department, convincing them to open up some of the restrictions currently prohibiting such tools. If our staff understands and demonstrates proper use of the tools and can use them effectively to help our students meet the ISTE Standards, this should not be a hard sell.

After we met on Tuesday to discuss this further, I was assigned the task of planning our professional development days for the 2010-2011 school year.

Be careful what you ask for…

(Be warned, I will be calling on my PLN for help with this.)


If I had my way, I’d never lead another mandatory, all staff, technology in-service at my school ever again. Simply put, they’re a waste of time and they don’t work. First, there’s a problem with focus. More often than not, the focus of all-staff PD is on the tool, not the curriculum. Second, it implies a cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all approach to professional development. Have you ever been in a room full of teachers at an in-service!? If there was ever a more diverse group of learners I have yet to see it. You think your students need differentiated instruction? Teachers need it even more!

That’s why I’ve adopted the KISSS Principle for professional development. Keep it…Small, Short, and Specific.

SMALL – I’m talking small group. Rather than work with a room full, select a single grade level. At my school, that’s 3 teachers. Then, before I start talking, I listen. I listen to find out what they are teaching. What are their learning goals? These answers differ greatly between grade levels and departments.

SHORT – Teachers’ free time is valuable and they get precious little of it. Try to respect that. Rather than one long session, I’ve found it’s better to do short mini-sessions before and after school. Fellow tech educator Suzanne Wesp has a program at her school called “Lunch & Learn” where teachers come in during their lunch for mini lessons.

SPECIFIC – Keep the training specific and focused on the curriculum standard. For me, the first sessions are more just casual conversations where we talk curriculum and I find out what these teachers are doing. Next I come in and demonstrate a “learning tool” or “project” that will help their students meet a specific learning goal or standard. Finally I work with them to develop a lesson that will help their students meet that standard. The goal of the training is to give the teachers something they will use tomorrow or next week. If I can get this lesson into a teacher’s lesson plan book I know I’ve struck gold because once it’s in there, it will likely become a regular part of their classroom curriculum.

Things to remember for successful teacher training:

Focus on the curriculum, not the technology tool. I try not to even use the words “technology” or “Web 2.0” when working with teachers. Instead I use “learning tool” or “web site”. Technology is MY passion, not theirs. Don’t intimidate with terminology.
Be there when they teach the lesson for the first time. This provides that much needed safety net when trying something new. In some cases I’ll even team teach with them, letting the teacher present the curriculum while I show how to use the tool. If I can’t be there, sometimes I’ll create tutorial videos or screencasts for the teacher to use.
Follow-up. Meet with them after the lesson. Discuss how it went. What worked? What didn’t? Discuss and make notes on how it can be improved next time. The important thing here is to make sure there WILL be a “next time”.
Share successes. Rushton Hurley (www.nextvista.org) has said, “Great things are going on in our classrooms and nobody knows about it.” Take time to share great lessons and student work with other teachers. Others might see it and say, “Hey, I can do that!”

“To Infinity and Beyond!”
As teachers use the technology…er…i mean…”learning tools” they will require less and less help from me. Better yet, they become “experts” on using that tool. If I have another teacher that wants to learn it, I can say, “You should go talk to so-and-so. They use that tool all the time with their class.” My long term plan is to develop a network of experts on various tools at my school. Eventually some teachers may even feel comfortable sharing their expertise with others outside our school.

The biggest compliment I think I could ever receive is seeing a teacher that I helped present at a conference. It hasn’t happened yet, but we’re getting close.

Education is a Team Sport
Tutorial Videos? Okay, show me an example. Here you go: PhotoStory Animal Riddles

Bigger Isn’t Always Better

ITSC is small compared to other state or regional conferences – only about 400 attendees – but I really like how they put it together. The three hour workshops really encourage conversation and allow time for reflection. It’s also a great opportunity to hear and interact with some pretty amazing presenters on a more intimate level. Having access to these presenters both during and outside of their sessions is a real treat and facilitates some great conversations.
Speaking with Jennifer Arns, the Program Director, I learned that at ITSC they really want schools and districts to attend in teams and they provide teams with time to meet and discuss what has been learned periodically throughout the conference. This time to process what has been learned and brainstorm how it can be applied is quite valuable and unfortunately pretty unique in educational conferences. The fact that they can actually get this many teachers to take their President’s Day weekend to attend speaks to the importance these educators place on using technology tools to improve instruction.

Here are some thoughts from sessions and conversations:

Cell Phone Digital Storytelling – Wes Fryer
I’ve created podcasts from my cell phone using GCast, but another tool called Gabcast adds the ability to post from not just MY cell phone, but ANY phone.

With this tool, teachers can create multiple channels for different classes, then give students the phone number and access code so they can just call in and record their thoughts & stories, posting them to the class podcast. At our tables we brainstormed how this could transform a class field trip by directing students to use their cell phones to take pictures at certain locations and record and post their thoughts on what they see, what they experience, and what they learn. These images and audio files are captured “on location”, and can later be combined into digital stories using any number of media tools.
The best part? There’s no need for the school to supply students with expensive camera or recording equipment, most already have what they need to collect their stories.

Historical Documentaries – Jennifer Gingerich
Using familiar tools like PhotoStory3, iMovie, and GarageBand, students take “digital kits” and use them to create documentaries from periods in history. Jennifer worked with our group to create a pretty impressive Ellis Island story in just a matter of minutes. She also shared student created Oregon Trail diaries. These documentaries are written in first person, using images from the kit, or photos taken of students in costume with a sepia tone effect to give an “antique” look.
The digital kits contain music, photos, citations and other components needed to create the stories. For the students, the focus is not on teaching them how to find pictures or make videos, but seeing how well they know the content and can tell a story. The emphasis is on writing and historical accuracy. The advantage of digital stories over a written report? Stories not only capture the facts of the time period, but give kids an opportunity to put themselves in the place of these people and consider what they must have thought and how they must have felt – connecting them to the history on an emotional level rather than just a factual one.

Wii Whiteboard – John Sperry
I’ve seen Johnny Lee’s video on YouTube, but here I got to actually see, feel, and try it out for myself. John Sperry from Springfield, Oregon demonstrated how easy and inexpensive it is to make your own interactive whiteboard using a Wii Remote. Time to dust off my soldering iron and go into project mode. I may have to take John up on his offer and send him a empty Expo marker so he can transform it into an infra-red pen.

Bend/LaPine School District – Amy Lundstrom
Amy Lundstrom is a technology program developer for Bend/LaPine School District. She’s also the one that suggested I take an extra day or two to attend this conference. I’m so glad she did.
Speaking with her between conference workshops I learned how she is working with teams of teachers in her district, facilitating development of standards-based lessons that integrate technology. One unusual thing they do is give teachers an opportunity to observe their own class during one of these lessons. Through this “Lesson Study” program, members of these teams take turns teaching and observing each other’s classes. The purpose of these observations is to determine 1) Do all students have access to the content being taught? 2) Did technology help students acheive the standard? In addition to observing the whole class, the classroom teacher can identify specific students in their own class to be observed. Observers are directed to be “human video cameras” noting how these students act during class and determining if those actions indicate motivation. After class, these students’ work product is also evaluated. This program gives classroom teachers a unique insight into how particular students are affected by these newly developed lessons and technology tools. Ultimately it helps these teachers become more comfortable and confident planning and implementing technology infused lessons with their classes.