Next year, I will be teaching the one fifth grade class at our school. In addition, I will be the Technology and Innovation Advisor – a position that is new to our school. What does a person in this position do? Good question!
Primarily, the role has three responsibilities:
- facilitating faculty professional development on the integration of technology in a way that sparks innovative ideas in the classroom
- opening up my own classroom as a ‘practice studio’ – trying out new ideas that incorporate technology and in doing so, allow for innovation
- working with teachers to facilitate the use of technology within their program of inquiry which, in turn, should lead to innovative ideas and development in teaching strategies
What does that mean in ‘real life’?
Firstly, it means I am super excited for the possibilities. I work with an amazing group of teachers and I am excited to have the opportunity to take a glimpse inside their classrooms and see how other people “do” school. For me, that can be one of the best forms of professional development out there.
Secondly, it means I am going to have to be super prepared and organized. This isn’t foreign to me, but I am going to have to step up my game! As a faculty, we each have areas we would like to focus on and this has been described as akin to wanting to select a la carte services from a menu of options. Thankfully, I have my PLC to help with their brilliant ideas!
Thirdly, it means I get to share some great ideas (other people’s mostly!) that I have picked up along the way. The one idea that I can claim as my own is the understanding that as teachers, we first need to make the mindshift or change our own world view on how we want our classroom to look and THEN we need to seek a tool to help implement that change. I know I am repeating myself, but it still hits me as being so important. Six months ago, Twitter was what small birds did and was mildly annoying. It is now a source of a wealth of information that I wouldn’t be without.
So, what sorts of things will we be doing?
One of the things that many people are keen to start with is blogging. For some, this will be their first blogging experience. So what is blogging? To answer this question, I want to quote from the YIS IT Department:
Thinking, Writing, Reading, Connecting
Blogs are about thinking, reading, writing, commenting, connecting, sharing – not just one individual’s thoughts. Try to make as many options for connecting and sharing as possible to make the blogs more than just an online workbook. Take a look at this heirarchy of blogging from Will Richardson’s first book (Blogs Wikis, Podcasts and other Powerful Web Tools for the Classroom, p. 32) to give you an idea of their potential:
- Posting assignments (Not blogging)
- Journaling, i.e. “this is what I did today.” (Not blogging)
- Posting links. (Not blogging)
- Links with descriptive annotation, i.e., “This site is about…” (Not really blogging either, but getting close depending on the depth of the description).
- Links with analysis that gets into the meaning of the content being linked. (A simple form of blogging).
- Reflective, metacognitive writing on practice without links. (Complex writing, but simple blogging, I think. Commenting would probably fall in here somewhere).
- Links with analysis and synthesis that articulate a deeper understanding or relationship to the cntent being linked and written with potential audience in mind. (Real blogging).
- Extended analysis and synthesis over a longer period of time that builds on previous posts, links, and comments. (Complex blogging).
Kim goes on to say:
Since we’re just starting out with blogging, we might be asking students to do very simple blogging now, and we certainly have the potential to develop complex blogging skills and tap into the true power of blogging. I’m also working on finding other schools around the world that are working towards this type of blogging to be “buddies” with our students.
As we ‘find our feet’ as a school, I am hopeful that we will begin to do the same.
Personally, I would like to move toward the idea of a Faculty Blog in which faculty share their experiences with technology and innovation. I have seen an example of this in the form of Striking Educational Flint – a school blog from Flint Hill School in Virginia. I love that it links to individual teacher blogs and that it also presents a school-wide approach to ideas and innovation (and use of technology) in the school and beyond. I am also really interested in starting QuadBlogging – and am really looking forward to signing my own class up for that in the Fall.
In addition, I want to spend some time over the summer taking a look at the following blogging platforms to see what would work in which grades. Many of these I became aware of after reading an awesome blog, Free Tech Tools 4 Teachers.
Wix is a free service for creating and hosting beautiful websites. It is has recently been updated so that sites created in Wix are visible on all devices including iPads. When I first saw this, I was eager to share with my very tech savvy class – I am keen to see what they will come up with – especially after viewing this video which outlines some of what can be done with Wix.
Weebly for Education allows for the creation of class blogs by the teacher as well as individual student blogs. It’s finished user interface looks more slick than the likes of Kidblogs which I used with my fourth graders and I like the intuitive way you can go about building a blog with this tool.
Webs is awesome. Some people might think it too basic, but for elementary school bloggers, I would highly recommend it. What I like most about it is the ‘drag and drop’ feature for adding things like text, pictures, pictures with text, slideshows, videos, audio recording, buttons and more. It it intuitive, looks great and is easy to set up. Love it.
Yola is another free site that looks awesome. A step-up perhaps from Webs in that it doesn’t appear to have ads or pop-ups, it is a slightly more sophisticated version of a website builder. The following ‘how to’ create video outlines all the best features and personal experience – it really is that easy!
Because we already have Google Accounts ,Google Sites is already available to us. This looks like a fun way for kids to store an online portfolio of work and I really like how easy it is to customize and add to content.
School Rack offers a free service for teachers to build and host their own classroom websites. This doesn’t look as slick as some of the other options and because there is an upgrade feature, I am always wary that I am not getting the “works” and will be ‘forced’ to upgrade to get what I want. I could be completely wrong and I do like that it is a site especially structured for teachers. Just not for me – it seems too much like an electronic mark book than a blog for sharing innovation and ideas.
Web Node is another slick looking option that does not carry advertisements on your blog and is free. I like the templates and again, the simple ‘drag and drop’ interface would make it suitable for all ages.
Smore looks awesome! Self-described as “beautiful by default and impossible to screw up” this looks like an awesome ‘one stop shop’ for publishing content online. What I really like (apart from what seems to be a ‘standard’ drag and drop interface) is the fact that the content you produce on your computer will look exactly the same when you access it on your smartphone or iPad. Smore pages could be linked to from within any of the other blog providers listed. This could be great for one-off projects (the site markets itself as a ‘flyer creator’) or for young bloggers finding their feet.
A Cupcake Story from Smore on Vimeo.
Blogging is just the tip of the iceberg though.
I haven’t even started to explore Wikis as a tool for a more collaborative and interactive classroom! That is probably what I am hoping to get most out of this position – the opportunity to explore, across the school and within my own classroom, how we can use technology to become more collaborative, more connected, more interactive. It is exciting!