Saturday, November 14, 2009

Moving into the Future

We are starting to make inroads with the transition process, of course some more than others. Last night, we had a Parents Presentation evening for our interim trips and introduced the parents to our trip wiki. For about half the teachers, this was their first experience with a wiki as a living document (rather than just some tech hoop to jump through). Time will tell if they realize the value of using a wiki in this manner, but I am hopeful for most.

Meanwhile....check out this video: Popout
This 12 year old kid tried to replicate the old 'bow and arrow drill to start a fire' trick that we all learned ancient peoples used, but he was ultimately unsuccessful. But what's amazing about this video is how comfortable the kid is with making the video, that he assumed that there would be an audience (he only posted on youTube with no fanfare or advertising), how he was unafraid of 'failure' and shared his methodology, that he was open for suggestions on how to improve, and how he was using problem-based inquiry instinctively, coupling it with modern technological tools. Kids are already natural born users of 21st Century learning tools, if we just design our lessons to accommodate them.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Change is a terrifying thing. Teachers depend tremendously on tried-and-true methods of doing their job, and even things that will improve their productivity and quality are not always easy to adopt, because of the transition phase. Although this is a normal process, its not easy or comfortable to get through it, but as Tech Facilitators, its our job to help them through it...patiently and with encouragement.

Adopting 21st Century teaching and learning methodologies can be a worrisome experience, and pushback is not uncommon. Check out this great blog post by Lisa Nielsen that outlines some managable and excellent steps to getting on the journey.

Test yourself: where are YOU on this transformative journey?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Second Life

For those of you who do not have a presence in Second Life, it probably seems to be some sort of virtual game and possibly a waste of time for those who are firmly rooted in reality. However, I have been exploring SL as a potential place for virtual classrooms, and can say that it is a surprisingly rich and complex place, with tremendous potential! One school I know in Australia, with an excellent reputation and very strong academic programs, has an entire presence in SL. Many universities use SL for virtual classes, and its use is beginning to spread among high schools.

This isn't a game...its a place where you can create simulations (such as college interviews with real college admissions officers), where a school with deficient resources can create a chem lab (where there is no danger of spilling chemicals or causing an explosion) or support a flying club with a flying simulator, where teachers can take their classes to visit the Sistine Chapel or Paris in 1900 or have an immersive and multimedia experience at the US Holocaust Museum. There are hundreds and hundreds of 'sims' (simulations) that people have built there, and it could take years to explore everything SL has to offer. And skilled users can build their own sims to suit their classroom needs.

Last week, ISTE (the International Society for Technology in Education), which is about as upstanding and legitimate a tech organization as you can imagine, held a conference in SL. Almost 200 teachers from all over the world attended, listening and watching presenters from all over the world talk about the ISTE Tech Standards and the immersive opportunities SL offers. My virtual friend Louise, who has a full-time job at ISTE working with their SL presence, sent me this link which shows a recording of the conference. You can capture some of the experience of attending a virtual conference by watching it...imagine how much money schools saved by allowing teachers and administrators to attend in virtual space.

There is still room for growth in SL; there are occasional technology glitches that have to be managed, users need to have developed the 'gaming skills' to know how to work their avatar, and yes, there are distracting things there, too. Much of what exists in real life also exists in Second Life...but there is a large and growing cadre of professionals who are making use of SL as a learning and collaboration environment, and there is plenty of reason to develop a professional presence there. And for the kids...there is a completely secure and isolated 'grid' (what SL calls their world) where access is only granted to students and teachers, and it is closely monitored and managed so that it is a safe and educational place. You even need to go through a real-life security screening to have access there as an adult...they take this stuff very seriously.

There is tons more...SL is a complex and fascinating place, and a lot has been and is being written about it. I suggest that the potential is much larger than most non-users can realize; try it out and see.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Embedding a Video

Today, I worked on an online tutorial that our tech department is making to help our teahers adjust to using technologies in their teaching. Its called 23Things, and will expose them to blogging, RSS feeds, podcasts, and other common web-based publishing tools. To demonstrate how to embed video clips into this particular blog format (, here's an excellent movie, made with Vimeo, that shows the mechanics of the housing crisis in the US. It also shows the power of using multimedia tools such as Vimeo to explain complex concepts in an understandable format.

The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Spontaneous Combustion?

Under the threat of closure for Swine Flu, the HS teachers have been anxious about the potential of going to virtual school. In order to prepare, the Principal gave us a PD day last Friday dedicated entirely to Tech Development under the auspices of learning some tools that are useful in a virtual school environment. The teachers were the most willing and active audience you can imagine, and were eager to learn about our homegrown collaboration network (DragonNet) as well as Jing,, VoiceThread, Diigo, Wikis, Podcasting, RSS and some in-house tools.

Watching the teachers get all excited about these tools was such a rush. Everyone was bubbling about what they were learning (what is it about mastering tech tools that is so exhilarating?) and since then, the fire hasn't gone out. This morning, the Math dept spontaneously decided to share some tools (SmartBoard recording, and Jing) with each other in a formal setting, and tomorrow a teacher is holding a workshop to share how to use the ZipScan (a scantron-like device).

I really hope to see this self-directed enthusiasm continue: I think the key to our tech development and movement toward becoming a 1-1 Mac laptop school next year will be home-grown training and sharing, and its great to see it already underway.

Week 2: Going Virtual

Very interesting week. The Hong Kong health department closed down our Middle School last week because the absences from Swine Flu had gone through the roof. That means the new teachers had not had a chance to get up to speed with our technology, and the returning teachers were still getting their lessons organized for the start of school. So the tech department (all 4 Facilitators, including the MS one who was attending via Skype as he was home sick himself) got together and ran mini-workshops all day Thursday for the MS teachers. We taught them everything from how to upload assignments, to working with, to making wikis, to putting assignments on the school calendar, to holding remote lessons via Skype. It was fantastic, and having one Tech Facilitator present on a computer screen modeled the whole thing beautifully.

With the spread of Swine Flu, the bets are that our Lower Primary will be closed this week, and maybe the HS also. We're all going to get a high-speed dose of going virtual, and I'm looking forward to it in a big way.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Week 1: The Journey Begins

OK, so I have just completed my first week as the Tech Facilitator at my school. Its a big year we will be going 1:1 and converting from PCs to MacBooks. As with any transition, I have some butterflies but I am also excited for the new challenges. We're a pretty big school; almost 3000 kids in 4 divisions from PreK to Grade 12, and over 300 teachers. My job is to work with the HS teachers only; about 80 professionals who teach about 900 students.

We already have a lot in place; an excellent tech infrastructure and an integrated program for hosting course files, taking attendance, emailing, etc., so the teachers are already used to working with a computer. However, we are also a fairly high-pressure school and some teachers are a bit concerned about changing their methodology to becoming a 1:1 school because it might result in a loss of productivity and, of course, control. Our kids are already pretty versatile with gaming, etc, so the challenge will be to help teachers develop their skills with web-based tools without the kids seeing it as a free-for-all for being distracted.

So far, I have formed a Digital Leadership Team composed of 10 colleagues who are anywhere from intermediate to high-level technology users. We plan on meeting once per 8-day cycle to share ideas and tools, and they will go back into their departments to spread the enthusiasm. In our first meeting last week, I chose to model a 2.0 teaching technique, so we all opened gmail accounts, I created a google.doc with that meeting's agenda, and shared it with them all. Then, as the meeting progressed, we all contributed to the notes. One member searched weblinks to support our meeting and added them, and another spent time 'filling in gaps' in the notes. At the end of the meeting, I uploaded the notes to the internet, used to make a shortcut, and shared them with everyone. Now they all have this one useful tool under their belts and can share it with their colleagues.

Earlier in the week I had a help session to show some teachers how to create a wiki or ning, and since then two of them have created class nings and are using them to share notes, pictures and class projects. I also created an archive space on our school website where I am storing useful sites, tutorials for tools, and links to exemplars.

Not a bad start, and now I have to spend some time researching more tools. I am feeling around to see what teachers are doing in their classes, then finding tools that will enhance their lessons and bringing them to them. We'll see how it goes.

So, week 1 is done, I think I've made a nice introduction for the teachers to this new role and position, and now I look forward to filling the space I have created with good productivity. My next goal: two more web-based tools.