Monday, July 28, 2014

School Update

We had a fantastic spring semester of videoconferencing - almost 150 from January through the first week of June!  The students were engaged and excited and repeatedly asked for more!

To see other applications going on at school, visit my class wiki to see computer lab projects and other topics.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

H.323 Videoconferencing


We are back to videoconferencing at Rural Hall School - began again on January 6 with borrowed equipment.  Thanks to our school system, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, for the Tandberg loaner! 

Our students have participated in 46 conferences in seven weeks (minus 5 snow days)!  We are conferencing with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission in science, the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in thinking skills, the North Carolina Museum of History, and NASA.  

Beginning Monday, February 24, we are participating, for two weeks, in Read Around the Planet.  Ten of our K-2 classrooms are matched with other classrooms in Alabama, South Carolina, Michigan, Minnesota, and New York.  Each classroom prepares a reading activity to share with their partner class.  This is all in celebration of Dr. Seuss' birthday, on March 2.  

The wonderful skits, songs, and activities will be digitally filmed and the movies posted on the teacher's website and YouTube.  

We have 81 more conferences scheduled through May and will continue to schedule as many as we can match to our curriculum and fit into our schedule. 

It is so much fun to learn and ask questions of NASA science educators and museum historians! Our students are excited, and thrilled to participate and ask - "When is the next one?"

It's just wonderful when learning is fun, challenging, and builds enthusiasm for more learning.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Back to School

It's time for teachers to think about "Back to School" - there are so many details.  Just the usual, classroom set-up, curriculum, changes (moving rooms or schools or new grade level), students, planning, new changes from the school or school system, etc.  Exciting, busy, and fun - that's what calls teachers back each year - a new group of students and a fresh beginning!

One of the best things I have found is communications with parents.  The age of the classroom printed newsletter is about gone.  One free way is creating a class email group.  I use google groups, it's free and easy to set-up.  All you need is an email address for each family (and this works well with blended families that may live in other locations).

You must have a google email, but then after logging into gmail, or creating an account, just click on the "More" tab on the black bar at the top of your web browser.  Scroll down and locate "Even more" at the bottom.  Scroll down to the section under "Social" and you'll see groups.  You can create a new group, and add members.  Then, it's easy to send class emails to all families.

More tips to come...

Friday, May 31, 2013

Going for Google Glass

So excited to try out Google Glass!  I think it will be a fun thing to do  as I explore retirement, nature, traveling, and so much more.  Imagine, taking a picture without using your hands - yay!  Savoring family moments, hands free pics, that's a good thing! May come in handy when visiting cities, museums, parks, hiking, or just walking the dogs.  Prediction is that it will be at it's best when with the grand children!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Tech-up Classroom Communications

I'm hoping this post will give a straight forward list of things to do to "tech-up" your classroom communications.  These are many of the tools I use.  Should you ever change jobs or move, these accounts go with you and are not deleted by a school system webpage that is deleted when you move.  You can always link you school system webpage to these accounts.

1.  Get a Google email account.  It's sort of like having a Mac computer, the software works so well together.  Go to http://www.google.com/ and create an account.

2.  Open a Picasa account through Google.  Post your classroom pics there.  Of course, make sure you have parent permission to post pics.  I get a general permission each year for every student in K-5th grade.  We use these for videoconferences, photos, movies posted on the web or website, and others.

3.  Open a Twitter account - this does not have to be your regular Twitter account, but maybe one for your specific classroom.  Invite all parents to join.  I have a school account (RuralHallSchool) and an edtech account (mcdermon).

4.  Create a Blog at http://blogger.com/ - this is now a part of Google, so you can use that one login for everything.  I added my smart phone to my account, so it's easy to take a quick photo, email it to my blog, and parents have immediate access to current activities in your classroom. (My "quick pics" blog is http://ruralhallschool.blogspot.com/ )

5.  Create a wiki.  I use PB Wiki - http://pbworks.com/ - Wiki's are a little more navigation than blogs, but can add so much more to your classroom.  This can wait until you have the other ideas going and can work through them easily.  I use my wiki for my plans.  I post my class assignments here (along with the essential standards required by my state), post student work here, have links to everything my students need. This wiki builds over the years.  (My wiki account is http://mcdermonclass.pbworks.com/ ) Here I have the ability to post student work, or have students join the wiki and post their work.  You can manage it and preview before posts are made.  There are great tutorials and in the summer, you can take a free 6 week course to be a certified wiki operator.

6.  Create a group through your Google account.  I created a group of the local tech facilitators.  Next, I added a group for the staff at my school.  Later, I made a group, at the PTA's request, of parents and community.  These parents & community members get weekly email updates on activities and events at school.  I use my mac and create a lovely email with photos of that week.  This is also great for hobbies, church, community groups, too. (Teachers do have other lives!)  Some of the elected town officials are in this email group and do a lot to support our local community school.  Look through the different groups to get ideas.  I have a group for my local library board, making it easy to email each other and send out meeting minutes and treasurer's reports.

7.  Web Tools - some of the web tools I use are Voki, Glogster, VoiceThread, Skype, and Google Apps for Education.  Voki has a good deal at $30 for 200 student logins.  Glogster also has free and education prices.  VoiceThread has the same, some free and some at a class price.  Skype is free, but also has parts or plans that you can pay for.  I have a Skype phone number, so if you call that regular looking phone number, it calls my Skype account.  Depending on the equipment in your classroom, you can also do a video call.  If you don't have updated computers (many teachers do not), you can buy an "eyeball" or small camera for $50.  I keep skype running in the background and when we are doing web tools with students, use it to call other people and other classrooms.  (There is a wiki to join to make connections to other classrooms around the world. The address is:  http://skypeinschools.pbworks.com/  .) The GAE is the best deal - it is free.  If your school has a SIT team (School Improvement Team - or other similar group) that votes on programs, activities, and events at your school that match your school plan, then ask them to consider applying for a GAE account.  Setting it up is a little technical, but there are many tutorials and groups to help. After set-up, the only cost is the required back-up of email.  I turned email off for everyone because we have no funds to pay this, but now the students have the wonderful access to create websites, use docs, spreadsheets, videos, and more.  The videos are set up so only teachers can post, but the students take the videos (usually while on field trips).  This is a private little cloud with only our elementary school.  If parents want to see the student work, the student logs into his/her account and shares.

8.  Use a reader to pull articles, blogs, information in areas you are interested in (not all are on education). I use Google reader and made http://igoogle.com/ my homepage.  It brings in my news preferences, my reader (articles) preferences, weather, jokes, what ever I select. 

9.  OK, getting to the end for today's list.  I love Google+  - it is so easy to use, has wonderful circles (groups) that I find informative and interesting.  I like this much better than Facebook.  You can have "hang-outs" with people (real time).  I learn so much, am amused, and fascinated by the many people I meet here.

Of course, all of this changes - new web tools come out and others are updated.  Some go away.  One thing I have found is there is a large community of people (many teachers) dedicated to helping teachers learn these new tools, engage their students in authenic learning activities, and help our students achieve, learn, and succeed.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

ASCD Gets it Right!

Educational Leadership, the journal for ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development), always seems to have "on target" articles and information.  This month is no different.  The Dec. 2011/Jan. 2012 issue is packed with expertise.  I wonder who is listening.  This is one organization worth joining for the monthly information, the journal, and books sent out several times a year.  This issue ties several issues of budgets, public schools using the corporate reform movement, oportunities, thinking outside the box, parent opinions, and teacher quality.  It's like being back in grad school with bright minds pushing for answers and talking through the issues schools face.  Questions are raised and cases are presented of school success. There are many professional organizations.  This one keeps you tuned to the current issues and keeps the dialog up to date, while helping you to understand issues and stay in the fight for good public education.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Respect

Educational Leadership, the journal of ASCD (Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development) has a great article by Marie-Nathalie  Beaudoin about school respect in its September 2011 issue (pages 40-44).  This goes into school culture and shares how the staff needs and wants are passed on to students.  If the teachers "are stressed, unhappy, and unsupported by their peers" they "are more inclined to treat their students with disrespect."  The good news is there are many articles in this issue with starting points, ideas for improvement and pathways to respectful school climates and communities.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Web Tools for 2011-12

Last year, I introduced Google Apps for Education to my 2nd - 5th graders.  They enjoyed working on the cloud and especially loved making webpages.  Also last year I introduced Glogster.edu to our 4th graders (paid for that one).  I'm continuing with those two this year, but adding in voki classroom.  For just under $30 you can get 200 logins - voki uses an avatar that students create and then allows either voice  uploads or typed script (with a choice of voice accents).  Students create these on all curriculum topics and share or post online.  We're also using a new Edmodo our school system provides to offer another web tool for students to have input for a classroom.  The 3rd-5th graders login to the 3rd grade lab or the 4th-5th grade lab.  They had two assignments.  One is to learn to make a quick post in response to a teacher request and the other is to vote in a poll.  This webtool has the look of Facebook, but does not allow students to post to each other, only as a response to a teacher.  Then the post is reviewed by the teacher before it is seen.

I use a wiki for my lesson plans and posting student work or links to their work.  Here's to a great year using web tools with students!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

July - New School Year

Thinking about the new school year that begins on Aug. 17.  I've spent a wonderful month off fostering two dogs, one that had foot surgery.  Also done a lot of house cleaning and removing and remodeling.  But thoughts of the new school year are creeping in!

Two ideas helped me a lot last year and one was having a class wiki.  It allowed me to post my plans online, post student work samples, with permission, and explore ideas while teaching over 650 students.  This easy to edit wiki (you can get a free one at http://pbworks.com ) allows editing anywhere.  You can choose to allow comments, keep a private wiki, or a public, interactive wiki, or a public, invite only interactive wiki.

Another great idea that helped me teach and was easy for students to access was using a school level Google Apps for Education.  We had some ethernet issues, and often had 8 computers that would not load the student home folder from the school server, so using Google Apps allowed these students to do genuine work and continue with everyone else in the class.  Students only have 40 minutes per week in my class, so our time is valuable.  We use the docs (presentations, spreadsheets, too), video, and the students absolutely love the webpages or "sites."  Who wouldn't rather create a webpage than write a report?

Two other good experiences last year were using Glogster (the edu version) with 4th graders and a Voicethread project with a school in Australia.

The wiki was free (but you can upgrade for a fee), Google Apps for Ed was free (only a charge for the online domain name), Glogster.edu offers reduced rates for classrooms, Voicethread also has a free version (but limited in the amount of threads) and a paid upgrade.  Many other web 2.0 tools are available with free versions and paid upgrades.  These tools are helpful in introducing ways to share information rather than writing the standard report.  These tools show students that many options are available and can be chosen to present information.  This goes hand in hand with information gathering and sharing in the classroom, adding to interest and thinking skills in figuring out how to use these applications.  Allowing students to collaborate with each others locally and at a distance, offers more opportunities to think, reason, and express themselves while working with others.  Our 3rd graders participated in a project through icollaboratory.org and enjoyed the experience.

Edtech offers many opportunities to our students and using them helps our students listen to others, hear other points of view, work in collaborative projects, share individual work, and many more.  Don't be afraid to try web tools.  Get a permission slip from the parents of each student; give the rules for use and misuse; be positive in sharing, and start with one tool at a time.  Use it with a small group, extend it to the whole class, share your success on a wiki, and try another new tool.  Ask for feedback from students and families about using the tools.  It is amazing!

Woohoo - another school year is coming!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

What is a good principal?

Last week, Edutopia posted an article by Maurice Elias titled "The Seven Characteristics of a Good Leader."  It's a good article with links to other writers and their ideas of what makes a good leader, a good principal.  The seven characteristics given by Elias are attributed to Sargent Shriver.
  1. A sense of purpose
  2. Justice
  3. Temperance
  4. Respect
  5. Empowerment
  6. Courage
  7. Deep Commitment
There were two other good reads there - "How to Give Your School Leader a Grade" and "Ten Big Ideas of School Leadership" - Join and get email "heads-up" on many relevant topics. Worth reading!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Best Ideas

One of the best ideas for my classroom this school year is using a class wiki. As soon as I heard I was probably going back to the classroom, I created a pbwiki for my class. It is free and allows for so many different applications.  I use pbworks (formerly pbwiki).  It is easy to add a page for different topics and activities and easy to embed movies, and student projects.  It has also become my virtual plan book.  I post K-5 plans with state goals each week.  Parents and staff can see what the children are doing each week (and in advance).  My class site is named with my last name and the word "class," helping to make it unique in addressing and in remembering the page address.  There are links to projects, links for students to have easy access, and links to use with movies and web searches.

As the grade levels approach activities, and web searches, I can simply add a great link to a project page and it makes it easier for all of the students to locate. I believe it has improved the students' tech vocabulary, too, as they work and share their final products.  I have learned as much as the students this year and am enjoying this total collaboration with student learners.  The 3rd-5th graders enjoyed learning about web 2.0 tools and shared some tools that they use or that they see their parents using (wikis, blogs, flickr, delicious, twitter, skype, and google apps).

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Challenge: Why do you teach?

For me, this is a choice. Something I do and give back to my community.  Every year is different, new students, new challenges, new problems to solve, new students to engage, and the yearly cycle begins again.  This had been an extremely difficult year.  Many sweeping changes - having programs I started that evolved over 13 years, winning state and national awards - dropped.  OK, move on.  Then some segments of the political arena decided to blame teachers for the economic problems of our country. What?

This year of change brought me back to the continuing cycle of why do I teach and why connecting to students is so important.  I've been told by administrators that I'm a "natural" teacher.  It's my own quiet way to speak out to the world of children.  For 28 years I jumped out of bed, continued with home duties (in the past included raising two sons), and raced off to school - where I felt at home, too.  Welcoming children into my class, hosting a friendly environment of surprise, challenge, and imagination, helping students make progress in their learning, all of this was so much fun I couldn't believe I was getting paid for it, but like so many teachers, spending such a large amount of my paycheck - more than a tithe - seemed like the "right thing to do."  That is part of why this is so important - having a positive outlook, sharing the good parts of learning, schooling, community, and country with students was always such a pleasure.  Encouraging, pushing to work harder, making choices, so many ways to engage a student and bring them into success.  (And, yes, God; but when those questions come up, I ask my students to talk to their parents or their Sunday school teacher or someone at their church.)  I believe in the constitution and the separation of church and state - this is definitely the parent's job.

This year I teach about 650 students in the computer lab.  In elementary school, the "specialists" are teachers who give planning time to regular classroom teachers. So all students have the same, equal time, attention spans or content are not at issue.  Technology is fun to teach, and it is always different.  But, like any good teaching, you have to bring yourself to it - teaching doesn't happen just because you are in the room.  Students have so many reasons, and many good ones, to tune out a teacher.  What happened at home, on the bus, was there a fight with a sibling, was there time for breakfast, did mom or dad loose a job, is someone ill, is the family intact?  These problems and more enter classrooms every day.  Teachers deal with these problems, too, at home,  then off to work like many other parents, trusting their most precious to a classroom teacher and specialist.  For me, teaching in a classroom was easy - 24-28 students (teaching grades 1, 2, or 3).  With one set of students all day long, you knew them and they knew you.  With 150 different students every day, it is tough knowing their names, much less the meanings of their faces, eyes, and personalities.  The subject is easy, knowing the students is not.  I think the most important ingredient in the teacher is the personal contact, the engagement of a person in another person's success.  Knowledge of the curriculum is second.  The good teacher is a cheerleader for each and every student and likes every single one of them.

I've had after school (volunteer) Math Club for my students, sponsored Odyssey of the Mind, Computer Club, and Quest Atlantis (great software) Club.  Now towards the end of my career, I find that teachers are not respected, not appreciated, and blamed for the economy - that is, according to news media and political pundits.  I just don't believe it.  Like the email that goes around and around, I'm a teacher!  I make children work hard, teach them ways to solve problems, think for themselves, get along with others, share, demonstrate examples of good character, and have high expectations for all of my students.  So, for the finger pointers, media talking heads, and anyone else - I help children experience learning in positive ways (the good things in life) and deal with the tough parts of life at the same time.  I love each child that comes in the door and help them to explore their talents while learning good character and I love my job.  These days, I have the children of students I taught in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grade, and even some from teaching the K-5 computer lab - it is interesting to see the faces appear; I ask, "Is you ___ (insert mom or dad) named ___ (insert name from former student).  This brings evidence to the nature nurture debate - behaviors, looks, characteristics, amazingly the same, and different, too!

So, this year, number 29 for me, is different, too.  I'm a grandma now; started teaching in my 30's instead of my 20's; 3 degrees and a certificate later, I still love teaching, students, and the cycles of learning.  Amazing technology to share with students, good, positive tasks to build and master; many students to greet and help grow; choosing ways to engage students in curriculum activities that include sharing with others (we can all help others learn).

To answer my question - Why are you a teacher? - Because it is part of who I am; I'm curious, love to learn new things, love to see things from a different angle, love the excitement of learning something new and sharing it with someone, and love to make that positive connection to a child.

Why are you a teacher?

 -- Please respond with your reasons for teaching and tweet the website or reply to this post.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

EdTech_365/2010

Last December, an Ed Tech person posted on Twitter and challenged other ed tech's to keep a daily photo blog of the year 2010.  It was such an interesting and simple step and a great reflection on ed tech, work/school, home, changes, and unexpected occurrences.  Some days had such powerful statements and others were just fun, while others, were just looking for a picture.

This is a great project for students.  Create a blog and use a camera to keep a journal of life, a specific academic topic, or group project, and write about them.  Simple, clean assignment.  My journey is here.  It certainly keeps one from forgetting the little things.  And, one I will probably do again.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What We Need - More Videoconferencing

"There are three basic skills that students need if they want to thrive in a knowledge economy: the ability to do critical thinking and problem-solving; the ability to communicate effectively; and the ability to collaborate." This quote is from Thomas Friedman's column in the NY Times on Nov. 20 as he speaks of "The Global Achievement Gap" by Tony Wagner, Harvard.  The article goes on to say countries that rank higher than the US have teachers in the top 1/3 of the class.  The article includes references to the Race to the Top to give money for innovative ideas in education. Change is needed.


Some educators like problem based learning as a way to engage students in learning, collaborating, and thinking skills.  Adding videoconferences to these collaborative efforts brings in communications over time and space and brings our students face to face with students from other cities, states, countries.  Imagine!  


One of our second grade classes meets monthly with a class in Michigan to share math problems.  The students work in their groups and individually and then share their answers with the other class.  Along the way, these students polish math skills, have some fun, learn about another community (geography, weather), hear accents, and make friends.  They are learning to work with others, step one.  As they grow, these classroom to classroom activities extend and increase experience in working with others (who may not be just like them) - it becomes a standard learning technique -- listening to others and valuing opinions of all people involved.


Imagine - middle schools and high school students using videoconferencing to discuss and learn about environmental problems or social problems.  Students using these skills to discuss and offer solutions to today's problems - isn't that what we want?


Videoconferencing collaborations use all of these skills - critical thinking & problem solving,  communications, and collaborations.  Add some multimedia, blog or wiki for scheduling, posting schedules, information sources, and you have a mix of learning that changes, allows for updating, and continued collaboration.  


After 28 years in public schools, two sons who attended public schools, and eight years working with videoconferencing, I continue to see, daily, the needs of our students, and I feel that videoconferencing offers many opportunities to develop these skills.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

"Flat" Communications with Voicethread

       

Hello to the Austalians in St. Joseph's Primary School in Merewether, Australia!  We are thrilled to be involved in the Voicethread project with your school.  We will post our voicethreads on the project page and embed them on my class wiki.  Yesterday I mailed our "bulldog" mascot to your class and it should arrive within 10 days.  Because the mailing is expensive, please just keep our bulldog at the end of the project.  We will enjoy the voicethreads and enjoy seeing you and your students with the bulldog!  
We love the idea of sharing our cultures on field trips - we'll see your exciting and interesting places and you will see ours.  We also will enjoy the different accents.  American - southern and Australian. 
          School website: St. Joseph's Primary
          Rural Hall Elementary - Distance Learning
          Mrs. McDermon's Class Wiki - click on projects and voicethread