Friday, May 21, 2010

It is raining! - Or Just Politics?

This week our county commissioners, who hold the purse strings for our county's public schools, decided to deny 4.5 million dollars in funding for our school systems budget next year. Last night the school board met to make more cuts in the budget, which is not yet finalized.

Top of the list is elementary foreign language - we know that children learn languages easier when they are young - this hurts our students. Our school's Spanish teacher also does double duty as a translator. Who will translate next year?

Second on the list is technology facilitators - sounds harmless, but what do they do? They keep a school running with the technology that they have. Many teachers are tech savvy, but many are not. Do we want to loose good teachers because they are not tech savvy? Take away their help and what is left? Who does the web page? Who diagnoses problems and sends in equipment for repair? Who runs the computer labs and distance learning labs? Who sets up the reading software (AR/STAR, Orchard)or other school databased learning software? Who facilitates projects for collaboration over time and space (using wiki's, blogs, skype, or videoconferencing)? This is 21st century learning and the skills needed by our students to compete in today's world. Again, this is short-sighted. Our particular school was fortunate enough to move the 3rd-5th graders into a new technology rich building. We have state of the art technology in each classroom and a videoconference room for trips to state museums and other schools and countries. What parent doesn't want his/her child to go to a museum once a month? What parent would want to see this equipment sitting unused due to no personnel?

A third loss for our school is our office assistant. For the 28 years I have been at this school, this position has taken care of teachers clerical needs such as supplies and making copies for students. Her equipment is pretty sophisticated - another task that would be difficult for teachers to do as they are in the classroom. This equipment would soon be in dis-repair and wouldn't work. Just another stress for classroom teachers.

The list was about 20 items long - all of these jobs are needed to work with our students. I could write a paragraph about each of these jobs and how they will affect our students and teachers. By the time teachers make up for all of this lost help, when will they teach, or when will they be able to go home if they stay all of the extra hours needed to do the other "chores" they have had help with in the past?

Do we want the best education for our students? Do we care about quality? This is the question.

Our school board is in a difficult spot in trying to make the budget work. They have spoken up for the employees and cut with regrets. But their question to the county commissioners and my question to the county commissioners is the same - What kind of education do you want for your children and grandchildren? Top qualitly or mediocore?

The county commissioners are trying to make the point that it is the state's job to pay for public education. Well, that is only acceptable if the county commissioners are willing to allow our students a less than top quality education.

Today's newspaper, the Winston-Salem Journal, put the cuts at 4.5 million and said the county has 100 million in cash reserve - their rainy day fund. I do believe it is raining. Where is the umbrella for our students?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Google Apps and Our Staff - Part 5

What’s next? Well, that is planning for next year! As we move into the last month of school with testing, look to summer training – we have a team of 5 attending NC Teacher Academy for Technology – we have a lot of exciting plans and some summer time to reflect and prioritize our next steps.

One is to increase our Google Apps for Education to more grade levels. Currently only our fifth graders and one fourth grade class are logging into the domain with the teachers. Next year, we will have 2nd through 5th graders involved.

I can see students working in pairs, teams, across classes, and grade levels to complete projects using web 2.0 tools and google apps for education. Plans have been developed and ideas are bouncing around to work together to develop skills and projects and share these with others.

One step at a time, we become stronger and wiser and make progress in learning together.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Google Apps and Our Staff – Part 4

On May 5, our staff met for our fourth day of Google Apps for Education. On this day we shared google sites, blogs from blogger.com, and google groups.

We use google groups to send email 2-3 times a week to interested families and community. This free listserv allows us to share important information, news, events, and pictures with our community. I also use a google group for our local Friends of the Library board. It keeps us informed and connected.

I also shared two articles. The first was “Why Schools are Turning to Google Apps” http://mashable.com/2010/04/28/schools-google-apps/
The second article was “Improving School Communication with Google Apps” http://www.edutopia.org/google-educators-school-communication

This year we got very busy with our move into the new building, packing up materials and equipment for the move. Moving and setting up again, learning new technology – we have the “classroom solution” in all classrooms in the new building – called the 21st century schools. It is fantastic! This move and learning curve of this new technology has kept us busy learning and communicating.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Google Apps and Our Staff – Part 3

On March 9, our staff met for our third day of Google Apps for Education. On this day, we logged into our domain and looked at google reader, google calendar, and google email.

I shared my google reader and how it helps me keep up with articles, news, blogs – at work and for hobbies. Using a “reader” brings the information to you—you don’t have to go out and search for it, it comes to your computer email or reader page. This helps me a lot in keeping up with work, new ideas (that I don’t have to create, but just implement). This saves a lot of time and I gain the knowledge from other educators.

Another great way to have information come to you is through google alerts. I use them for school and for hobbies, and family. Each day my mailbox has one email on my school alerts for videoconferencing and for instructional technology. I also use it for Old English sheepdogs (dog rescue & transport). For my personal life, I get an alert when one of my sons is the referee on a college soccer game or the other son has a new article published in the newspaper (journalist). It is a modern way to keep up with families across the country and world. Again, information comes to me and it saves time.

The great part about Google Apps for Education at RHES is that it is closed to the public. Our students can only email each other and their teachers. No email comes into our domain and no email goes out of our domain. This gives us the opportunity to teach students how to use email in a safe environment. Once students are 13, they can have an email account without parent permission and there is no instruction. Learning this at an early age allows us to include the importance of our character traits when using email, reminding children to be kind, write positives, use email for school work, and most important to tie it to the “golden rule.” Without instruction, our students are left to their own resorts, temperaments – they need instruction and positive, gentle, guidance.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ed Tech Funding – Help!

The “Enhancing Education Through Technology” program is about to die. HELP! In many states and school districts, this is the ONLY funding for educational technology. Congress first approved EETT as part of No Child Left Behind, with the idea that technology plays a big part in improving “student achievement, ensuring high quality teaching, and increasing parental involvement…” (this quote from ISTE – International Society for Technology in Education). We use technology in so many ways to connect to parents – through a weekly email listserv, school website, Twitter, blogs, and wiki’s.

As Congress begins to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, it is certain that technology should play a large role in making (1) equity in teacher quality across all schools (2) creating data systems to follow students over time – allowing for more research into what is working and then duplicating those traits (3) making a better test – one that fairly shows what a child knows, not just what they can do on a multiple choice test in a segment of time – and improving state standards (4) supporting schools that need help – not throwing out the baby with the bath water – helping all students learn.

In North Carolina, the IMPACT grant funds have shown that teacher retention is higher and students are 33% more likely to improve one full grade level each year as compared to non IMPACT schools. IMPACT can be found on the web at http://www.ncwiseowl.org/Impact/igrant/
This is a document that provides coordination of the library media and instructional technology programs to enhance learning. Schools apply for this grant which includes teacher training, flexible staffing in the library and tech labs, and hiring of a technology facilitator and assistant. This team of library and technology work with classroom teachers to implement technology through-out the curriculum. This grant is funded from EETT. Last year 11 new applications were accepted into this program, which has run successfully since 2003.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Google Apps and Our Staff – Part 2

On February 8, our staff met in the computer lab during planning time again to learn about Google Apps for Rural Hall School. Each staff member has a login to our “cloud” domain. We have email, docs, presentations, spreadsheets, forms, sites, calendars, and video. This is a great way for students to complete homework or classwork. There is no problem with software incompatibility or version or operating system.

We loved using the video site! Only teachers can upload video, so the student flip cameras have been put to good use. When the fourth graders went on a three day field trip to the NC outer banks, they took six flip cameras and took video of the stops along the way. Representative movies of each stop were uploaded on the google video site. We have some great photographers here! This was also a great way to have the students at Rural Hall who didn't attend the trip stay in touch with the students who did go - we used Google Moderator and posted questions for the students on the trip to look for things while touring. The teachers on the trip responded back to us at school. We also made a Google Earth tour of the exact trip with all of the stops along the way. The students enjoyed this tour in the computer lab. These applications allowed our students to stay in touch and be "connected" to the field trip even though they were at school.

Another great use we found for Google Apps for Education at RHES was the calendar feature. Each login has its own calendar. We created a calendar for the laptop cart lab. Now, our teachers login to our google apps and sign-up on this calendar to use the laptop lab. They can access this from home to check when making plans and sign-up without having to wait to return to school and use a paper sign-up on the door. – Improvement!

On this staff day in the lab, the teachers logged into Google Apps for Education at RHES and we looked around a bit. I showed the different applications briefly. During the next two staff days, we practiced all of these different possibilities. Having time between these staff days allowed us time to try out some of the applications, think about uses for the applications, and be ready to apply them.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Google Apps, Wiki, and Our Staff - Part 1

We had four staff development days in our computer lab. Teachers and staff came during planning time in January, February, March, and May. (In April we moved into a new building.) Total attendance was 138.

Our first day was dedicated to our private school wiki. We use it for staff communication. Last summer I happened to see that pbwiki was offering a free wiki upgrade and a free six week class in wiki’s. (And it looks like they will be doing it again this summer – check http://www.pbworks.com for information.) The staff learned to login to the wiki and practiced on sandbox pages. We began posting grade level notes and meeting notes on the wiki. The principal added readings to the wiki and the teachers posted reflections. We also used the wiki to develop our new mission and vision statements.

This type of staff development and time to learn something new and practice was invaluable. The wiki has had over 2000 logins from the staff.