Reflections on IETC 2010

This year I was only down in Springfield for the final day of IETC and saw some great presentations. I wanted to share some of the information that I saw and pass along the knowledge. First of all, those that stopped by and saw my presentation of Movie Magic click this link to get the file download for the blue screen transition for Movie Maker. Just take the file and copy it into the Movie Maker folder and into a self created folder titled "shared files".

A few things to share for those that were not here...not all of these are brand new ideas but a good refresher for some of us:

A great little session on creating Book Trailers in your Language Arts classroom. Link to presentation below. My students are currently working on these so I look forward to using some of these techniques to fine tune my own work.

Was thoroughly impressed with Noah Phipps and his presentation on transitions. He has created musical transitions complete with prompts to help his students reflect on their work and provide closure to activities. This guys is truly talented! Check out his site and click the "podcast" link on the top for some great work

Attended a session focused on using web 2.0 tools in a Social Science classroom. Check out the site below and view the links on the left. Some new ones that I was not in tuned with.

Thanks for all the sharing and great presentations!

Movie Magic and the Power of Sharing

As I am preparing for another IETC conference I am reflective about why I decide to present at these conferences. I was talking to a colleague of mine and mentioning that I was going to be out of the building to do a presentation at IETC as well as attend some sessions. His first question to me was, "are they paying you to present?" Not sure if it was too early in the morning or not, but the question struck a nerve with me and caused me to reflect. Clearly, I am not being paid to present and don't see anytime in the future when people will be paying to hear what I have to say. Of course, I am not doing this for the money. I know that is a phrase many educators have said more times than we can count. However, the fact that someone would only want to share their experiences and knowledge for money was a rather ignorant belief to me.

So, why take a day off work and put time into preparing a session to present to a room full of strangers? For me the answer was simple, to share. One of my biggest frustrations is that teachers too often don't share and hide behind their classroom doors. I enjoy seeing what is going on in other places in my building, my district, my world. I look into those places not with a critical eye, but with the eye of a student. Keeping that in mind I want to see what is working well in other places and bring that into my classroom to benefit my students.

Back to my original question... I enjoy presenting because I get a chance to share the amazing work that my students have done. My hope is that something they have done will spark an idea or interest that will be brought to another classroom and another group of students. For those of you out there hiding good ideas behind your classroom doors, I ask you to open the door and share your knowledge with the rest of us.

With that in mind I share a short video clip that will be a part of my IETC presentation tomorrow. This particular video was done by a small group of students in my Social Science class. They were tasked with sharing contributions of the Indian Emperor Asoka. Rather than turning in the typical paragraph or PowerPoint they decided to write a short rap. Enjoy!


In my school we toss the word innovation around quite a bit as a way to help change and evolution happen. Some people think that simply using technology is innovative and forward thinking. If you would have asked me if I was innovative three years ago, I would have said, "yes" with no hesitation. I was using laptops almost daily in my Language Arts and Social Science classes. My students could create brochures in Publisher and do some pretty amazing PowerPoint presentations. To even think of those things as forward thinking or innovative today would be laughable. PowerPoint itself has almost became a dirty word in my building. I was using technology because I could and basically to say I was using it. Looking back, I could not make a compelling argument that anything I was doing was innovative. I was on the bandwagon of technology in the classroom and felt comfortable that was I was "in" as long as I was using it. Nevermind that the basic conceptual things my students were doing has not changed. Reading journals were now done on a computer... but they were still reading journals.

At a recent team leader meeting our principal had us read a great article by Frederick Brown titled "Just How Forward Thinking Are You?" One of the details I really gravitated to was that if you pulled a teacher out of 1909 they would be able to function and teach without a problem. They might not be able to use a data projetor with a Smart Board, but could they not grab the chalk and still teach? This got me to thinking about the work I was doing with technology. I wanted to make sure I was using technology to help push learning and not just for the sake of using it. I initially signed up for twitter to say I was on... now I can't imagine my life without it given all the learning and collaboration that takes place. Instead of those reading journals, I am now have students doing podcasts as a character from their books, creating book trailers, and bringing their characters alive in Crazy Talk. My goal is now to use the technology to deeper my student's understanding of a character, a concept, or event in history. I view my technology use in class not as a fad but now as a tool to differentiate my students work and help them push the limits of their learning. My goal is to ask myself the question, "am I using this technology because it is cool or because it will help my students learn?"

Voice of the Students

As a teacher we are most prone to having our decision making driven by our personal feelings, prior experiences, administrative feedback, and basic time constraints. We like to teach lessons we are comfortable with and have had success with in the past. Pulling from our own experiences in life we craft learning activities that we think our students will connect with. If we are being evaluated we use administrative feedback or suggestions to determine what and how we present material to our classes. Plus, if you are like me, there are times when plans and decisions are made in the shower or the commute to work in the morning. How often though are we asking students what is working and not working for them? Do we ever give them a chance to tell their story and give us their input?

Those were some questions I had asked myself over the past few months and decided to go about doing something about that. A friend and colleague of mine decided to create a student survey for the junior high that we teach at. We wanted to ask questions that got at the heart of the learner and what we were doing as teachers and as a school that impacted their learning. Our goal was to use the results of this survey to paint a picture of what a student experiences at our school. Overall the results were very positive and confirmed what we were doing was good and having an impact on kids learning in a positive way. However, there are still students that expressed concerns and raised questions that need to be addressed.

What I find interesting is just how much you can learn about your students and in turn yourself as a teacher just by asking. Many of the decisions we make on a daily basis, we do with the best intentions and with hopes of positively impacting our students. However, if we never stop and check in with the students, we don't know what is working and what is not. A full school wide survey worked well for us, but it can be something as informal as those conversations in the hall and lunchroom. The key thing is that you must listen to all the voices, not just the kids who want to speak up. It is often the quiet and unheard voices that have the most to say, and if an anonymous survey is the answer, then give it a try. If nothing else, it will help affirm what you are already doing!