Thursday, April 29, 2010

Session 6: Webtop Communities

You can create your own little world using Webtop Communities.  I think this resource could be used very effectively for professional development.  For example, we could have used this community to create a forum for our book study.  It would be nice to have a written reflection on our book study, and it would have been nice to have time to reflect on other peoples' comments and submit additional ideas.

Session 5: Manhattan

Just like the city that shares its name, Manhattan has something for everyone.Manhattan is a virtual classroom plarform that has options for automated quizzes, storage and completion of online assignments, and class discussions/chat.  These are just a few of the capabilities of this wonderful easy-to-use platform.

For my purposes, I think the class discussion feature would serve me best.  I would have liked to have had it when Mrs. Lowe and I did the energy research class.  It would have been interesting to fuel discussions on current events, such as the Upper Big Branch disaster.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Session 4: Google Calendar

I am certain no one will be shocked when I declare my unwaivering love for Google Calendar.  I believe I have been using this application for the last three or four years.  It is a combined printout of four calendars - Main, Library, Computer Lab and Mobile Lab - that I print and distribute to teachers each week.  Google Calendars is the subject of Session 4 of the Webtop for Educators course.

I wish I had access to Google Calendars when my daughters were young.  If I had used the Calendars email reminders or better yet text message reminders, I am sure I would have missed fewer doctors and orthodontist appointments.  I like the way Google Calendar can give me a visual agenda for my day, and I can reach this anywhere I can reach the Internet.  More than on a personal level, Google Calendar has done a lot for the way we allocate resources within our school.

I set up recurring appointments in the calendar just once per year.  For example, Mrs. Pisegna wanted her library time to be each Wednesday.  I only had to enter the appointment once in the Calendar and told the calendar to repeat this occurrence every Wednesday afternoon until the end of  May.  If for some reason a weekly visit needs to be changed, I can edit the time and date of an individual appointment while not disturbing the rest of the series.  If I need to change an appointment, I can send Mrs. Pisegna an email invitation to attend at a new time. By maintaining and distributing a Library calendar, I am able to communicate with teachers and the administration the flexible nature of the library media schedule.  It is easy to confidently change my schedule to accommodate research.

Using Google Calendar to schedule the computer lab and mobile lab schedules has done a  lot to improve the flexible use of each of these resources,  Prior to using the calendar, teachers had to guess whether or not a lab time was available and take their changes that their plans would not be disrupted.  With the schedule teacher can comfortably plan for lab use and can negotiate time changes with other teachers as necessary.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Session 3: ePearl

For the majority of participants in the course. ePearl was the most frustrating and least satisfying of all the webtop tools.  I share the opinion of the majority.

EPearl is an electronic portfolio platform.  Three levels of sophistication allow teachers to choose the proper level for early elementary, upper elementary or secondary students. Students can use ePearl to store written or audio artifacts, to set goals and to reflect on their work. The portfolios can be shared with parents, if the student and teacher wishes.

I think the platform offers many positives, especially the goal setting and reflective pieces.  However, I think most teachers would balk at the amount of work it would take to develop an ePearl portfolio for each child.  Given the fact that the platform is not the most intuitive, I think teachers would find this frustrating.  My opinion is that a portfolio template could be developed using PowerPoint that could incorporate the positives of ePearl while avoiding the negatives altogether.

Don't let my assessment of this utility dissuade you from taking this course.  It was the only negative of the course for me, and a few people loved it.

Tomorrow I will tell you about session four and one of my favorite tools - Google Calendar!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Webtop Session Two: Google Sites

Session Two of the WVLearns class Webtop for Educators focuses on Google Sites.  In this session each participant develops his own website for professional use.  It was in this class that I developed the Brookhaven Technology Center Site.  Google Sites is a very user friendly platform that teachers can use to promote classroom activities or post student work.  You can set levels of security to limit how much of your content can be viewed outside the school setting.

It could be argued that teachers do not need a Google Site when they have access to EdLine. My response to this argument would be that you can truly make Google Sites your own, with multiple design options.  You may upload pictures and video to site as you desire.  The main advantage of Google Sites over EdLine is, in my opinion, that Google Sites in much faster.  I also think it is easier to use.

Even if you don't think Google Sites is something you would want to maintain for professional use, you may find personal uses of the Sites to excite you.  I am planning on developing a family history site using Google Sites later this summer.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Recommended eCourse for WV Teachers: Webtop for Educators

A few years ago I blogged consistently on West Virginia Department of Education's blog site.  When I got the news that the blog site would be discontinued and replaced with the Webtop, I promptly acquired a Webtop account.  And did nothing with it. This spring I enrolled in the WVLearns course Webtop for Educators and have become an avid fan.

The course takes seven weeks to complete, including an orientation week when enrollees introduce themselves to other members of the course and familiarize themselves with the layout of the website.  In week 2, called Session 1,  the learning really begins.

The first topic in the course is Google Documents.  This remarkable (free!) tool is available to everyone universally.  Documents are compatible with the Microsoft Office Suite and other productivity tools.  I had used Google Docs before, but taking this course has expanded my use of this tool.  The most important feature for me is the ability to save documents remotely.  Once saved, I can access them anywhere I can reach the Internet.  Also, if I am working on documents online, the software saves my work at regular intervals.  If I accidentally overwrite a file, I can check older versions of the document and save the version I like best. If I want to share a document with my friend, I can send him an invitation to view the document.  If I choose, I can give my friend the power to make changes to my work.

Weeks Two through Six offer examination of Google Sites, ePearl portfolio platform, Google Calendar and Twiddla, Manhattan Virtual Classroom and the Webtop Community.  Tomorrow I will talk about Google Sites!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Being a Linchpin

I just finished listening to Seth Godin's Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?  I found this book to be full of permissions worthy of everyone's consideration but especially relevant to young people and their parents, who need help in understanding how the world has changed and what the young person must do to be a successful member of society.

The first section that ignited my enthusiasm was Godin's assertion that you should give yourself permission to get a D.  He adds the caveat that permission to get a D does not mean that one may be a slacker.  In fact, the opposite may be true.  Godin says it is acceptable to get a D if getting an A means subverting one's original thinking for the sake of appeasing a professor, or "the system."  Getting a D and standing on principle or creating a new way of looking at a problem is far more important and satisfying than regurgitating the necessary data to get the A.  I wish all students, all parents and all teachers could realize and celebrate that the grade is not the most important thing.  Many of the most important lessons one will ever learn are unassessed.  Personally, I have received maybe two Ds in my life, and in the occasion of one of those occurrences, it was in a class where I felt I had exhibited the most personal and pre-professional growth.  The D was a shocking result, but somehow I could not feel defeated or inadequate.  I felt more successful in this class than I did in any of the others in which I  had "phoned in" an A.

Reiterating the warning that the promise of the old economy - get a job, do your best, and your will be taken care of - is dead, Godin suggests that the only possible way to achieve any type of security in this throw-away economy is to become a linchpin, someone so indispensable to his company that he cannot be replaced.  Godin says that in order to become a linchpin we must create an art that cannot be replicated and that we must freely give of our art without any hopes of compensation.  Art, by Godin's definition, is not limited to a canvas or composition but is any kind of passionate work.   If we are compensated for art, it becomes a commodity, something that can be replicated or at the very least assigned a value.  To give away your art freely with no expectation of compensation seems senseless to someone who has a "what's in it for me?" attitude toward his job.  However, those who go beyond their job expectations, who add new dimensions to their workplace, who do things differently seem to be genuinely much happier at their jobs.  They give away their art and receive joy in return..

Godin talked about three strata or layers of connectedness around all individuals.  The innermost stratus consists of people who you know professionally and personally who are your friends and colleagues.  The outermost stratus consists of strangers that you can reach and influence as a result of giving your art on the Internet or other public forums.  I don't remember the name of the middle stratus, but it seems this one is the least important.  It is comprised of people who pay for your services.  While important to your economic well-being, these people are not as important as those in the inner and outer strata.  Those in the middle status view you as a commodity, something that can be replaced.  To those in the inner and outer strata, when you give away your art, you become indispensable, a linchpin.

For me, and the teaching profession in general, Godin's work challenges us to continue that which good teachers have always done: go the extra mile for the satisfaction it brings you and your students.  We won't be rewarded extrinsically,  for this, but the intrinsic rewards are immeasurable.  If you are not one of the teachers who go the extra mile, who teaches for art, then perhaps Godin's work will inspire you to think differently about your profession or perhaps find a new avocation that will be a joyful arena to share your art. If you are one of the teachers who believes in his work, share your story and art with the world.  The more you share the more indispensable you will be.