Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bigger Isn't Always Better

ITSC is small compared to other state or regional conferences - only about 400 attendees - but I really like how they put it together. The three hour workshops really encourage conversation and allow time for reflection. It's also a great opportunity to hear and interact with some pretty amazing presenters on a more intimate level. Having access to these presenters both during and outside of their sessions is a real treat and facilitates some great conversations.
Speaking with Jennifer Arns, the Program Director, I learned that at ITSC they really want schools and districts to attend in teams and they provide teams with time to meet and discuss what has been learned periodically throughout the conference. This time to process what has been learned and brainstorm how it can be applied is quite valuable and unfortunately pretty unique in educational conferences. The fact that they can actually get this many teachers to take their President's Day weekend to attend speaks to the importance these educators place on using technology tools to improve instruction.

Here are some thoughts from sessions and conversations:

Cell Phone Digital Storytelling - Wes Fryer
I've created podcasts from my cell phone using GCast, but another tool called Gabcast adds the ability to post from not just MY cell phone, but ANY phone.

With this tool, teachers can create multiple channels for different classes, then give students the phone number and access code so they can just call in and record their thoughts & stories, posting them to the class podcast. At our tables we brainstormed how this could transform a class field trip by directing students to use their cell phones to take pictures at certain locations and record and post their thoughts on what they see, what they experience, and what they learn. These images and audio files are captured "on location", and can later be combined into digital stories using any number of media tools.
The best part? There's no need for the school to supply students with expensive camera or recording equipment, most already have what they need to collect their stories.

Historical Documentaries - Jennifer Gingerich
Using familiar tools like PhotoStory3, iMovie, and GarageBand, students take "digital kits" and use them to create documentaries from periods in history. Jennifer worked with our group to create a pretty impressive Ellis Island story in just a matter of minutes. She also shared student created Oregon Trail diaries. These documentaries are written in first person, using images from the kit, or photos taken of students in costume with a sepia tone effect to give an "antique" look.
The digital kits contain music, photos, citations and other components needed to create the stories. For the students, the focus is not on teaching them how to find pictures or make videos, but seeing how well they know the content and can tell a story. The emphasis is on writing and historical accuracy. The advantage of digital stories over a written report? Stories not only capture the facts of the time period, but give kids an opportunity to put themselves in the place of these people and consider what they must have thought and how they must have felt - connecting them to the history on an emotional level rather than just a factual one.

Wii Whiteboard - John Sperry
I've seen Johnny Lee's video on YouTube, but here I got to actually see, feel, and try it out for myself. John Sperry from Springfield, Oregon demonstrated how easy and inexpensive it is to make your own interactive whiteboard using a Wii Remote. Time to dust off my soldering iron and go into project mode. I may have to take John up on his offer and send him a empty Expo marker so he can transform it into an infra-red pen.

Bend/LaPine School District - Amy Lundstrom
Amy Lundstrom is a technology program developer for Bend/LaPine School District. She's also the one that suggested I take an extra day or two to attend this conference. I'm so glad she did.
Speaking with her between conference workshops I learned how she is working with teams of teachers in her district, facilitating development of standards-based lessons that integrate technology. One unusual thing they do is give teachers an opportunity to observe their own class during one of these lessons. Through this "Lesson Study" program, members of these teams take turns teaching and observing each other's classes. The purpose of these observations is to determine 1) Do all students have access to the content being taught? 2) Did technology help students acheive the standard? In addition to observing the whole class, the classroom teacher can identify specific students in their own class to be observed. Observers are directed to be "human video cameras" noting how these students act during class and determining if those actions indicate motivation. After class, these students' work product is also evaluated. This program gives classroom teachers a unique insight into how particular students are affected by these newly developed lessons and technology tools. Ultimately it helps these teachers become more comfortable and confident planning and implementing technology infused lessons with their classes.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Joy is in the Journey

It's nice sometimes to take a day or two get away and clear your head. Riding the Coast Starlight last weekend from LA to Portland for ITSC and NCCE was my chance to do a mental shut down and restart, clearing out some brain space for the massive information download I'd be experiencing at these back to back conferences.

The 30 hour rail journey was just that. Even though I brought reading material I spent most of the time just staring out the window. Saturday the train hugged the California coast up to San Luis Obispo then headed inland through lush green hills toward Paso Robles, then north to San Jose, Oakland, and over to Sacramento. Sunday morning I woke up to snow flurries as we crossed into Oregon. Passing Klamath Falls the train chugged up into Cascades toward Cascade Pass (about 5000 ft) and eventually down to Eugene. From there it was a straight shot up the Willamette Valley to Portland.

Some Random Observations from the journey:
  • A dozen deer leaping through the hills outside Santa Barbara
  • 12 foot surf crashing along the coast near Pt. Conception
  • several startled cattle scrambling ungracefully away from the train as we climbed out of San Luis Obispo
  • Rolling hills near Paso Robles turned a velvety green from recent rain storms
  • Sipping coffee early Sunday morning in the Parlor car, watching the wind & snow swirling outside through the Shasta/Trinity National Forest
  • peeking through snow covered evergreens at the view of Odell Lake climbing up toward Cascade Pass
  • Clear blue skies and views of Mt. Hood outside Salem. (Oregonians would say, "The mountains are out today.")

During my rail trip last summer (see Amtrak Adventure blog post from July '08) I lamented the fact that I was unable to get Internet access on the train. This time I was armed with my Blackberry and it's 3G connection to keep me in touch with my twitter & plurk friends. This also allowed me to post pictures, videos, and even do a couple of Skype video chats from my compartment. The laptop tethering worked great when I was able to get a cell phone signal. (See photo slide show and video below.)

Arriving at Portland Union Station late Sunday afternoon I hopped on the MAX light rail to the ITSC Conference at the Portland Airport Sheraton. With work 1000 miles away and my head clear it's time to do some learning. Let the conversations begin.