Ready for an Amazing Week!

For those of you that are lucky enough to be able to go to Denver to attend to the ISTE 2010 Conference – Exploring Excellence, you know what a rich experience it will be. It’s awesome to be in an environment with so many enthusiastic, like-minded educators. The energy at the Denver Convention Center can’t be described!

Don’t despair if you aren’t in Denver this year. (Start planning on how you can make it to Philadelphia next year.) There are so many ways to attend the conference virtually, there’s no excuse for not taking advantage! Here are a few tips to help you out. It’s going to take some time and commitment, so settle in and make a plan.

Go through the conference planner and find sessions that you would have attended if you were here. Most session descriptions have links to the session resources, presentations, and contact info for the presenters. Download them all and put them in a folder. Spend some time learning from those resources. If you have any questions, make sure you email the presenter. They’ll be happy to help!

The ISTE Connects website will help you find video taped sessions, live blogging, twitter feeds, and other news and events about the conference.

Get the perspective of the attendees as they blog about the various sessions. Not only will you get links to presenter resources, but you’ll get the perspective of some really smart educators as they learn.

The ISTE Ning Network will also help you connect with others, and find lots of documentation from the conference.

A Leader You Should Know

In a recent blog post, Dr. Scott McLeod put out an appeal for bloggers in the educational technology world to write about leadership. As I reflect on the posts of others and examine what it means to be a leader, I wanted to take the opportunity to introduce you to my dear friend and mentor, Sr. Mary Therese Freymann, BVM. Sr. Mary Therese has been in education since 1955 – most of that time teaching 8th graders. (Anyone who can teach 8th graders for over 30 years has got to be great, right?) She’s currently “retired”, which is a ridiculous term for her since at least 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year she works with inner city schools – writing grants, organizing and facilitating professional development, helping the Archdiocese of Chicago implement their technology plan and pretty much doing every thing she can to make sure that students in her schools have the resources they need to be prepared to live and work in the 21st century. I’m quite certain that she’s spending at least a few weeks this summer imaging machines (she’s on a Mac, by the way). She is one hard-working lady. By the way, her accomplishments include a ISTE’s Making it Happen Award, complete with Pink Jacket (not the one she’s wearing here)!

She has a tremendous capacity to persist under the most difficult circumstances and she remains positive and enthusiastic (not to mention she possesses a wicked sense of humor). She is the epitome of a life-long learner. In fact, she just waits for her teachers to say, “I’m too old to learn this stuff,” so she can remind them to take a good look at her and “do the math”.

I’ve known Sr. Mary Therese since I began my position as a technology coordinator for a large Catholic School in suburban Chicago around 8 years ago. I can’t remember exactly our first meeting but I’m pretty sure I met her at an ICE-COLD meeting. I do remember that soon after our first meeting she convinced me to take on the role of President of our chapter of ICE. I greatly appreciate how she must have seen something in me to encourage my own ambitions to be an educational technology leader. She brags about the time she encouraged me, “Of course you should present for the ICE Conference. You’d be great.” I think she was prouder that I was this past year when I was asked to be a “Spotlight” speaker (something she’s also done for the ICE Conference.)

When I reflect on what it means to be a leader, I believe that Sr. Mary Therese is such a person because she has vision, extremely high standards, and is influential because she takes steps to elevate those around her and expects us to use our gifts for the good of the students. If you want to know any of her secrets for remaining a life-long learner, you might send her a tweet!

Teachers Who are Learners

Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.  ~John Cotton Dana

Miss. H. and her new cartDo you work with anyone that really epitomizes a life-long learner? Here’s a picture of someone I know who inspires me! Miss H. is an awesome computer teacher. Here are a few reasons why she inspires me!

Miss H. learns something every day. She’s constantly experimenting with different applications, asking lots of questions, and problem solving.

She is always pouring over books web resources to find new activities and her students rarely learn using the last year’s lesson plans.

When I first met Miss H. a little over a year ago, she claimed to have no idea what was Web 2.0. Now she’s on twitter, following blogs (her favorite is Technology Lessons), contributes to a wiki, and is enthusiastic about using the Read/Write web with her students (monsterproject.wikispaces.com).

She loves to contribute to a collaborative learning environment in her school. She did an awesome job when asked to teach some workshops, she spent a great deal of time preparing for her workshops and even created a book of lesson ideas for her attendees. She turned out to be a great presenter and everyone really enjoyed themselves.

During MAP testing, there are no extra classrooms for her to use with her students, so she teaches in the hallway with laptops. Even though she hates that situation (for obvious reasons), around her students, she acts like teaching in the hallway with laptops is the greatest adventure ever! This semester she’ll at least be using brand new laptops!

Above all, her students are her greatest joy and concern. Absolutely every effort she makes is for the benefit of the children she touches.

Who inspires you?

The Legacy

This morning was a little hectic in my house. My middle child was off to school to take the ACT and my youngest was off to a friend’s lake house with all 77 classmates to celebrate their graduation. When the house was quiet again, I sat down with a cup of coffee and the Today Show.

The entire show was a tribute to Tim Russert. I found their tribute informative, since I don’t know much about him, and touching. After the show was over, what resonates with me is what Mr. Russert’s friends and colleagues said about him as a father, a friend, and a co-worker. They talked about him as being a very “genuine” person who demonstrated a real concern for the people he worked with. All of his colleagues, even his competitors said that he brought out the very best in people, because of his extremely high standards. In addition, he delighted in the success of others. It mattered a great deal to him that he should live his life with integrity and character. This was a man that demonstrated a high set of ethics and showed a great deal of passion. I could tell that the guests on the show were deeply touched by this man and they eloquently described Tim as one who made a real impact on everyone he was associated with, not just as a journalist, but as a friend.

I think that hearing people talk about Mr. Russert reminds me that living a life with passion, high standards, and integrity is something that all of should aspire to do. I would want to know that the people I work with thought that I showed a real concern for others, brought out the best in people, and celebrated their successes. These are lessons that I want to teach my children…..if they would just pay attention.

Don’t Blame Mr. Rogers

Recently my husband came home from work very excited because he attended an online workshop about the differing perspectives of the last generation, our generation, and the “millennials” – our kids. He was very enthusiastic about what he learned, particularly since we have three children that will be entering the workforce in the next several years (at various stages). Young adults are very different than baby boomers in their motivation and they bring something special to the workplace. It’s important for business leaders to know that young adults had a very balanced view of work and family, focusing on happiness in life over staying in a job just for the money. Family life is quite different for our children¬† and the typical suburban way of life impacts who they are and what they expect. Here’s a few comparisons that my husband and I made:

  • Organized sports where snacks were served at every game, and all parents attended (for better or worse) every game
  • Lots of opportunities for parents to be involved by attending scout camp-outs, coaching, volunteering in the classroom, and hosting organized play-dates
  • Certificates and trophies just for participating – Who remembers what the win/loss records are?
  • Open house at the high school where we followed our child’s schedule and met every teacher. (Did our parents even know what classes we took in high school?)
  • Online communication where we can check grades – and drive our kids’ teachers nuts with inquiries and editorial comments.
  • Because we have to keep better tabs on our teenagers than our parents did, we probably have closer relationships with their friends and their parents
  • School is different – kids work together more and (at least our kids) tend to hang out in enormous, ever shifting groups

We as their parents “indoctrinated” them with views about themselves and the world that make them see things differently. It’s not better or worse; it’s just different. The recent feature on 60 minutes about millennials didn’t bother me when first I saw it. After reading the blog post by Sylvia Martinez, I took another look. Upon further review, Morely Safer really came off as an out-of-touch-old-fogey! Not much focus was made to the fact that these young people are very hard working, self-motivated, particularly collaborative, and very attentive to their families. They have a need to click with their supervisors and work to build trusting relationships with the people in their organizations. Their technical abilities are unsurpassed and are very comfortable with learning new things and applying their knowledge. That’s what business leaders need to know. These young people focus on happiness and trusting relationships in the workplace. If they aren’t happy – they’ll go somewhere where they will be happy. If they can’t trust their boss, they’ll look for a new boss. Gone are the days when people worked for the same company for 20 years regardless of burn-out and dissatisfaction.

They are not “unprepared” to function in the workforce,” as Morley Safer called them. Business leaders are unprepared to work with those whose perspective is different than their own. It’s almost comical that so many 50 year olds have to hire expensive consultants to help them figure out what to do about the young adults – who are actually their children’s generation. We created them. Why are they so hard to understand?

Project of Love

projectorMy youngest son is graduating from 8th grade this month. He is graduating from the school I worked at as a tech coordinator/computer teacher for 6 years. His class is full of really awesome young people that I enjoyed teaching and miss very much. I have the privilege of working with some of their moms on a special project these past few weeks. Every year, for as long as anyone can remember, the parents of the graduating class put together a slide show of pictures from 11 years of their lives, starting with pre-school. I can only imagine what the slide show must have been like back in the days of slide projectors and carousels.

My first experience with this project was several years ago, when my daughter, who is a sophomore in college, was in 8th grade. Another mom who was also an ambitious techy, and I were co-chairs for the slide show committee. Before her and I took on the task, computer created slide shows were left up to the professionals. She proposed we save some money and make the video ourselves. With a purchase of a G4 PowerMac and a day spent learning the “brand new” iMovie application, we were on our way. The process was grueling. We had to sift through over 1000 pictures, scan several hundred of them, pick themes, music, and then use this unfamiliar application to put it all together. The whole process was quite an adventure. The parent group was extremely engaged and willing to work tirelessly, but most of the editing was left up to me, since I had the most time and inclination to learn the program. I learned a lot during those few weeks, not only about iMovie, but about perseverance, problem solving, collaboration and creativity. I am certain that those sleepless nights hunched over the keyboard staring at the screen with a cranky computer made me a better technology teacher, practicing skills that I know are so important for my students.

Two years later, it was time to co-chair the slide show for my middle son. My family threatened to commit me to a rubber room – remembering the extraordinary time commitment. This time it went a little better. The committee was way sillier, making our time together a lot of fun – (working hard at the meeting, indeed). Some of the pictures were coming in on disc, so much less scanning was needed. iMovie had a few updates, so crashes happened less often. I still spent several hours bonding with iMovie and an eMac, but the results were beautiful and I felt like we really outdid ourselves.

Now, I’m working on my last 8th grade video. Technically, it has gotten much easier. Everyone has a digital camera, and iMovie and iDVD are “wicked fast”. My husband is teasing me that this the last time I’ll be on a committee that meets once a week to agonize over 600 pictures and song lyrics from every song produced since the ’70’s. He gets irritated when I’m hunched over my computer (MacBook this time) working on the slide show for hours at a time. Thankfully, the bulk of the editing is done by another mom who is just as obsessively techy. I tried to explain to him that it’s not about the debate over this picture or that, or using a certain song during a certain section. We are not spending hours trying to perfect a 30 minute video that the kids are probably only going to look at once for our own egos. This project means much more to us.

We spend hours in meetings pouring over pictures and listening to song lyrics, and more hours putting it all together because we care about the story. This video is the story of the kids that spent almost their entire lives together. We understand how much it means to the graduates and their parents to see the recap of important events like first days, first best friends, first communion, and first crushes. We try very hard to represent the children and the school in a way that reflects the love that surrounds them. We do crazy stuff like count every child so they are in the video in almost equal number – taking pictures at school at the last minute to make up for the under-represented. We watch sections several times to make sure the song enhances the images. We edit and re-edit the video to eliminate tiny glitches that only we will notice. We burn the DVDs and wrap them in fancy paper like it’s the most important gift we’ve ever given. It’s hard to explain how compelling it is to be involved in telling this story, until the night of the Graduation dinner, when the lights go down, the projector turns on and the 80 kids excitedly drag their chairs over in a huge clump in anticipation for an event that has become a tradition. It’s not about the technology, the meetings, or the hard work….it’s about the story.

Congratulations class of 2008!

It’s Hip to be Cool

I’m breaking my own rule about writing anything specific about my job, but my experience with a particular set of parents is worth telling. Recently, my curriculum director thought it would be good to hold a set of classes that would offer an introduction to computer skills. Although my friends ask me to all the time, I’ve never taught computer skills to parents, only to teachers. It turns out that there was such an enthusiastic response from our parent community that we had a waiting list. Anyway…I’m working with around 15 parents for an hour each week for five weeks. Here’s my digital handout. They are a wonderful and enthusiastic bunch of learners! If their own children are as engaged in the learning process, I’m sure they are straight A students. Here’s what makes them so cool:

  • They all want to know about blogging. At least a couple of the moms want to start a blog. (Along with showing them what the kids are into, let’s sign them up for a blogger account!)
  • One parent to another. “Just go on YouTube…it’s the greatest thing. Look up what ever you want. I like the laughing babies!” (Little do they know how pervasive YouTube is. According to David Jakes, it’s the number one thing that people spend time on the internet looking at – videos. With 78 billion videos, there are a lot of laughing babies. Let’s show them other good quality content.)
  • Opened gmail accounts. We had a long discussion about their children’s email accounts. How awesome for parents to sign their kids up for email accounts so they can communicate with family and friends. (I hope we have time to work on google docs – wouldn’t that be a good thing?)
  • The are very collaborative. When I’m going to fast, they jump up and help their neighbor. They ask each other questions and get input about how technology is used in their home. (Perfect for a social network.)
  • They see the value in the skills. What ever I show them something – they can think of scenarios of how they can use this or that piece of knowledge or information.
  • They practice when they get home. They even bring questions back to class. So cool!

I wish this class lasted longer that 5 weeks. Maybe at the beginning of next school year, I’ll drag them all back for “Parent Computer Class Revisited”. Maybe I’ll invite them to the teachers’ technology professional development days. Their enthusiasm might be contagious.