Archive | June 2009

Smart People

Following a winding path through various links and blogs, I came across the post by Seth Godin on June 5, entitled When smart people are hard to understand.

Mr. Godin mentions two strategies for handling the situation of hearing a “smart person in your industry”  use a term with which you are unfamiliar. The first is to ask. “Wait, I was with you until a second ago. What does that mean?” The second is to write down the term and then later that evening research it, not giving up (or going to bed) until you completely understand it.

Every industry has its buzzwords, special jargon, tools of the trade.  Since I am in the “education industry” that is the jargon with which I usually am faced. Which strategy do I employ?

I feel each has its place, and the determining factor for me is the setting. If I am in a one-on-one conversation with a colleague, and an unfamiliar term or acronym or Web 2.0 tool comes up, I have no qualms about using strategy one. I am not putting my lack of knowledge out there for the world to see (hence I am only uninformed in front of one person). In a larger group such as a conference session or workshop, I am guilty of feigning understanding at the moment as I make either written or mental notes to find out later what the heck they are talking about. It is my “afraid of looking dumb” position, but also I feel that if the majority of the group understands and I do not, far be it from me to drag down the conversation and take up the group’s valuable time. Of course, there is always a sigh of relief when some other bolder person asks aloud what I was asking mentally. (Thank you brave person!)

I would like to think of those colleagues using the terms I don’t know as more experienced, rather than call them smarter than myself. I assume that is really what Mr. Godin meant. I am finding more and more opportunities for personal learning these days, and so many people who are willing to do the explaining. But one of the things we hope to instill in our students is the 1)the desire to keep learning and 2) the strategies for how to go about it. Okay, that’s two things. Do we give them enough opportunity to ask questions without feeling that that they are not one of the “smart ones”? Are the students most in need of asking the questions the ones who are the most worried about looking foolish? The chances they are making mental or written notes of what they want to look up later are rather slim. Maybe I need to be more open and encouraging in that regard, and not take that head nod to mean, “yes, I get it”.

Serving up excitement – and responsibility

The time has finally come that we will replace the server at our school – and I need to choose one. Awesome! But scary.

When I first began as the “tech teacher” nine years ago, that was really all I did. There were parent volunteers who did the network configuration and the purchasing of hardware. So much has changed in that time, including me. I followed those guys around like a puppy soaking up everything they did, whether it was crawling over a ceiling to drop an Ethernet cable or mapping a network drive. And I learned. And when those guys were no longer available due to work relocation, we picked up the services of a local tech support group. I sat with the tech through every upgrade and problem solving session. And I learned some more. It did help also to take a grad course in networking. So now I am the network admin, and I have chosen switches and wireless routers, laptops and PCs, projectors and software. I control the content filtering and have to trouble shoot with the service provider whenever our network is down, thankfully a rare occurrence.

But now, after I guess about 7 years, our old Compaq is still running fine but just can’t store what we are dishing out. At the time they chose this server 34 GB was a big hard drive. Do I hear laughter? Well, it was! But this year as we were completing our video projects and podcasts, saving edited versions, or in the case of some students saving 12 versions (Save, not Save As!!) we actually were out of space. I scrambled to delete whatever I could to squeeze the projects on, moving all kinds of things, but especially photos and videos, to an external 250GB Seagate I had luckily purchased a year before.

Our tech support company says, better to get one now rather than wait till the current server dies. I can’t imagine having a dead server. How would we function anymore without our network, our Internet access? So I have begun the search, and will get recommendations from them, but the responsibility weighs heavily on me. We will all have to live with the decision for a number of years. It needs to be a good one.

A tech savvy friend whose expertise I admire asked if I would be going with Linux. I have heard great things about Linux but I have zero experience with it. Is there too much of a learning curve? I have no idea. I will likely fall back on Windows (the devil I know rather than the devil I don’t know). So much work will be involved even after the purchase is made. Migrating the softwared apps, rewriting log on scripts, setting permissions, enrolling all the users, mapping new drives….yikes. I was going to try to spend LESS time at school this summer. Maybe the 34GB Compaq can go another year?

And when the teachers come back at the end of August will they have any idea what went on behind the scenes, and why they can still logon as before as if nothing major occurred? If I do this right, maybe they won’t have a clue. Wish me luck!

What was that “whoosh”?

That “whoosh” was the 2008-2009 school year whizzing by. For better or for worse, it’s a wrap. With great chagrin I have realized that this blog site has been gathering dust since the end of 2007, and so I will use my reflections of the past year as my microfiber dust cloth. (Since real cleaning has not yet begun in my real house…virtual houses are so much easier to maintain.)

I suppose the test of whether or not a school year is successful really comes down to the students themselves. Did they learn? Did they realize they learned? If so, was it enjoyable? I do not necessarily mean FUN…but was it satisfying for them? (And, what’s so bad about fun anyway? ) Did they have a sense of accomplishment? Do they better understand the tools at their disposable and how best to use them?

Well, to be honest, I don’t really know. Perhaps I should have asked them instead of just surmising. I could be way off the mark. I assume they feel a sense of accomplishment at creating a digital story, taking it home on a CD to share with the fam, although for some it seemed to be a real chore. Digital story writing has been going on in our school for a few years now. Hopefully we improve each year, and the students are more engaged each year. Thankfully I have no projects to finish with the promise of mailing them out. That was a disaster when I promised that last year.

What did I try that was new this year? I learned to use Jing, and created how-to videos for students to watch in my absence. That is definitely a tool I would like to continue using, and encourage the other teachers to use. The faculty had a session on how to use the free program, but to my knowledge no one but myself really did. Chalk up one failure on my part as tech coach. The horses are just not drinking the water.

We did more blogging using (a terrific site, thank you David Warlick), taking it down to fourth grade, and the feedback from both students and parents seemed to be positive. I hope to get more parents, as well as the outside world, to comment on student blog posts. By inserting a Clustr Map I hoped to show the students the power of their words and that their audience could conceivably be global. (Thank you to my dear friend Marco in Sicily who agreed to visit our class blog so we could get a red dot from Italy!) Our dots will increase little by little, but we have kept pretty much to ourselves and so that is an area for further growth.

Mrs. C. and I worked out a great 8th grade project integrating health topics and technology. I hope we do that again next year, learning from our mistakes this year of course. Hopefully the students will remember the difference between a good PowerPoint presentation and one that is positively awful when they have to make presentations in high school. We finished off by using the info presented in the slide show and turning it into a podcast. I have done podcasting myself but this was my first attempt at getting the students to do it. It wasn’t easy, mainly because of our lack of the proper recording equipment. They carried on their conversations each recording into their own headsets, the Audacity file was converted to an mp3, and I merged the mp3’s into one audio track. Four groups done and about four to go. Hope I remember my user account on Gcast so I can upload. I would love to have an omni-directional microphone rather than doing all the individual tracks (I believe that is what my friend in the broadcasting world called it.) But in Catholic school we learn to make do.  If the genie stops by, one of my three wishes would definitely be a classroom set of microphone headsets of good quality and all the same kind. the second would be the omni. And the third, would be for three more wishes.

The third grade video is posted on our school website and students in grades 5 though 8 are now comfortable using wikis. More teachers are using Discovery Streaming and Google Earth. The classroom laptops are more in demand than ever before.

What’s next? Lots of work to do this summer, since the purchase of a new server has to be investigated… updating the network, the website, the billion Microsoft updates that will need to be installed, untangling about 5000 feet of Ethernet and electrical cables in the classrooms, and trying to wade through a stack of professional journals looking for the latest and greatest in tech tools for schools, attending PowerSchool update sessions and doing the many PowerSchool tasks associated with a rollover.  I will hang out with the Discovery gang at Den in Second Life, meeting new people and gleaning many new ideas. And I will listen wistfully to their tales of how great it was to be at NECC. I almost thought I would get there this year since it was in D.C. Oh well. (Hey, Genie!)

Did I hear another “whoosh”? Yep, that was the sound of summer flying by. I am determined to take some time for myself this summer. Then maybe I won’t mind hearing that sound when August rolls around.