Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Summertime and the Learning is Easy?

I am so honored to be asked to guest blog for Wes. Thank you so much. I am Alice Barr, the Instructional Technology Integrator for Yarmouth High School in Yarmouth, Maine. We are a 1:1 laptop school and are going in to Year 8 of the project. I love what adding laptops to our school culture has done for teaching and learning. I am lucky to work with some amazing teachers, and students.

One of my favorite summer activities is teaching for the Professional Development Center at the University of Southern Maine. There are 4 technology classes that my fellow integrators and I share ranging from Mac Computer in the Classroom, Podcasting and Vodcasting, The Read/Write Web and 21st Century Teaching and Learning with Technology.

This year I am teaching 21st Century Teaching and Learning with Technology. It’s a 3 credit class for teachers that meets from 8:30 – 4:30, 5 days, for a week, which means we pack an entire semester in to a week. It’s exhilarating and fun, but it’s also frustrating and exhausting.  Many of these teachers are in classrooms where students have laptops because of the Maine Learning Technology Initiative. They are looking for new ways to engage their students. The course is designed to suggest a few tools they can use in their classroom to work “smarter not harder”, and a few tools that they can use with students. Along the way I show then the NETS standards, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and give them some readings to push their thinking about and hopefully influence their practice.It’s great having the “students” captive for a long time period. The first two days are tough, as they are introduced to three new tools right off the bat; Blogs, bookmarks, and RSS. During Day 3, we look quickly at Google docs, discuss what a PLN is and then they have to start a project. Then day 4 they have explore time and Day 5 they present their work. It’s a whirl wind! I  show examples of things that teachers are doing in their classrooms and model technology activities that can be used in their own classrooms. I used some of the no tech activities from the book The Socially Networked Classroom.  And yesterday I tried “Speed Geeking” after I read about Kim Cofino’s success with it.  Somewhere in there, I slip in standards, reading assignments and homework. As the teacher, it is really hard to know if I am meeting the needs of everyone, and the varying ranges of digital literacy really make the class interesting.One disadvantage to teaching the class in a week is that it does not give the group time to reflect on their practice. While they write nightly reflections about the readings, I really want to push the big ideas about digital citizenship, student centered learning and creative teaching.  When the class is in a semester, teachers can go back to their classrooms and try some of these ideas out, come back to class and then run them by their colleagues. In the short class, I have to hope that they will continue to use the tools after they leave, and that they understand the value of being part of a PLN to keep up with ever changing information.

A worry students have is about using the actual tools when they get back to their classrooms. They are afraid that they won’t be able to figure something out if it doesn’t work. Becoming digitally literate is a big concern. Another is designing lessons. One student made a very poignant comment: “I know I need to use technology, I am not afraid to ask the kids for help, the other teachers in my school won’t help, but I just don’t have the skill of the syntax and vocabulary of designing a really engaging lesson using technology. I thought that was critical, and I have to ask, what do teachers do when there is no technology support in their district for them? Is an online PLN enough?

Today they presented their final projects. I am blown away – My #aha-moment. With the array of ideas they shared, this fall, there are sure to be some very lucky students.  And judging from some of their feedback; “I learned so much, my brain has been in a state of shock all week” and “Every day after class my mind was constructively busy and excited to put these strategies in practice.  Watch out students here I come! “, the enthusiasm and excitement about going back to their classrooms was clearly evident. The UStream of the final projects is here (thank you Cheryl Oakes and Sheila Adams for commenting in the chat room) and the class blogs, so you can follow along are here. In the end, we all learned so much from one another. Thank you so much, students of USMEPC512! By the way, what are you doing for your summer professional development? And thank you Wes, for giving me this opportunity.


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6 responses to “Summertime and the Learning is Easy?”

  1. Leslie Milligan Healey Avatar

    Hi Alice: I wish I took this class–I am always nervous the first time I try something. I try to ID the hacker-types in my classes early in the year to use them! On a personal note, did you ever know Frank Harrison? He was superintendent years ago ad I grew up with his kids–we are looking forward to a week in Sebago in August and seeing all of them–are you doing a class then? haha

  2. wmchamberlain Avatar

    Alice, how much time for reflection did you allow in class? The amount of information you had to go through in five days must have left you and your students completely exhausted. Also, if you were going to do another one in two weeks how would you change the process? Honestly it would scare me to death to do this, but I find myself in that position in a couple weeks (with a much smaller group).

  3. alicebarr Avatar

    @wmchamberlain I built in about 1.5 hours for reading and reflection during the first three days and then a bit more on Thursday. We were indeed exhausted. If I had an extra week, I probably wouldn’t have changed much of the content, but gone much deeper with it. I would spend more time on setting up the online PLN and I would give them more time to read and reflect. I found I had to be very flexible with the content, and using the wiki allowed me to switch things around. Like all teachers, I way over planned and just had to drop some things. Hope that helps. Good luck with your class!

  4. wmchamberlain Avatar

    Alice, thanks for the speedy reply 🙂 I have to plan the thing in the next few days and the information you shared will really help.

  5. alicebarr Avatar

    @Leslie I would love to have you in a class! It’s great you look for the kids to help you, they can save your lessons sometimes. It’s funny you should mention the Harrisons. I teach Frank’s granddaughters, and actually one of them convinced me that we should use chat at school. She really helped me change some of my thinking about how students use technology.
    I am taking a few weeks in August for myself, but next year you should think about joining the MLTI Summer Institute held in Castine Have fun in Sebago, we’re having great weather so far!

  6. alicebarr Avatar

    @wmchamberlain Glad you found the information useful. Let me know if you want feedback when you have your materials ready.