Wednesday, May 21, 2008

From Cool to Tool

Thanks to a great conversation with my friend Cheryl, I have been thinking a lot about the many great new tools that we have at our disposal. The challenge that we have is not really how to use the tools, but how to make them a meaningful part of our curriculum. It is hard not to walk into a classroom and show a teacher a new tool without saying, "This is so cool!" More and more, I find myself saying, "This is an essential tool!" or "This is a great tool for helping your students learn to..."

I guess the question that arose in my head during this conversation is this. Can we get to the TOOL phase without going through the COOL phase? So much of what I know about technology integration has come from playing with cool technologies. If I had simply said I won't use it until I have a great curricular need, I might never have used it. In other words, it is through playing that I learned enough about the tool to figure out how it could be effectively integrated. So I think we need to have some play time for teachers while we also have the discussion about whether or not there is an effective implementation for that tool.

I guess what I am really saying is let's have fun exploring these tools. The integration will come along as we get to know the tools better. We need to give our teachers permission to play a little!

Monday, May 19, 2008

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Great Tool for Reading Text Out Loud!!

Thanks to Wes Fryer at Moving at the Speed of Creativity for turning me onto this website. Readthewords.com is a website that will convert any text from Word, pdf, RSS, or html to an audio mp3 file that can be downloaded onto your mp3 player or embedded onto your webpage. This is such a great tool and so easy to use. Simply click on the type of file you want to convert, upload it and let the website do the work. When it is done, you will see a link to click to download it directly into iTunes!What a great tool for teachers! You can quickly and easily convert text, webpage info, or stories to audio and let students listen to them on an ipod or computer. Or you can embed the text on your webpage and have kids access them from home. Just be aware of copyright issues if you are converting books. Many can not be converted to mp3 and then posted on our webpage. Check with your media specialist before posting content on the web.

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Friday, May 9, 2008

Copyright Laws or Waiting for Divine Intervention

I continue to become more and more aware of how little we know about copyright laws in education. Just for fun, walk through your school and try to find the person who really knows the laws. Yet we expect our kids to follow these laws. I think in many ways we are waiting for divine intervention.

If our staff doesn't understand the laws, then they are clearly not teaching them to kids. How exactly do think they are learning these laws. Here is another assignment. Now that you have found out that no one in your building can explain the laws to you, go locate a binder or a weblink or something connected to your school that explains it all. Good luck. Don't forget your magnifying glass and Sherlock Holmes hat.

We need to do a better job of educating ourselves and our kids on copyright laws. Just for fun, here is a short list of things you definitely can NOT do:

Your kids can not go to playlist.com and download songs to embed in their movies.

They can not add photos from the Internet to put into their presentations without citing their sources appropriately. And no friends, Google is not a source.

TEACHERS can NOT make multiple copies of CD's to share with their grade level, even if it is for educational use.

As we rewrite our Acceptable Use Policy for the fall and go into curriculum review next year, expect to hear a lot more about this issue. And expect to see a lot of visibility for it (read: weblinks, posters, lesson plans, etc...) If you have any other good ideas on how to communicate appropriate use and copyright laws to staff, students, and parents, let me know. Thanks.

In the meantime, here are a couple good websites with info on copyright laws.

http://www.wtvi.com/teks/02_03_articles/copyright.html

http://www.techlearning.com/copyrightguide/ 

http://www.siia.net/piracy/education.asp 

http://www.techlearning.com/shared/printableArticle.php?articleID=13100799 

Friday, May 2, 2008

How far out can we plan?

This has been coming up a lot lately in my conversations with teachers. Many of them want to know what is the plan for projectors, for SmartBoards, for computers on carts, etc... It is always a very tough conversation. Often, the answer is that the plan for the coming year is to complete putting projectors in classrooms. After that, there is no script for what to do. The reason? The minute you commit to a plan, you are stuck with it. Teachers expect it. If you need to change the plan, you upset a lot of people who have been patiently (?) waiting for their turn to get a particular piece of equipment. I don't blame them. I would feel the same way.

The problem is that technology changes so quickly that to commit to doing something in two years is like playing the lottery. Every week I learn about some new technology that could potentially revolutionize the classroom. How can we commit to a piece of equipment then that might be obsolete by the time we purchase it.

Instead, we need to allow for some flexibility. But how do we do this and still send a clear message to teachers that we are working on your behalf to give you the best tools to do the job? When teachers are already stretched to the point of maximum patience waiting for equipment while neighbor classrooms are outfitted ahead of them, it is difficult to communicate this without building anxiety. One thing is for sure. You can never communicate too much, just not enough.