Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wow! It Engages Teachers, Too!

Recently I was leading a professional development workshop in gifted education with teachers at a private school near my home. It was a group of about 25 educators who were from a variety of private schools and who taught a variety of subject areas and grade levels. We were working on the standard foundational training in gifted education required by law in Texas for teachers of gifted students and following the standards set by the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented, our state advocacy organization. (NAGC and CEC have also set standards for teachers of gifted students.)

The first activity I always do is a simple matching activity that asks participants to match "big names" in gifted education with a description of their contributions to the field. It is a wonderful pre-assessment for our day. It is exceedingly rare that participants correctly match more than two or three correctly. When it happens, I know I'll need to adjust my questioning and activities to accommodate the participant's needs. Usually, participants look at the paper, look at each other, and comment on how few they know. There are a few moments of nervous laughter as they discuss a few and try to guess, but often pages are left quite blank waiting for the answers to be given.

This time when the group began the activity, something different happened. They looked at the paper. They looked at each and talked about the few they knew. Then, they whipped out their cell phones. In every group, there were at least two people with digital devices who began seaching for answers. These are devices they carry with them, not devices I provided. As they found information, they read it aloud and the group discussed which answer fit the new information. As I observed the groups, every participant was engaged in the search for the answer. Even if they weren't on a device, they were discussing and debating the found information. My pre-assessment took on a life of it's own.

I've been working with teachers to embed technology tools in their classrooms. I've been telling them, and trying to show them, that technology tools engage students in a meaningful way. Turns out, it engages teachers, too!

Do you have a similar story about technology engaging students or teachers?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

ISTE Reflections

What an amazing and exhausting experience! I feel healthier after 4 days of extreme walking at the largest conference I’ve ever attended. The exhibit hall had 32 rows and took 6 hours to navigate – and that’s not visiting with everyone or participating in most of the give-aways! What are the big themes I noticed? Social networking, everything in “the cloud,” 3-D (printers and interactive video/web sites), iPads, and QR codes.

Here are my highlights from the conference sessions.

Tammy Worcester ( – Tammy’s Top 20 Favorite Free Web Tools!

You can get her handout here: Many of her favorites are familiar to me. New ones include:

  • Jam Studio ( where you can create your own music.
  • BibMe ( an incredible bibliography tool that links to Amazon to pull book info and even generates the bibliography page for you in the style (APA or MLA) of your choice
  • Evernote and Dropbox I’ve heard about before, but haven’t started using them.
  • She also shared some tricks on Google Spreadsheets, which I plan to research and play with to figure out applications for teacher professional development.

Heidi Hayes Jacobs ( – Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World

Her focus was using the right tool for the job – what function does the tool do best. She also emphasized that new genre were developing and we need to definite quality for each. What is a quality podcast? Wiki? Blog? She emphasized the non-linear process of learning and how tech tools match it. She strongly encouraged participants to replace one assessment in every grade level with a tech based product.

Jerry Brueck (@brueckj23), Chris Craft (@crafty184), and Jon Becker (@jonbecker) - #teach w/ #tweet

This session focused on Twitter in the classroom. The emphasis was on connecting your classroom to others globally via Twitter – especially for world events in real time. Best thought came from Chris Craft who indicated Twitter is to connect with others without having a pre-existing relationship as is required (or best practices) with Facebook. They also described using Dragon Dictation, Audio Boo and (all iPhone apps) to allow PK students to Tweet. Fascinating idea!

They have developed an intro to Twitter course that they share with all:

  • USER bei.guest
  • PASS innovate

Karen Fasimpaur ( – Open Educational Resources: Share, Remix, Learn

In this session, we reviewed a number of open resources. Most are under the Creative Commons BY license so they are very adaptable, or as Karen put it, they can be remixed. Her presentation is available here:

Copyright legalities were emphasized. Be sure to always give credit for works you are using – even with Creative Commons BY copyright. It is the lowest level – giving the most access – you only need to credit the source. The source is the person who created it, not the web site, though providing and URL is recommended. Karen also recommended using CC BY on all your creations so that others can use them for remixing.

Here are some highlighted tools/sites:

A New Kind of Conference and Models of Effective PD – Discussion Session

This was a small group of folks who primarily provide professional development. The discussion centered around ways to evolve conferences and professional development. How do we preserve what we like about face to face conferences in digital environments? The big idea that came out of the discussion for me (which I admit isn’t new) is to provide webinar follow-ups for face to face training or conferences. It would be a way to extend the experience and provide the on-going professional development that makes far more of an impact that one shot workshops or conference sessions.

Social Networking in Education – Discussion Session

This was a very lively discussion in room with a large number of social media devotees. There were a number of great thoughts that came out of the discussion which primarily focused on the limited use of social networking in education.

@baldy7: poor behavior on SN is a behavior problem... not a technology problem. #socmediste11

@RGriffithJR: Students can say something inappropriate in real life just as easily online- @InnovativeEdu

@jessievaz12: Build the community that supports the use of soc media. Don't focus on the tools. #socmediste11

@davidwees: Here's the presentation I gave to parents on social media. #iste11 #socmediste11

@jessievaz12 Stdts need good soc media role models to learn how to use those tools appropriately. @davidwees #socmediste11 #ISTE11

@RGriffithJR: Great advice from @InnovativeEdu teach a stu to b a responsible citizen, not just a digital citizen. #sbisd #socmediste11

@jessievaz12: There is value in our learning how to articulate value of social media in ed @Stevehargadon #socmediste11 #ISTE11

Leslie Fisher ( – Gadgets for Everyone

This was a fast paced smorgasbord of web sites and gadgets. I couldn’t tweet because we were moving so fast and I wanted to really take notes. I knew about VERY few of these. It was my favorite conference session. You can get Leslie’s presentation here: (click on the pdf under “Gadgets!”).

I’m having trouble deciding what to list because I was so blown away! Here are the ones I’m going to check out first:

  • Rockmelt ( – it’s a browser that pulls in social networking and RSS feeds along the side – seems like a good one stop viewing
  • Wunderlist ( – it’s a to do list that is stored in the cloud and syncs to all devices
  • Type With Me ( or Primary Pad ( – they are tools for real time collaborative document creation
  • Evernote ( – Like digital bookmark, but for all your other digital stuff. After hearing about it twice (also from Tammy Worcester) I figure I need to try it out!
  • Livescribe ( – it is a smart pen! It records while you are taking notes on special paper. Then you can post your “pencast”. It has so much potential for the classroom and for personal use!

I think the most amazing thing about the ISTE Conference is that there was something for everyone. In reviewing a number of ISTE reflection posts (found by searching #ISTE11), there was a wide variety of takeaways. Some are lists of tools, applications, and web sites, others are focused on big ideas, and then there are those that focus on the equipment/roll-out/support. And if you weren’t fortunately enough to go yourself, you can have the vicarious experience by reviewing the keynotes on YouTube and searching the hashtag. Love this digital age!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Heading to ISTE 2011

I have gotten increasingly anxious about heading to the ISTE 2011 conference in Philadelphia. I've seen discussion that the attendance is expected to be around 18,000. 18,000!!! I am an introvert, so the thought of trying to finding respite when sharing a hotel room is stressful! I'm also nervous about being out of my element. I love technology and am more comfortable with it than many of my colleagues, but I
am far from a techie. I wonder how far over my head the sessions will be. From the overwhelming stack of mail I've gotten as a conference registrant, I'll be in the deep end! (The stack of postcards has to be 8 inches tall, all inviting me to visit their booths for demos and freebies. I have no idea what most of them are selling.) Then there's leaving my boys for 4 days. My 4 year old is now old enough to clearly express his distress and sadness over my leaving. My 15 year old will take this opportunity to get out of his summer assignments. My husband has his hands full for the next 4 days! (Of course, he's up to the challenge - even if he isn't excited about it.) Finally, I always get stressed about packing. I never have quite the right size suitcase, and I'm certain I will forget something essential - don't know I ever have, but I worry about it anyway.

So today is the day! My 4 year old slept later than usual. Rather than go ahead and hurry off, I stayed to cuddle with him. He banged on the window as I was getting my car. I looked up see him sign, "I love you" with a very sad look on his face. Next, I encountered an accident about 10 cars in front of me. Luckily, others had stopped to render aide and the scene didn't look like I needed to contribute. Then the parking lot shuttle bus drove right past me as I was unloading my stuff. As I walked to the end of the row, another drove right past to the next row. I finally caught it about half way down the aisle. When I finally got in the airport to check my bag, it was 40 minutes before the flight. Whew, I thought I would make it! Nope! Continental implemented a new rule recently. Bags must be checked 45 minutes before flight time - no exceptions. My bag was too big to carry on. As I write this, I'm on the standby list for the next flight - more than 2 hours after mine. Oh, and I'm paying for wifi access as my Clear hotspot can't get a signal anywhere in the terminal.

It appears I've been worrying about the wrong things!

Luckly, I wasn't in the accident on the freeway. I didn't fall down on the people glide, like the older woman who was traveling with her husband. And I didn't run down the terminal with my grandson to find they had just closed the airplane door. I'm also not traveling with a large group or a very small child. I'm not trying to get on a plane to see a sick relative, either.

I'm going to an enormous conference where I'm going to have the opportunity to learn as much as I possibly can about transforming instruction. It's been years since I've had this opportunity to grow. I can meet new people, or choose to be anonymous in the crowd. I can commune with adults who care as much as I do about the future of education and shifting our field to meet students' needs.

I have the opportunity to gain the skills to walk instead of just talk. I firmly believe gifted education has slipped and is missing an enormous opportunity. Gifted education has always been at the forefront, leading the innovation in education. We've introduced and perfected much of what is considered good education for all students today. We aren't there now! The new frontier is in technology integration. It's about shifting how we teach using the plethora of digital tools available to us. It's about taking all that gifted ed has perfected, viewing it through a new digital lens, and going global with it. The technology educators are leading this innovation. I want gifted ed to be there with them, partners in meeting students' needs. I can't wait to pair what they have to teach me with what I know about gifted children.

Later than expected, but with less trepidation -
ISTE 2011, here I come!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Visit with a Thinker

“You can’t ask questions if you’re too concerned about what you already know.” This is the reason Dr. John Lienhard dislikes experts. He is interested in people who like chasing down answers to a question. All learning comes from asking questions; ignorance is your best friend. These are some of the thoughts Dr. Lienhard from the University of Houston, author of Engines of Ingenuity series, shared with 5th grade gifted students in the SPIRAL program at Bendwood. Students have been listening to and reading the Engines of Ingenuity series which is posted online and broadcast by KUHF in Houston. This visit was thanks to Julianna McKitrick, a parent who made arranging this visit her mission. The lucky students attending on Thursday had the chance to ask him a myriad of questions in person. (Students attending on other days will view a recording of the visit.)

Students inquired about his source of inspiration, his writing and recording processes, his hobbies, and upcoming episodes. Dr. Lienhard did a terrific job of relating to the students, never talking down to them or oversimplifying his answers.

Dr. Lienhard shared his rules for writing spoken prose with the students (in contrast to simply writing prose that will be read by a reader).

  • Sentences should fit one breath, or at least each clause should. It’s important to listen to your words as your write them. If you can’t read what you’ve written out loud, you’ve written clumsy prose.
  • Conversations tend be at a 6th grade readability level. This just naturally occurs. It doesn’t mean should you “dumb down” your content, but adjust the words you choose.
  • Polysyllabic words tire listeners. After you’ve finished writing, go back and replace polysyllabic words that occur close together with several short words.
  • Prepositional phrases sound like you are protecting yourself. Get to the point and eliminate “garbage phrases.” You can almost always eliminate “in order to” or “there is.”
  • Use contractions. We use contractions when we have conversations. Spoken prose should sound like a conversation.
  • It is acceptable to begin sentences with conjunctions such as “but” or “and.” Doing so allows you to eliminate a lot of words. It is important to learn to write without them, but for spoken prose go back and put them. Trade “but” for “on the other hand.
  • Being colorful can derail your point. No flourishes. Rather, keep to the structure of the piece. Good writing is elimination, always making the structure stronger.
  • You may use fragments in spoken prose. Use a hyphen to connect them to another sentence.

Students were curious about his inspiration for the episodes. Dr. Lienhard described wandering the stacks of the University of Houston library. He pays particular attention to books and magazines from 1922 or earlier. He likes to use photographs in his web postings and using graphics from 1922 or earlier avoids copyright issues. Suggestions are other people’s ideas so he rarely uses them. Rather, he looks for something that sparks an interest in him. He wants the listener to say, “Oh!” in response to an episode. Otherwise, what’s the point of the episode?

Don’t ask Dr. Lienhard about his favorites. Favorites tie you down. You get locked in and lose variety. Variety is important in asking and answering questions. He clearly differentiates between invention and innovation. Innovation is making new, tinkering with ideas that are already there. Innovation is safe. Invention is scary. Invention is about entirely new ideas, ideas that weren’t already there. Dr. Lienhard is excited by invention.

Dr. Lienhard shared that he was, and may still be, dyslexic. He described barely being able to read or write and finishing close the bottom of his high school class. An 8th grade teacher asked him to write an essay for a contest. He had to write about a Union general. Despite his difficulty with reading and writing, his essay placed third nationally! It was quite an important experience for him. He completed his master’s degree by working really hard. Then, while in the army, he spent a great deal of time practicing eye tracking to improve his reading.

After pictures were taken and a rousing round of applause, students were sent back to their desks to begin work on a project patterned after Engines of Ingenuity. Several students approached Dr. Lienhard for autographs and rush to form a line followed. How many 5th graders do you know who would run across a classroom to get the autograph of a university professor? This experience was the perfect fit this group of students.

To Blog or Not to Blog

I've been debating - actually more like ruminating - on whether I could/should/would maintain a blog. I really enjoy reading a number of the blogs on gifted education and see it as a powerful communication tool. I think the parents I serve in my school district would benefit from my maintaining a blog. I see it as a place that I can readily provide updated information that would support parents of gifted students.

Do I have something to offer that isn't already out there? I'm not sure. Are my writing skills as honed as the authors of the blogs I regularly read? No. Will I be able to carve out the time to truly maintain a blog? Probably not.

The time is my biggest obstacle. I think one stop shopping - or at least a reference starter - would be helpful to parents. I'm okay with not being the best writer. (Actually, that's a lie. But it is a good opportunity to work on my perfectionism.) The time, though? That's a hurdle.

I've decided to publicly try to get over the hurdle. I'm just going to try it and see. I don't get to "just try it" very often. Most of the decisions I make have too much of an impact on children or parents or my budget to "just try it." I don't see those risks here.

So here goes. I'm going to maintain this blog as a resource for parents of gifted children in Spring Branch ISD. I will share the most interesting nuggets that I pick up from my PLN (personal learning network). I will not commit to a time frame as I see that destined to disappoint. Keep your fingers crossed and let's get started!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

11.5: Thing #11.5 - Evaluation

What a spectacular learning experience! I can't give enough positive kuddos for this professional learning opportunity. Thank you, Lifeguards!

1. What were your favorite discoveries or exercises on this learning journey?

I think I'll use the screencasting and slideshare tools to improve my communication with parents. I am really excited about those possibilities. Seeing really good PowerPoint presentations was inspiring and instructional. I have a lot of work to do in this area, but it's invigorating. I'm doing lots of pondering and mulling about it.

2. How has this program assisted or affected your lifelong learning goals?

I need to stay current in my specific field and in my instructional techniques. Though I'm not in a classroom in front of students, I advise teachers who are. I am often in a classroom in front of teachers, too. I know I need to model what I want them to do with their sudents. That means integrating technology into my teaching. That means being able to teach the teachers the necessary skills. This program has given me the support I need to do so.

I also really enjoy learning. Since I finished graduate school 2 years ago, I haven't been this excited about learning. It's been very refreshing :)

3. Were there any take-a-ways or unexpected outcomes from this program that surprised you?

Sometimes a learner can't see the progress he or she has made. They don't remember what a struggle it was when they started. Or, in the case of gifted kids, they learned it so quickly it doesn't feel like they learned something new. I can see my progress. The blog is a great way to document your journey. This applies most to Twitter.

I like Twitter. In a very short time, I've come to find it quite useful professionally. Use it with kids? I don't know. Use it with teachers and others interested in gifted education (#gifted)? DEFINITELY! Tweets have notified me of actions that needed to be taken immediately (advocacy for Javits funding), of articles I haven't seen, of blog posts that are thought-provoking. It's an interesting place to post a question and get a variety of responses. I like that the responses have to be short and succint. I feel this way and I haven't found a third party app that I like to make Twitter easier! (Tweetdeck doesn't seem to work in the district. Twhirl requires a download.)

4. What could we do differently to improve upon this program’s format or concept?

The one aspect that needs improvement is the interaction among the participants. I've made a point to comment on others' blogs, but not all of them. I've had very few comments from participants other than the Lifeguards.

I'm not sure how you'd encourage, monitor, prompt, require this other than what you're already doing. In the two blog formatted book studies I've done, this has been a problem. I require that participants comment on other participants' posts. Participants usually only do the minimum that I require for the first couple of postings, then it trails off. So this may be something that requires time and familiarity with the format.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

11.5: Thing #11 - Digital Citizenship

Oh the irony! Our district has a new internet content filter. It blocked all of the free screencasting tools posted in 11.5 Things. It blocked the web site of a highly respected psychologist who specializes in serving gifted kids. The list could continue (I've put in half a dozen or more requests for unblocking sites). Yet, I go to the Digital Citizenship Ning and there's a blog post for Herbal ___ enhancement. (Guys, if you haven't had enough offers in your email spam filter, here's another one!) I'm sure it's spam that's now showing up in nings.

That's why we need to teach digital citizenship.

Of course, I'm of the opinion that we should talk to kids about most everything. At their level, of course, but fairly openly. Kids don't educate each other accurately. So if an adult doesn't do the talking and the guiding, then you're leaving it up to their friends. Since our executive functioning doesn't fully develop until we're in our 20's, we're taking a pretty big risk in expecting they'll get a good education from their peers.

In reading a number of the posts, I inwardly shouted, "Amen!" I think we spend entirely too much time and effort blocking sites and policing for plagarism. (At the risk of sounding hypocrital, I do appreciate the spam filter. I read it daily since communication from parents and experts from other countries are often blocked, but I like it being in a separate folder.) Instead, we should be capitalizing on teachable moments and creating plagarim-proof assignments.

Most of the articles listed in 11.5 Thing #11 talked about modeling the thinking processes used to evaluate web resources and web tools. I think that's right on. Modeling is so key to good teaching. It's the same good strategy whether you're thinking through a math problem or trying to find information on the web. What would be a good tool to use to solve this problem? Why use this one? Now that I'm using it, how do I get the most out of it?

Certainly we don't have to think aloud all the time, but we do need to do it. It is worth the extra time! We need to address choosing the right tool, evaluating what we find, using the tool appropriately, etiquette, and safety. These can be integrated into most content learning experiences, we just have to make a point to do it.

5 things to tell my students
  • you gotta use the right tool for the job (It's pretty difficult to loosen a screw with a hammer.)
  • you can't believe everything you see or read (The sky is bright red. I wrote it - so look outside, is it suddenly true? I can edit a picture to make a sky bright red. You see an image of it, is it true?)
  • take pride in your work (It's usually faster to do a good job the first time than to do a lazy job and have to do it again.)
  • manners matter online, too (Poor manners can be forever saved electronically. Who wants that legacy?)
  • people aren't necessarily who they say they are online (Never get in a car with a stranger. Same rule applies here.)