Sunday, March 10, 2013

Skype's New Imprint on Education

Recently, Skype announced a free upgrade for teachers who use Skype in the Classroom to their  free group video calling - a fantastic gesture on the part of Skype for educators.  The bonus feature, only recently available to paid subscribers, now opens the virtual door to many more possibilities as Skype tries to level the playing field with the new rage in online video conferencing, Google Hangouts, which allows for similar features and with up to nine participants at one time.  

If you have an internet connection, a laptop or computer, and a webcam, you're ready to knock down the walls of your classroom and extend your teaching world-wide...and if you have a SMART Board installed in your classroom, you've basically opened up your own mini television studio!

Here's a few ideas as to how Skype in the Classroom and the new availability to utilize the group chat feature can help you expand the walls of your classroom and/or school:

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Utilizing USTREAM for Schools

If you haven't dabbled in or don't know what it is, it's time to start.

USTREAM is the largest and most well-know live streaming platform with over 50 million monthly viewers along with a network of produced and user-generated content.  USTREAM has reshaped online media in nearly every aspect of our world.  And it's in education that USTREAM may have an unprecedented and profound impact in the future.  

What Your School Needs

A basic account, a webcam, and a computer (or now, even a mobile device) is all you need to get started -- and it is those basic tools that can open up an entirely new window into the education field.  Upload your school logo and set your USTREAM channel to private so that just your school community can access it and like magic, you have yourself a recipe for constant communication success and your own virtual television studio!

Use USTREAM for Parent Communication 

What's better than broadcasting a PTA or Parents' Association meeting to those parents that just can't make it in person?  Now you can -- and should.  At PS101Q in Forest Hills, NY, the school will regularly broadcast important parent meetings to parents and teachers who just can't physically be there in person to join in the meeting.  The school gets those parents and teachers involved by setting up a live Twitter feed during those meetings, inviting viewers to tweet in a question or comment - just like you may see on TV.  It brings the school community closer together as a result; not letting parents feel as if they missed something.  What's even better?...the school records the meetings and special events so that if you missed it altogether, you can watch it on demand any time.  

Parents love the idea as noted on the PS101Q Media Center website's USTREAM tab:
 "I am just writing to thank you for the USTREAM initiative. What a fabulous way to keep the school community current and involved. So many parents are not able to attend regular meetings and workshops due to work or other constraints, but we never have to worry about missing a thing, now." 
"I could only watch some of it, but I thought it was great. I was surprised how "live" it felt; I didn't feel that I missed anything not being in the room. I think this will be a huge help for those of us who are challenged in attending meetings. Thanks for setting this up."

Use USTREAM for Special Assembly Programs

Have you ever felt badly because a parent couldn't make it to see his or her son/daughter in the school play, or for her piano solo during the spring concert?  Or what about that do-or-die school basketball game that a few parents couldn't attend?  Well, now they can!... virtually, of course.  Set up programming for all of those special assemblies and special events and those parents who just couldn't get out of the office or who were out of town can now all of a sudden "be there" and not miss a beat.  It's a fantastic way to keep parents involved and feeling proud of their children by using the USTREAM channel that you and your school can set up...and if the technology is available to do just that, why not?!?

Use USTREAM for Teacher-Parent Communication

For the administrators out there, have your staff and teachers use USTREAM for 2-Minute Tutorials or 2-Minute Expectation Clips to communicate to parents what's being studied, how parents can help their children at home, or lesson demonstrations.  It's the perfect way to make sure that parents are in the loop - and there's nothing better than a live stream, or recorded stream to do just that (especially with the introduction to the Common Core State Standards).  Tip:  Have teachers rotate on the grade or in departments to record themselves so that parents see that there is full-staff buy-in for effective communication of the curriculum and CCSS material.

Use USTREAM for Professional Development

Think of this as the flipped-classroom for teachers for professional development purposes.  Administrators, teachers, support staff, and district support, etc., can all play a role in professional development by using your USTREAM channel.  Teachers and staff can participate in watching the videos at their leisure and in advance to important PD in order to save some time before a meeting (and it doesn't hurt to let parents at home see what work is being done to further the education of the teachers themselves).  Using USTREAM in-house can make an effective technological impression that may just get people more involved as a result.

Use USTREAM In-House for In-School Broadcasts

Use USTREAM for daily news messages from the principal....for "Friday Happy News" to end a productive showcase student artwork....for student-created Public Service Announcements....drama sporting events (both during and after school)...really, ANYTHING!  This works especially well if your school has interactive whiteboards, laptops, or even mobile devices for students and staff to access and creates a strong connection to the school community as a whole.  The added bonus side-effect: once again, parents are kept in the loop, making the school-home bond even that much stronger.  It's a win-win.

Basically, the bottom line is that paper notices that go home to celebrate successes or for informational purposes are good -- but start to broadcast and introduce an alternative form of communication and that same information (now by using USTREAM) all of a sudden takes on a whole new meaning and in a whole new dimension.  

Be warned may have one challenge if you decide to take on this initiative:  finding on-air talent that are ready, willing, and able to step in front of the camera!

What ways is your school using USTREAM?  What other suggestions for USTREAM do you have for use in schools?  Let us know by posting a comment below!

Follow Adam Hyman on Twitter @ps101hyman

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Walkthrough Roadblock?

There have been so many arguments for -- and against -- walkthroughs from administrators that  it can sometimes feel as if we'll never reach a consensus.

Some teachers will tell you that they welcome walkthroughs because they want feedback and direction with their teaching practice...and other teachers just cringe at the idea of another adult walking in on their lesson because they just don't like to be studied, even if it is for only a few minutes.  For those teachers, those 3-5 minutes could feel like an entire class period especially when their technology is not cooperating and 30 students are all raising their hand at the same time because they can't access the WiFi, or can't open a document.  It happens.   

Now, there are certainly more advantages of walkthroughs than there are disadvantages; the trick is getting everyone on board to accept them for what they are meant for.  In Enhancing Profession Practice by Charlotte Danielson, Danielson talks about the four main domains (Planning & Preparation, The Classroom Environment, Instruction, and Professional Responsibilities).  These four domains can be seen in a snap-shot during a walk through and an administrator or supervisor is supposed to be able to tell if these four main domains have taken place during that short observation from when they walk into a classroom to when they leave the classroom.  Since this type of observation is informal and decreases the amount of pressure that a teacher has to perform (barring that they have planned, prepped, create a good environment for students to work in, and provide the instruction that is necessary for guidance), teachers should actually welcome this type of observation with open arms. Yet, you'd be hard-pressed to find many teachers who will actually admit to that.  

What an administrator should do to get teachers on board with the walkthrough and curriculum support mentality:

1.  Nobody is invisible, and yes, teachers can see you.  Administrators who just walk into a classroom and don't want to be recognized or spoken to as if they aren't there at all need to realize that this could hurt a professional relationship.  In the real-world if a supervisor walked through a manufacturing plant, would he ignore his employees when they said hello or ask the supervisor to come over for a minute to show them something that the're working on?  Not in the least.  When teachers are excited and enthusiastic about a project that their students are working on, an administrator needs to get there and jump right in.  There needs to be interaction and a bonding that not only shows the teacher that they care, but also puts ownership on the students which can foster a sense of pride in their work.  As an administrator, take a moment to become part of the class, even if you have a pile of paperwork to get will go a long way in supporting the teachers and students.

2. Pure purpose and no funny business.  Administrators need to make it very clear to teachers that when they are walking into a classroom to take that snapshot, it's to help them get better and not to catch them doing something "wrong".  Case in point:  about a decade ago I was teaching 6th grade.  It was just two days before the State tests in ELA and I was reviewing the skill of author's purpose with my class -- a skill that they had been having some difficulty with.  The reading coach came in for a minute and didn't let 30 seconds go by before she started waving her hands as if she were drowning in the ocean and screaming from the back of the room, "Wait!  Stop!  Stop!  You're going to confuse them!  It's too much!"  I remember those words to this day and remember how furious I was at her for the outburst.  Had she realized that it was only a review, that we had already done this type of work before, and that we were just refining the skills, that wouldn't have ever taken place.  Worst of all, who looked like the fool?  I did.  I lost credibility with my students because someone else thought that they knew what was happening in my classroom.  

3. Just the facts, just the facts.  In The Three Minute Classroom Walk-through by Carolyn J. Downey, other positives are mentioned such as the ability to gather a sampling of a teacher’s actions, to gather a better insight into a school’s overall operation, to share samples of practice to share with your staff during professional development, and even to help to identify teachers who may need more help or support.  Just a few minutes and just the facts can allow for more of an interaction with the school staff, which, in turn gives a better understanding of the school’s day-to-day operations. 

Based on my own experiences, a disadvantage to a walk through is the short time span that a supervisor sees during that particular walk through.  In The Three Minute Classroom Walk-through text, it is mentioned that time management is important because you may want to spend more time with less experienced, novice teachers as opposed to more seasoned veterans.  Because a three minute walk-through is such a short period of time and a small snap-shot of what actually takes place all day, this could short-change the novice teachers (although it is hopefully understood that good administrators will still make time for teachers who are new...or seasoned, and who may be struggling). 

Another disadvantage is that an administrator may walk into your classroom just after you had a fantastic lesson, missing something that you were proud of or had wished someone had seen for themselves…a too-good-to-be-true moment or lesson.  How many times have administrators walked into a classroom only to see a ruckus, or a transition where they were loud, or during snack time.  It happens more times than you think.   Does this lead to a supervisor getting the wrong impression of who you are as a teacher?  On the other hand, it is understood that because of the frequent walk-ins (based on the three-minute walkthrough model), the law of averages should give you a fair amount of positive walk-ins as well as times that are just the daily business of the classroom.   Regardless, there are plenty of good reasons why walk-throughs can be favored, versus negative reasons and it's up to the administrators to make it known that there are there to support you in any way possible.  Teachers by nature want to impress and strut their stuff, but it must be understood that you can't give an Oscar-winning performance all of the time.  After all, the best hitters in the game of baseball don't get a hit 7 out of every 10 at-bats.  Food for thought.