Archive for November, 2008

GTA NYC Reflection – Part 3: Inspiring Ideas and Tech Tool Rotations

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

This is the third (of four) posts reflecting on my experience leading the Google Teacher Academy in NYC on November 18th. “Inspiring Ideas” and “Tech Tool Rotations” are two specific types of presentations used at the Google Teacher Academy. Once again, you’ll probably notice a few themes in my reflection: Innovation, Inspiration, and Passion.

The primary purpose of an Inspiring Idea session is to provide a concrete example of a specific tool being used in a specific educational context (such as Google Docs being used in a high school journalism class) – so that participants might be inspired to try something similar in the context of their work as an educator. There’s an “if they can do it, so can I” element to these sessions. They are also meant as a sort of “shot in the arm” for participants during a potentially low-energy time of day. These sessions are only fifteen minutes long. If you’re interested in seeing the slides and resources from a few Inspiring Idea sessions, check out the online resources for the GTAs in Chicago (including the “Innovative Learning” segments) and New York.

Tech Tool Rotation sessions are 30 minutes long and there are three explicit goals in these sessions. The presenters should demonstrate what the tool is, explain how students and teachers can use it, and provide specific examples at various grade levels. The less explicit (but perhaps obvious) goal is to inspire teachers to return to their work and actually use the tool in innovative new ways. Again, if you’d like to see representative slides and resources from some tech tool rotation sessions, check out the Chicago and New York resources. You might even compare the same topic at different events, especially if there were different presenters.

After every GTA we always come back to similar feedback regarding both inspiring idea presentations and tech tool rotations. In general we want to see even less “how to” elements. We want to see even more examples. And we absolutely need the sessions to inspire educators to actually try new things using the tool. So, once again, connecting with the participants’ passions is critical to the success of both Inspiring Ideas and Tech Tool Rotations.

Also, in both cases there is a balancing act (or several balancing acts) involved. Often when a session is strong on pedagogy it is weaker on technical demos – and vice versa. Similarly, a session that is fast enough for the most advanced (or most engaged) will be too much (and too frustrating) for others, while a session that is slow enough for everyone in the room to “get it” will be too slow (and too frustrating) for different people. The GTA day as a whole has the same problems, and has to play the same balancing act. In the final evaluations, some participants praise the balance we struck… others criticize it from one side or the other. I’m not sure we can do any better than that.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this balancing act (or on these specific sessions) in the comments.

GTA NYC Reflection – Part 2: Presentations

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

This is the second (of four) posts reflecting on my experience leading the Google Teacher Academy in NYC on November 18th. You’ll probably notice a few themes reappear here again: Innovation, Inspiration, and Passion.

We included several presentations throughout the day, but my own were in the early morning segments. I lead (and in parts co-presented) the Welcome and Overview presentations. These have evolved (and I think improved) at each GTA. Recently I’ve been asked more often to lead sessions on how to present, so I was able to re-evaluate the slides (and performance) from a fresh perspective… and a few things stood out for me this time around.

Like welcome activities, presentations are improved when the creator is clear about their purpose. A presentation meant to inform can be very different than a presentation meant to inspire. In my case I had to alternate between both, so it helped to know the purpose of each slide or segment of the presentation.

Regardless of the purpose, I think most presentations need to do the following in order to be effective:

  • Provide *meaningful* visuals, including images, charts, and graphs
  • Keep it simple: Though they can be effective in moderation or when used by a master… builds, animations, and sounds almost always detract from a slide. And anything that is confusing for a participant to understand or look at detracts from the presentation.
  • Include anecdotes that illustrate important points
  • Engage participants emotions or passions

I’m still far short of where I want to be in terms of the use of visual elements, but I think I do well at keeping it simple, including anecdotes, and engaging participants on an emotional level. But.. each time I see a few too many bullets or a few too many text slides, I don’t break out of the rutt until I return to one of these methods to break me out of it. Consistently reminding myself of the need to rise to that next level is important – and the more of it I include in my “system” of creating presentations, the better. There’s no reason including passion can’t be a check box on your presentation to do list. ;)

I hope to put this system into explicit practice in future GTAs and other professional development events. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your feedback about what makes a good presentation – I know there’s plenty of it to be had.

Incidentally, here’s a workshop wiki for a recent “Presentations in Education” workshop I did at the ILC Conference in San Jose:

I hope you might find some of the resources valuable… and if you know of some I didn’t include, I hope you’ll share those in the comments here as well. :)

GTA NYC Reflection – Part 1: Welcome Activities

Friday, November 28th, 2008

Immediately following the Celebration dinner after the Google Teacher Academy in NYC, the GTA Team conducted a relatively detailed debrief of the session and produced notes and action items for the next event (which has yet to be announced). Many of those reflections are of course not meant to be blogged. However, many of my personal reflections are – and as they are relevant to professional development in general I thought I’d take the time to compose them on the plane ride home and share them here. (Note: A week has elapsed between the time I wrote this on the plane and the time I was finally able to pause and post it on the blog… and another day will pass before it actually appears on the blog – since I’ve set this series of four posts to appear one per day over the next four days.)

Like we did in our debrief, I’ll use the agenda for the day as a rough outline for this reflection… and you’ll see a few themes develop straight away: Innovation, Inspiration, and Passion

Back in the spring, when we began planing for this new round of GTAs, we decided to replace our original welcome activity in favor of something more meaningful. But having missed the original activity at our last two events, we brought it back for this event. Reflecting on the benefits and drawbacks of each got me thinking about the role of a welcome activity in general (or for professional development meant for educators at any rate).

As with so many other things, it helps to be clear about the purpose of the Welcome Activity. This may change depending on the event and the audience, but in general I think a welcome activity needs to do the following:

  • Help participants get to know each other
  • Help participants get their mental juices flowing
  • Help participants get physically involved in the event
  • Help participants get emotionally (or passionately) involved in the event

This is asking a lot. In our case, the old activity (“Building Innovators“) had the advantage of helping participants get their mental juices flowing and get physically involved in the event. (They are eventually asked to create a tower out of 3×5 cards that they’ve written on.) However, it more or less failed at helping participants get to know each other – and for the most part it didn’t engage people’s emotions or passions, though there was some competition involved. The newer activity (“The Innovation Connection“) had the advantage of helping participants get to know each other, get their mental juices flowing, and (ideally) get emotionally involved in the event (as they shared stories about “non-technology” classroom innovations). Arguably, the necessary movement around the room was physical, but it was not as concrete as the physical building exercise in the previous activity. Also, it was a bit confusing for participants to execute – so perhaps that belongs on the list above as well. A welcome activity must be easy to participate in. :)

My goal is to dream up a new activity for the GTA that does all of these things. I think, though, it might take more time in the agenda – as many things done right tend to do. Perhaps I’ll put a few new activities “into beta” by testing them out on upcoming Google Learning Institute events. In the meantime, I’d love to hear any of your thoughts on what makes a good welcome activity for a professional development event.

Links for 11/27/2008

Thursday, November 27th, 2008
  • The Thinking Stick | Leading a Tribe This is Jeff Utech’s post on Seth Godin’s book, Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us, which I’ve been planning/hoping to blog about. Jeff’s focus on the need to step up and actually create a community – and his focus on the need for passion – particularly resonated with me, which I’m sure is no surprise. The book also helped me to think differently about what I want to do with my fledgeling company (and career). I’m sure when I get the chance to blog about it (or when I make the time), the resulting reflection will be valuable for me. tags: professionaldevelopment
  • Brainify – Search I got a (presumably mass) email about this from the founder and president, but it actually looks cool… and it’s mildly related to my “Search, Learn, Share” or “What do you want to learn?” idea, but focused on the human element. From the about page: “Brainify is academic social bookmarking and networking for college and university students. If you are looking for the best sites and a great community to help with your courses, this is the place for you.” tags: bookmarking, academic
  • K-12 Open Source Community – Free and Open Source Software in K – 12 Education Steve Hargadon, founder of Classroom 2.0, has launched another social network for educators… this one focusing on a long time passion of his, open source software in education. From his invitation to join: “I believe that having an inviting and easy-to-use social network will increase exposure, adoption, and idea-sharing around Open Source in K-12 at a time when it is truly needed (both financially and pedagogically).” tags: opensource, k-12, Ning
  • What is it like attending Google Teacher’s Academy – Seedlings Several teachers from Maine were invited to attend (or present at) the most recent Google Teacher Academy in NYC. Several drove home together and recorded a 28 minute reflection on the experience. Cool. tags: googleteacheracademy, gta, podcast, seedlings
  • Google: Google’s iPhone Voice Search Mobile App Now Available Amazingly, this also sat open in my browser for nine days! I installed it on my iPhone and haven’t even tried it yet… and now it’s the middle of the night and Clark’s sleeping in the next room, so I’m not trying it now. But… I wanted to share it here. This iPhone app allows you to search by voice (instead of typing in search terms). I suspect this is at least in part a product of technology that has come out of the GOOG-411 project. :) tags: search, voice
  • Official Google Reader Blog: Is Your Web Truly World-Wide? Amazingly this sat open in a tab for 16 days – and I’m finally bookmarking it to share here. A new feature in Google Reader allows you to subscribe to blogs in other languages and have Reader translate them into your language. Not that I don’t already have too many feeds – but this is a potentially awesome feature for students and teachers researching any topic of global significance. tags: translate, rss

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Search, Learn, Share (Phase 1)

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

Well, phase 1 is really just search and learn so far. ;)

In any case, the first prototype of the first phase of the “Search, Learn, Share” project is now ready for testing. So far it doesn’t do much, but it does accomplish these two things:

  • It presents users with this question: “What Do You Want To Learn?”
  • It uses their input to bring back a variety of resources, including websites, books, news articles, images, and video. (I’m focusing on Google’s specialized search tools for the prototype, and sadly Scholar has no API, so scholarly articles cannot be pulled in… yet.)

In the future it will also allow users to save, annotate, and share their searches (with the option to save related searches into “projects” and the option to subscribe to updates from a particular search) and their individual results (in a manner much like other social bookmarking serivices – in fact, I’m hoping for some serious integration). There’s other features I have planned, but that’s the gist of it… in a nutshell. ;)

At this point, this simple first phase prototype is ready for testing. Please let me know what you think – and what you’d like to see.

Version .01 – A tabbed UI that works only in Internet Explorer.*
Version .03 – A “single page” UI that works in any browser.

*I include this here because I think I might actually like the tabs better. What do you think?

I look forward to your feedback… and I hope some of you might even find the tool at this stage helpful for yourself or for your students.

Links for 11/14/2008

Friday, November 14th, 2008

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Links for 11/06/2008

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.