Wednesday, June 17, 2015

eLearning NexGen 2015

For several years, a collaboration has been growing among four school corporations in Howard County. After visiting one another, and sharing about their instructional technology initiatives, they had a desire to combine their efforts for professional development. The Summer of eLearning helped them create that opportunity, as Eastern Howard, Northwestern, Taylor Community, and Western came together at Western High School for a fantastic two-day event they call eLearning NexGen.

Keynote speaker Nick Provenzano opened day one with his talk about some of the F-words (Fear, Failure, Fun) that have an impact on the kind of opportunities we provide for students. He explored how fear, often the fear of failure, keeps us from daring great things with our students. He used Sarah Stone's cup song version of Royals as an example of how integral initial failures are to achieving something truly amazing. Provenzano encouraged attendees to take chances in their teaching, to be positive deviants, and to dare a great change, even if the pathway to getting there requires some "moonshot thinking."

"We all have different learners in our classroom," said Northwestern 7th grade math teacher Jennifer Bowen. To address this need for differentiation, she has used a flipped classroom model for a couple of years. Bowen explains that flipping allows students to move at their own pace, and allows teachers more time to work with struggling learners. Bowen uses Explain Everything to create her math videos, because of how easy it is to pull pictures or files into a project. She scans her notes and opens them in the app so that she can highlight and write on them while she explains new concepts. Bowen says that she doesn't use the videos every day, but her students (and their parents) look forward to the joke she includes in each video. Participants in the session discussed their own workflows which stored videos in various learning management systems, as well as Dropbox and Google Drive.

Randy Mauer, Principal at Eastern Elementary School, took participants through many insights and ideas gained in Eastern’s successful implementation of 1:1 and eLearning. Technology, communication, support, and access are all key elements of a program that works. Mauer says the most important is what you are doing with the technology for learning. If you are just beginning on this digital journey, find a few things that you feel comfortable with and implement those things. Connect with others. Form an “island” of educators and share what you do. Mauer models digital tools and has fun doing it, building relationships with staff and families while implementing a new way of learning. Check out his video about 9/11 for students and get his presentation for many good ideas.

When students write for an audience larger than just their teacher, content, structure and engagement improve greatly! Blogging provides a global audience and feedback to bring relevance and meaning to the learning. Suzanne Evans and Christy Unger, both Western teachers, showcased how Kidblog helped bring their students’ writing to a whole new level. Unger and Evans have linked content, videos, and graphics into Kidblog to provide a safe and easy way for students to interact with the content. Taking the group through the application step-by-step provided all participants the chance to take off with blogging when the school year begins!

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