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Mightybell: PLN

18 Jan

Previously, a PLN was a “Professional” Learning Network: a somewhat fixed group of people that you join or are asked to join for your professional development. Now PLN is being used instead to indicate a “Personal” Learning Network: a very personal (individual) set of people you choose to follow or communicate with for your professional development, usually outside of any formal requirement.

Today’s Mightybell, like many of the other ones, consists of something that I have done somewhat naturally without necessarily doing it with the explicit purpose of building the network.  The main point of today’s exercise was using the RSS feed in order to subscribe to various blogs and websites, and then using some sort of service or tool to aggregate this information.  I actually do use both Google Reader and iGoogle to gather and organize my RSS feeds and information.  iGoogle is my tool of choice because the layout is more appealing and I can pick and choose what I want to read much easier.

I also use RSS to subscribe to various podcasts and use iTunes or another open source program like Banshee in order to subscribe to podcasts.  Podcasts are actually slightly better for me because I often find my reading time at a real premium.

In fact, te single biggest complaint or concern from fellow Mightybell travelers is pretty much the same: having too much information and sifting through it all.  I almost always get behind on all of my subscriptions and end up only reading or listening to a fraction of what I have coming in.  I’ll talk a little more about this overload in the next exercise, but it really is a concern even though I am not even using all of the tools available.  I have lots of interests, it is just a matter of managing them all!

For me there also has to be some balance between reading and writing.  Reading more makes me a better writer for sure, but I need to find a balance in order to continue to be part of the network and environment that I choose to participate in.  The two go together for me, so the PLN is a crucial piece.

The biggest weakness for me, at least at present, is how to leverage this network into something that has a more tangible benefit professionally.  I have interests and enjoy pursuing those through reading or writing.  But it is only recently that I have been concerned about these pursuits having some sort of monetary value.  I have always seen the reading and writing as a sort of sideline hobby, but it IS something I enjoy doing.  I still scratch my head when I consider that people would actually pay to read something that I write.  The Thinking Person’s Guide To Autism is at least a step in helping me see some potential in that direction.  But generally the biggest satisfaction for me is derived from helping other people  which is what I think underlies most of the content and people in my PLN.




Mightybell: (Re) Discovering Passions

5 Jan

If I’m not working, I need to be writing.  I suppose that is my first resolution of the new year.  I need to write more.  Of course, doing more reading will always produce better writing, so I suppose reading more is my second resolution of the year, although I’m less excited about that than the first one.

A few months ago, I signed up for MightyBell through the Future of Education group that I belong to.  And then I promptly forgot about it, until I started getting the daily email alerts, encouraging me to go on to the next step, which is to say, take the first step.  The initial idea of signing up what to have something blogworthy, thus it might get me writing again.

I know that I am not the only person who is feeling pretty dissatisfied with education and the direction it has been going the past 10 years.  In fact I have never talked to anyone who has anything to do with it, who is totally satisfied with the direction of our educational system.  But the online groups, Future of Education in particular, has at least kept me in the loop when I have otherwise wanted to run away from the education business. It’s still an awkward relationship, but I’m at least willing to give it another go.

Mightybell is simply a string of tasks that is done whenever you feel like it, with a daily email reminding you of what you need to do next.  For instance, step one is signing up for Teacher 2.0.  That was fairly easy, although it took a day to get approved.  The next task was thinking about and listing your talents, as well as thinking about how to recognize student talent.  I sort of breezed through that with teaching being a talent, some writing, dealing with and using technology and applied behavior analysis.  These are all things that when I think about, people either have recognized me for, or they are asking me about.  I was one of the technology nerds as a student and as a teacher, who people ran to when they were having trouble with their computer.

The next task was about passions.  Things I love doing and things I love learning about.  I was pretty stumped and decided I had enough for the day, right there.  Now there are a lot of things I like learning about.  Technology being a big one, along with U.S. History and science.  I like learning about the latest trends in gardening and becoming more self-sufficient.  I like learning about elves and hobbits.  But I don’t know if these are all passions.  I’m pretty sure my family would all agree that I am passoniate about my laptop as I spend most of my time on it.

But a follow-up question asks: Do I spend enough time on my passions?  Lately, the answer has been “no”.  Or at least not enough on where my passions and talents align.  And that is what I’m working through at the moment.  Discovering where my passions and talents align.  It occurred to me the best things that have happened to me in the past month WERE because of my writing right here on this blog.  It’s one of the rare places where the talents and passions seem to intersect.  Of course, the real trick is to get this intersection to pay the bills!

I had a poll once (the only one I’ve ever run here!) where I ask if this blog helps or hurts my chances of getting hired.  It occurs to me that if it hurts, than I might possibly be ill-suited for whatever that job is.  I do love teaching, and it still is a passion of mine.  In many ways, this blog has provided me a platform to do some good teaching.  And some good learning!

Passions and talents don’t need to be the same, but it certainly does make things easier if you can get the two together.

Task completed!

The Future of Education?

1 Sep

Once again, I am back in my old room as a substitute and meeting a new teacher for my old students and a few new ones. It’s just like riding a bike…it just becomes a natural extension of you as you know what to do instinctively. And so it is with this population of students. I kind of amazed myself with how quickly I was able to bond with the new students. A bit more about my status later.

But first I want to talk about a podcast that aired recently on the Future of Education website. You can listen to it too!

I bought Bob Compton’s 2 Million Minutes documentary, and he made a lot of astute observations about the education systems in India, China and the U.S. In his latest documentary, he teams up with Dr. Tony Wagner (The Global Achievement Gap) whose book I have read and even gave a few copies away to administrators. The Finland Phenomenon explores the education system in Finland, often regarded as the top system in the world. Compton and Wagner wanted to find out more about the Finnish educational system and why it is as good as it is.

I have not yet seen this film but do plan on seeing it and reviewing it. But I wanted to talk a bit about some things Compton said in this podcast. He talked a bit about barriers to true and genuine innovation and I was struck by his description of how large organizations try to kill or squash innovation. Basically, if there is someone who starts to excel, it makes the rest of the organization look bad or at the very least exposes mediocrity. And since no one wants to feel bad, the out-lier is attacked and either put in their place or ostracized almost out of existence. This is just the organization striving for self-preservation. People don’t like change and innovation has a habit of forcing change upon people. This is also discussed in the book about educational disruption in education that I read a couple years ago about the time I was also reading Tony Wagner’s book.

So…could that be the answer to the question I am too embarrassed to ask or talk much about? During my tenure teaching individuals with severe disabilities I was innovating and shaping things way beyond what anyone else was doing at the time.

  • I had an active Moodle site that was a repository of knowledge to help other teachers who teach students with severe disabilities.
  • I had an active blog, informing other teachers, future teachers, policiy makers and parents the effects of certain government policies on the classroom
  • I recorded and posted scores of videos on Teachertube, sharing best practices in how to use different types of technology in the classroom
  • I experimented with many different types of technology including mp4 players, open source programs and various switches and AAC devices
  • I encouraged the faculty to use the collaboration software that the county had purchased in order to collaborate and share their ideas and thoughts rather than burdening the email system.
  • We experimented with research-based interventions such as electronic social stories and video modeling to teach new behaviors.
  • I tried to get school leaders to use technology to reach or teach the staff asynchronously in order to afford greater flexibility with staff development and to leverage the technology to build capacity for more staff development options and offerings.
  • Participated and attended staff development activities such as Future of Education webinars, and subscribed to various educational podcasts, even experimenting with my own podcasting site.

These efforts were not always greeted with open arms. Sometimes there was active opposition to some of the ideas but most of the time efforts to reform practice was met with a polite smile and then people continued to do what they were used to doing. I was clearly out in front of most of my colleagues when it came to technology and ideas for building capacity especially in regards to staff development using multimedia and social collaboration.

And these activities are STILL regarded with a great deal of resistance and suspicion from many people who make decisions about education. Being an innovator is often very politically risky and I have to admit to being often very naive when it comes to politics. My thought is that the needs of the students should be greater than the need for any particular political vendetta. We might disagree about certain policies, but in the end we are charged with the trust of caring and educating all students.

I’m a bit lost as to what to do about whatever it is that keeps me from getting back into the classroom full-time and need to look at all other options. Surely some of these skills must translate into something else that is useful to someone.

OH…by the way, look at some of the other blogs who made the list!  What an honor and a treat to be listed alongside so many other excellent special education bloggers.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

2 Jul

I’ve been on summer break for about a month. In less than a month, I’ll be heading back. I know that sounds crazy to you folks that just got out of school a week ago! I’m sure that in a decade or so, the feds will require all schools to run on the same calendar.

So I’m getting my mind wrapped around the idea of doing a 10th year with the SID/PID classroom. Not an easy thing, and for several weeks, I was headlong into denial/escape mode. Basically, I’ve been doing quite a lot of reading this past month. All of these books have been extensively reviewed, and they should be widely read. Here they are, with my short take:

Disrupting Class:How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. By Clayton Christensen Curtis Johnson and Mocheal B. Horn. Most of the books that I’ve been reading make the case that our method of education is outmoded and outdated. It has not essentially changed in 60-100 years. But now technology is making change possible, but in order for real change to occur it’s going to happen through the backdoor, which the authors describe as being deployed disruptively. Most change happens in areas of nonconsumption or where existing programs or technologies are not getting to. In education, that means drop-outs, or students that need to make up credit or have been kicked out of school or students who need courses not offered by their schools. This is primarily looking at making online education more universally available which is happening as several states have virtual schools, including Georgia. The authors do a good job of describing a process that is already underway. It’s a wothwhile read, but I can see it becoming really dated in a few years as online education becomes more ubiquitous.

The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner – In this book, the author describes how far behind U.S. schools are compared to other schools in the world, and how students are not being taught the skills they need in the modern world. Basically, the current system isn’t training kids for work, or for college or for basic U.S. citizenship. After he get through describing the shortcomings of the best schools in the country, you begin to wonder, “What are public schools even good for?” It is deeply disturbing in a lot of ways and gives a lot of food for thought. According to Wagner, the skills needed are the seven suvival skills. The seven survival skills are critical thinking and problem solving; collaboration across networks and leading by influence; agility and adaptability; initiative and entrepreneurship; effective oral and written communication; accessing and analyzing information; and curiosity and imagination. Copies of this book are going to some influential people I know.

Two Million Minutes by Bob Compton. Okay, this isn’t a book, it’s a documentary. Yes, I actually ordered the D VD after watching the Youtube videos. He made a documentary following 2 students from the U.S., India and China and compared their educational practices, attitudes and habits. Like Tony Wagner, Compton points out that there are serious problems with U.S. education compared to just two of our biggest competitors. While Compton’s videos are disturbing they do not go into the source of our ills as much as Wagner’s book. While the DVD might be a worthwhile purchase for a school district, I think Compton’s Youtube channel gets the message across handily enough for most individuals. You could send it to your legislator!

Why Don’t Students Like School? by Daniel Willingham. I’m about half way through this book, and Willingham chops and cuts and slices and dices through a lot of cherished beliefs teachers have about learning styles and learning modalities. As a cognative scientist, his specialty is learning and memory. His basic premise is that 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking are fine, but students actually need to have content to think about and background knowledge to draw from in solving problems. Students don’t like school, mostly because humans are designed and setup to not think or at least keep thinking to a minimum. It takes a lot of work and effort to think, so teachers have to devise strategies to make thinking less burdensome and less painful. Out of all the materials I’ve looked at and read so far, Willingham’s book has the widest application for teachers, parents and even students. Unlike the above books/movies, Willingham’s book does have relevance for the kids that I’ll be teaching, no matter who they are or what age or grade level. Basically, cognitive scientists have done a lot of research on how we remember things and how we go about applying the knowledge we learn. So until I picked this book up, I was looking more at broader policies that will change how education is done, but this will influence how I look at teaching and learning on a day-to-day level. I’m already working on an online course that I might try to offer in the fall using this book, thus applying all of the concepts I’ve been reading about. Take a look at his videos for some quick learning. His video on merit pay alone is worth the time.

I also spent a considerable amount of time attending various webinars on the Web 2.0 comunity. These are good ways to get some knowledge without burning up a lot of time or having to travel. Steve Hargodon is into all sorts of nifty collaborative efforts, including the recently held EduBloggercon. My goal is to be able to make one of those one day. I also want to get a video up to contribute to the PBS Frontline project they have going on. And in it, I’m going to document a conversation I had with a couple of administrators last fall about my educational videos.

So the first part of my summer was devoted to a lot of thinking about education, technology and learning and most of it doesn’t apply much to the job I’m getting ready to mark a decade of doing. But my mind is shifting a bit back. Plus, my oldest son and I are gearing up for an adventure together traveling across several states together next week. I might blog that a bit. Once we get back from our trip, the preparations for school starts in earnest as I’ll have less than 10 days before preplanning!

Stay Cool!