Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The PLP Experience

Just about a year ago I attended an ISAS Technology Directors conference at Trinity Valley School in Fort Worth. The speaker was Will Richardson. I have to confess that I had never heard of him (in what planet did I live on, really?). His presentation was like lightning!

As soon as I got back home I googled PLP and filled the form requesting more information. I invited some colleagues to attend a virtual session with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, and at that moment we knew that we really wanted to join .

We formed a school team with Michelle from Upper Elementary, Emma and Sherie from Middle School, and Dave from Upper School. At our first face-to-face meeting we registered as members of a Ning and created our profiles. When we came back to school after the kick-off event, we were inspired to make the most of our PLP adventure.

Truth is, there was a little catch in our decision to join PLP. A year ago we had an accreditation visit, and the first item in the report concerning technology said, "The School should look into providing leadership for academic technology. This leadership can explore ways to develop and implement a school wide vision for academic technology, investigate professional development opportunities for both academic technology and all other classroom teachers." As a first step, I was appointed Academic Technology Coordinator to lead the school in addressing the accreditation report. Big task! I started gathering resources to create a LoTI survey that was completed by faculty in all divisions. After analyzing the data I knew I was going to need more guidance than just relying on my searching abilities!

PLP has opened my eyes to a world of possibilities.  All of a sudden I am supported not only by the top leaders in education, but also by a group of colleagues that are walking the same path and have the same expectations and concerns that I have.
My professional growth has been amazing to me. Through virtual sessions and ongoing conversations I now have a deeper understanding of  21st century teaching and learning. I have learned how to use several digital tools and, most importantly, I have expanded my learning network. On July 1st I joined Twitter, and as of this morning, I have over 300 followers. By the end of September I had created this blog, and in November all of my Honors Physics students had their own active blogs!

The professional development plan that I originally crafted back in November has been transformed into a well-defined program that already has had a tremendous impact in the school. All we had to do was to dig deeper into the myriad of resources received through PLP.
With creativity, passion and collegiality our team and technology instructors have been very successful in motivating and supporting our colleagues as they implement changes. After the culminating event this past Monday, we have renewed our commitment to move our school not only to address all of the accreditation report recommendations but much, much farther!

As I reflect on these past months, I'm reminded of Newton(*) when he wrote "If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants." I say this because one thing is clear: we wouldn't be where we are, without having joined PLP!

Here is our PLP Project Presentation:

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(*) Quote originally attributed to Bernard de Chartres

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Innovation in Learning: Student Voices

I often wonder what is the key to success on developing an innovative project?

This is my second year using wikis and my first using blogs in the Honors Physics class.  Some of my students have made insightful remarks in class and some of them have written on their blogs about the impact these digital tools have on their learning process. I decided to ask them some questions which lead to the production of the video below.

Here is the transcript of the video with relevant links on the wiki and their blogs:


Q: How do you see using the wiki for discussing problems a useful and innovative solution to get help and/or feedback with questions?
The wiki has undoubtedly been one of my best physics friends. It is a time-saver, giving me the option to ask a question when I have the time to ask it rather than having to go directly to the teacher wasting precious time.
It provides almost instant feedback to help us solve a problem or answer a question. Although Mrs. Gende always answers the questions, other students can also read and answer questions. Collaborating in the wiki has helped create a sense of unity in the classroom as we all work towards a common goal of better understanding physics concepts.
By helping other students with problems and asking for help on assignments I think that our class community has done a good job not only by supporting each other grasp concepts but also by explaining concepts in new ways.


Q: You have said that reflections are valuable. Please explain why you think they are helpful.
Reflections are very helpful to me especially before a big test. Reflections help me go over exactly what I have recently learned with a fine tooth comb. By this I mean in my reflection I do not try to generalize what I have learned or to any situation. I try to be as specific as I can, explaining how situations are different and when one thing might apply but in another case it wouldn't apply at all.
In every reflection I have to answer the question, "What you have found difficult is..." When answering this I have to be honest with myself. I can't lie, so as to make myself look like the next up and coming Einstein. In reality I usually find everything in that unit difficult at first. But as time goes on things clear up and I began to understand what the concepts are especially the more challenging ones. I force myself to reread the notes, look at the problems solved, and do extra research if needed.
This is especially good before a test, because I am reviewing not the problems and how to solve, but what to do when I am given certain information and asked to solve for a specific thing. This question allows me to ponder what I have found hard and use the reflection as a way to make it clear because I have to explain to the reader what I have not understood. This has also been a place where I remind myself of past mistakes.

Q: Why do you think it is helpful to write your reflection about what you learned in your own words rather than just summarizing the notes?
The first time I wrote a reflection, I summarized the class notes. I had a hard time figuring out how to put everything we had learned into my own words because I was trying to make it perfect. I then realized that summarizing the class notes wouldn't do any good for me or my peers who read my reflection. By writing the reflection in my own words has helped me to further understand the concepts and how they connect to the real world. The reflections help me to dig deeper into the topic and discover new ways to understand what we have learned more clearly and thoroughly.

Q: Have you seen a change in your problem-solving skills as a result of doing reflections?
My problem-solving skills have improved since I have done reflections. I think I have put more effort into understanding the material and the homework assignments. I have made my learning of the material rather than completion, a priority.


Q: You use a variety of digital tools in your projects. What motivates you to go the 'extra mile' with your creativity?
Creating a blog has helped me to learn the importance of preparation and presentation for school projects. Learning about different tools has also helped to enhance my artistic and creative capabilities.
By going the extra mile, I reach my potential with my creativity as well as my learning experience.
Pushing myself as far as I can go sets a good example for my peers as well as helping me create an awesome finished product.
I like the freedom of choosing my own tool over being told with specific guidelines what to use in a certain project. By having freedom, I can express my own individual creativity instead of the mandatory class guidelines which can often be bland and uninteresting.
Experiencing and learning with these tools, helps me by developing a diverse knowledge of how I can create the best possible project in any class with the help of online digital tools.

Q: Here are three questions for you: What sparks your interest in science, why do you think having 'open-ended' projects is better than 'assigned topics' and why do you think using digital tools is relevant to your learning?
Having grown up in a family that is very math and science oriented (both of my parents are engineers), I have always been interested in those fields of study (math and science) and have always tried to expand my knowledge as much as possible.
For me, being able to peruse personal interests within school activities is an amazing opportunity.
Having "open-ended" projects are better then "assigned topics" because they let a student relate a topic that is currently studied in a class to anything a student wants, whether it be a random connection that the student makes or a connection to something that they have learned about for a long time and have great interest in. Letting students make connections like these, at least for me, makes the whole process more interesting and enticing and can let a student truly understand the subject, not just memorize the facts.
For me, the use of digital tools is a great way to do projects because it promotes three different traits of learning: it promotes and develops computer skills, lets a student express a topic that is being studied, and also lets a student use their artistic side to design something. Whether it be a "Prezi," "Glogster," "Extranormal," or any other medium, letting the brain multitask seems to make the whole process more enjoyable and boost the whole learning experience.


Q: You did a great project about skateboarding. If it had been a regular project perhaps you would have gotten a bad grade, however, you had the opportunity to redo your project by revising your model. Explain why having people write comments on your blog was helpful.
A feature of blogs that I find the most helpful is the ability to write and receive comments. We do this on a regular basis by writing on our peers blogs.
For our last project, our class got involved in global collaboration with other schools in Texas, Arkansas and Hong Kong. Each student in the class had 4 high school senior partners that wrote constructive comments in our blogs.
I had a great experience with my project since I had the opportunity not only to improve my skateboard project but to learn first hand how real science is done.
Blog posting before and blog posting after

Student produced and directed. Credits at the end of the video. Enjoy!

Attribution keys photo: