Monday, May 3, 2010

Blueprint for Educational Excellence

Teaching is about passion, creativity, and caring about the well-being and happiness of your students. Through the keynote speakers and workshops available at the Blueprint for Education Excellence National Institute, this message was clear. While the Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence organization has a fantastic reputation for encouraging teachers to impart 21st Century skills alongside their content, this institute seemed to cement that mission in a real an tangible way. Each of the workshops I attended taught me something different and relevant in my classroom, and yet all of them can be used in conjunction with one another to produce something better. Here are a few examples:

SMART Toolkit 2.0 Activities and Anti-Bullying Culture
On Friday I attended two sessions that are seemingly unrelated. In the morning Alan Jacobson, from the Riverside Trauma Center, hosted a lecture and discussion on Cyber Bullying. In the afternoon I was fortunate enough to be a part of a session about the SMART Toolkit 2.0 suite of software hosted by Shayla Rexrode from SMART Technologies.

Alan discussed the various types of bullying that are possible through Web 2.0 tools, like Facebook and Twitter. Shayla taught us about some fantastic Activities and Games in the Toolkit 2.0 suite we can use with our students.

How are these two workshops related?
In all five of my classes I have created and run entire lessons based on the SMART Toolkit 2.0 Activities. EVERY student in EVERY class I have got an opportunity to go up to the SMART Board and play one of the games. Activities ranged from Anagrams to Word Biz to Pairs to Sentence Arrange and many more. Every time a new student was at the screen, the rest of the class shouted encouragement and clues from their seats. Some had a hard time staying in their seats! While there was no mention of cyber bullying the SMART Toolkit 2.0 session, the positive peer feedback and competitive spirit the games created in my classroom seemed to be just the right kind of anti-bullying environment that Alan was hinting at. While it did take a little preparation time, all I did was sit back for the 50 minute class period and watch the kids make sure everyone had a turn, encourage each other to succeed, and clap enthusiastically for their classmates when they beat the games. The class periods in which I implemented the SMART Activities rank with some of the most fun I have ever had as a teacher. The classes really came together as peer groups, too.

SMART Board Games and MY Presentation on Weebly
On Thursday afternoon I presented a 90 minute workshop (click the link above to see the resources) on how I have used Weebly in my classroom and in professional development settings during the 2009-2010 school year. There were a few technical difficulties, but I got through it. The session attendees were incredibly patient when our bandwidth capacity was insufficient to handle the number of people log in on to try Weebly, a Web 2.0 tool, but the real credit goes to the four 9th graders who were there to help me with my presentation. Kylee, Scott, Mike, and Eric took my very loose instructions and delivered with a BANG! They impressed me with their clear reflections of how they used Weebly to blog or publish their research. And, they impressed the session attendees (teachers and administrators from districts nationwide) with the technical assistance they provided when the experimenting-with-the-tool phase on the workshop kicked in.

On a seemingly unrelated note, I attended an early bird session with Jennifer Webster about SMART Board Games that she plays every day in her classroom. While her sound effects and jeopardy-style games were great, the moment that had the most impact on me was when she took both fists and pounded as hard as she could on the SMART Board in the front of the computer lab. The noise that resulted was loud, but she yelled over it, "You have to let the kids touch the SMART Board. They can't hurt it!" A light bulb went on in my head at that moment. Whenever I have a student at the SMART Board, I remind them it is a tool, not a toy, and that they should touch it carefully. Inevitably this results in students who barely brush the screen with their fingers and have trouble getting elements to move or react to their touch.

How are these two workshops related?
While the attendees were arriving at my workshop, seating themselves at a laptop, and getting acquainted, the students were at the SMART Board at the front of the room drawing daisies and playing with the SMART Notebook software. My gut reaction was to tell the to be careful, but I had asked them to help me present that day because they are some of my best and brightest. In a few moments they would exhibit exemplary intelligence and perception for an intimidating audience, but at that moment they were a bunch of kids having fun. And, as Jen said in her SMART Games session, they can't hurt it. So I let them play. This translated to a more relaxing and fun experience later when I let the kids play the SMART Toolkit 2.0 Activities in class too! If they can't hurt the Board, I can relax and let them get as enthusiastic about the game as they want.

The Blueprint for Educational Excellence Institute helped to re-ignite my passion for teaching, my creativity when designing lesson plans, and helped my students have more fun!