Monday, June 20, 2011

Profile Questions

I recently submitted a job application. The fields were limited to 1000 characters, so I had to truncate my answers. Below is the full text.

What is your greatest achievement to date and why do you regard it as such? *

Professionally my greatest achievement has been serving as the technology director for the NESA Virtual Science Fair (NVSF). This is a project that spans international schools around the world for students in Grade 5 and Middle School. The project uses pre-service science educators as mentors for science fair projects, effectively outsourcing the management of the science fair projects to these teachers in training. The pre-service teachers learn how to interact and guide Middle School science learners. As the technology director for this project, I’ve been responsible for training the local site coordinators, adapting the project to the available technologies, and troubleshooting the annual running of the project. This has involved originally setting up the project within the BlackBoard Learning Management System (LMS), adding wikis and blogs from a third party provider, and then transitioning the project this past year to the Moodle LMS. In collaboration with the local site coordinators, the templates used in the project have been continually reviewed and revised so that the technology is making life easier for the classroom teachers, and they are more easily able to manage the interactions between their students and their students’ mentors. I believe in this project because student learning is improved from the regular attention of one pre-service teacher, and it allows teachers to see an accessible and beneficial use of technology. The technology provides an easy entry pathway for teachers that improves student learning. Participating in this project has continually pushed me to learn and explore new things, finding the limits of different LMS’s, finding new ways to instruct teachers (both in person, and on-line video tutorials), and mastering new technologies like the web-based programming languages of php and Zoho’s Deluge. Like my work as a technology integrator it has been about adapting the right technology to improve student learning, rather than adapting technology for its own sake. The technology director of the NVSF is largely a background role, but it has been a key component of the project’s ongoing success.

My greatest personal achievement is my fifteen-year (and counting) marriage, and the two children that we are currently raising. Both are very much works in progress that require daily attention, but they are ultimately that which counts the most in my life.

Describe yourself in the words of an imaginary, fair and impartial critic. *

I believe in the nobility of the teaching profession. I believe in giving students as many opportunities as possible to demonstrate their understanding of the material. I prefer hands on experimentation to direct instruction. I believe in mastery learning so my assessments don’t always fall easily into summative and formative categories. I am passionate about students using technology in novel ways that will allow them to showcase their mastery of content. I am always eager to explore new technologies and their applications to education. I am patient with people who do not possess the same aptitude towards technology that I have. If a teacher is willing to try something new, I will work hard to make sure that they encounter success in adopting a new technological skill to their repertoire.

I listen to teachers’ needs, and try to collaboratively help them craft a solution that will help them simplify their processes. For example I worked extensively this past year with a Spanish teacher to migrate rote assessments of vocabulary and grammar to an online format. This automated her grading and allowed her to spend more time developing in depth assessments of skills that were higher on Bloom’s taxonomy than that of recall. Her successes spread to the rest of the Spanish department as they all started to use these on-line quizzes as formative assessments. This was applicable to second language learning, but is less so to the sciences or even social sciences.

I work hard on providing meaningful professional development for the colleagues with whom I am privileged to work. I survey my colleagues to determine their needs and gaps and work to develop professional development opportunities that will meet their needs and the needs of the institution as mandated by the administration. This past year it took the form of adopting a new LMS in the form of Moodle and ensuring all of our faculty members possessed certain minimum competencies.

I believe that al students need to have opportunities to demonstrate their understandings. In the on-line course that I’ve taught with the Virtual High School this has meant that I have been flexible with students who have been travelling or even missed deadlines. I’ve been flexible and allowed the students enough chances to prove that they can master the material. This has even meant accepting work from students over the summer vacation, and then revising the student’s grade.

Why are you interested in a position with the Higher Colleges of Technology? (If you are an overseas applicant, why are you considering a career move to the Middle East, and to the United Arab Emirates in particular?) *

I am interested in contributing to teacher development in a more formalized role. As a technology integrator I currently work with teachers to help them use technology to implement their curricula. Part of that role is a responsibility for professional development. I would like to help shape pre-service teachers to better equip them to select and use the best technology to meet their learners’ needs. I believe that technology is an amplifier. It makes good teaching exceptional, but it can also make bad teaching horrendous. Having lived in the Middle East for 13 years, I believe that the UAE is poised to transform its educational system beyond rote learning to life-long learning.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Intrinsic Motivation

Dan Pink's talk about motivation from is fantastic. I'm trying to work out what it means for teaching. The basic idea is that providing extrinsic rewards works only when there is a clearly defined task. When the task requires some lateral thinking, extrinsic rewards hinder the accomplishment of the task.

Alan Lurie is also writing about motivation in his article. Both Pink and Lurie see intrinsic motivation arising from autonomy, mastery and purpose. All of which are lacking in the current educational model. Students have little autonomy. Lot's of mastery and little purpose. What would a model of autonomy look like in a school? Certainly not like the corporate environments described in this Slate article. Autonomy would look a lot like the concept of education by appointment. It would look a lot like gifted education, where students discover their passions and run with them.

Mastery is something that we may or may not do a good job with in education. Open source software and blogging communities are both examples of communities where mastery, individual thought, and contributions to moving the project forward are valued. How can we bring these sorts of communities into our classrooms where students are competing to show off their mastery of skills, concepts and attitudes?

The assistant principal in our high school is looking at this video. It will be interesting to see if he brings this video or these ideas into the staff meetings.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Teaching Naked

Wow!  I've been mulling over the idea of teaching naked, the last couple of days since I first saw this posting on Dean Sharski's blog.  My initial thoughts were wait a second.  Content is supposed to be what we're all about in schools.  Then Jose Bowen turned up again on the NPR all tech considered podcast, and I started to more fully understand his ideas about turning learning around.  He contends taht students come to class without any understanding of the subject, listen to a lecture, study like crazy and try to show that they understand.  Instead, he proposes a model where students listen to the lecture ahead of class, take a quiz or some other assessment to show that they listened to the material, and then discuss and explore the content in class.  As he states in the video above, most lectures last for 48 minutes and then have 2 minutes of questions, this way he can offer the same content and fifty minutes of questions.  To me these are powerful ideas.  I've already shared them with our high school faculty.  Several of the teachers are interested in giving it a try.

Then I drilled into Jose Bowen's site a little and found a set of podcasts that serve as the listening ahead of class for hs hstory of jazz course.  I listened to the bop and hard bop podcasts. I was struck by the fact that at the beginning of this podcast, he launches in right away noting that any categories are provisional, and this is just one way to organize and categorize the whole movement of Hard Bop.  Reminded me right away of David Weinberger and Everything is Miscellaneous. Very interesting ideas.  Even Bowen's old courses at Georgetown look like they built on diverse ideas. Anyone who can incorporate Wagner into a course on politics and culture has a lot of interesting thoughts.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Start of School - More

Tomorrow is the big day.  Summer vacation is over. Yesterday a colleague sent out a list of software items to cover during the extra time teachers will have during Ramadan. (UAE Ministry of Education guidelines have our school opening later and ending earlier for those students who are fasting [refraining from eating or drinking during the day, but often staying up late at night]).  The list reproduced below, bothered me.  At first I could not figure out why.  Then I realized it was just a list of software.  It was not addressing the "so what?" question.  If we are to be serious about integrating technology in meaningful ways, the technology needs to solve a problem for teachers in some way.

Please note that these topics are not all-inclusive. Attendants will bring questions.
First Class
  • Answer any questions about FC attendees may have
  • Web publishing
  • Mailbox Rules. Blocking Spam
  • Organizing your mailbox
  • Creating and managing Conferences and the users
  • Other minor items such as: Changing icons, Creating email templates, Recording your voice
  • Answer any questions about PowerTeacher attendees may have
  • Logging in, changing passwords
  • Gradebook setup. Straight points, Weighting and Standards
  • Printing reports
  • Creating class groups
  • Exporting gradebooks as spreadsheets
  • Comments for Assignments and Students (Comment Banks)
Directory Server
  • Logging in
  • Moving files around (Drop Box)
  • Using the Public web publishing folder
ACS Services/Software/Hardware
  • Subscription Services that ACS offers including: Library Subscription Services, Unitedstreaming, Brainpop, Nettrekker, Turnitin, Wordpress MU, MyAccess, etc. (exact dates/locations TBA)
  • OpenOffice (exact dates/locations TBA)
  • Promethean Interactive Whiteboards (exact dates/locations TBA)
  • Tinkerplots (exact dates/locations TBA)
  • Google Docs (exact dates/locations TBA)
  • Video and Still Camera usage (exact dates/locations TBA)
My suggestion was to reorganize the list according to problems that teachers might be having:
How do I share stuff with other teachers and students?
- Directory server
- FC web publishing
- FC folders

How can I communicate more effectively with parents, students, colleagues and admin?

How do I do my grades and reporting?

How do I create my class help page?
- FC web publishing

How can my students collaborate on documents?
-Google docs
- Word Press MU

How do I do ordering?

How can my students keep a reflective journal?
-Word press MU

How can I handle documents in different fomats?
-Open Office
-iWork tools

How can I take, organize, and share pictures of class activities?
-digital cameras
- directory server

How can I take, edit and share video?
-digital video cameras

How can my students improve their writing?

How can I pre-record and record my visuals for class
-Promethean white board

How can I share text, and artifacts, visual activities with my class?
-document camera

How do I prevent plagiarism in my classes?

What video libraries are available for my class?
-United Streaming

How do I create quick interactive surveys of what my students have learned?

This seemed like a better way to focus on teacher and student needs.  I also thought it would improve buy-in from the teachers.  My colleagues agreed with me, but it missed going out to the new hires, who got he original version.  The good news is that the conversation has already started to shift. I'm confident next time around we'll all be thinking about how to solve teachers' problems, instead of just giving them some tools that may be useful.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Going back to school

Summer vacation is almost over. It's back to school the day after tomorrow.  Four days of in-service and then the kids start.  I've been thinking about what I'd like to focus on this year.  More and more its' coming back to the idea of presentations.

The question is how to work with teachers to improve the presentations that their students are doing.  Step one in this journey is going to be to approach the administration and ask for their support in improving student presentations and what that those might look like. 

We're going to be working within a Ramadan schedule which means late starts and early dismissals.  It also creates a lot of space for working with teachers on ther tech skills.  One of my colleagues sent out a proposed list of topics.  My biggest concern is that this list was all focused on different technology tools.  I don't think that there will be much uptake in the presentations offered. I think in a school, we have to be focused on what problems the students and teachers are having and what technological solutions can make their lives easier.  In this case, the curricular problem is powerpointlessness.  Too many presentations in school are just bullets and talking points.  I think the introducations to wikis and blogs also needs to framed similarly, otherwise, no one will use them.

The tie in for the admins is that this all fits very much into our school's mission of 21st century skills ( Communication and Collaboration), and within the ISTE NETS standard 2b of "communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats." It is cross curricular, and can be used in any subject. It also fits with 6b "select and use applications effectively and productively." and 6d "transfer current knowledge to learning of new technologies."

Garr Reynolds
also writes about Pecha-kucha, the Japanese movement of 20 slides each for 20 seconds (6 minutes 40 seconds in total).  I might try running this as a club and see if I can get seven or eight students to prepare presentations and then have a competition of sorts one evening with the admins, and maybe some external people as judges. 

These two prongs will hopefully help improve our students' ability to produce effective presentations.  This is a skill that will stand them in good stead long after they graduate

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

High Noon

I just finished reading Jean Francois Rischard's book, High Noon: 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to solve them. I was very pleased to see global poverty as one of his main underlying themes.  Knowing that such passionate and intelligent people are running our world institutions is very heartening. 

Rischard's main thesis is that two forces are shaping our future.  One is the demographic explosion, with the world's population forecast to reach 8 billion by 2025. Rischard sees no good in any of the implications of population growth.  However, the other force, that of the New World Economy, which basically finds new ways to do everything, abounds with opportunities.

Others have blogged about his list of twenty global problems, so I won't reiterate the list here.  As an expat living abroad in what is basically a tax free haven, I am not fond of the idea of the Canadian government instituting worldwide taxation.  I am not the American model of wordwide taxation is particularly effective.  Currently the foreign earned income exclusion is currently set at $87, 600.00, and $18.4 billion dollars claimed as exclusions, which is about half of what US citizens earn abroad.

Rischard proposes two possible solutions.  One is for people to come together in global issues networks (GIN) around each of these twenty issues. (he does acknowledge that there may be additional issues).  Each GIN would enlist members from governments, business, and NGO's. Essentially, each GIN would draft benchmarks and then score each country with respect to the progress they were making towards meeting that benchmark.  His alternative solution is to use the G7 structure and add additional countries to create "G20's" made of responible ministers around each of the 20 issues.  He sees this solution as less desirable as it's track record so far has not demonstrated that it has the agility and flexibility needed to address these issues in a timely manner.

This book was written seven years ago.  Rischard was right on the money when he wrote that global financial architecture was an issue that needed a global regulatory approach.  However, we are now a third of the way through Rischard's twenty year timetable.  While reading the book, I was thinking how depressing for him, none of the solutions he proposes have been taken up.  Neither the Global Issues Networks, nor the G20 models.  The urgency around these issues, even global issues has not gained traction.

Rischard also displays a great openness to new ideas.  At the conclusion of he book, he asks for reader input at his website  Unfortunately, this domain has expired and is now parked, so there is no way to evaluate the quality of responses he received.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Summer Camp (School)

This summer, for the first time in a long time, I took a summer job.  The job manifested itself at the end of teh school year in the form of teaching an English summer camp at a local university working with high school students.  Like everything in the UAE, the summer camp was divided along gender lines.  I was one of two males working at the girls' camp.  I further lucked out by being assigned as the activities teacher.  The way the camp functioned was that there were two teachers, one for activities and one for English assigned to two groups of students.  Halfway through the day, the groups would alternate which teacher they were working with.  I got a great teaching partner, and can't say enough good things about her.

This was my first intensive interaction with Emiratis.  Other than seeing Emiratis in the store or on the roads, it is rare that living in my diplomatic bubble, have occasion to interact very much with the local population.  I have to admit, going into this these covered girls were a complete mystery to me.  Had I bee assigned to the boys camp, I know that football (soccer) and cars would have gone a long way.  These covered girls though I had no idea what interested and motivated them.  It turns out that mystery cut both ways.  they didn't know quite what to make of me either, white Western male and all.  I don't think many of them had ever had a male teacher before. I was surprised by how unwordly these girls were.  Few had any idea of who Benazair Bhutto was, or even Roger Federer. I was struck by how little these girls had travelled.  Mistakenly, I thought that all Emiratis were extremely well off and well travelled.  Most of the girls had been to Saudi Arabi for a non-Eid pilgramage to Mecca called an Umrah. The thing that was most shocking was that about a third of the girls were already engaged.  One of teh girls when discussing future career plans didn't even attempt to envisage a career.  She just pinted to her ring finger and said "married."

As the activities teacher, I had no job description.  It became quite clear early on that these students need help developing oral fluency.  I started each class with a song.  Fortunately I found a great web site that helped refresh my memory for camp songs from my time at Opemikon as a camper, lifeguard and leader.  The curriculum documents provided by the University were not very useful.  From the beginning I found that I had to dig a lot deeper.  This site was a great resource, as was this one. The problem was that my classes jumped around a fair bit.  I was up the night before struggling to find activities to fill my five hours the next day.  It all was a little disjointed.  If I do this again next year, I'll try and lay these out thematically better, but such is life when you're hired the week before to fill a slot.

The "camp" (really an ESL summer school) did not make good use of the feedback from and assessments of the students.  Right away in the first day of camp, they gave the students a placement test.  These results were never shared with the teachers.  We had no way of knowing what strengths and weaknesses these students possessed. Day 4 had the students writing another assessment.  the was to be a pre and post test to show value added by the camp.  Again these results were not shared with the instructors.  At the ends of weeks 2 and 3, student surveys were given out about how well the instructors were addressing the students' needs.  Again these results were not shared with the instructors.  At the beginning of the third week , I was observed.  I have still not yet seen the write-up of that observation.  All of these feedback loops had the potential to help make my teaching and the way I related to the students better, yet none were used. I find that to be a great pity.  On the whole though, working at the summer camp was a great experience, that I hope to repeat again next year.