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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Top Tips for Technology Teachers: The NECC Take-Away

Diane Demee-Benoit

Former Director of Outreach at Edutopia

I'm here in sunny San Diego at the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC). Didn't spend much time staffing the Edutopia booth this year because a number of us Edutopia.org bloggers have been attending sessions and meetings. Over the next few weeks you'll see our postings about what we learned, as well as our take on the highlights of the exhibit hall.

First impressions: two of the hot topics this year were podcasting and digital storytelling. Sessions on these topics far outnumbered the sessions from last year's favorite topic -- online learning.

On Wednesday morning, I attended an entertaining and informative standing-room-only session presented by Allan Dunn (Oregon City School District) and Chris Hayden (Auckland Grammar School, in New Zealand). Besides being stand-up comedians, which is a good thing, given their 8:30 a.m. time slot the day after a late-night Fourth of July fireworks show, Allan and Chris know what they're talking about.

I vetted this with the people sitting next to me. According to Mary Elmore, from Dewey Public Schools, in Dewey, Oklahoma, though Allan and Chris didn't present any groundbreaking news, their presentation did help many attendees validate their own assumptions. For Barbara Mehaffey, from Up the Grove Elementary School, in LaBelle, Florida, the presenters helped her evaluate her own presentation skills as a teacher developer: "It gives me some things to think about. It was thought provoking and entertaining. As a trainer, I looked at the way they used humor and brought in multimedia."

I didn't take extensive notes during this session but here are some random thoughts I jotted down. Full descriptions are available on the Top Tips 4 Tech Teachers site. (Do visit the site because it has lots of links and funny video clips showed during the session that illustrate technology-integration points. You'll be sorry if you miss the videos!)

  • The bottom line: curriculum and learning, not administrative efficiency, should be the driving force for change. Allan and Chris are concerned about the current focus on technology for administrative efficiency and the movement away from creativity. (Note the cover story on a recent issue of District Administrator.)
  • Wireless is here -- get on it!
  • Color laser printers and/or wax-based printers are not an option. They are getting cheaper and are here to stay. Think color.
  • Back up! Get all staff and students to back up. Get flash drives, which are getting cheaper.
  • Schedule regular staff-training opportunities: Allan's Oregon district requires short technology in-service training sessions at every staff meeting. They spend one-third of their technology budget on staff training (90 percent for food!), one-third on software, and one-third on hardware.
  • Be a learner yourself and a model for others.
  • Remember KISS ("Keep it simple, stupid"). Allan and Chris have a two-step rule on technology instructions for staff (and a five-step rule for students who are digital natives!). If there are too many steps, people get confused.
  • Create a CD-ROM/DVD digital media kit and distribute to teachers for use with their classes. The kit includes images, poetry, other content files that provide the ingredients for simple stories or movies. (Kids can create a movie in forty minutes!) For language arts, the kids choose a poem and annotate them with pictures and sound—think of images and sound that make the poem come alive. This works great with teenage boys who don't like poetry.
  • Software is becoming more intuitive; it's easier to work with, so you can focus on ideas instead.
  • Follow up any meeting with a confirming email on the main points agreed on.
  • There is lots of free software these days. You pay only for advanced features. Free used to mean lousy, badly designed software. Today, it's different.
  • Use students as "tech-sperts"—choose reliable students. Chris's school uses twenty students as campus IT experts.
  • Learn from your students what the school should be implementing as far as technology. They are often better informed than technology consultants.
  • Be sure to include media literacy in your plan. When you send kids to the Internet, can they critically assess the validity of information on various Web sites? Is the information validated by qualified people? Who wrote it? Whose site is it?

Here is an annotated list of some of the resources mentioned in the presentation:

ArtPad: a free online paint tool that is great for helping younger students learn the basics.

ArtRage2: a free painting package; a full version can be purchased.

FindSounds: a free site where you can search the Web for sound effects and musical-instrument samples.

ComicLife: a great presentation and digital-storytelling tool that allows students to take their digital photos and control layout and add speech balloons, captions, and special effects. It's about $500 for a district license.

Google Earth: great for taking maps and satellite images and overlaying them on street maps to show scale.

Diane Demee-Benoit

Former Director of Outreach at Edutopia
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