Classroom of Distinction Interactive Forum Published 2006-09-27 under

I have just finished attending a wonderful day in San Diego with a group of educators sitting in mock classes "completely integrated technology environments".  This free event was put on by the Center for Digitial Education and was a chance for various sponsors to showcase their technology solutions in a real classroom setting.  Was this going to be like one big sales pitch - all day long?  To my delight - no.

The day started with an informal breakfast where we had the opportunity to meet with our fellow attendees.  I especially enjoyed speaking with two Judys (or is it Judies) from the Stephen S. Wise Temple and Schools in Los Angeles.  In addition to being very friendly, they pick up for me a cool three way highlighter (tchotchke) where one of the colors was white.  White?  What is that for?  After some experimenting, we discovered it is a highlighter eraser.  It will erase the highlight, not the original print.  HOW COOL IS THAT.  Thanks Trillion for supplying these. (They deserve a plug after providing such a neat freebe; plus they were really nice).

While I didn't realize it before or even after the welcome session started, the theme of the day was encouraging 1:1 computing with each session giving us students the opportunity to experience a class where we each had a computer and could engage in a rich classroom experience.  Intel was one of the sponsors of the event and it was encouraging to see how interested they were in getting teachers to understand the new mindset and strategy around providing students with this technology.  I had lunch with Nick Young from Intel who impressed me with his vision of 1:1 computing and its role in improving our learning environments.  The most important thing he mentioned was the importance of a solid strategy - an understanding of not only how to implement a 1:1 program but why.  What are you trying to accomplish?

Session #1 was Literacy where adverbs were the lesson of the day.  Smart Technologies and Toshiba were the sponsors and the lesson went well, but was too rushed - they tried to do too much in the little time allowed.  I especially liked how the technology allowed us to manually group (drag/drop) the various adverbs into categories and then share our groupings with others in the class. 

Session #2 was Professional Development and the sponsor was FutureKids.  I have no idea what we were covering as the presenter jump right in with "click here and then here" type of instructions without providing a framework nor motivation for what we were to be doing.  I really dislike technology workshops where the core of the instruction is just "click here" steps. 

Session #3 was Math and was by far the most exciting.  While my preference for this session may have been to do with my background as a math teacher, I really think it was the DyKnow software.  The session was about Base 10 vs Base 2 number systems and was designed so that we constructed our own definitions of the terms. The teacher wandered around the class with her Gateway tablet PC highlighting and annotating her presentation which was displayed at the front of the class and on our laptops (the synch feature was really cool).  We could take notes on our tablets right next to those that the teacher provided and everything is saved.  This is Notetaking 2.0;  give the students a template or basic set of notes and let them annotate or personalize them.  Students are no longer copy machines but are able to be more engaged and only need to add their thoughts to the notes. This is collaborative note taking where student's can share their notes and learn from other students' work.  In one activity, we solved a problem (with multiple steps) and the teacher was able to display not only selected students' answers on the screen, but could also animate the student's work so we could see how he/she got the answer.

After a fantastic lunch (kudos to the Town and Country Hotel), we had Session #4 - Science.  This class was the least innovative for me but did provide a quality experience.  Lab stations were setup complete with a laptop, instructional software from Pitsco and lab supplies.  In our teams, we listened to a lab module on fingerprinting which began with the history of fingerprinting, followed by some very interesting information about fingerprints (and how they are used to uniquely identify people).  Then the module when on and explained what we were going to be doing in the lab and provided step by step instructions complete with video or animated examples showing use how to perform the process.  While setting up lab stations in this fashion may not be new, I was impressed with the quality of the lesson.  My lab partner and I agreed, it was the only lesson where we learned something new.

The final class session was titled Strategy Planning, but it was more of a presentation.  We all convened back together and listen to Dr. Themy Sparangis, Chief Technology Officer from Los Angeles Unified School District.  If you have read any of the posts by those on my resources list, you would be very familiar with Themy's presentation.  However, I was impressed with his presentation style, sense of humor, and passion.  Furthermore, it was a light and motivating session, perfect for the end of the day.

In the discussion that followed, one attendee recognized that there is a wide gap among the teachers in their comfort with technology.  As another attendee pointed out, the bigger issue is not the technology but the content / curriculum.  It may be difficult to get some teachers to embrace technology to enhance their existing curriculum.  It is even harder to get teachers to explore technology and content that are central to a new learning model with new learning goals.

Another educator identified a significant hurtle to educational change in the form of textbook publishers.  His point was that if we let the textbook publishers control the content, change will be slow if at all as they are entrenched in their cash cow of paper based publishing.  We need to take control and dictate what we want in the form of content.  Especially, we need content that is consistent with the learning goals and technology that we want to utilize.

This was a fascinating concluding discussion - a great way to end the day...  But wait.  It was not the end.  The organizers could have thanked everyone and had their raffle, but instead we had a video conference that was at best anticlimactic. I am not sure why they chose to end such a wonderful day with such a boring presentation.  The distant presenter was not engaging and her failures were exasperated by the technology.  I have no idea what her goals were but they were not light.  The folks around me stirred uncomfortably as the presenter rambled on.  Finally, she was told that time was up which elicited a big applause from the audience. 

All in all, this was wonderful experience.  It was a great opportunity for sponsors to showcase their technology in a real learning environment.  Intel reveal a real understanding of 1:1 computing and for education in general.  And the Center for Digital Education deserve kudos for their coordination of this event.  I shared the sentiment of a couple of my fellow attendees: I feared that I was going to be bombarded with a sense that all of these vendors are trying to sell me something; instead I left with a feeling of excitement and that I actually learned something.

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