Thursday, July 15, 2004

We have converted to Word Press

If you have taken a look at this blog, or the Minot Public Schools’ Blog before today, you should notice a change. We have made the conversion from pMachine to Word Press. All the old posts have been manually re-entered, so the dates may be different.

After struggling with pMachine and getting a price quote on the cost of Moveable Type, we narrowed our search down to Manilla and Word Press. Manilla looked good, came with good recommendations from people I talked to at NECC, is inexpensive for schools (aound $300 for unlimited blogs), but it does not run on a Linux server.

After reading reviews of Word Press, we decided to install it and see what we thought. It was the easiest install of any of the blog applications we looked at, easy to use, and since it is open source it has good support. The current version requires a seperate install for each blog, but that is supposed to change this fall.

The frustrating part of pMachine was that each seperate blog still logged into the same administrator page, and someone could post to any of the blogs. Wouldn’t work very well with students. We could not find any way to set up an RSS feed for any of the secondary blogs, just for the main administrators blog, which we were using for the Minot Public Schools’ Blog.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Integration of technology doesn’t work in labs

This was a question posted to the EDTECH listserv and my response to that question.

Q. What techniques are you finding most effective with regards to technology integration / communication within your schools and districts? By this I mean how do you gather information and plan lessons that integrate technology in meaningful ways?

A. Please – no flames for what I am about to say…
You can’t integrate technology in a lab setting where the students only go to the lab once per week for an hour or less.

You can’t integrate technology in a setting where the teachers send the students to a lab to “do technology” and then get them back again to teacher the regular curriculum.
Sorry, it doesn’t happen and research articles have backed this up.

That is why we have gone away from a lab approach at the elementary and middle schools and have instead taken the technology into the classroom.

We have five full time “Curriculum Technology Partners” to serve our 12 elementary schools. We have three full time “Technology Facilitators” that support the middle schools. They are teachers who were chosen/hired because of their curriculum knowledge and who had demonstrated innovation in the classroom, not because of their technology knowledge. We taught them the technology skills they needed.

The “partners” are not troubleshooters, we have others that do that job. The “facilitators” have a dual role, they also serve as troubleshooters at the middle schools. All are certified teachers.
They visit with the classroom teachers, find out what they are planning on teaching the next few weeks (Curriculum), and together they discuss how technology can be used to enrich the lesson. The “partner” either models the lesson or is there to support the classroom teacher in the implementation of the lesson. Later they discuss how it went and make plans to improve it for next year or start planning another lesson.

The “partners” and “facilitators” have a bag full of tools to suggest to the classroom teachers. Internet sites, Kid Pix, Hyperstudio, eZedia, AppleWorks, PowerPoint, Keynote, iTunes, iPhoto, digital cameras, digital video, iMovie, Garage Band, Inspiration, Nettrekker, United Streaming, Atomic Learning, School Center, etc. Friday afternoons is reserved for their training (by myself and others, sometimes an expert brought into the district) and planning.

They concentrate on the day to day use of technology, not big projects and not something that just happens one day a week for an hour.

I have challenged our Curriculum Technology Partners with one statement – “If we were not able to support this program again next year, would the classroom teacher continue using technology in their day to day teaching?”

And ask yourself, if they were to discontinue the lab or the “lab teacher” would there be any technology integration taking place in your school?
Just think about it.

Again… please no flames, my feelings are easily hurt

Teachers maintain web pages using School Center

School Center is a simple solution for maintaining school and classroom web sites. It is one of the best technology investments we have made in our district. Last year we purchased it for our three middle schools as part of their school improvement process. By the end of the year it was in use in all 19 of our schools because of the “me too” effect. I didn’t force it on anyone, they asked for it. All classroom teachers in our district now have a classroom web site (although some maintain theirs better than others).

School Center is template driven so teachers don’t need to know anything about html or Dreamweaver for making web pages. We had tried for years to get teachers to use Claris Homepage or Dreamweaver to maintain web pages. Only a handfull did so. Now every teacher in our district has a classroom web page (but some use it better than others.
We did have someone maintain the athletic pages, and we took care of the district pages. (I have four high school students who take care of the district pages.) We had also done the main site for each school at the district level (the same four student webmasters). Now we only worry about the district info.

We still maintain our district information on the www server . The School Center server is on our 4th web server – www4 . The district page on this server states that this is not the official district page. However,all but one school maintains their school web site on it and we are moving them over this spring.

We are using online grading through School Center at four secondary schools and two elementary schools. Easy Grade Pro is the grading software supported by School Center.Teachers simply save their backup to their hard drive, log into School Center, and click on a button to import their grades. We understand that School Center and Easy Grade Pro are working together to make this a one step process – in Easy Grade Pro there will be an option to “Save to School Center” and they will be done.
We can also create RSS feeds from our calendars. Go to the main district web site and click on one of the calendars – the info is generated from an RSS feed from the School Center calendar. That is now the only place we maintain school calendars.

One of the better school sites is Jim Hill Middle School. Take a look at their site, including their Character Counts , Newsletter, and School Forms as well as the teacher’s assignment pages and other options.

On the Erik Ramstad Middle School web site the picture of a staff member changes each time you load the page. You can get to some other schools by going to /dakota, /ba, /sunny, etc. or go to our page that lists all the schools (still maintained on the district server but soon to be moved to School Center). – Note that this page is generated from a database using php, it is not a static html page.
A few of the better classroom web sites are Mrs. Sinjem (member of the physical education department at Jim Hill) , Mr. Hendrickson (5th grade at Dakota), Mrs. Dickerson (also at Dakota)
A few of the better athletic web sites are Minot High School Boys Swimming, Minot High Schools Girls Swimming, Minot High School Boys Track, Girls Volleyball, Jim Hill Middle School Girls Volleyball, Jim Hill Newsletter.

Q. How long have you had SchoolCenter up and running in your district?
A. We just finished our second school year, but the first year many schools didn’t come online until the second semester.
A. We are in our second year.

Q. Do you use Erate funds to help pay for the service?
A. No. We purchased the server from School Center as we do not allow student info to be hosted outside our network. e-rate only applies if they host the web site for you.

Q. How have you seen the use by teachers (creating and maintaining web sites) change?
A. All teachers, at least at the secondary level, are expected to post assignments to their pages weekly. Many secondary teachers are using Easy Grade Pro and School Center to post daily grades (with strong password protection) for the students and parents to view. All teachers K-12 are expected to have at least their credentials showing they are highly qualified on their web page.

Q. Do you use it for administrative uses? What uses?
A. Yes. Calendars, school information, etc.

Q. What are the programs strengths? Weaknesses?
A. Many strengths, most of all it’s ease of use. Can’t think of any negatives, as long as you understand that it is meant to be easy for average teachers to use and not for the “techies” that want to work with java and php.

Q. Has SchoolCenter’s offered prompt and competent technical support services?
A. They have offered the best support of any company I have ever dealt with. They have listened to our suggestions and then implemented them, sometimes within a month.

Q. Were there a lot of folks maintaining webpages before you moved to SchoolCenter or has that number increased significantly since you purchased the product?

A. We had a handful maintainging web pages, a few of which were on free services hosted by .com companies. We felt that student information should not be kept on servers outside of our school district. Now we have over 500 teachers with web sites (not just web pages).

Q. What kind of training and support do you have in place for staff?
A. We did about two hours with each teacher through our Curriculum Technology Partners and staff development offerings. We did more one on one with the laggerts and also the ones on the cutting edge, but really not much after the initial two hours. We did most of that by getting 1/2 day release during a school day so we got all the teachers.

We still have a ways to go to get all teachers doing a good job, but we would have never been able to come close to this using any other tool.

Craig Nansen

Minot Public Schools