Tag Archive: Instructional Technology

UTC12 Retrospective


This past week I participated in the Upstate Technology Conference, put on by the Greenville County School District.  UTC has been going on for many years now, but this is the first time I’ve participated.  This is time of year I’m either taking a vacation, or heading to the ISTE conference, or I’m swamped with computer upgrades.  This year I made a point of attending by submitting several proposals for presentations.

Actually, I submitted proposals for four topics – Google Earth, Aviary.com, Google Apps, and one on Making Music on Your iPad.  I figured they would select one or two.  They picked all four, and even had me doing the music session twice.  I was a bit surprised.  I would be presenting in five out of the eight available concurrent sessions – one on Tuesday and four on Wednesday.  I wasn’t going to have time to visit any of the other sessions.

The conference was held at Wade Hampton High School, just a hop and a skip from my house.  I arrived early Tuesday to check in and scout out my room.  I had the first session open, so I sat in on Cathy Jo Nelson’s presentation on using and manipulating images.  She had some great ideas, as usual. (more…)

Facebook and Online Responsibility


The problems surrounding teachers using Facebook seem to be getting more and more complex. I’ve written before about how teacher’s private use of Facebook can impact their jobs, whether justly or unjustly. The issue that was brought up recently involves teachers’ use of Facebook on private mobile devices during school hours.

This is a tricky issue. We want teachers to be doing what they are paid to do – teach their classes and monitor their students. But how do you keep this in check?

We have Facebook blocked in our district because of some of the discipline issues is creates with students. It was suggested that we consider adding restrictions on Facebook usage on private mobile devices to our Acceptable Use Policy. I flatly disagreed with that. Our AUP regulates acceptable use of district-owned equipment and services, not private equipment. I don’t think should or legally could use a policy written for district equipment to be applied to private equipment. (more…)

SCETV Workshops Spring 2010


The time-lapse video above gives some indication of the frenetic pace I’ve been hitting this week. Several months ago I agree to once again do my Google Earth workshops for the SCETV Technology Conference. Had I known how hectic these past two weeks were going to be even without the conference, I might have reconsidered. However, despite PASS testing, 135th day counts, and other pressing needs in Spartanburg Five, I headed on down for the Wednesday – Friday sessions.

As I had done last year, I’m presenting two different sessions. The first is a basic introduction to Google Earth. The teachers get some time just to become familiar with the program’s controls and navigation, and I give them some suggestions for using it in their classrooms. The second session is more in-depth. I cover ways that Google Earth can be used to create highly interactive lessons buy using embedded media. I tend to get lots of oohs and ahs with that session because there is some really cool stuff you can do.

Wednesday we had a luncheon and were joined by several representatives from Discovery Education. Phillipe Cousteau, grandson of Jaques Cousteau, was our keynote speaker. In the evening the Discovery Educators Network (DEN) STAR members had a dinner at the SCETV studios, and we were again joined by Phillipe Cousteau. He spoke about some of his current environmental education endeavors.

DEN Star Educators DinnerPhillipe Cousteau addresses the DEN groupDEN Star Educators at SCETV (more…)

Teachers and Facebook



Yesterday there was an article in the Greenville News about development of a policy for teacher use of Facebook. The article stated that the board was holding off on approval of the policy because some members had raised “ethical, legal and technical questions.”    The new policy would put into place a procedure for dismissing teachers for improper behavior in social networking sites.

According to the policy,  teachers €œshould recognize that they are being continuously observed by students, other employees, parents, and community members, and that their actions and demeanor may impair their effectiveness as an employee.€  It goes on to state the following:

The personal life of an employee including the employee’s personal use of non-district issued electronic equipment outside of working hours (such as through social networking sites and personal portrayal on the Internet), will be the concern of and warrant the attention of the board if it impairs the employee’s ability to be an effective teacher, effectively perform his/her job responsibilities, or if it violates local, state, or federal law or contractual agreements.

That phrase “impairs the employee’s ability to be an effective teacher” is the bit that gets me.  It was used by one of my counterparts in another district over a lunch discussion about this same issue.  The phrase is overly broad, and open to interpretation.  If a one parent takes offense at something I’ve posted, does that meet the criteria?  I have experienced first hand some of these dangers, and I know that it’s possible to make the wrong decision and wreck someone’s career for no reason.

I’m not talking about things that are obviously wrong, such as drug use or illegal activities.  I’m talking about teachers getting in trouble for normal adult activity.  Take, for example, the case of Ashley Payne.  The Appalachee High School teacher from Winder, Georgia posted the following photo on Facebook…

The photo was taken while Payne was on vacation and posted on a supposedly private portion of Facebook.  Elsewhere on her site she mentioned “Going to Bitch BINGO,” the name of a game played at an Atlanta restaurant.  A parent complained, and this was enough to get her fired – one photo of the teacher with a beer in her hand while on vacation and one word that caused offense.

Last year my Facebook profile photo was my infamous “Santa Martini” photo…

Santa Martini

I was told by another one of my counterparts that I would have been fired in her district.  The “effectiveness as an employee” clause would have been invoked.  I’m sure that I’ve used language just as offensive on this blog as the unfortunate teacher above used.  Fortunately, no one has said anything about this blog or the photo as to either being amiss or diminishing my ability to teach.

However, my situation is a bit different.  As a district administrator I’m less likely to have a kid who’s curious about their teacher Google me.  Children (and parents) are naturally interested in their teachers, and want to find out about them.  And sometimes it can have unfortunate consequences.

Here’s another example of leaping to conclusions – a case in which I was directly involved, and I was able to prevent some problems.  I received a complaint about that a teacher had inappropriate material on his Facebook page.  This was a well-respected, veteran teacher, and I had a hard time believing this to be true.  I checked out the page (which was NOT set to private), and there was a picture of a young lady, a student, with her skirt hiked up indecently high and showing her legs with colorful stockings.

On the face of it, this was incriminating.  However, there was more to the story.  The young lady was proud of her silly, colorful stockings and was showing them off for one of her friends.  The friend took a photo with her cell phone, then uploaded the photo to HER Facebook account.  Somewhere in the background of the show you could see the teacher’s left foot.  The student tagged the foot as with the teacher’s name, causing the photo to show up on his profile.  The teacher had nothing to do with it, and was even unaware that his name was associated with the photo.

In this case I recommended to the teacher than he not friend his students.  In fact, this is what we recommend in general for our teachers.  Unlike Greenville County, we currently have no plans to make this into policy.  Our district even allows some leeway when students are family friends, or are related to teachers.

When I do workshops on blogging and social networking I always tell teachers to be circumspect in what they post, because it may come back to haunt them.  However, in the case of our teacher, he was an innocent bystander who had unfortunately friended his students.  I can see this happening more and more, though, and I blame digital cameras.

People don’t share photos in print format anymore.   Online photos galleries are the most common way to share vacation photos, etc.  Someone may take a photo of a young teacher at the lake or beach in a bathing suit and post it online, or take a picture of a teacher with a drink in their hand, and some parent may find that offensive.  So what’s one to do?  Completely abandon any online life, or just make sure than no photos of them are ever taken?

I’m really glad that the Greenville County School Board decided to take a step back.   The line between public and private lives gets blurred with everything now being online, and there is really no going back.    Some members of the board have recognized that teachers have rights, and that they can’t/shouldn’t try to control all teacher behavior.   I’m glad our district has also come to that conclusion, and I just wished that other districts were as enlightened.

Exploring an Aviary


UPDATE: Sadly, Aviary has discontinued this wonderful series of products. The links below are no longer available.

Today I got word that Aviary.com has released a new online audio editing tool called Myna. This joins Aviary’s growing collection of online tools with bird names, including Phoenix, the image editing program, and Raven, a vector graphics program. Myna is a loop-based editor, and has many of the same functions as Garage Band or Acid Music.

I’ve only had a few minutes to play with the program, but so far I’m impressed. There is an extensive library of existing audio files. These are categorized not only by style by also by keyword. The samples are further broken down into files that would make good intros, files for loops, and ending files. You can also record samples directly into the program with your computer’s microphone, or upload your own files. (more…)

Spartanburg County Instructional Technology Academy


This week we held the kick-off sessions for the Spartanburg County Instructional Technology Academy (SCITA) at USC-Upstate. The three-day workshop was the start of a graduate course that is funded by an E2T2 grant that Spartanburg school districts 1, 2, 5, and 7 had applied for and received. In addition to the graduate course, participants would receive and be trained in emerging technology for their classrooms.

The first day began with an overview of the program and an introduction to the course by Dr. Jimmy Pryor, who will be the instructor. Danielle Stengle from CSI Outfitters then spoke to the group about using technology for special needs students. (more…)

Kids and Social Media



This past week I was asked to advise on guidelines for teacher-student interactions in social media settings such as Facebook.  Essentially, we’re recommending caution.  The new guidelines will be posted in faculty handbooks, and read as follows:

Faculty/Staff members should maintain professionalism in their relationship with students at all times. Activities/behaviors in which faculty/staff members should not participate with students include, but are limited to the following:

1) Posting student pictures on web-based social network sites (Facebook, MySpace etc)

2) Exchange cell phone numbers with students

3) Participate in inappropriate text messaging with students

4) Participate in inappropriate e-mail correspondence with students

The key word here is “inappropriate.”  Unfortunately, no definition is given as to what might be considered inappropriate.  There are the obvious reasons – the unfortunate ones that make headlines.  However, is ANY contact via e-mail or text messaging between teachers and students appropriate?  Our paranoid society would cast suspicion on any of these activities. (more…)

EdTech Day 3 – Conflicting Interests


Yesterday I went to sessions on policies and procedures. Today I decided to go to sessions on classroom integration ideas for technology. The ones I had selected deal with Web 2.0 resources and open source software. It was an interesting contrast, especially comparing the competing interests of yesterday’s presenters with today’s.

I arrived at the first session a little late due to a slight delay in checking out of my hotel. Kim Collaza was schedule to do a presentation on Web 2.0 resources. However, Kim was sick, and since I was late I didn’t catch the name of the person taking her place. Most of what she was showing I knew, but I did enjoy finding out about the videos of Lee LeFever, who has created an excellent series of YouTube videos explaining Web 2.0 concepts in plain English, with some entertaining animations.

During the course of the session, the presenter discussed several ways to get around filtering systems and policies imposed by the district. It was at that point that I started to take issue with what she was saying. I understand teacher’s frustrations with seemingly arbitrary rules about Internet access. I’ve also learned that teachers don’t often see the big picture, nor understand why a district imposes certain restrictions. And, I know that districts can go overboard, blocking access to resources that they have no business blocking. (more…)

Starting from “Scratch”


This is the first of two applications I’ve come across this week which I’ll be highlighting here. First is Scratch, a free downloadable programming application from MIT modeled on the old Logo programming language. Later I’ll be taking a look at DimDim, a free alternative to the popular GoToMeeting application.

I first learned about Scratch at NECC 2007 in Atlanta. I had attended a David Thornburg session on open source applications for education, and Scratch was one of the programs he highlighted. The program was brought back to my attention this week by a post on the Museum 2.0 blog, where they emphasize the online community supporting Scratch rather than the program itself. More on that later.

As mentioned, Scratch uses the Logo programming paradigm to make characters known as sprites move around a defined field. Commands control the sprite’s behavior, direction of travel, and distance, as well as whether or not they are drawing or just moving. While Logo used text commands, Scratch uses simple drag-n-drop command icons to make it easier. For example, in order to get the “turtle” to draw a hexagon in Logo you would issue the following commands (with my comments in parentheses):

Clear (removes any marks currently on the screen)
PU (pen up, so that it doesn’t draw while the turtle moves.)
Home (returns the turtle to coordinates 0,0)
PD (puts the pen down so it can draw)
Repeat 6 [ FW 100 RT 300] (for six times move forward 100 pixels, then turn right 300 degrees)

The method for creating a hexagon in Scratch is similar, but uses the following commands:


The result would be something like this:


Students can incorporate variables, change the sprites appearance, change colors, and a variety of other things. Playing with it can be addictive as students explore how different variables affect the behavior of the sprite. It’s a great way to teach logical processes and observation.

As the folks at Museum 2.0 mentioned, there is an excellent support community that has grown up around Scratch. This appears to be modeled on the familiar YouTube interface, with categories for various projects and the ability to leave comments and discuss projects. You can even download the commands so that you can alter and play with the projects within the local Scratch environment. Since everything is Javascript based, there is a link to embed the projects into blogs, such as the one I’ve embedded below:

Learn more about this project

With the support and sharing community, Scratch becomes an even more powerful tool. I would love to use this in a classroom. Assuming, of course, that I didn’t have to worry about pesky things such as standardized tests.

Four “B”‘s for Successful Blogging


Yesterday afternoon I had the privilege of addressing the Lambda Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma Society International on the topic of blogging for educators. I modified one of my previous presentations, bringing it up to date a bit.

Usually I start out by asking the teachers what they think of when they hear the word “blog”. In previous presentations I usually got responses like “MySpace” or “Facebook” or “an online diary.” Today’s responses were much more encouraging. I still got responses like “opinions”, but I got more responses describing blogging as a communications tool. It seemed like we had many more teachers that understand the difference between blogging and social networking.

As part of the presentation I discussed what I called the “Four B’s for Blogging Success.” These are more for generic personal blogs than for classroom blogs, but some of these rules still apply.

  1. Be original – Speak in your own voice, don’t fall prey to copy-n-paste memes that pop up on 50 million other blogs, and be observant of copyright.
  2. Be timely and consistent – Visitors will lose interest if you blog sporadically. Topics that are current will generate the most interest. (Of course, one could argue that this post is not timely. Blogging is, what? About six years old now? Educators can be notoriously NOT up to date when it comes to technology.)
  3. Be focused – If you write about predominantly one topic, then suddenly shift to another, you may lose a good part of your audience. If you’re going to write about everything under the sun, let your readers know that up front (by naming your blog something like, oh, I don’t know, maybe Random Connections?)
  4. Be circumspect – You never know who is going to read your blog. After all, it’s out there on the Internets for all to see. I remember the shock I got when several of my office co-workers said they regularly read my blog. I hadn’t advertised it. Yesterday at lunch one of my sales contacts said that he reads this blog (and immediately I wondered what nasty things I’d said about vendors lately.) Also keep in mind safety rules, especially regarding personal information. These information leaks can be subtle – you can write about taking your kids to the park, but I wouldn’t say things like, “Today I took my daughter to the park like I do every Thursday at 4:00.” I wouldn’t make innocent comments along these lines for others or their kids, either. And lastly, regarding personal information, there is such a thing as TMI. Don’t let a blog degenerate into the trivia of your day.

One of the attendees at the meeting has done an outstanding job keeping a classroom blog, and we used it as an example of classroom blogging can be successful. I had set up a WordPress blog on our servers for Andrea Mabrey, a math teacher at Byrnes High School. I particularly like they way she has organized her blog. She has set up a category for each one of the classes that she teaches. Each of her blog posts include homework assignments for that class, as well as notes from the day in PDF format. She has a static page for dates for quizzes and tests, as well as other class information. Great job Andrea!

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