Friday, January 31, 2014

TCEA 2014 - Here I come!

As I put the finishing touches on my presentation for TCEA 2014 and start my packing list, I am reminded of my past trips to this conference.

My first year we watched the Super Bowl in a friend's hotel room after going to a little dive for pizza. It was cold that year. My first TCEA experience and it was a bit overwhelming. I remember sitting in a session and hearing a guy from Google say that laptops were outdated because there wasn't anything you couldn't do on your cell phone. I was inspired that year to submit sessions for the following year. I was invited to tons of parties and ate the most amazing broccoli mousse I have ever eaten in my life!

The next year I presented 3 workshops at the conference. After one workshop I threw on my scarf, grabbed my computer and headed out the door. I stopped and talked to some vendors, visited with some friends, and called my mother. I eventually made it back to my hotel room across the street and began to remove my coat and scarf. Surprise!!! That was when I found that I was still wearing my microphone! Thank goodness it had stopped the feed when I left the room. I sheepishly returned the mic only to find out that it happens every year.

Last year I was presenting 3 days and knew it was going to be a crazy week. I decided to bring an ice chest to save myself on costs and time of eating out. My husband told me to get help with my bags when I got to the hotel, but I am a big, strong girl and knew I could handle it. I got to the hotel around 2:00pm already dressed for my 3:30pm session. As I tried to drag my bags into the lobby in heels I proceeded to dump my ice chest on the floor in the lobby of a very nice hotel!!! Ok, so my husband was right. I will use the bellhop next time.

This year I am staying at a new hotel and shuttling in. Not crazy about that situation, but it will be an adventure. It was also my excuse to get a new computer bag with wheels. I am looking forward to hearing great ideas, checking out awesome products, and bringing back seeds to germinate into professional development and projects I can offer to my districts! Let the learning begin!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Living Tree

The most popular social network in the world is Facebook. Users of that very active social network equal three times the population of the US. Besides personal pages, many groups are adopting Facebook as a way to market and share themselves. The idea of connecting online in a social space is a good one. But using a public network to share and discuss what's going on in a classroom or school is not.

If you are looking for a private network to communicate within your school or classroom, give Living Tree a try. It is free to create a network and can be accessed via the website or app.

Unlike Facebook, members of a Living Tree network must be invited in by the administrator of the group. This privacy means that only the people with a vested interest in the group, like parents of children in that group or class, will have the ability to see and share what is going on in that network. Members can post messages, share images/videos, files, schedule events, and much more. Users can be members of multiple groups so Mom and Dad can keep up with school, PTO, art lessons, sports, etc. all in one platform that can push notifications and events to their devices. Both parents are getting the same information and they will never miss an important meeting or deadline because they didn't get the note in their child's backpack or folder.

If you are looking for a safe social network for your class or group, give Living Tree a try.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Selecting Instructional Materials

Last night I hosted a Vendor Showcase for Instructional Materials Proclamation 2014.

For those of you non-Texas readers here's some explanation:

Each year the Texas Education Agency (TEA) issues a call for instructional materials (print and digital resources) in specific subject areas. Vendors submit their products and whichever meet the criteria are put on a list that schools can adopt new materials from. In the past, these were only print textbooks. In 2011 the Texas Legislature combined the Textbook fund and Technology fund to make the Instructional Materials Allotment which gives schools more flexible in the types of materials they can purchase for instruction. Each school district has their own policy on selecting the materials and only one set of materials is selected so all teachers use the same product in their school. This year's subjects included K-8 Math, K-12 Science and Technology Applications. Based on the rotation, these subjects will not be up for adoption again for nearly a decade and all of these areas have had their Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) Standards revised since the last materials adoption.

So selecting instructional materials is a really serious decision! You have to consider many variables to pick the best products for your teachers and students. These materials will cost money. And you will be using these things for 10 years! Then let's add the fact that publishers are offering print materials, CDs, web resource access, subscriptions, consumables, manipulatives...Yikes!!! As one of our attendees put it last night, "I'm overwhelmed! There are so many choices!"

Here are few things to think about as you mull over your options:

Digital, print, or a combination?

What is your student access to technology? Are you 1:1? Tablets? Laptops? BYOD? Shared computer labs? A couple of computers in each classroom?

What is your connectivity? Wired? Wireless? Plenty of bandwidth? Barely enough bandwidth for teacher computers?

What is the student connectivity at home? Do they have home computers? Are they connected to the internet only at school? Only on their mobile devices?

How quickly will the information change? Will the print books be quickly out of date? Math and Language Arts books may not change as quickly, but in Science and Social Studies you may be teaching out of books with incorrect information in a short period of time.

Is the product something I can use for the next decade and be happy with? What supporting materials are available? Audio files? Video files? Interactive games?

Do I have an interactive board that will make these resources more powerful? Is there a plan to purchase more technology in the near future?

Decisions?! Decisions!? Decisions?!

Selecting materials takes lots of thought and consideration. Don't pick something cute and trendy today and have buyer's remorse in a few years. Take the time and planning to consider all of the options, talk to all stakeholders, and understand the weight of this decision.

Good luck in selecting your instructional materials!