This blog has been getting some visitors from outside of Arapahoe lately, probably because of mentions by Anne Davis (here and here) and Will Richardson. In addition, I'll be presenting at the Technology in Education Conference this week (on blogging, RSS, and del.icio.us) so I imagine there may be a few others dropping by. So I thought I would take a moment and describe the purpose of this blog, how it got started, and the staff development we are doing at our school.
In August 2005 we received a grant from the Plan for Social Excellence in support of a proposal for staff development on the topics of constructivism and the use of technology to foster student-centered classrooms (more on this below). At about the same time, our school board set aside $1 million districtwide for "innovative grant proposals." There really wasn't a whole lot of restrictions placed on what we could propose, simply that they be innovative, forward-looking, probably include a technology component, and not be "education as usual." We wrote a proposal that piggybacked with our Plan for Social Excellence grant and - somewhat to our surprise - were awarded full funding.
The goal of both grants was to improve teacher and student use of technology to achieve curricular goals, to help transform our school to a more student-centered, constructivist approach, and to prepare our students to succeed in the 21st century. While technology was certainly a big part of this proposal in terms of dollars, the heart of our proposal was staff development. We felt that what our teachers needed most was the time and opportunity necessary to transform instruction to meet the needs of our students and utilize the tools of the 21st century. They needed the time to work together to explore new technologies and techniques, the time to discuss and collaborate with each other, and the time to transform their lessons to a more student-centered, constructivist approach.
These grants allowed us to provide teachers the time - and the necessary technology - to accomplish these goals. The teachers selected for staff development (16 teachers the first year funded by the PFSE grant, an additional 32 teachers in a second cohort the second year funded by our district grant - each cohort will meet for three years) meet formally about every two to three weeks (with the grants paying for the sub coverage when they have to miss class). In addition to the staff development, the grants are allowing us to put a mounted LCD Projector and fairly recent computer in all of our classrooms, so that students and teachers have access to the resources of the Internet and other materials to practice "just in time" learning. Finally, we will have three classrooms next year with wireless laptop computers. These will be "model" classrooms where students and teachers will have the tools necessary for a 21st century education, and where teachers can demonstrate the most effective uses of 21st century technologies to the rest of our staff. (If you really want, you can read the entire grant.)
The Fischbowl was then conceived as a blog to support our staff development effort. I am the principal "author" of the blog. I'm the Director of Technology at Arapahoe High School (fancy title, but basically means I'm the technology coordinator for the building). In the beginning, the blog was simply a place to "continue the conversations" we had in staff development every two to three weeks, to extend the discussions beyond the time we had face to face. As the year progressed, I started to post more to the blog about relevant educational issues, new technologies, and whatever else I thought might be related and thought-provoking for our teachers, even if it didn't directly relate to what we had just talked about in staff development. If you scroll back through the archives, you'll notice that the pace of posting really picked up over winter break and then throughout the spring. You'll also notice that I'm not the only one who posts to the blog. Throughout the year we asked teachers participating in the staff development to occasionally post their thoughts and reactions to topics we discussed in class, and then also encouraged (sometimes as a homework "assignment") the other teachers to comment. In addition, each of the participating teachers created their own personal blog, where we asked them to reflect on their own learning and teaching, on their thoughts and ideas about the topics we covered, and on any changes they implemented in their classrooms. (You can find these blogs by looking on the right side of The Fischbowl under Personal Blogs - underneath those you'll also see some of the Class Blogs that some of these teachers created for use with their classes. As a side note, some students from those classes have also started commenting on The Fischbowl, lending a much needed student perspective to our discussions. We are discussing ways to bring students more into our face-to-face staff development as well.) As you might imagine, some teachers took to blogging and reflecting (in a public forum) more than others, and posting certainly tapered off as things got busier and we got closer to the end of the school year.
We have now "finished" the first year of staff development and - based on both formal surveys of the teachers (and their students), and on discussions with the teachers, it has apparently been very successful. While we certainly have a long way to go, the teachers are very excited about being able to implement some of the ideas we talked about (both technological and pedagogical) from the beginning of the school year in August. While many of them started making some changes during the school year it is, of course, much easier to start at the beginning of a school year (or semester). I do want to emphasize, however, that we are not dictating "one right way" to teach as part of this staff development. What we are asking our teachers to do is to examine all of those assumptions they have made about education, instruction, and their classes and really think about what they feel is important and what the best ways are to achieve their goals. For many teachers, they really haven't thought about a lot of these issues since their methods classes in college. Once they were actually in the classroom, it was survival mode at first and they naturally did many of the same things their more veteran colleagues were doing. After a while the focus was often just doing those things better when what was needed - sometimes - was to question whether those were the right things to be doing in the first place. While I as the "leader" of the staff development certainly have strong opinions, we've all agreed that we will continue to be individual teachers with differing opinions, styles and ideas about what is "right". My role is to get them to think about their instruction, to "push" their thinking and make sure they are not only doing the best job they can, but that what they are doing truly aligns with their beliefs. In the end we will hopefully do a better job of working together to achieve our common goals for students. And we will discuss freely and openly the issues facing our students in a time of rapid change.
So, for those dropping by, this hopefully gives you a better idea of what this blog is about (I know this post is rather long and it's past my bedtime, so I may be rambling just a bit). If you have questions about our staff development, our blogging, or anything else, feel free to comment on this blog or the teachers' personal blogs. We are very excited about what we are doing and would love to have you enter into our "conversations."