Category Archives: Productivity

Productivity

Too Much Information? Tools for Organizing Information

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Cartoon of octopus with too many papers.

“Information is a source of learning. But unless it is organized, processed, and available to the right people in a format for decision making, it is a burden, not a benefit.” William Pollard (1911 – 1989)

 

Physicist William G. Pollard may not have experienced the Digital Age first hand, but he hit the nail on the head when he observed that information without context or form is more burden than blessing.

Over the last decade, students and adults alike often identify information management as one of their biggest challenges. And unhappily, access to more information than any one person can reasonably be expected to cope with appears to be a growing problem. Researchers currently estimate that on average most people are exposed to the amount of information it takes to fill 174 newspapers (at 85 pages each) every single day!

Information literacy is emerging as an increasingly critical skill set for students and adults. Definitions for this type of literacy commonly address four facets: identifying, locating, evaluating, and using information. But there’s a fifth aspect of this skill set—the ability to organize the information that’s been found so that it can be effectively evaluated and used—that has largely been ignored until recently. The advent of tools that allow users to ‘curate’ digital content is changing this.

What is ‘content curation?’ The term refers to the idea that digital information must be organized in order to make use of it. One formal definition of content curation is, “the gathering, organizing and online presentation of content related to a particular theme or topic” (WhatIs.com, http://bit.ly/1xuTqSO). Educators and students have ready access to many free and low-cost online tools that can be used to organize—or curate—information so they can use it more effectively.

Summer break is a good time to explore new tools. Whether you want to resolve personal information management challenges or are looking for tools you can share with staff, students, and parents, this may be the perfect time to check out the three content curation tools described below. Each is easy-to-use and meets a different need related to organizing information. Give one or more a try!

1. ScoopIt!: ScoopIt! allows curators to glean and republish articles from the Internet in newsletter format, based on keywords the curator identifies. This can be an effective way to share online news with a variety of target audiences, depending on the viability of the topic selected. For example, it will be easy to find articles about mobile devices but might be more difficult if the topic is confined to creating content with mobile devices. There is a free version and fee-based accounts are available as well.

2. Bag the Web: Bag the Web is a free tool that is ideal for those times when you need to share a limited number (5 – 12) of links focused on a very specific topic. Like Pinterest or Learnist, Bag the Web supports quick curation of short lists of digital content. Unlike Pinterest, a link can be added to a list even when Bag the Web can’t find an image to grab and display. I frequently use multiple Bag the Web lists during professional development when I want to draw participants’ attention to particular resources.

3. LiveBinders: Finally, for large collections of resources that will be curated over time, you can’t beat LiveBinders. The metaphor of a digital three-ring notebook makes it easy to organize hundreds of resources related to one main topic (notebook) through use of sub-topics (dividers). Anything that can be digitized can be uploaded and linked in a LiveBinder as can web pages. Free and fee-based accounts are available.

These are just a few of many excellent content curation tools already available. New tools are regularly being developed. If you have a favorite, please add it here as a comment along with a brief description and URL.

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Using Technology to Build Community Involvement

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Come Back Kids logo and Twitter handleI confess.  As a parent, I was one who signed up for school site council and then didn’t participate.  I would find parent surveys at the bottom of my children’s backpacks long after they were due or I would just forget to send them back.  I had the best intentions and I was certainly pleased to be asked, but when it came down to it, I couldn’t afford to take the time off work.  I had class on the night meetings were scheduled, or it would just slip my mind.  Years later, as an administrator, I struggle to find the right mix of stakeholder involvement activities so all parents and community members have the opportunity to be involved and contribute to the discussion.  Fortunately, I have many more tools at my disposal than school leaders in the 1980’s and 90’s.

Twitter

Telephone calls and mail just don’t produce the turnout I need to meet mandated parent involvement.  I do use them and email also, but my Twitter feed is quickly becoming the go-to tool that lets my school community know what is happening on our campuses.  I use my tweets to remind parents and partners about meetings and I post links to current information. I tweet pictures and links to short videos to keep my feed fun and engaging. My tweets remind my school community that we are hard at work teaching and learning; and having fun too. Using Twitter engages reluctant technology users, makes students think you’re cool, and provides anytime-anywhere communication.

Google Forms

Remember the ten page survey sent to all parents, the cost of mailing it, and then getting only a handful back?  I still have my paper survey, and I hand it out to anyone who prefers it, but I also create the survey in Google Forms and  send out the link by email, Twitter, and on note cards.  Staff and students promote it too.  Google Form responses populate to a Google spreadsheet. and a summary of responses with charts is available underneath the form tab.  I began using Google Forms this year to prepare for an upcoming WASC visit and to gather community input for our LCAP.  My response rate has increased from 32 responses last year to 237 so far this year.  I also saved a small fortune on mailing and paying someone to tabulate the results—enough to pay for several teachers to attend the CUE conference this spring.

Google Hangouts

The last new tech tool in my community involvement tool belt is Google Hangouts.   With Google Hangouts, I can have a meeting at a physical location, but other participants can join us remotely.   Our school has classrooms at 14 different geographical locations and  using Google Hangouts means that staff, students, and parents from separate sites can meet in a virtual space, share documents and work together.  One EL student shared with me that she liked the Hangout because normally she would be too shy to speak in a meeting,  but in this format she felt comfortable contributing.  Busy parents and community members can join from work.  It has taken some practice to learn how to use Hangouts for these meetings, and we are still getting better at developing the procedures that make our collaboration smoother.  Lessons learned include being patient as everyone learns to sign on, having someone on the phone to assist those having technical difficulties,  keeping our mics muted  except for the person who is speaking, having a moderator recognizing the next speaker, using the chat section to record comments and questions, and developing procedures for taking and recording votes.  Despite this learning curve, we still have more participation from a diverse set of participants and we are not paying staff for time and mileage to travel to a meeting.

Accomplishing multiple goals

As a site leader these tools serve more than one purpose.  First, I use these tools to facilitate and document meaningful engagement of parents, students, and other stakeholders, including those representing the subgroups for developing our LCAP.  Second, it gives me an opportunity to lead and promote the use of technology in our school.  Third, it’s always fun to try new things!

 

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Packrati: My road to super-productivity!

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PackratMy motto is,  “It’s not what you know, but what you share!” People who know me know that I make no secret that almost all of my shared resources come from Twitter. Twitter is all about finding the right people to follow that will allow you find the resources that will help you do your job better. That’s the key to me as to why Twitter is such a valuable social media tool.

In order to make Twitter successful and productive for me, I needed a way to get what I had tweeted to my bookmarks. I use Delicious as my bookmarking tool.  My old school way was once a week or month, I would copy and paste each tweet over to my delicious account as a bookmark with tags.  This was a horribly inefficient process.  Then I discovered Packrati.  Packrati works with my Twitter and Delicious accounts to automatically bookmark and tag anything I tweet.

Here’s how it works:  If there is a URL in my tweet, it automatically gets posted on my delicious web page.  Any words within that tweet that have a hashtag (#) are added as Delicious tags of the bookmarked page.  Welcome to the world of super-productivity! To start setting up accounts for yourself, visit the following websites and create accounts:  www.twitter.com, delicious.com, and packrati.us. If you are interested in seeing all of the resources I have gathered, check out my bookmarks at delicious.com/sgilley or follow me on Twitter @uniqsuseq.

 

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Classroom Walkthrough Google Style

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Cartoon person walking with Google Classroom walkthroughs (CWT) give administrators data. This data is important for providing relevant professional development to the teaching staff as well as a good way to be involved more in the classroom. Since we have implemented CWTs we have seen gains, but the data was slow and cumbersome to disaggregate. Paper forms had been the norm, but at the beginning of this year we implemented a Google Form for CWTs. The transition has been spectacular. The data is coming in faster and in real time. I am able to share it with the assistant superintendent and superintendent easily and that gives me justification on how to spend the precious professional development dollars.

 The use of a Google Form for CWTs is not for building administrators who “Cant handle the truth.” The results are live and in your face. As we developed our CWT instrument we thought that we would shine in many areas. The form does not lie. Be prepared to see the truth in the data.

For example checkout some of our data below.

When the data comes back to the spreadsheet Google will automatically create graphs. Follow the steps below to access the Summary of Responses.

  1. Open the associated spreadsheet that collects the form data
  2. Click Form
  3. Click Summary of Responses

As you can tell we need some work on technology integration. It is a slow process for my new school but we are on the right track. I am a new assistant principal that prides myself on my technology integration chops. The data does not lie. I am not having as much impact as I should.

Truth alert! Our English Language Arts teachers have the highest percentage of master’s degrees and national board certification. As administrators we tend to visit the good teachers more to reaffirm our great impact on our teachers as the instructional leader.

In the link below I have shared our CWT instrument with you. Please take some time to evaluate it and modify as necessary. I have outlined some steps so anyone with a Google Account either through a school managed domain (@yourschool.org) or a Google managed (@gmail.com) domain can access.

  1. Click the link here to open the form.
  2. Click on File, then on Make a Copy.
  3. The form is yours to modify!

To find out more about Google Forms and how to use them in the classroom, read my book, Google Apps Meets Common Core published by Corwin.  Also, check out Survey Templates Ready to Administer Using Google Forms right here on portical.org!

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Wait, wait! Don’t evaluate me.

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Man holding up hands, I have been evaluating teachers for 21 years, all the way back to a time when I was required to assess a teacher’s hygiene and appearance as “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”  Thankfully, we have progressed as a profession.

Charlotte Danielson’s work that synthesized research on effective teaching and put it all together in a rubric form was published in 1996.  It took several years for her work to make its official way to San Luis Obispo, California, where I work as an elementary principal.  I know that for years, many administrators here were unofficially using her work to evaluate the work of teachers.  Eventually, the district made the leap to accept the four domains (planning, classroom environment, instruction, and professional responsibilities) and 32 components.  Just two years ago, we abandoned “satisfactory/unsatisfactory” ratings in favor of “unsatisfactory, basic, proficient and distinguished.”

Last year was our pilot year for collecting data/evidence of teachers’ work as it related to specific components and then scoring with the four level rubric.   Data collection was all done by analog scripting and note-taking.  When it came time for us administrators to write up our evaluations, we were faced with collating and reviewing piles of handwritten feedback cards and two-column legal pad notes.  Hearing the complaints from administrators on increased workload and time commitment, our district purchased a software solution called TeachScape.

Seven uninterrupted hours?

There are three components to this software.  One is a series of videos of teachers teaching with commentaries on how the video evidence relates to the rubric. All of us were required to watch the videos and then pass the assessment piece at the end.  What I didn’t know was that the assessment piece itself requires seven hours of uninterrupted time!  I arrived at this point in the training module a few days before school started.   Well, it’s a month later and somehow those seven uninterrupted hours have eluded me.  Nonetheless, having made it through all the videos, and given my previous experience with the framework, I feel qualified and calibrated at this time.

The second component is a digital communication system for sharing data and observational notes with teachers. Implementation glitches abound.  First of all, it’s tough when the software is not intuitively designed.  You know what I mean?  (Apparently Apple engineers were involved elsewhere when this product was designed.) To their credit, the TeachScape folks are attentive and helpful.  They actually answer the helpline when you call and speak understandable English! But there are terminology problems.  What I call a walk-through is, to TeachScape, apparently something much more structured.  And I am just now trying to figure out why I would have to “schedule” an informal observation—wouldn’t that make it formal’?

Missing modules?

In addition, it seems our district hasn’t purchased all the right modules that allow us to input data. I don’t want to start the arduous process of entering all my handwritten notes and observations in one place and then, at the end of the year, find there are two different systems to collate. These issues may be solved by our new personnel director, who has taken over as the single point of contact for getting questions and glitches addressed.  She calls the helpline on our behalf, and she is learning the system along with us.

TeachScape’s third component?  At this point, I do not know exactly what it does.  Heck, I’m still looking high and low for those seven uninterrupted hours.

How will this all end up? Who will save us?  Will we be saved?  Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Evaluate Me!”  Coming soon!

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