Why should students have all the fun when it comes
to learning? The following five districts have come
up with innovative ways to deliver professional
development opportunities to their teachers.
The Magic School Bus
Field trips aside, most teachers don’t willingly hop onto big yellow buses,
but at Scottsdale Unified School District in Arizona, teachers are signing up
to board the eCoach—an old bus that’s been converted into a modern mobile
classroom using communications technology from ShoreTel. “Our district is
really spread out, and it can take an hour or more to get to the district office
or another facility for training,” says David Peterson, superintendent. “We
wanted to bring the training to the teachers and students.” Schools fill out
an online form to request training, such as the school nurses learning how to
use the student information system, and the bus rolls up. “We even used it as
an enrollment site,” says Tom Clark, chief technology officer. “We took the
bus to a northern school for online kindergarten
registration, saving parents the two-hour
round trip visit to the enrollment office.”
|Teachers hop aboard Scottsdale USD’s eCoach to learn how to use and integrate technology tools.|
The technology installed in eCoach
replicates what’s in the classrooms,
including a SMARTBoard, document
camera, and wireless Internet access.
As classrooms get new or upgraded
tools, the eCoach will be updated as
well, allowing staff and teachers to
learn about the technology before
they start using it. “One example is
iPads, which are beginning to be
used in classrooms in increasing
numbers. By providing teachers with
experience with iPads and some of
the innovative apps that are available,
they can learn what might
work best in their
It’s enough to make
teachers want to “get on
Ready for a Closeup?
When you’re providing training for 6,400 certified staff members, it’s nearly
impossible to personalize it, but that’s what Kecia Ray does. Ray, executive
director of learning technology for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools
(MNPS), offers face-to-face (F2F), online, and a combination of the
two, depending on what makes sense and what the educators want.
For Common Core training, MNPS started with F2F sessions
and continued the process by creating instructional
modules that were uploaded to Blackboard,
the district’s learning management
system. From there, teachers
formed professional learning
networks (PLNs) to continue their work.
For online training, MNPS relies on Atomic Learning. Teachers watch
Atomic Learning’s videos to improve their tech skills, such as how to use
Microsoft products. But the icing on the cake is Atomic’s custom solution,
which lets Ray upload her own videos and track their usage. “When one
of our five instructional technologists sees a promising practice in a class,
we capture it and add to our video library,” she says. “So far, we’ve got 400
videos—on everything from logging in to the network to starting a PLN—and
we’re constantly adding more. Many of the videos have lesson plans attached
|Teachers from four Rhode Island districts attend a Teacher Technology Institute each summer.|
The numbers show that a lot of teachers are watching the videos, for
personal edification or to fulfill their growth plans, and Ray is thrilled that they
can do it when it’s convenient. Her latest acquisition is a 360-degree camera,
which she’ll use to capture individual interactions.
Last year, three schools showed positive gains in writing and two came off
the accountability list. “They attributed their success to our work with their
teachers,” says Ray. “We’re all about helping teachers visualize their potential,
and that only happens through embedded support from learning technology
In the Moment
When Hillsborough County Public Schools in Florida wanted to provide
algebra teachers with just-in-time coaching and support, they turned to
MyLivePD. This program gives teachers immediate access to an online
coach for help with classroom management, lesson planning, differentiated
instruction, Common Core initiatives, student assessments, and more.
For David Steele, chief information and technology officer at Hillsborough
County Public Schools in Florida, MyLivePD fit right in with his plan to
deliver PD in a non-traditional way. “It’s hard to find ways to train 12,500
teachers,” says Steele. “There are only so many Saturdays and week nights
teachers want to give up.” A former math teacher himself, Steele liked the idea
of a teacher talking with a professional about the next day’s lesson. As he says,
“All the workshops about generalities won’t help me teach factoring tomorrow.
This is the kind of individualized attention a teacher needs.”
|Douglas County teachers enjoy some collaborative learning time.|
Although Steele says it’s been challenging to get a large
number of teachers to use it, the 200 who did gave it a very high
rating. They used it for a total of 100 hours, and most of them
stayed online for at least 30 minutes.
This year, Steele plans to hold more information sessions and
target new hires, to increase awareness of this helpful resource.
The More, the Merrier
Looking for an innovative way to offer a wide variety of PD
classes without spending a bundle? Take a lesson out of this
For the last two summers, four Rhode Island districts held
an extremely successful two-day Teacher Technology Institute.
One district offered use of its new, tech-filled, spacious middle
school, and teachers attended for free. Teachers who led sessions
were paid by their own districts, to honor contractual obligations
and eliminate varying pay rates. The four districts shared the
costs for basic morning and afternoon refreshments, and teachers
purchased or brought their own lunches.
Each session lasted two-and-a-half hours, and three or four
sessions ran concurrently. Paul Barrette, director of technology at
Burrillville School Department, created a Google Form for preregistration
so the leaders could get a handle on numbers and, if
necessary, add sessions.
To guarantee high participation, the leaders made sure each session
featured tools that all four districts use. Some of the most popular offerings
were Google Docs and collaboration, data analysis and presentation, and how
to use online tools, such as blogs.
“It allowed us to offer a wider breadth than any one district could, and it
was easier to fill workshops,” says Barrette. “In fact, several classes were over
Not Just Child’s Play
If game-based learning is enticing and effective, why don’t we let teachers
do it too?
At the Douglas County School District (DCSD) in Colorado, teachers
play Bingo to personalize their PD. Here’s how it works: First, the district
flips the learning by offering Bingo cards aligned to a variety of topics, such
as connectivism, blended learning, and digital storytelling. Then teachers
use the Bingo cards to continue learning independently and
“If you Google a topic like digital storytelling, you’ll get tons
of links. So we created a Bingo card of resources for each topic,”
says Kim McMonagle, director of educational technology. “The
menu of options allows for personalization of learning styles and
interests.” To get PD credit, the teachers learn, reflect, plan, create,
and share their new skills.
The Bingo card for digital storytelling and podcasting, for
example, includes eight different lessons and related activities.
Each spot on the card includes links to learn a new skill, such
as the NPR essays and podcasts on “This I Believe,” a personal
essay project. One of the suggested activities for “This I Believe”
is to join the global “This I Believe” project, a wiki in which
classes share written essays and podcasts.
Teachers can also sign up for online courses in Moodle,
Schoology, or Edmodo, take a webinar, do an independent
project, such as creating a PLN, or attend a conference.
Throughout all of these activities, teachers are mirroring what
the district believes highly effective learning in the classroom
should be: filled with higher-order thinking and real-world
DCSD has been using this plan for about three years and
McMonagle says teachers love it and are truly using what they’ve
PD Tips on techlearning.com
Free video tutorials every Monday.
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|Introducing Pinterest||Common Core State Standards|
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|Learning Premiere Pro CS6||Understanding Web 1.0|
Should All Professional Development
Be Like an Un-conference?
A little over two years
ago, a small group of
in my area and I discussed
the un-conference model for
professional development (PD).
We all thought that it had a lot of
potential and that the Ed Camp
un-conferences cropping up
around the country were really
great. So one of our group said
that we should put together an unconference
dealing with mobile
devices, mainly tablets, and
PadCamp was born.
This summer we held our
second PadCamp at the southern
New Jersey shore. More than
300 educators and students ran
sessions and shared ideas and
resources. They were hungry to
learn and do it in a way that was productive and collaborative.
So, why aren’t more school districts holding their own un-conferences?
We have all gone through too many in-service days where the end result
was boredom and frustration. Or people got so “off course,” that nothing
productive came out of it. Many school districts have gone to the “turnkey”
approach to PD where a few staff members go out and get trained and then
come back to train their peers. Don’t get me wrong, this can be effective, but it
could be better.
Just imagine a day when the staff walks into the school cafeteria or
auditorium, with a blank schedule in hand, and are asked to create a PD day
that they control. The thought of this makes many administrators cringe in
fear. But, as professionals, we have a lot to share and sharing is what it’s all
about. Remember, collaboration is a 21st century skill!
The un-conference model fosters sharing and collaboration. It gives a
voice and platform for educators to share best practices and resources. I
firmly believe that people would leave feeling empowered, excited, and
motivated to go back and implement what they just learned. I have seen it in
person and it’s too obvious not to stand up and pay attention.
The un-conference model of professional development gives
everyone a voice and allows you to do what you do best—teach, learn, and
Frank Pileiro is a Technology Coordinator in southern New Jersey.
The idea of an un-conference is nice:
a conference with a loose theme
like “Education Technology” where
the participants create the agenda the
day of the conference and present the
attendees. All participants are involved
in their own professional development:
they set the agenda, they set the criteria
for learning, and they essentially run
everything. When they work, they work
Frank Pileiro waxes poetic about
his own experiences at Ed Camps and
tries to let the reader imagine what it
would be like if all PD followed that
particular model. It would be cool if all
staff development could be done that
way. But what Pileiro forgets, I think,
is that the people at Ed Camps are, for
the most part, already motivated to be
there, motivated to share, motivated to
collaborate and learn. In other words, the Ed Camp people are the choir. They
are already in church. How do you get the unmotivated to attend?
I suspect un-conference advocates would say that if you just made all staff
development happen that way, then everyone would be motivated. But a lot of
staff development that I have seen is information giving, often new information
that no one other than a presenter has seen. How would you do an Ed Camp
that teaches a specific technique if no one has ever seen that except the guest
speaker? Indeed, many staff development sessions are held during faculty
meetings, Professional Learning Community meetings, and after school. All
of these have time constraints, and while maybe not the best for in-depth
professional development, are the norm in many districts and campuses.
(How can you spend an hour working on the agenda when your entire staff
development may only be an hour?)
While I like the idea of having an Ed Camp-like staff development,
this is something that is so far removed from MOST teachers’ professional
development experiences it will require a bit of time to acclimate them to
moving to this model.
THAT would be an interesting discussion: how to get teachers to move to
the Ed Camp model. How would you do it?
Tim Holt has been in the education field for over 25 years, first as a teacher,
then an education facilitator, a researcher, and a Director of Instructional