Sunday, July 12, 2009

7 SMART Habitudes of Highly Effective Teachers

A few weeks ago I was asked to deliver the Keynote Address at a SMART Conference held in Lewisville, Texas. A group of 350 enthusiastic educators from the district converged on a local middle school for a day of SMART training with local trainers and SMART Texas Education Consultants.
Below is the gist of the keynote. If you'd like to add a SMART Habitude, please post a comment. Together we are SMARTer.

As we begin, let's take a few minutes to look at the bigger picture of effective teaching by using SMART Habitudes to describe best practices.

Number 7: Check for Updates Regularly
Set your automatic updates to run frequently - that includes settings for SMART products, too. Easy access for updates is located within the Notebook software toolbar under "Help."

Number 6: Learn Something New Everyday

One of my teacher friends from Amarillo says she learns a TAD more everyday. I thought she meant like how you eat an elephant, one bite at a time; but she said TAD stands for "Technology Achievement of the Day". We expect our students to keep learning, rightfully so, and we should, too. If you don't know something, just ask one of your kids. If you allow your students to teach you the technology, they will allow you to teach them the content. Sounds fair enough!

Number 5: Share Your Notebook Lessons with Others

Don't be afraid to share. Everybody starts at the beginning. Share your lessons room to room, school to school, on a district website, or globally on the SMART Exchange. There's a host of up-to-date, high quality Notebook lessons free for the downloading on the SMART Exchange. All you need to do is join. With another school year looming on the horizon, check in the Back to School Lesson Activity Archive folder. Not only will you find 36 lessons for elementary to high school students that you can download and modify, (meeting boards, games, activities, fun) you'll also find my submission, "Great Beginnings: A First Day of School Welcome" sitting in the #1 download spot with over 7,000 downloads last I checked.

Number 4: Create Notebook Lessons Before Class

Research bears this out that it's important to structure your lesson before class. You know that. Doing this has made me a better teacher because it forces me to plan out my opening, objectives, interactive activities, and assessment before turning on the light. Now I didn't say that I never winged a lesson, I just know that the lesson is much more effective for all learners if you plan for student success before class. That's just good teaching pedagogy.

Number 3: Improve Your Pedagogy

Stay current in your field. Study. Read. Learn. Attend professional development and apply your learning. SMART Boards are absolute magic in the hands of a good teacher. Learn all you can. Read good blogs. Teachers Love SMART Boards, written by Jim Hollis, is my favorite blog to read. Check it out. He also has an online training site, Teacher Online Training. I've completed most all of his unique lessons. You won't find his training anywhere else on the net! Then there are YouTube videos on SMART's channel. And last but certainly not least: Use the SMART Exchange and the SMART Technologies website to find hundreds of lessons resources and free training with the latest SMART products.

Number 2: Join a Users Group - Get Connected

Get connected in your school, district, region, any place where you can go to share and learn with other teachers. Respect your fellow learners. Everybody starts at the beginning.

Number 1: Step Away from the Board

Move over. Put your students on the stage. Coach them well and send them to the Board. Use your SMART Slate to get out of in front of your classroom. We all know that students learn best and remember more by doing it themselves, so let them. Play during your conference period or after school. Why should teachers have all the fun?

With Back to School just a few weeks away, I encourage you to consider applying these SMART Habitudes to your own best practices. "Step away from the Board" is a good one with which to begin. Your students will love you for it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Only passion can keep a teacher from losing his/her sanity the last month of school. We're down to the last 22 days, but who's counting? The official countdown doesn't go on the wall until we reach 10 days. TAKS Tests in Texas will conclude by the end of this week. Seems that once the big tests are over, students think that school is also over. It is the passionate, fun-loving teacher who keeps students engaged and learning the last few weeks of school. Having access to adequate technology and a SMART Board keeps my students excited about school. The last month includes field trips, student projects, reflections, and many opportunities for fun. Once I have my students engaged, I begin to look for things to keep me busy. Every year I clean out another storage locker or two to make room for newer stuff or sift through teaching files and dump obsolete information. But by far the best thing I've found to do is to keep myself learning. This year James Hollis over at the Teachers Love SMART Boards blog extended an invitation to take his wonderful courses on Teacher Online Training. Not only are they fantastic, they're very well written, divided into manageable sections, super-engaging, and ready for you to apply in the classroom. Today I completed "Sharing Video Solutions over the Internet" and received 150 professional development minutes for the assignment. If you've not checked out these SMART courses, I urge you to subscribe today. If you'd like to see my first completed internet video solution, check out my latest blog, Math From Third. Jim Hollis has seen the future of education and I agree with him when he states, "The process of building an online library is the future of education at all levels. It is just one of the many valuable components to a student-centered learning environment that expands beyond the classroom."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

SMART Sync Reflections

As I begin my report on my experiences with the SMART Sync collaborative tool, it’s interesting to note that in the March 26, 2009 issue of eSchool News, collaborative environments are named as one of the top six emerging technologies to affect education within the next year. The report goes on to name Voicethreads and Nings as examples of tools used to create these environments. The benefit of using these tools, the report states, is to foster teamwork and critical thinking skills. Unfortunately, the author omitted SMART Sync as another valuable tool that teachers can use to create collaborative environments. Sync is easier to use in my classroom than either Voicethread or Ning.
The part I liked best about SMART Sync collaborative functionality was its ease of use. The software was very intuitive. With just a few clicks, my first collaborative project was ready to go. Having the install set up folders in My Documents to house projects, student, and group work created instant organization in my already cluttered documents folder. I appreciated that feature. After a brief overview of the project, my students were ready to get started with the individual assignment. We all learned together the first time as the collaborative part began. Students were excited to experience positive interdependence and reach common goals. They just didn’t know that’s what made them so thrilled with the assignment. They thought it was because they could chat with each other about what each team member thought the answer should be. All four groups turned in their assignment, but three documents didn’t have answers marked. The first time it happened, I thought the recorder forgot his job. However, it has continued to happen during other projects. It happens both in Word and in Notebook. The individual’s work arrives, but not the group work.
The main benefit derived from using Sync Collaboration includes polishing the skill set needed for 21st century collaborative learning: interpersonal skills, critical thinking skills, interaction with a small group, and group processing. My students love working in a group, whether it’s digitally with Sync, at a desk editing their writing, or conducting a science experiment in lab.
When I first began this trial, I watched the video explaining SMART Sync. It was helpful in that it explained the collaboration feature. I had been using SynchronEyes in my classroom for two years prior to this time so I was well acquainted with most of the other features already. But I have faced a few challenges using the collaboration feature.
The first technical challenge is to learn how to assign groups instead of allowing the teacher computer to randomly make groups. The first project I allowed randomization and it made one group of three, two groups of two and one group of one using eight workstations. That was most likely user error. That part was not very intuitive for me. Perhaps that feature could be improved in the next update and the process of letting the teacher assign groups made easier with a selection area.

There were several other technical challenges. The teacher computer froze the first time group work was turned in. Since then, I’ve added 512 mb memory to the laptop and have not had it happen again. I might mention our district is buying Vista on new laptops and therefore I am running Sync from an older XP laptop. I wish Sync was compatible with Vista, but I understand from visiting with SMART people at TCEA that probably is not likely to happen. Also, the first time students turned in their individual work, not all the documents made it into my folder. I’m chalking this up to user error because it hasn’t happened again. The first few collaborative projects were in Word, but then I got brave and decided to try sending both Notebook and Ideas files one at a time. Oops. Most computers received the files, but I find it ironic that the student computer which would receive a SynchronEyes file did not receive it in Sync, and vice versa. Now to figure out what settings need to be changed. Also, the chat windows in group 2 locked up when collaborating in Notebook. Only by closing the chat window could the Notebook file be used. Today I used Word again for our problem solving/critical thinking challenge of the day. (Note: Everything worked well except for group work arriving in its folders.)
The main pedagogical challenge I faced was coming up with suitable collaborative assignments for third graders. All of the ones I found on the web for primary students were for written for classroom to classroom collaboration. Designing a collaborative assignment that could be completed both as an individual and a group project in a class period encourages me to think outside the worksheet as I redesign, rethink, revise, revisit, and revamp a lesson into a new assignment. That’s a good thing as I continue to learn how to think outside the worksheet.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

That Was Easy!

In my last post, I wrote about the need to name student computers so that I'd know whose project was whose during a collaboration activity. Thanks to the intuitive nature of SMART Sync, the task was simple. Just a few clicks and I was done. On the student computers in student configuration wizard, I chose the setting to have students connect using their first name. On the teacher computer from the Sync toolbar under View and Thumbnail name/Description, I chose Student ID and viola, that's what was displayed under each thumbnail. That was easy!
Another thing that's easy is to fall in the trap of doing things the way they've always been done. Some wise person once said that the seven last words of a dying school will be, "We've never done it like that before." True. Encourage new ideas, new thinking, and new ways of reaching students through innovative lessons and projects. Do you think that will be easy?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sync and Write

After a week of spring break, we're back at work in our classroom. Happy, carefree days will soon return with summer break arriving in 8 more weeks.
However, with only 15 days remaining on the SMART Sync free trial, it was back to work for everyone with collaboration on the forefront. We began a Twitter collaboration with a third grade class in Connecticut our first day back from break. That project is shaping up to be a great way for students to write an interesting sentence in 140 characters or less as we communicate with new-found friends across the country. Our big emphasis the remainder of the year is to polish our writing skills so that we become master communicators. Adding colorful, interesting adjectives to sentences is a great way for third graders to add interest and meaning to their paragraphs. So with that in mind, our next Sync collaboration focused on writing. First a quick review of adjectives, and the students were off to their computers to complete the assignment, which I divided into part 1 and part 2. Groupings of two were chosen this time, with the computer randomly pairing students. For the teacher to assign partners requires a different log in with a student name on each computer and I haven't figured out that option yet. Maybe during afternoon conference there will be a window of opportunity. Back to the assignment details. Part 1 was to copy and paste the best adjective into the correct sentences. When that was complete, each individual "handed in" their document. The students were eager to chat again. Armed with a list of interesting adjectives for possible use, they were set to write collaboratively with their partner. Each group was to compose three interesting sentences containing two adjectives before one of the nouns. One group had so much trouble, but in reflecting upon why, it's because both are hesitant speakers, learners, and writers. This exercise was certainly a challenge for all the students as composing a sentence while considering the other person's ideas was a new experience. This time, the recorder knew what to do and had no trouble "handing in" the assignment. But they still forgot to put their name on their work! Perhaps I really do need to name their computers!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Sync Thoughts and Observations

Three days ago I began using SMART Sync in my third grade multimedia classroom. Since that time, I've learned several things and became aware of even more opportunities.
The first afternoon of the completed install drove me to try a collaboration assignment. I love new techie things and don't mind experimenting with them. The student assignment that afternoon was to read a few pages in our Social Studies textbook and then answer six questions about the reading material. Specifically, they were to match a legendary American with his/her quote. I know this was quite a low-tech assignment, but on the spur of the minute, it fit with the goal - to try out SMART Sync. So, I quickly transferred their document into Word with instructions to cut and paste the correct name with the quote. Simple enough. First, the students completed the assignment at their computer and "handed it in" to me via Sync. Then part 2 was the same assignment but with 1 or 2 more in each group. We called it "Two Brains Are SMARTer Than One". I turned on the chat feature and students were able to collaborate with each other by typing messages to each other. You'd have thought I'd sprinkled candy on the keyboards! Such engagement! Such excitement! I set the timer for 15 minutes and said, "Have fun - get busy". They did and then "handed in" their paper. Groups were randomly chosen by my teacher computer this time. Next time, I'll pair up students more equitably. Some observations about this assignment: In two groups' excitement of chatting with each other, the recorder for each group forgot to cut and paste their answers on the document. I know they were really working because their chat showed they were discussing the answers with each other. They're hooked, too. They've already asked when they can chat again. The other observation is the smooth way their papers were handed in to me on my teacher computer. Navigating through My Documents to Submitted Files to the Collaboration folder to the day's assignment was smooth sailing. All of the group projects made it to the appropriate folder but one or two individual's documents didn't make the journey. I'll chalk this one up to student error. Next time I'll watch their clicking more closely.
For the next collaboration assignment, I'll choose something new. There is value in doing old things in new ways, but even more value is added when something new is done in a new way. Stay tuned for more.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

SMART Sync Trial

Trial period. Sounds like something good for potential married couples.
Today I'm installing a 30 day evaluation version of SMART Sync, classroom management and collaboration software, after experiencing it at TCEA last month. First, I uninstalled SMART SynchronEyes software from all my classroom computers. I must add I really liked using SynchronEyes to keep up with my students. Data shows it saves teacher time, and gets students on track faster and for longer periods of time. I won't disagree. Time will tell if I revert back to our district license of SynchronEyes after this 30 trial period
Next I watched the 11 min. video on TeacherTube. Now I'm about to begin the daunting task of installing the teacher and client programs on my classroom computers. Wish me luck. I'll keep you posted.