Monday, May 28, 2012

VoiceThread and Van Meter Schools

In class this week we were asked to use a Web 2.0 collaboration tool called VoiceThread.  At its core VoiceThread is a "conversation in the cloud."  Think Google Docs merged with Google Voice and Video in a simple, easy to use interface.  Check it out here.  Have you used this in your classroom before?  I know our Biology teacher has used this tool multiple times before, but I never really understood the power of it until this class assignment.  It was great to see slides, PDFs, and a video while other people comment in real time along the side.  My cohort members have logged in at different times and left comments on different slides so it was great to see what they said.  Overall, I am very impressed with this tool and look forward to using it in my classroom in the future.

The VoiceThread that we looked at today was all about Van Meter Schools in Iowa (Map).  A key component that we looked at was their promotional video.  There are really four things that I noticed in this video that I wanted to comment further on in this post:

1.) Van Meter Schools is a K-12 model that has some really cool things going on.  It reminded me a lot of the district and school that I work in currently.  We are also K-12 and our class sizes are small as well.  We have also integrated technology throughout the curriculum – from iPads in elementary and middle school to MacBooks in our 8-12 grade classrooms.  For more information on Van Meter Schools or FAIR School click the links.  It was great to see another school doing similar things as we are in Minneapolis.

2.) Van Meter Schools have embraced technology.  It appears that there are a lot of school districts that are doing this across the country, and many of them with iPads specifically.  Here in Minnesota, Lakeville Public Schools just rolled out 1800 iPads in their buildings.  Whether iPads, MacBooks, or some other tool, the end result is that Van Meter has embraced the technology.  They understand that technology is a cornerstone in education today and this is referenced on their Teaching and Learning Technology page as well.  Technology is a large part of what they do there.  The same emphasis appears at FAIR School in specific reference to our 1:1 MacBook program.  Check out more information about that program here.

3.) The town of Van Meter and the school district appear very progressive.  They have moved ahead of other Iowa and midwest schools to embrace this technology.  In fact, they have done it with overwhelming community support as well.  That appears to be a large hurdle in today's world – How to get the public to understand the need for students to have access to technology.  In Inver Grove Heights, MN (a southern suburb of Minneapolis) their technology levy has been defeated twice.  Check out the moving and realistic press release by the superintendent.  Having technology as part of the curriculum is an important piece of the educational landscape across the country today.  It fits in directly with the Iowa Core Curriculum and the revised Minnesota standards as well.  However, how many school districts crave for the community support that they have in Van Meter?

4.) Van Meter gets the idea that technology is a TOOL to aid in education.  The English teacher in this video says: "The laptops are a source for information.  They don't make the teaching, they make the teaching easier."  How true is this statement?  Too many school districts get caught up with the big shiny object (iPads more often than not today) and do not really have an integration plan.  After a little digging I found Van Meter's Library Science Curriculum.  What do you notice about this?  The big thing that I saw was that skills that are very specific and scaffolded throughout the grade levels.  In our school district I believe most of our students can accomplish the skills in K-8, but then our official media classes stop.  It would be great to hear more about how Van Meter meets these high school curriculum requirements.  Too often I think we "assume" that technology literacy is taught in our high schools.  Is it really though?  Can our students accomplish everything on Van Meter's high school list?  Can they do it effectively?  This is a skill I want to look at specifically in our high school throughout the summer.  Students need to continue learning about technology in high school, using the Partnership for the 21st Century Skills as a framework, in order to be successful in the future.

How do your students or schools use the P21 skills?  Have you heard about all the awesome things going on at Van Meter Schools?  How do we teach media and technology skills in high school?