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Friday marked the end to the first quarter of the school year at ISB. As my first quarter here comes to a close I’ve started to reflect on the experience so far.

There is a reason why international schools make you sign a two year contract. It takes at least a year to get your feet on the ground, to figure out where you belong in the school, and acclimate to the your new host country.

Personally Thailand is feeling more like home daily. Our stuff has arrived from Shanghai and our apartment is feeling more like home every day. We’re slowly figuring out the language, the customs and just how to live. It takes time to adjust. It takes time to find the right milk brand, the fruit you want, the stores with the best prices, etc.

On the school front I’m feeling a little disjointed at the moment. I feel behind the scenes we’re doing some good stuff.

  • We’ve created a school YouTube account and already have 31 videos uploaded.
  • We’ve bought a Flickr account for ES, MS, and HS. The elementary has already uploaded over 1,000 pictures.
  • We’ve launched PantherNet

PantherNet will be our educational portal when it is complete. When complete the image below depicts what will be in place for teachers and students.

ISB e-learning portal by you.

Moodle is already up and running, Elgg and WordPress MU should be in place before 2nd Semester and the wiki by the end of the year at the lastest. By the end of this year the school should have an e-learning portal in place that if it chooses to go 1:1 will be able to support the use of laptops in and out of school.

 
Even though the school has the hardware, human resources, and the e-learning space in place. It is still trying to wrap it’s head around this new learning landscape we now find ourselves in. What does learning look like?

We’ve moved past trying to integrate technology, and looking at what learning looks like in 2008 and beyond.

I think ISB is ready for that transition. We have the systems in place, we have the resources in place now we just need to take that leap and change our teaching methods and our learning outcomes to match the skills and ideas that students will need for their future and not our past.

ISB just launched PantherNet. Our Moodle system that syncs (or is trying to) with PowerSchool. It’s still in Beta but early feedback from teachers:

“Where has this been?”

That’s a good sign!

Yesterday I met with a fourth grade teacher eager to see if PantherNet could fit into her classroom. I haven’t used Moodle much in the elementary but there is only one way to find out if it could be beneficial in the learning process.

The only way to do that is find a teacher who is game to give it a go, spend some time with it, and see what happens with the students.

I met with the teacher for about 30 minutes yesterday talking about her classroom and finding out what she wanted from the program.

It’s not about doing one more thing, it is about replacing something the teacher is already doing and then see if:

A) It works for both the teacher and the student.
B) See if there is added value in the learning process.

After our 30 minute talk the teacher was very excited, asked if I could come back in an hour to give chatting a go with her students.

So, we created a simple chat in Moodle to see if there would be any use of it in a 4th grade classroom….a clear and simple experiment.

The topic: What are some of your favorite things?

Chatting in 4th grade by jutecht.

We chatted in class for about 30 minutes. It was interesting to watch the students interact in this way. Some would write something and then run over to their friend to see if they saw it.

A couple observations:

Keeping the chat on topic was difficult. Both the novelty of using chat and the ability to say thing you might not say in class came up. We talked about both issues when we debriefed at the end of the session.

Taught students to use @ when responding to someone on a specific topic. They picked it up very quickly.

Looking at the image above, students are still trying to use complete sentences and proper grammar when chatting. Is this the correct writing style for a chat?

As the student were chatting the teacher and I watched and discussed what we were seeing. My favorite moment came when she turned to me and said, “This is like a new genre. We need to be teaching students how to communicate this way.”

And I agree.

The same day I did this chat with 4th grade. I myselft had three Skype chats with people around the world. From the US, Shanghai, and Australia.

This is how business gets done today. It would be interesting to see how businesses use a chat client. I know when I visited Wetpaint headquarters this summer they have an internal chat system running as a way to communicate. I wonder if other companies do the same?

The big moment came this morning though when I bumped into the teacher in the hallway. She came into school today and was bombarded by students in her class wanting to know why they couldn’t chat last night when they got home. 12 of the 17 students in her class when home last night, logged in and tried to chat.

Interesting:

The were never told the web address…they just remembered it.

They were told that the chat would be turned off…yet they tried to use it anyway.

Two students found out how to change their profile picture and uploaded and updated their profiles on the site.

It was what they wanted to talk about in class

…..did we just excite students about learning? Did we just speak to them in their language? Did we engage them with the tools they want to be engaged with? Why the excitement? Yes, it’s new, yes it’s different…but can we get learning out of it?

Questions I still have as we set up “Chat 2” next week. The conversations with students in the class have been the best part. Talking about communication and cyberbullying and doing it in a safe environment that we (the school) can control.

This is a life skill these students will need in 2017 when they graduate from high school. The skill of course is learning to communicate in digital world using new digital tools. The chat client…not so important.

All new international teachers to Thailand must take 20 hours of class work to obtain a Thai Teaching certificate. Today was my first class and our assignment is to reflect on what we learned…..so here I go.

What did I learn today?

We had a great discussion about the Wai. A common greeting in Thailand much like a handshake. The discussion around when to Wai and who to Wai was an interesting one. There are two ways to Wai back at someone. You can just put your hands together and not bow your head or you bow your head.

If a student or someone younger then you Wais you, you do not bow your head while Wai-ing back. You simple just put your hands together and Wai.

You would bow your head to someone older than you, someone of higher social status, or someone who you respect.

Who or what determines when to wai?

-Age
-Social status
-Profession (Teacher, Doctor)
-Buddhist monk
-Gratitude

Learning to Wai is much like learning when do you shake someones hand, when do you just say “hi”, and when is it appropriate to just wave.

The Thai phrase “Mai-pen-rai” translates as “It doesn’t matter” but really it does…but only sometimes…sometimes it doesn’tm and somethings it means No. But other times it means Yes. Confused? Yes….we are too

I think all cultures have phrases like this. In Saudi Arabia it was “Inshallah” which meant ‘have pateints” but really it meant much more than that. In America…what is the phrase that we use? We say “Yeah” a lot, we shake our head in agreement even though we might not agree.

Learning globally meaning learning cultures.

As a technology person you don’t always get to decide where you are going to start with teachers. In fact, most of the time the teachers tell you where you are going to start.

Hence my focus on parent communication. Many teachers are looking at using blogs as a way to communicate with their parent communities.

Now, before I go any further I say they “use blogs” but that doesn’t mean they are blogging. I do believe there is a difference. Teachers find the ease of which you can setup a web site and post new content using a blogging program simple and straight forward.

So blogging and using a blogging program as a website…are to different things. I do believe, however, that you can start using the blogging software as a website for communication and as you get comfortable with how it works, how to create conversations, and how students/parents can and will respond that you can move from a blog as a website to a blog as an actual blog…..does that make sense?

I saw teachers make this transition at SAS: kpower, spower, adecardy just to name three who starting out using a blogging platform and ended up blogging.

Since the beginning of the year I’ve been working with the 1st grade team here at ISB in creating a portal for their parents. Vu, the technology leader, has really embraced the digital tools with the rest of the 1st grade team. They use a Google Doc to plan their meetings, and a blog to communicate with parents.

We talk about making it easy for teachers to use these tools so when I walked into Vu’s room the first day and he told me what he wanted to do I said:

“OK, we can do that….and what if we can do it all from your desktop? You, and the team, won’t have to remember passwords, or sites….you can just put content where you want it.”

Needless to say the Smartones are off and running!


So here’s the setup on the first grade teacher laptops.

  • ScribeFire: Still my favorite client for blogging. It’s simple, straight forward and teachers pick it up quickly. I showed Vu how to install it and connect to the blog and he helped the rest of the team get theirs set up.
  • Google Calendar Sync with iCal: This is different than just subscribing to a calendar. You can write an appointment into iCal and it syncs back to Google Calendar.
  • FFXporter iPhoto Plugin: Vu found this great plugin for iPhoto that allows you to select a picture (or group of pictures) and upload them to Flickr.
  • FlickrSLiDR: We created a FlickrSLiDr slideshow and embedded that on a page of the blog. Now when the teachers upload their photos to Flickr and put them in their set they automatically appear on the blog. From there parents can click on a picture that takes them back to Flickr where they can download it and keep it if they so choose.

So that’s the basic setup…so invision this.

You take a picture of a great project in your class, you download the picture to your Mac which automatically imports it into iPhoto. You select the picture and export to flickr. When it is down uploading the pic it automatically opens the picture on Flickr where you can name the picture and save it. Next you click on ScribeFire, write a post, drag and drop the picture from Flickr into your blog post where you want it, select your categories, and click “Publish”.

You want to add something to the calendar during a team meeting? No problem, while your iCal is open just select your Google Cal add the event and your parents know about it instantly.

We talk about what Web 2.0 can do for a teacher, how about making the web seem like it’s just on your desktop.

At Monday’s after school help session I was talking with a different teacher explaining how she can get Flickr pictures to show up on her blog. My reply was simple:

“You have to understand that the Interent is created by connections or links. Once you understand that it is connections that run the web, a whole new world opens up to you. By connecting people, places, and websites we can push and pull almost any information anywhere.”

There were a couple comments left on my last post about communicating in this new digital landscape. Blogs and wikis might not be the best solution. I agree they might not be…but then again they might be for a particular teacher or school. I do believe however that my thoughts on communicating digitally do not apply to only blogs, or wikis or Web 2.0 tools. I believe it’s just solid advice for communicating digitally period!

(If you want to hear more on that subject you’ll have to come to my Learning 2.008 session!)

These tools are here to make our lives simpler. If teachers can not find that simpleness they will not use the tools. At a technology person in the school you have to find ways to make it simple and help teachers to understand that this is not “just one more thing” but actually replaces some of the old things they were doing. This isn’t deep change, but it’s a start.

Here’s what I find so cool about the Elementary Principal and VP here at ISB.

A week before school starts the admin team decides to add another 5th grade classroom. Which, for those of you that are not international educators, is not a recommended plan of action. First, all international teachers are already starting their new jobs in new schools, and second….it’s the week before school starts and you have to:

A. Convince someone to leave their home and move to Thailand
B. Convince someone that the school is right for them
C. Arrange all the paperwork, visas, etc. to get the new teacher here
D. Have a new classroom all set up with supplies, books, etc most of which needs to be ordered from the States because you didn’t realize last year you were going to add another section of 5th grade.

Now, most administrators would be happy with just going out and getting a “warm body” for the year and making things work on such a short notice.

Yes….most would, but not here. No, our principal knows who she wants, knows the skills she wants in a teacher and then goes out and gets what she wants (she got me didn’t she 😉 )!

Long story short and a couple days late to the start of the school year Chrissy finds herself picking up her life from New Zealand and lands in Bangkok.

Our Principal was really excited when she “closed the deal” with Chrissy and after visiting her blog….I’m excited too.

This is what impresses me the most. Chrissy doesn’t know where the closest bathroom to her new classroom is yet, she doesn’t know how the copying system works…but:

At the moment my class is exploring classroom blogs from all over
the world (with a bit of a bias towards New Zealand blogs ……) because
we’ve started our own class blog.
We’re looking at what other classes have on their blog to decide what
we would like on ours. If you and your class currently blog, we would
love you to leave a comment and a URL on our class blog so that we can visit your classroom blog to take a look around.

We’re especially interested in any “must-haves” you think we should include on our blog.

Don’t worry the class wiki is already set up as well.

My favorite part of the story is the first day I walk into Chrissy’s room we start talking and in that great Kiwi accent states:

“I follow you on twitter, but you’re not following me.”

Oh, how I’m going to love working with this woman!

Welcome aboard Chrissy! (Twitter: nzchrissy)

You have to respect an administration that knows what they want, and then goes out and gets it!

Thanks to everyone who replied to my last post about the Mac software I should install on my computer….keep the programs coming!

On Thursday a lot the teachers asked me if I could help them learn how to use the Mac. Most of the new teachers coming in this year are coming from PC school and are new to the Mac OS.

So I asked if anyone would be interested in a “Pimp Your Mac” session at my house. 13 newbies showed up to learn all about their new machine.

We started off simple with how to connect to the wireless at home and at school, how to change the Proxy setting in Firefox and made sure that everyone could get connected to the Internet. The other new Technology & Learning Coordinator (TLC), Chad Bates (coming from KL), helped as well as we trouble shooted issues on machines and got everyone to a common place.

Then we got geekie and we looked at the dashboard, how to use spaces. The school pre-loaded Jing so we played with that a little bit. We talked about Skype and the built-in web cam. Most importantly though…we just answered question.

Sometimes the best thing we can do is just be there for people to answer questions.

Of course the teaching wasn’t all one way. I learned a lot as well like how to turn on the two finger right-click feature…very cool!

I have to say I was very impressed with the tech skills of the group overall. As I told my wife last night and Kim this morning…..these guys are going to be fun to teach with.

Thanks again everyone for the great tools you gave me in the last post I feel like we need a wiki if one isn’t already started of all the tools an educator might need on their Mac.

Now if I could only get my Entourage Calendar to sync with Google Cal….I’d be all good!

Well we made it to Bangkok without much of a fuss. Cats traveled well and we’re slowly settling into our new house in our new city. ISB is about 30 minutes outside of the city center making our view a little different from Shanghai.

Shanghai

Bangkok

The view is not the only thing different. Last night’s low of 81F and today’s high of 90F just about did me in. The wife of course is loving it and we constantly fight over A/Cs being on or off. So today we compromised and bought a fan. Although we have situated our bed so the A/C is blowing directly on me and not on her. 🙂

The new house is bare as we await our shipment from Shanghai to arrive (a 20ft container) full of “beautiful carpets and furniture” (direct quote from wife).

It was nice though to turn on my laptop and find out that ISB installed a wireless system in teacher housing over the summer. So every teacher has wireless in their house that runs off of the school’s network.

Last night I found myself reading through blogs and e-mails and skipping over links that I knew were blocked…that is blocked in China. It was great when I clicked on an edublogs.org and a wordpress.com link and they both loaded. I have some retraining to do of my clicking fingers. 🙂

Lastly I went to school today and picked up my new school issued computer.

Yep, a new Mac Book with 4GB of Ram. The last time I had a Mac was 9 years ago running 8.xx OS. I’ve been secretly wanting a Mac for the past couple of years so I’m looking forward to putting this thing through the test in the next couple of weeks.

But first I need help from all you Mac users out there. What free software do I need?

My first three are already on:

Firefox
Skype
Twhirl

(Firefox and Skype came preloaded from the school…we’ll work on Twhirl for next year 😉 )

So I’m busy tonight putting in all my Firefox extentions. The onces I can’t live without.

But what I need from the community is the other great stuff that makes a Mac…well a Mac.

What I’m looking for in particular at this moment:

FTP client (free)
Software that allows me to share my desktop via web cam

But I’ll take anything that will allow me to do my job better, faster, and more efficient and of course all that other stuff too. 🙂

So come on all you Mac users…start thowing me those links to software I just can’t live without!