Sunday, October 16, 2011

What REALLY happened in a 2-hour Technology Professional Development

In my posting on Wednesday regarding a 2-hour Sketchpad workshop I was doing, entitled "How to do a 2-hour Technology Professional Development" , I listed four basic things that in that short amount of time would be important to do: Inspire, Relate, Practice, Support.

Let me now share the REALITY of what happened in my 2-hour workshop.  Already, not an ideal situation with only 2 hours.  However, it gets worse.  Those of you who are teachers and have attended any professional development will be able to relate to this: the 2 hours turned into 1 hour and 15 minutes because the district whole-group session prior to the break-out sessions didn't end on time - so good-bye 30 minutes.  And then, of course, all break out sessions were told to end 15 minutes early so participants could fill out evaluations.  So...down to 75 train teachers on Sketchpad.....with the expectation they will start using it after the session.


But, the show must go on with the same four focus points still necessary. Key here was to read my audience and focus on their needs and what was going to be the most useful to them in this short window of time. Flexibility is a requirement for any technology presenter and I tried to be as flexible as possible with my goal to have these folks leave with the desire to try Sketchpad in their classroom. Below is my synopsis.

1&2) Inspire and relate - time crunch here, so I decided these two objectives could be combined.  I did a quick survey of subjects taught.  Since geometry was the big winner, I did my favorite intro to Sketchpad, using a simple triangle that shows off many of the dynamic features of Sketchpad to explain how the use of Sketchpad provides the ability to construct infinite examples of a construct in order to develop definitions, collect data, and help students make numerous discoveries. It seemed to do the trick. Here's an abbreviated version of what I did:

3) Practice. The first activity ate up about 20 minutes of my 75 minutes. I wanted to make sure they got their hands on the software, so with them all on computers, we opened up Sketchpad and went to the Help menu and opened up the Learning Center.  They explored the videos, sample activities, and tutorials and then actually did one of the tutorials, Dynamic Algebra, so they could play with Sketchpad tools and see how the tutorials could help them and their students not only learn the software but learn math content.  The plan was to let them play and explore and then be aware of all the built-in resources to continue learning and to have ready-to-use lessons. I walked around, I heard some grumbling and frustration.  Here is where, as a presenter, you have to read your audience and be flexible.  Turns out, the consensus of the room was they felt they could play and go through the tutorials on their own, and they would much rather use their limited time in the workshop to know how to get lessons.  So...change of plans!

4) Support. The software has built in lessons, but the district had also purchased for the teachers the online curriculum, Sketchpad LessonLink.  Originally, I knew I wouldn't have enough time to really explore this with the teachers, but based on their feedback, it was lessons they wanted to leave with, and...thinking about the short time I had, if I really wanted them to USE Sketchpad, I needed to leave them with a way to get even more beginning activities that they could implement right away and build on their knowledge of Sketchpad while still having dynamic activities. Hence, we spent the last 35 minutes of my short time with them walking through Sketchpad LessonLink, how to search for activities by content and skill level, save them, and create a student web page.  And of course, most importantly, where to get the tutorials/videos on how to do this!!

When time was up, I think most people left feeling they knew how to find a lesson and get started with their students.  Will they all do it?  Probably not....75 minutes is not enough time to convince teachers to try something new if they don't feel comfortable with it.  Will some of them start using Sketchpad? Yes...I think so...and those few will hopefully share their experiences with others and it will become viral.

The lesson here, for any professional development, whether 2 hours, 75 minutes or the preferred way - long term over months - is to have a plan, but to be flexible and willing to alter that plan to meet the needs of your participants. Because ultimately, you want your participants to leave a professional development experience thinking "I could do that"....if not, then you have wasted your time, no matter how long you had.

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