Category Archives: goodteaching

What a Start: Day 1, TLC

(I thought I published this weeks ago, but found it in my drafts!)

Whew. I just finished three intense days with the new Technology & Learning Cohort – a group 10 really smart, fun, and insightful colleagues of mine brought together by our interest in and pursuit of good teaching practice. The teachers are from a variety of grade levels from Early Childhood to 12th grade. There are four math teachers from Upper and Middle School, a spanish teacher (upper/middle), science teacher We spent the three days learning tools, discussing pedagogy, watching TED talks, discussing tools, and collaborating on projects.

To prepare for our year together, each member received an iPad to play with over the summer and we all read, The New Culture of Learning by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown, which served as a backdrop to our conversations over the the three days. In addition, seven of us went to EdCampKeene in August and that help get our ideas bubbling.

On our first meeting day, we began with some iPad app sharing. Lots of good interesting apps came out of it, Puppet Pals, sync pad, iChirp, owl pellets, and many, many more. We came to the conclusion that Syncpad would be a good app to invest in to help create interactive whiteboard functionality with the ipad.  So much potential for kids to interact with each other and the teacher.  Another app we decided to invest in is Pages.  We were still drawn to a document creating app and that one seem to work the best in our desktop/laptop world.

That sharing lasted for at least an hour so we decided to put down the electronics and move outside to have a discussion about the book, A New Culture of Learning and what we hoped to get out of our year together.  There was a lot of talk about being given some dedicated time for experimenting with technology, thoughtfully planning for technology, and having support through adopting technology.  The other theme that popped up in this conversation and in a few that followed, was the tension of changing your curriculum to be more project-based, group-oriented, etc. while teaching at a “college prep” school in which the parents and students expect the kids to do well on college board tests, get “good grades”, and get into a good college.  At a private school, you don’t have to worry about the “standards” and state tests, but you do have more pressure in preparing kids for college.

After a yummy potluck lunch and birthday cake, we watched Michael Wesch’s TEDxNYED talk from March 2010.  I really enjoyed the talk for two reasons: 1. he stresses that technology changes us and we have no choice in it; we change, like it or not.  2. We need to work on helping kids be “knowledge-able” not just knowledgable.  In case you haven’t seen it, here it is:

The end of the first day, I introduced the group to some tools to help them cultivate their learning community or PLN – Twitter, blogs, Diigo.  We easily tied this in to the book and in our discussion about how to keep up with all of the resources and learning.  It was a great first day – there was a lot of energy and enthusiasm and I went home really excited to be working with this group for the year.

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More Distracted or Just Different?

I read Sunday’s New York Times article “Grown Up Digital, Wired for Distraction” by Matt Richtel and I had a reaction similar to other EdTech folks around my PLN.  As I read it, I thought of all the parents reading it and getting over-excited about their children’s technology use.  In the article (read it, if you haven’t already), the author tells the story of a high school senior that cannot finish his summer reading because he would rather spend time on his computer making and editing his own films and conversing with his friends.  The author goes on to present a dilemma: are we raising a generation that is unable to concentrate because of these distractions (cell phones, video games, computers)?  Are the brains of these students different?  Should schools embrace technology or become a haven without technology?

I do believe there are kids who spend too much time in front of a screen, but I don’t blame the technology, I blame parents and educators.  Students are growing up in a vastly different world than we did.  Notice I used the word “different” not better or worse, just different. Today kids are drawn into these devices for several reasons – they are social tools and our brains crave social learning; they provide instant feedback which is so satisfying; and there is always something new out there (continually changing screens, software updates, etc).  Our brains, especially young growing brains, crave all of these things.  And our brains also crave exercise, art, and social interactions.  We all need to balance all of these activities in our daily life.  Adults need to model and teach students when and where to use or not use technology; help them determine how long is too long on the computer or cell phone; and how to put the distractions away and get to work.  Adults are just as guilty: some parents answer cell phones or text at the dinner table or in the car.  I don’t blame it on the cell phone, I blame it on the adult.

The answer, of course, is not to turn off all of the technology in schools.  We need to create schools that use technology as the powerful learning tool that it is when used correctly.  We need to model appropriate use.  We need schools that use technology to prepare our kids for the future.  I like Cathy Davidson’s response to the article, “Why doesn’t anyone pay attention anymore“, in which she says:

Our attention is shaped by all we do, and reshaped by all we do.  That is what learning is. The best we can do as educators is find ways to improve our institutions of learning to help our kids be prepared for their future–not for our past.

and

The problem is not in the students. It is in the mismatch between the way they are being taught and what they need to learn.

I like a lot of what Cathy Davidson says in her post probably because I have been reading her recent contributions in The Future of Thinking (a MacArthur Foundation report) that does a nice job framing a lot of what technology people have been talking about for years about the power of technology in the classroom.

Both of these posts (as well as other response posts) will be good framework to engage parents in a discussion about technology use at home and at school.  I think it is beyond time that school communities talk about the responsibility that comes with giving students these tools and it should be shared by both the school, the teachers, and the parents.

Photo: school zone by sevenbirches

Playing Catch Up

I have been a bit behind the eight-ball since the start of school. There is no way around it – there is lots to do between troubleshooting network troubles (or in our case dealing with a network outage), databases to update, getting teachers ready to print grades and comments, the list is endless. But as I was finding myself with a little time in between projects, I began to clean up my browser window. I am one of those users who has a gillion different tabs open with the hope of going back to read each of the websites that I was referred to by Twitter, or listsservs, or Facebook, or email. In my little bit of time I began going through those tabs and bookmarking the sites, or reading and deleting the sites, to get my browser down to a neat and tidy 10 open tabs.

I came across a few that I didn’t know what to do with. I wanted to share them, but I didn’t feel the need to book mark them, so I thought I’d share them here, on my blog, which has been woefully under used lately.

The first site is this – Ten Things Teachers Should Unlearn – this is a post that I came across right at the end of summer and I thought a good reminder of assumptions that many teachers come to class with:

10 things I think teachers should unlearn…

1. Teachers know all the answers.

2. Teachers have to be in control of the class.

3. Teachers are responsible for the learning.

4.  Students are obliged to respect teachers.

5.  Learning can be measured by a letter or a number.

6.  Teachers should plan activities and then assessments.

7. Learners need to sit quietly and listen.

8. Technology integration is optional.

9.  Worksheets support learning.

10.  Homework is an essential part of learning.

I think most teachers know these things, but I think that when school becomes crazy and busy we often forget the fundamentals and we rely on old habits and may resort back to some of these things.  It’s an important list to keep in mind (or maybe inside your gradebook, if you still have one).

 

Blog Revival

The months since my last post have quickly gotten away from me.  A crazy summer combined with the usual frantic pace of the fall has driven me out of the blog habit – both reading and (especially) writing.  Today I’d like to start back up.  I’d like to bring my blog back as a source of information for the faculty and staff in my school for new tools, old tools, and many “how-to’s”.

dabbleboard_logoI thought I’d start by introducing this online whiteboard tool could be a valuable tool to many of my teachers.  Dabbleboard brings the whiteboard to your computer – when used with a projector in the classroom, it can do many of the things an interactive whiteboard can do.  The best feature I think is the ability to save work or templates for use in multiple classes or just in finishing up work from the day before.  Visit Dabbleboard, sign-up for an account and begin to play.

Powerpoint and beyond

I enjoy reading and watching Dan Meyer’s blog.  He is a truly innovative teacher and I am constantly sending his material to our math department.  Yesterday, he posted a recent presentation to teachers about Powerpoint and how to use it successfully.  Throughout the presentation he also mentions a number of lessons from his class – a great demonstration on how visual cues can capture the attention of all.  Click here for the Quicktime version.

Evolution of English

I stumbled across this video through a post by a Columbia professor (former Bowdoin professor). The video was created by the chair of the Rutgers University English Department, Richard Miller. He makes a compelling argument about how the study of English has to evolve with the read/write world. In it he says of the study of English in the networked world:

(the study of English) excels in human expression and in the study of human culture related to human expression – we should be the place that’s at the very cutting edge of education for students in these areas.

I am glad to see more and more conversation happening in the higher ed world.  It would be nice to engage in a k-16 conversation rather than separate k-12 and 13-16 conversations. Watch it and see what you think.

Have you tried Voicethread?

I’m working on an agenda of workshops for the rest of the school year. One tool that I’d like to get teachers excited about is Voicethread. I’ve now seen it used in a number of ways with a variety of grade levels and it seems that it can be a tool that can be added just about anywhere. I’ve been reading about many teachers using Voicethread successfully (and enthusiastically) with their students:

Jeff Utecht talks about Voicethread in Art classes.

Wes Fryer post about a Voicethread project in an elementary school in NY

This post using Voicethread’s commenting feature to gather ideas on how to use Voicethread

I think the classroom opportunities are endless:

  • In Lower School, classes can use Voicethread with their own class pictures to create a audio/visual newsletter. Especially in the younger grades where students cannot write yet, this would be a great tool for the kids to use in order to better express themselves.
  • In Science classes, students could use Voicethread to document an experiment – a kind of visual lab report.
  • In Math, students could use Voicethread to narrate their way through solving a math problem in order to demonstrate their understanding.
  • In English class, they can put original poems or short stories to pictures.
  • In Art class, Voicethread can be use a tool to reflect on their work.
  • In Foreign Language, kids can create stories or tours using Flickr images and narrate them in their language.
  • In History, they could use use flickr images in a digital narration of a historical event.

I am looking forward to teaching some teachers about this wonderful tool and getting some kids excited about using it.  What are some ways you are using it?