Monday, February 23, 2009

T & L in a Networked Classroom: Reflection

It all began with a conversation with Cheryl Baker at the Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference. I had signed up for a class that began on December 1 but I had heard nothing about it. The next day I got a message from Jeff Utecht...the course would be based out of Bangkok. Amazing!

Then came the ice storms. No internet for days. Brutal.

Finally, I engaged in a first-time Skype conversation with someone half way around the globe (picture perfect video) and then had a phone conversation with Kim. Both were extremely supportive.

I was excited about this class. Wikis, podcasts, blogs...I knew what they were but had never created/used them. Not only was this class going to allow me to reach the top of my pay scale; it was the class that was going to be the glue of Web 2.0 tools. I was going to have to use the tools this time around and not just hear about them. I was excited.

There were many positives of this course. First of all, online coursework allows for such flexibility. I would often find myself working in the middle of the night. No need to spend time/$ going to PSU. In addition, I set up my very own PLN (it took a couple tries but it's working great now).

I found the required reading assignments to be very appropriate and they served as springboards to additional information and reflection. It was great that so much time was spent on reading, writing (26 blog posts!), and creating. I feel much better equipped to use web 2.0 tools in my classroom and school.

Before writing my blog entries, I would take time to reflect. I would sometimes find myself with conflicting views. What did I really think? The line would be blurry at times. Blogging is a wonderful way to share thoughts.

I would highly recommend this class to others. Jeff, your Thinking Stick blog provided a wealth of information and insight on the future of education. And Kim, it was obvious how much work you put into making the T & L wiki up-to-date and your encouragement was so welcome. You are a great team.

Since this class started, I have an iGoogle page, a Tech Mentoring wiki for a class I'm teaching, have gotten the 8th grade teachers to design a project (War of 1812) with students creating wikis, have the 5th grade teachers planning to have their students create podcasts on current events, and the 6th grade students are blogging. Now I look forward to doing more with project-based learning.

Thank you everyone for this opportunity to glue all the pieces of teaching and learning in a networked classroom together. You have all contributed so positively to my learning experience.

Bill Strickland--One Person Can Make a Difference

If you give kids flowers and you give ‘em food and you give ‘em sunshine and enthusiasm, you can bring them right back to life. –Bill Strickland

Bill Strickland, One Slide Show at a Time--what an inspirational video it is! There are so many messages conveyed, and I agree with every one of them.
  • People have a tendency to show world-class behavior if they are treated that way.
  • How one thinks of someone determines his/her behavior.
  • There is absolutely no reason why poor people can’t learn world-class technology.
  • Children often become like the teachers who teach them.
  • Mothers will go where their children are being celebrated every time
  • Music brings light when the world seems dark.
  • One must be prepared to act on his/her dreams just in case they do come true.
  • If one makes a friend in every town, he/she will never be lonely.
As I watched this video, I couldn’t help but think about the power of a teacher and how we can make a difference in the life of a child. I was reminded of a comment made by one of our new eighth graders recently. “How come specials teachers (music and computer literacy) get me and my regular teachers don’t?” he inquired. I was taken aback. Yes, he was very needy. On day one he made sure to tell me he couldn’t do anything on the computer (which wasn’t true). By day 22, he was providing his neighbors with computer assistance. I believed in him and he responded. Given his love of music, I have a feeling that he would agree that music brightens a dark day.

Indeed mothers go where their children are being celebrated. My mother (14 children in all!), never missed a PTO meeting or a concert or a play. When I interviewed then presidential candidate Barack Obama, he stated that one of his first priorities in education would be to increase parental involvement. He would strongly encourage inner city parents to take responsibility for their children and be involved in their education. It seemed far-fetched…easier said than done. Yet, here is Bill Strickland who has actually accomplished this feat. Bravo!

My greatest teachers were my parents…not in the classroom but in the home. In so many ways, I am like them. And as an educator, I am very much like my favorite teachers in school. We educators have such an impact on our youth.

Bill Strickland shows us the power of one individual and the importance of making connections with others. If you believe in something, it might just happen!

PBL: Do We Need to Take Baby Steps?

Administrators in my district seem to understand that change is gradual. The most recent focus is on differentiated instruction (PBL has not hit town yet—at least not in name). Add a differentiated lesson this year and another one next year. Engage in data-driven decision making. The “yeah, buts” are assured of the need to only take “baby steps.”

After reading/viewing all this information on PBL, I think teachers in my district are the lucky ones. Our technology coordinator is a ‘friend’ with a vision. He truly supports technology in every way. Since enrolling in this class, I asked for a wiki and got one. I asked for a blogging setup for a 6th grade language arts teacher, and within days students were sharing their writing. At this point, if we want access to go beyond Bownet, the district’s server, its a matter of making the request, with an assumption that the teacher will ultimately be responsible for students’ cyber behavior.

Prior to all these readings/viewings on PBL, I have only known the basics. The examples provided in the readings--The Wealth of Nations, Beyond the Border, and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, for example, incorporate different standards and content areas. How can one argue against the need to integrate and apply instruction to real-world situations?

I was particularly interested in the assessment component. Group projects are not new; they’ve been part of teaching for years. As a parent, I hated them. Not because of any lack of learning that went on (it was typically all that it was supposed to be—engaging, inspirational, thought-provoking, real world, etc.), but with busy schedules, it was difficult to coordinate. In my opinion, PBL opportunities should be focused more in the classroom and less on homework where oftentimes parental influence on outcome is too great. I particularly remember when my son (freshman at the time) was assigned a group project (group grade) with an assigned teammate, who was not interested in doing homework. Period. When I talked to the teacher about my concerns, she said getting others to do their fair share was a good skill for my son to develop because he would face the same situation in the workplace. No, he wouldn’t, I countered. The lazy worker would not last in the workplace. My main point was that when his partner was in middle school, we could not get him to come to school, yet it was my son’s responsibility to make him work?

Which leads me to the topic of group grades and Howard Gardner’s take on multiple intelligences and assessment in schools. What a beautiful point he made regarding assessment in sports and music. It would be nice to see students working toward a goal without the stress of the final grade. So what if the mousetrap car didn’t perform as well as it should have? Let the designers have another go at it. I think the paralyzed perfectionists would allow themselves to be much more creative if the outcome was not about the numeric grade. It should be about the process as much as the final product. We should be encouraging them to take academic risks. At BMS, we are investigating standards-based report cards (but have been told parents will continue to expect numerical grades as well). Once again, more work. Why can’t one replace the other?

PBL is about collaboration, integration, and developing higher level thinking skills. It has a place in all content areas and at all grade levels. Yet, to me, some subjects lend themselves better to it than others. For example, the science classroom and PBL go hand in hand. Students have had lab partners for years. The math teacher, on the other hand, is probably more worried about all the individual skills that need to be taught for those normed assessments (as a former math teacher, I understand this way of thinking). Somehow we need to strike a balance. We don’t have block scheduling at my school, so that does limit the possibilities for PBL. Given the ‘relevance and rigor’ of lessons that are delivered around me, I’m thinking that there is lot of PBL going on, but nobody calls it by name.

I look forward to finding mini-PBL activities for my computer literacy classes (4 different grades). I only have students for 22 days each year. How can I fit it all in? My role with promoting PBL in my school will likely be the ‘sharer’ of ideas with the regular classroom teachers and helping them execute the plan.

Given that the tools of communication and research are at students’ fingertips, I see technology playing a major role in PBL. From using probes to collecting data to researching, technology should be readily available. I’m confident we can meet the standards and find the time for PBL, allowing the students to collaborate while teachers give up some control of the classroom to make PBL a part of their students’ learning environment. We continually take baby steps in education; maybe it’s time to take a few strides.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My Digital Footprint

What does my digital footprint look like? The google search found no dirt. With just Muriel Hall, the search yielded an author and a professor…not me. Then I added “Bow”—the chair of the honor roll review committee in the School Board minutes, the Computer Club and Math Team advisors, the webmaster of a drug and alcohol coalition website, the computer literacy teacher, and the recipient of an NEA award. I added ‘nh’ to the search and found my 5k road race results and lo and behold, #21—‘Skype call sign up T & Learning in a Networked Environment!”

The youth of today seem so naive when posting information and particularly photos on the internet. After seeing a number of profiles, I can say that they don’t seem to get it. I mentioned in my previous post the need for more time. Surely I could spend hours looking at what former students are up to! My, how some have changed since 5th grade. I was shocked with the cleavage, alcohol, and drugs in the photos. I wonder what impact the photo of Michael Phelps smoking pot and the consequences that followed will have on anyone. Probably not much.

On Sunday, my son tried out for a chance to be a ‘racing president’ for the Washington Nationals. I find it interesting that in his interview he was asked if he wrote a blog. He also provided his e-portfolio, which he created shortly after his college graduation. I would say that it played a huge role in securing his primary employment.

Chances are that what we find alarming today will be no big deal tomorrow. One only needs to have watched The Bachelor on Monday night to understand what I am talking about. It brought promiscuity to a new level. But in the meantime, these 20 somethings are going to be looking for work and needing to find places to live. They might want to clean up their acts before it’s too late. Hopefully they won’t need to come to their rescue!

Teaching in a New Networked World

Essential Elements for Growth in a Classroom: 1) Food for thought, 2) Time to think, 3) Encouragement, and 4) MentorshipVicki Davis

Teaching in a new networked world is a big undertaking for us all, especially the leaders in technology. Others look to us to do the driving. We are expected to discover the Web 2.0 tools, experiment with them, initiate ideas for projects, encourage our peers to use the new technology, and collaborate with and mentor them.

I’ve come to realize that one of the biggest roadblocks for me is time, not only time to think, as Vicki Davis asserts, but time to search, time to read, time to write, time to view, time to share, and time to teach. I have learned so much over the past year—five technology courses, a technology conference, and a computer camp. To many this might seem excessive (it is!). Web 2.0 is all coming together for me. After all this, I am finally beginning to understand what it is and how it can be used to enhance student learning. I know there are so many great ideas awaiting me on the internet. Just watching videos on sites such as TeacherTube and K12Online08 Video Channel makes me realize why this whole process is slow and arduous. It is so time consuming to keep up with our RSS feeds (which are interesting), search for lesson ideas, and explore new tools (UStream, Elluminate, Mind42, and SecondLife). I would love to introduce a globally collaborative project, but I just need to find the time to research and plan it. We search for ways to teach students how to protect themselves…to teach them the impact of their digital footprint. Should we use i-Safe or CyberAngels? What are the rules of netiquette? How do we best teach searching strategies and website evaluation? There is just so much that falls under the technology umbrella. Sure it sounds great to teach higher level thinking skills through media literacy; I loved watching “Kick it up a Notch—a Film School for Video Podcasters. But one could become overwhelmed with all that there is to do and know.

So why are there so many teachers who don’t use many web 2.0 tools to teach in their new networked world? They don’t have enough time to learn about them. They are focused on differentiated instruction…curriculum mapping…NWEA testing…NCLB…digital portfolios. It never ends. It’s no wonder they cry out, “Just let me teach!”

In my school we are making a dent with technology, but we continue to struggle with answers to the who, what, when, where, why, and how to get the job done most effectively. The good news is that much growth has been made in the past year, our technology mentoring program is thriving, and the future looks bright. Now if only there were more hours in a day!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Personal Learning Networks--School vs. Home

“We are no longer driving technology. Technology is driving our race.” --George Siemens

Personal learning networks (PLNs)—are these in my students’ future? They probably already are to some extent, but not much in our schools yet. My PLN door opened in December. I became a facebook user; I set up an iGoogle page with bookmarks, RSS feeds with up-to-date news, class blogs, political blogs, educational blogs, technology blogs, as well as blogs on other topics of interest such as scrapbooking, music, and television. It was information overload! I started the page over and made it more manageable by reducing the number of blogs I would follow and the number of news feeds I would receive. Fortunately, it’s working for me now.

Lots of folks have shared their thoughts on PLNs. The diagram here is David Warlick's concept of a PLN. According to Dan Tobin, there are 4 stages of learning in a PLN: data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. Karl Fischer blogs that our students need to “find, evaluate, organize, synthesize, remix, and repurpose information in order to understand and solve complex problems.” Vicki Davis writes that a PLN becomes "a student's virtual locker, and its content changes based on the student's current course work." To me, it sounds like somewhat of a glorified Webquest of sorts. Will Richardson notes that PLNs give students the opportunity to extend their knowledge by connecting with other learners around the world, giving them access to leaders and experts beyond their classrooms.

The thought of having students set up and use iGoogle pages in school is scary. How are we as teachers able to monitor these? As much as we’d like to believe that students are ultimately responsible for their cyber behavior, this is not reality. Teachers must assume the responsibility if we assign the task, we are told. After all, we are the adults and they are the children. Of course, we have so many filters that it would be virtually impossible for them to create an effective personal learning network anyway. This leads me to believe that maybe what we can do in school is teach students how to set up a PLN and then they go home and set it and expect the parents to ultimately assume the responsibility.

Am I too old school? It’s difficult for me to embrace Siemens premise that “our schools are still teaching basics for an era that no longer exists.” While I clearly see the need for technology in our schools and the need for connections beyond the classroom, surely students need to know the basics—the 3 Rs—in this era. Phonics, spelling, and math facts still have a prominent place in our current educational system. Yes, we need to change with the times (e.g., getting rid of Zaner Bloser penmanship instruction makes sense), but we can’t lose sight of the basics, particularly in the early years; they are the foundation of learning. Period. I am not ready to give up on that notion.

I do agree with Siemens that technology is driving our race. Our schools need to continue to teach the basics and support learning with technology. Personal learning networks in our schools? It might take a while, but we are beginning the process by having the students blog and podcast. RSS feeds, wikis, podcasts, etc. make sense for our students, but I think allowing social networking in our schools is inappropriate; students (as well as teachers) should do this on their own clock. Teachers are held accountable for DIBELS,NECAP, NWEA, SAT, and AP scores, whether we like it or not. Time is of the essence. And yes, PLNs do save time if set up appropriately. Why search for information when it can come to you? We must use technology in our schools to our greatest advantage and give our students the necessary tools for the 21st century, while not losing sight of the need for students to have the basics of education and the responsibility not always be placed on the teacher.

Will Richardson's video paints a clearer picture of PLNs for me. As teachers, it makes sense that we must build our own PLN to understand its potential and how it could impact student learning. We then must teach students how to build their own PLNs and how to use them 'safely', 'ethically', and 'effectively'. I believe that as individuals get older, they gain more power to 'find their own teachers.' With so much focus on differentiated instruction, PLNs make sense. We are not always the experts. I totally agree with Will Richardson that many students already have PLNs. I get that we need to teach students how to find trusted sources within the nework, but I'm still wrestling with the notion that our young children can design their own curriculum according to their personal needs. The line between home and school is blurring. It might be time for me to get new glasses!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Web 2.0 Tools--the 7 C's of Learning

Web 2.0 has been the new way of using technology in schools, but until this fall I didn't really comprehend its magnitude. I attended forums on the topic and engaged in debate on how much access students should have to the Internet. Truth be told, I hadn't really used that many Web 2.0 tools. Just yesterday I made my first podcast using GarageBand. I used a wiki for the first time for T & L in a Networked Classroom. I joined Facebook over the holidays.

For this blog entry I read/listened to viewpoints of Web 2.0 contributors such as David Warlick, Tim O'Reilly, Jennifer Kyrnin, Andy Carvin, and of course Jeff Utecht. Having taken a couple technology courses recently and listened to Kathy Schrock's keynote at the Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference this fall, I finally get it. It is as the video shows, a 3-pronged concept: 1) RIA (rich internet application, 2) SOA (service oriented architecture)--RSS, Web services, mash ups, and 3) social web. It is about using tools such as blogger, wetpaint, voicethread, jing, flickr,, myspace, youtube, Google maps, etc...all those cool (and oftentimes free) tools to Create, Compose, Collaborate, Communicate, and Contribute. In essence, Web 2.0's true meaning is to Connect to one another through the Internet as a sharing Community of learners. I'm lovin' it!

By the way, I have a youtube video to include but it disables my podcast. Any ideas?

My Podcast: WMH Midday News

After many attempts to add my podcast to the blog, I have finally succeeded (of course it took a phone call to Shanghai, but that's cool). And now I know how to add a youtube video as well. Yay! I was missing the Internet part; I thought I could just add the file as a video. Not so. I used Gcast and it worked beautifully.

This is a sample podcast made with GarageBand similar to what our fifth graders will be creating. They will read a newspaper (hard copy or online) and select a few articles on which to report. They will write a script and then broadcast the news. This classroom project will be ongoing.

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Friday, February 6, 2009

Relivin' the Famous 1984 MacIntosh SuperBowl Commercial

Podcasting has been a techology buzz word in education circles for a while now. Most think of it as making a recording using a program such as GarageBand with its fancy jingles. But it's more than just a recording; it must be episodic to be a true podcast. Why are we encouraging teachers to have students podcast? Is it so the children can use a web 2.0 tool? Does it provide them with an opportunity to communicate using technology? Does it foster creativity? Does listening to podcasts help students learn? Yes to all the above.

I have spent a great deal of time listening to various podcasts. Many seem to be ones for a long car ride. The conversation is sometimes painfully slow. I just listened to an iOnMac Podcast which has a 5-star rating (don't ask me why!). Blah...blah...blah.

But I also listened to jutech's lesson on podcasting (it seems as if he owns the web!). In addition to many other podcasts, some good and some seemingly a waste of time, a couple favorites were the Macworld San Francisco 2009 Keynote Address and a discussion on how the MacIntosh computer revolutionized the PC industry back in 1984. I loved the flashback to the debut of the MacIntosh ad during the SuperBowl third quarter (real recording!). Just recently I purchased a poster on eBay commemorating that infamous commercial, with the same runner but with an iPod attached to her hip. The web referred to the Macworld keynote address as a podcast...maybe a video podcast?

A couple weeks ago I met with my tech mentors and discussed different projects they could complete with their students to add richness to their lessons. Topping the list were wikis and podcasts. It was decided that our fifth graders would be podcasting during Newspapers in Education Week. They will record one minute of news (national, local, sports, and weather) as a radio broadcaster does. Short and sweet. I decided that I will make one for this class to be used as a sample project for the students in the language arts classes. I have a webpage linking various online newspapers. I hope to link the completed podcasts to this page for others to enjoy. I've written the script and look forward to creating my very first Podcast. :-) I will record tomorrow and it should appear here if all goes well.

Do Bloggers Care About Copyright Laws?

Reading all these blogs with pictures and videos has left me wondering. What about copyright laws? In my school district, our media specialists are vigilant about having students follow the law. Students can only use 10% of a song. They are taught to ask permission to use others’ work of any kind. There is not much flexibility when determining what falls under the fair use umbrella. Surely a YouTube video is not supposed to be used in a school project without the creator’s permission (no problem; the site is blocked anyway). Is it ok to post a picture (as I've done here) taken using the Grab utility?

A teacher recently asked the librarian to download a song on her 20 computers so she could have the students complete a project. Not possible. Only one computer could use it. I’m left wondering how this impacts student learning. It makes no sense really. It’s not even as if she was going to post the projects on the Internet. I have been told that I should not use a song that I purchased on iTunes for a PowerPoint presentation for a Back-to-School Night slide show. Oh, please.

Now I must confess. I might have broken the law with a project I introduced to my students. I paid iTunes $.99 for Shut Up and Let Me Go by the Ting Tings (a YouTube video; not sure how to include it in a blog; I'm guessing maybe it's copyrighted!). A couple of my students created this music video for their Intro to iMovie project. Our technology director says that if you use a song purchased from Apple’s iTunes for a project using an Apple application (i.e., iMovie), then it meets the copyright guidelines. It sure makes sense to me; I’m going to side with him on this one. But of course by posting this video on this blog might be what makes it illegal. I sure hope not. BTW…I do have the girls’ permission.

So, I’m curious…is there a different standard for information found in blogs? I doubt it, but I have a sense that bloggers don’t care really. They’re all about sharing.