Monday, March 19, 2007

Challenging Issues

Miguel Guhlin writes today about a posting by Jennifer on her blog My Integrating Technology Journey and he asks how others might respond to the questions that Jennifer was presented with during an interview. OK…I love a challenge! Though this gets long, it was a great opportunity to think through some of these issues tonight.

These questions seemed to fall into some categories so I’ve taken them and regrouped them into the categories that made sense to me. My answers to these questions are in italics at the bottom of each category.

Procedural Knowledge – Skills and Procedures
* You need to spend almost two months teaching how to use all the new tools and English practice will only be possible later in the year?
* How can you be sure that students won’t write dirty stuff (this was the concept they used)
Answer: Yes, I need time in the beginning to make sure that students have the specific skills that will enable them to use the tools efficiently and effectively. Once we have these skills in place, we’ll be better able to use the tools to our advantage for learning. In other words, the procedural knowledge that we build will support the declarative knowledge which is the understanding of the concepts we’re going to learn this year. Since our focus will be on the learning, I’m confident that the students won’t be thinking about writing inappropriate things. However, if they do, we’ll deal with this within the concept of the learning and how such conduct affects the learning of the individual as well as the class.

Instructional Tools/Materials
* What’s a blog?
* What’s a wiki? My question what is the wiki for???
* What’s a podcast? But we can’t incorporate them at school because we don’t have loud speakers.
* What are yahoo groups?
Answer: Blogs, wikis and podcasts are tools that allow us to be creative, collaborative and communicative – all of these are skills needed by our students to be well prepared for the work world of the 21st century. Specifically, a blog is a tool for communication. They provide us with the ability to develop and reflect on our thoughts and ideas and for others to contribute to that development and reflection. Blogs place our written expression in front of a larger audience than what has traditionally been available. Wikis promote collaboration. With their use, students will be able to collaboratively create content and will be able to continually work to edit and refine that content. The wiki, because of its ability to retain the history of those changes, will serve as a way for us to evaluate the progress of our work and our thinking as the content is developed. The podcast serves as a creative means of communicating learning of a concept. In order to create a podcast, students need to have done a tremendous amount of learning and then must be able to summarize their learning in such a way as to communicate this in a brief amount of time. Students collaborating to communicate their learning in creative ways is one way to summarize the use of a podcast instructionally.

Management of the environment
* Kids can never be left alone in the computer lab
* What happens with students that don’t have a computer home how can they follow your subject?
* If computers don’t work what will they do?
* There will be two students per computer-how will they work?
Answer: Management issues need to be taken into consideration whether we’re using technology or not. Can students be left alone (anywhere) if they are engaged in a learning task? The answer here can be yes, especially if we’ve taken the time to build understanding of the goals, use of the tools and expectations for the students’ responsibility in the learning process. The issue of computer access is not just for this class but for our school as a whole. Access at home is an issue that we have no control over and therefore, we will work to be sure that students are working outside the classroom on the planning and organizing needed before we create the product. In other words, they’ll be working through the process prior in order to create the product. Access to computers in school is something we need to consider as a school, as an educational community. In order for our students to be prepared for their future, they need to have access to the tools that they will be using. We need to work closely with our technology department and with all levels of administration to be sure that the 21st century learning tools and resources that our students need are available to them at all times. We need to also consider strategies for expanding access to technology for our students. While two students per computer is not the way that they will work in the real world and it will provide some challenges to us, I’m confident that our students are mature enough or will continually develop the maturity needed to deal with sharing the access. In the meantime, we can work together to plan for expanding access to technology within our school community.

* Who manages and reads the blogs?
* You must correct every blog entry
* I want it to be exam oriented not to be a open classroom.
* What about assessment
* You must support the teacher and use technology as a means of allowing the teacher to improve her students practice for International exams
Answer: The “big picture” of instruction in the classroom has four important pieces. Instructional goals, instructional strategies, grading and assessment. The end result of instruction is the construction of new knowledge. Exams will come and go but what our students take with them out into the world is even more important. If we do our jobs well as teachers, we will design assessments that give us a picture of how our students have achieved the instructional goals and use their learning to construct new knowledge. Our students don’t need to be better test takers, they need to be better readers, writers, and learners.

* Plan your classes very well because if not it will all be a waste of time .
Answer: You hired me because of my expertise as an educator, because I have skills that you considered desirable in someone who is to be responsible for the education of children. Planning for student success and continual learning will always be my top priority. It is the most important part of my job whether I place my students in front of a computer or in front of a stack of books. My lessons will be designed to take maximum advantage of the learning situation and the learning tools. No time is ever wasted if the students are engaged in the learning process.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

All in a Nutshell

Nutshell - Easy to-do list, online notes and a search box Annotated

  • If you used Wallnote before to create notes and task lists you'll love this new version called Nutshell. You can still create notes, you can still create a list of tasks with details. But now, there is an RSS feed to all of your information giving you the ability to use it collaboratively. Nutshell also provides users with a way to search the web while creating your notes and tasks.
    - post by quirkytech
Great improvements have been made here - check it out!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Teaching students how to learn - what a concept!

Brian Crosby notes a really important article recently published in Edutopia titled “Don’t Weigh the Elephant---Feed the Elephant.” (Download the pdf and scatter copies around your school!) The connection here for me has to do with the curriculum work that’s been done in my district over the past four years. Our curriculum consultant, Janie Pollock, came in to the district, not just talking about why we need a well-aligned curriculum but also, what we need to do instructionally to help our students really learn content. Happily, ASCD will soon be publishing a book that Janie wrote about his very thing.

The results of a study noted in this article show that, when students understand what the article calls a “growth model” of intelligence, when it was actually taught to the students, achievement improved and students were more willing to work toward improvement. Wow! What a concept…teach the kids that they really can learn and how to learn!

We’ve been learning a little bit about how a lesson might be designed to take advantage of what we know about the brain, learning and instruction. Students need to know what the goal of the instruction is, we need to help students get ready to connect new learning to what they already know, present the new learning, give them time to apply what they’ve just learned and then, summarize their learning which brings the lesson to a close. This lesson design is totally in sync with what we’ve been reading in the research about the brain and how learning takes place.

I wrote recently about pre-exposure – this is also what we might call using an advance organizer. We have many technology tools that will help students to see the learning goals as a visual representation [PageFlakes, Protopage, Google start page] therefore helping them to see their learning goals for the day/week/month/unit as well as where we’ve connected learning together. For example, we might create an Inspiration diagram showing the major topics, vocabulary and ideas to be taught within a unit of science – BUT leave out the links so that students can create their own connections during the learning. Why not present that at the beginning of a unit? As the unit goes along, the teacher could re-visit this organizer asking students to think about how the ideas, topics and vocabulary link together and create the links on their own copy of the diagram. Hmmm…then, at the end of the unit, have students pull out their Inspiration diagram with all the connections and links they’ve made and have them write about how and why the connections were made – no right answers, just a demonstration of the learning and connections that were going on in their brains during the instruction. Could there be a more powerful way of really getting an accurate and true assessment for learning as well as a look at any misunderstandings that the student may have? If we can only "feed" students with the skills that will help them improve their own achievement, we will become better educators for it.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Responsive Content

I think we all have our “gurus” – our trusted sources who have information that we need or want or will be able to inform us about new ideas, thoughts, concepts. In 1998, as I was beginning my present position in the technology department, we had a “guru” that we talked about a lot as we developed our plans to implement the use of technology in our classrooms. We were paying attention to one guru in particular because he was encouraging us to think in different ways about how we were going to approach this change that was about to happen in our schools. We needed to read and grapple with new thoughts and ideas about how to help teacher learn these new tools and how to implement them successfully. There weren’t that many people around who were doing that in 1998 so we studied the ideas that we found carefully.

Later, our guru turned to the Internet to publish his ideas and we read more - but they were simply ideas on a page. They weren't the kinds of "living" documents that we have today. And, as time went on, we managed to find our way through our previous confusion and questions and, though the writing was still inspiring, we were developing our own ideas and asking new questions.

As time went on, we found new “gurus” who were writing about technology in the classroom and they were asking newer, more important questions. They were reaching beyond classroom research, classroom experiences and into the business world and the creative world for answers. We don’t talk much about our first guru anymore. Today, I’m thinking about why that is.

Our first guru, while publishing his ideas on the Internet, differs in one important way from our newer gurus - and that was in the use of interactive tools that allow for the exchange and working of ideas. In a blog recently, someone used the term “responsive content.” That’s really a very powerful term. The first guru isn't publishing “responsive content.” If you can’t comment on ideas, edit to update or improve on ideas, or know right away when new writings have been published – you can’t respond in a way that adds value to that work or to your own understandings.

This notion of “responsive content” is powerful, not only for our students, but for our teachers as well. Collaboration among students, collaboration among teachers must have “responsive content” in order to be valuable to us. It’s that ability to respond to each other in such a way that we can add value to the ideas of others or to our own content as a product of interacting with others that makes the tools we have today so important in our work as educators.