Sunday, April 29, 2012

Final PLN Report

As EDM310 winds down, I am gearing up. I love this project. And will be using it regularly to keep myself up to date on the latest in e-tech teaching. For those of you who are at that point and interested, I included a "Jobs for Teachers" site. I am not opposed to working outside Alabama. I have included history teacher blogs, interactive history lesson plans, and a link no history teacher would be without, The History Channel. I used up my space! I need more tiles!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

C4T 4

I was delightfully surprised to find my teacher blog was Elsanor Elementary School in Baldwin County. I have had the privilege of subbing there a few times. It is a small school off the main drag. However, do not let that fool you. This school has plenty of technology to crow about! The first video I watched was Art in Motion-Hippie Man. That was so cute, I just had to go on and watch the how-they-did-that video. The amazing thing to me was out of chaos art! Securing an ipad above a work station, the students filmed themselves creating the art project, edited it well, and threw in music. Think they will be content to sit in a class by the 9th grade for honors history and listen to yours truly drone on! No way, and thanks to EDM310, they are not going to be sitting. They are going to be creating history with history.

Earlier in the school year, Elsanor students had traveled to the Mobile Museum of Art. They studied collages, and decided to do one themselves. Again, Martha Yim broke out the ipad, and the students gathered around a table. The best part of this video is the animation they added. All I will say is a man, a horse, and a bug. Go see!

That is not all going on at Elsanor. Here's what a fifth grader did. His artwork got published in Imagining the Ocean: Art Mixes Well with Marine Science.

Bottom line: This kind of creativity at this age must never be allowed to atrophy once they get to middle/high school. We as educators at that level must be prepared to teach them in a wonderfully new way, utilizing the talents they will already have, and let them raise the bar.

Blog Post 13

Ahhhh! Electronic silence. It can be a beautiful thing. When I took my dogs for their daily walk, I listened to them, watched them, wondered why Kota insists on drinking what appears to be dirty water, or why Bo totally ignores everyone including me. Without my usual tunes to distract me, I enjoyed watching my newest edition, Daisy, romp about, hoping she is adjusting well. I walked longer with them, down to Wolf's Bay, watched the two Labradors swimming happily. I watched the shrimp boat come in, and heard sounds I have long since tuned out, like a seagull, an outboard motor, a dog shaking off the water. I think I may skip using my tunes for my walks in the future. I forgot how exhilarating the real world can be.

I found my cell phone in my hand several times. I finally tucked it away. Frankly, it was an empowering thing. I never really cared for talking on the phone, which is ironic when you learn that my first job was phone collections. No, I wasn't an evil bill collector, thank goodness; but I did have to make calls to people and ask about balances on medical bills. However, I am totally into texting. I had a couple of friends text during that time and ask if I was incapacitated. They could think of no other reason I had not texted them. I wandered onto the front porch and sat down by my dad, who simply raised his eyebrows. "Not on the computer?" He asked.

I had decided to some reason not to tell anyone what or why I was freeing up my time. It seemed to add something to the assignment. So I just sat down and said, "Thought I'd find out how things are with you." Fortunately, my family has an endless list of things to discuss so we passed time while the dogs wandered around the front yard. The sunset was incredible, been a while since I had really paid attention. It was sheer freedom just to sit on the porch and talk to my dad who shared some of his childhood stories, a few I had never heard before. Considering my father's age and health, this was a treasured moment.

However, about into eight hours, the novelty was wearing off, and I was getting antsy. I kept eying my TV remote. I dvr the shows I follow, mostly because I love to skip the commercials. Letting go of TV and its accompanying videos pleasures was rather hard. Once or twice I wondered if I would make it. At least once I thought, maybe I need e-media fasts more often. Apparently I am addicted to TV.

Again, I have to consider myself lucky. I love to read, and we have a small library in our home. So I choose a good book I had not read in a while, settled down into a loungely chair and began to read. At first, I recaptured that idyllic feeling I had walking the dogs, sitting on the porch with dad. After an hour, I was bored. I admit it. So less than 16 hours into the fast, I was tapping my feet, rolling my eyes, and counting the stupid hours up. Am I addicted to e-media? Yes!

Did I make it 24 hours? Yes, I did. But 30 seconds into the 25th hour, my cell phone was on, and my computer fired up. So what exactly did I learn? That e-media is too much a part of our lives to expect our students to just drop it the minute they enter school. They have lived and breathed e-media from day one. We cannot expect them to leave it behind for classroom instruction. We OWE it to them to incorporate it into our lessons. I can assure you they will, with or without your permission. Short of literally taking all electronic devices from students (and that is unrealistic), you will not keep them from it. An old aphorism fits here: if you can't beat them, join them. Make e-media a vital part of your classroom instruction.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Progress Report on Final Project

I am by nature a reflective and serious kind of person, until my sense of humor saves me from being too boring. After consulting with my compadres, we have decided to serve up an entree of serious with a side of fun. Hmmm, or was that fun with a side of serious. I had better go back and check out Teamview 7 chatlog. And the fast-n-furious emails I constantly send out with just another idea or suggestion. Sometimes I hit send and smile, wondering if my comprades look at the sender and think, "If I just delete it, I can pretend I never saw it. I mean, really, have you any idea of the number of emails that shoot out in cyberspace and never reach their destination." One thing I love about the Psychotic Salmon Berzerkers, they show up when they are supposed to ready and handy with the technology. How can our project go wrong?

C4K Summary for April

Taylor in Vermont was my World Blog Challenge C4K blogger. She is great, writing a new entry each week, adding photos, and links as she goes along, much like I did with EDM310. Although her entries are short, each one focused on a specific topic. The first entry I responded to was about her home state of Vermont. She talked about the cold winters, the wet springs, the hot summers, and Lake Champlain. And, oh yes, Ben and Jerry's ice cream. I told her a little about hot southern Alabama, and living near the Gulf of Mexico. My favorite Ben-n-Jerry's is Super New York Fudge Chunk. I asked her what was hers.

Next, Taylor wrote about her family. She has 10 brothers and sisters, but only one brother and one sister share her parents. I told her I have a brother and sister too from my parents, and four stepsisters with four stepbrothers! Her favorite subject is language arts. Mine is history.

Taylor expressed strong feelings about smoking. She added a photo to this entry, reciting some facts about the negative health issues. It felt great being able to share with her that I have never smoked. Interesting map on smoking populations.

My last C4K post was about Skype connection between Room 6 in New Zealand with students in the U.S. Room 6 prepared and sang a hello song for their fellow Skypers. Then they made an iMovie of the interview with the Beatles' Come Together playing in the background.

I am going to miss doing this assignment every week. Conversing with younger students has helped me to "see" how their education world is expanding exponentially, and how much they enjoy it. If we as teachers do not keep up, they will leave us in the dust!

Creativity and Curiosity: My Thoughts - Special Post #12A

Last week in another USA education class, we lightly touched on the pros of ability-grouping classes. Our professor commented, "That is too a radical idea for the current administrators of public education." That woke up my curiosity streak. What exactly is ability-grouping class, and why does it scare the system? When someone says something is too radical, that generally means that something is too scary for someone (or a bunch of someones). So I went looking. Here is what I found on ability grouping. Grouping students according to their "perceived" capability is already being administered in elementary schools, particularly in reading and math classes. Through assessment tests, a teacher can place her students into smaller groups broken down by below level, at level, and above level. Using progress-monitoring tests, the teacher can advance the students in each group until ideally all of them are above level by the end of the school year. This is known as homogeneous ability grouping.

The radical aspect is to create heterogeneous ability grouping, mixing ages, and relying only on ability to match students up with the best classes. In other words, throw out the vocation/college tracks and place students where they can get the best education. For example, if a student is above level in English, but below level in Algebra, then he/she would go to Honors English and Remedial Algebra. Carried further out, students would be taught their subjects as supports for one another instead of in isolation. Unfortunately, some big guns are against the idea like the National Education Association, The National Governor's Association, the College Board, and the American Civil Liberties Union, which peaks my interest as to why the governor's association and the ACLU would even care. Surveys indicate parental support is high, and teachers are a mixed group. Most of the objection centers on the narrow focus of assessment testing, and teacher quality for the low achievers.

Once I felt pretty confident I understood the basic concepts of ability grouping, I hunted up a few teachers discussing the advantages and disadvantages. It appears to be highly successful for increasing reading fluency and comprehension. I immediately thought of a sort of educational Prezi with the student at the center, and each line leading to a subject interacting with the other. I think it has tremendous application and would change our schools. In this atmosphere, curiosity and creativity would thrive.

This is a small demonstration of where curiosity can take you. And creativity can make it visually interesting (or at least I hope so).

Right now I think I will go try to find out what the ACLU has against heterogeneous ability group teaching!

BTW I found Elli through Google+, and left an comment about her article on the site.

I did find out why the ACLU was strongly opposed to ability grouping. I cannot say I agree, but I will say it is something that should be looked at and resolved. It is their collective opinion that low achieving students would be taught by teachers with low expectations, actually keeping the students from moving forward or even at level. It is also felt that due to the cultural bias in IQ testing, the low achievers would be disproportional African-American and/or Hispanic. I say we should address those concerns and prove them groundless.

Blog Post 12

Is there a difference between history and social studies? If so, what is it? What would be the most technically effective way to teach history? How is it being taught today? Evaluate The Center for Teaching History with Technology and Teaching History with Technology by Dr. Steven Hoffman comparing and contrasting their methods. Which is closer to your idea of teaching history?

picture of computer battle game
Dr. Hoffman teaches key critical history concepts through a World War II simulation software game. It is designed in such a way that students take on the leadership roles of the countries involved in the conflict. Some incidental learning takes place when the "leaders" learn they have to for example clothe their people, suddenly they have to trace textile imports. The game allows for changes in key decisions made in the war so a different outcome can be explored. Instead of a traditional history classroom with the odd poster, this is a computer room with a huge screen. The lights are dimmed, and the game begins.

ancient manuscript style
The website is hosted by edtechteacher, an organization with a mission to " teachers and schools leverage technology to create student-centered, inquiry learning environments." This site links to the site specially dedicated to history. The edtechteacher also has a blog I am now following, accessible from either website. The history center contains a page dedicated to why teach history with technology with the most important reason being the one I share...teaching students with the tools they are already familiar with in a way they like to learn. Few students today have the desire to slug through outdated dusty old journals to find gems of knowledge; however, they will search for hours on Google. It just makes sense to follow their lead. The site also contains multimedia presentations, lesson plans, blogs, chats, mindmapping, and word clouds. Each item is explained. You can also access teacher assessment tools to evaluate learning progress.

Dr. Hoffman's philosophy about his decision to utilize simulation software is much the same as the Center's. Both believe in tapping into the student's familiarity with the computer and using it to teach them critical thinking. To me the whole point of history is to learn what has worked and what has not. I cannot think of a more effective way to demonstrate that than experiencing it...and now we can virtually. I wholeheartedly embrace technology learning for a history class.

My beef has been and probably will continue (until and unless I can change it) that what passes for history in K-12 is actually a mixed grouping of social, economical, anthropological, and historical information, some and much of which is geared to a predetermined conclusion. For example, a historical perspective would be: did the windmill hill people actually exist? Where were they located? Critical thinking could be: could they have been the builders of Stonehenge? Today, for what passes as history, the footnote would more likely be: 4,752 years ago, a group of nomadic people settled near what today is Stonehenge. Most likely, they were hunter/gatherers who decided to stay on the grassy plain and become the farmers of the ancient world. Since such people were deeply religious, they used the stones to make a circle to determine the seasons, the time, and to serve as a place of worship. The windmill hill people were most likely the ancestors of the pagan Druids.

Am I alone here in suggesting (gasp) that we just study what we may know about the windmill hill people, and acknowledge the rest is speculation? That to me is the joy of history. Learning what is really factual and what is interesting speculation. As long as these are labeled correctly, learning from history can be fascinating.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Blog Post 11

I had my usual reaction in watching First Graders in Ms. Cassidy's Class: another pro-technology-in-the-classroom video. I am convinced already! My quest has changed from why is it necessary to how do I implement it carefully?

It was the skype interview with Ms. Cassidy that gave me direction in my new quest. In fact, I wish I had watched her interview earlier in EDM310. She sees protection of her students as part of her techno responsibility. Finally, a teacher addressing an issue that to me has been the main reason I have been dragging my feet on embracing technology in the classroom full force. I believed in the technology, just not how to keep it safe. Granted, her comments are only a beginning for me, especially since her students are so much more younger than mine will be. Ms. Cassidy uses a combination of common sense and instruction in protecting her students. For example, she explains to them why they should use only their first names and to never put their photo with their name. The student-created videos often have voice-overs from other (older) students. So there is enough misdirection I think to make it somewhat harder to pin down a child's name, photo, and other sensitive information. On the classroom website, there are links to educational activities and games; however, Ms. Cassidy mentioned that she checks these links herself to make sure they are indeed child friendly. She readily admits that once at the game sites, it is harder to keep the children from clicking through to other less educational games with few if any filters for younger children. So she addresses this through instruction. Since most first graders are relatively obedient, this is probably sufficient. I am now conducting my own personal search with teachers in middle to high schools on how they keep their Internet activity clean.

As to what kinds of technology Ms. Cassidy uses for her classroom, I thought her best comment was I keep looking for the next best thing. She noted that blogging was huge for a few years. Now, she has her students blog perhaps once a week. What she seems to be moving towards is more of a global outreach, like pairing up with a class from Gadsden, Alabama for a sort of skype sharing time. Immediately, I see the advantages in global collaborative projects for say social studies. What better way to really understand the Sahara than to see it through the eyes of those who live near there.

I was intrigued to learn that Ms. Cassidy started simply by wanting something more for her students. She taught herself how to use the technology and work it for her grade level. She was highly complimentary of her technology coordinator who keeps school administrators like superintendents up to date on the advantages for her students. Interestingly, she said that the various principals were either neutral or ok with it, but not necessarily enthused.

I started the Ms. Cassidy way myself. When my former company jumped onto the Facebook, Twitter, and Blog wagon, so did I. I joined a writers' group that started a blog and began (and still do) blog for them once every two weeks. However, like Ms. Cassidy emphasized, getting a PLN takes you from firecracker to rocketship. You can only be so creative by yourself (or like me have an idea without knowing how to work it); having that PLN to fall back on gives you the ability to not only find the next best thing but how to implement it and best of all personalize it.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Blog Post 10

To be honest, Joshua Bloom's Do you Teach or Do you Educate? seemed a funny little word game with definitions. I teach, I educate...the words are really synonymous. What matters desperately is the method in which I teach or educate. I think that Bloom was really describing methodology. I want to be the kind of mentor that gives students the chance to figure it out. If they fail, then we together can work it out, that doing something again and again can result in success. I want them to trust that my class is a safe learning environment. By setting up learning objectives and parameters, the more advanced students will not be held back; and the less advanced students will get the scaffolding they need at first. That was not the kind of education I received. I managed to get by, but I did not flourish.

As I was kicking around my thoughts on this subject, I listened to What Makes Great Teachers. For this panel, it came down to a teacher caring, continuing to learn, and being comfortable in the classroom. The teacher/educator can poison the classroom with one brittle, thoughtless comment. And sadly may never regain ground with that particular group of students. I experienced this from a positive perspective firsthand in my student teaching semester. My first test had to be typed out, and I had consistently misspelled Karl Marx. I went home and graded the test, still not noticing the error. The next day as I was handing out the test scores, several of my students gleefully pointed this out to me. I would like to think it was my ability to laugh at myself that saved me here. I promptly said, "You are right. Everyone gets 5 extra points for me being wrong." At the end of the unit, I had a bonus question, "How do you spell...?" And they all knew what I meant. It was a powerful moment for me when I realized I do not have to perfect to be a great teacher. So to that panel discussion, I would add a well-developed sense of humor.

Pencils! Scary things. Have pointy ends. Lead poisoning? Can chewing the eraser really make you sick? Why do I have to take this home? Or you trying to fool me into thinking this is fun? I broke off my pointy end. What is a sharpener? That sounds dangerous. I like dangerous. I am going to have to let my mom decide if I should use this at all. I think it is against our religion. How can I have pen pals if I am using a pencil? Did you know the Russians use pencils in space? We are not Russians. No, I do not want a pencil, but thanks for asking. Pencils (and papers) are not green, and I believe in being green. On the test, do I need to fill in the entire circle or can I just make a dot? If this is a No. 2, where is No. 1? Hey look at this great art piece I just did.

Those are the thoughts that ran through my head when I visited Tom Johnson's witty essay about the fear of using technology in the classroom. Although Johnson makes it clear in that oh-so-sardonic way that technology should be feared no more than the pencil, I disagree. To my knowledge, pencils have not made global social networking a useful venue for roving predators. Figuring out how low-income families are going to handle technology-based homework is an issue Johnson discusses, but leaves out the practicality of it. And though I am sure this is not going to be a popular comment, we are in a test-based education system at the moment. I hate the system. It is not really doing what it was meant to do. However, it is there. And even the textbooks you will use in class are geared toward the tests. There is a rumor afoot in the schools that Washington is even considered ramping up the ante by making the tests nationally standardized. This is a colossal mistake.

All that said where I do agree with Johnson is that technology in the classroom is vital to the 21st Century student. It is their world. And as educators, our collective duty is to prepare them for that world, not run screaming out of the school chased by flying pencils. Ok, it was just another silly thought that came out of that slightly weird place I call a brain.
And you thought I made that up.