Saturday, March 15, 2014

MACUL: Thoughts and Reflections

Yesterday I was able to attend the MACUL conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan with the rest of the Secondary MAC cohort.  I was excited to have this opportunity to attend a professional conference where so many creative minds come together to talk about education and technology.  Throughout the day I was able to attend three very different sessions.  In this blog post, I will briefly talk about two of the sessions I attended and what I took away from them.

The first session I attended was presented by Liz Kolb and focused on gamification in the classroom.  Liz spoke about shifting the focus from grades to acquiring skills for her university students.  While I do not see myself "gamifying" my entire class, I appreciated that Liz spoke about the upsides and downsides to gamification.  She mentioned that while students had choice in which quest they could pursue to receive badges, students did not always like this choice.  Sometimes giving students less choice makes the learning process less overwhelming (and easier to grade!).  If I do gamify an aspect of my classroom, I will also be sure to remove the leaderboard factor.  Leaderboards were meant to act as a motivational tool for students to work harder on quests.  However, students only resented the leaderboard because it made grades too public and created animosity among students.  I appreciate hearing what worked and what didn't before I try to implement any features of gamification in my classroom.

The next session I went to was focused on using pictures and videos in science and math classrooms to create more engagement.  The presenter treated the session as an actual classroom and asked the audience to solve the math problems he provided on the board.  However, instead of using traditional math problems from a textbook, the presenter used pictures of a wedding cake and a can of frosting to understand volume and surface area.  Drawing students in with problems that are applicable to their lives outside of the classroom induces engagement and provides meaning to learning.  Throughout the session the presenter stopped and asked about the teaching moves he implemented during the session.  This reminded me of one of our MAC classes, but I appreciated the way the presenter reflected on his own practice and asked the audience to do so, as well.  As a science person, I felt that I learned the most from this session even though it was geared towards math.  I want to try to incorporate pictures and videos into my science classroom that allow students to think about the world scientifically.  It is not just about finding "real world connections", but it is about developing students' minds to see the world both mathematically and scientifically.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Edubloggers: College Admissions and Math Apps

This week I decided to follow the education section of the New York Times and I came across some fascinating articles.  The first blogger I chose to investigate writes articles about how technology and social media are affecting the lives of high school seniors applying to college.  In one article, she writes about the story of a prospective freshman at Bowdoin who tweeted some inappropriate comments while attending one of the school's tour days.  The admissions team came across these comments and, as a result, the student was not admitted.  In a subsequent article, the blogger writes about how she was surprised by the fact that it was news to parents that admissions teams have the ability to check out prospective students' social media lives.  This made me think about where students receive their social media etiquette, if not at home.  In this sense, I believe it is part of our jobs as teachers to bring proper social media skills to the classroom.  How can we expect teenagers to understand how their virtual world will affect their real world if we don't explicitly tell them?

Secondly, I chose to look into another edublogger who wrote about educational apps.  The article pertained to math, but I think this sentiment can be applied to any subject area: "The idea is that by keeping the entire app lighthearted and full of amusing sounds and images, children do not notice that they’re being tested on their arithmetic skills." (Eaton, 2013).  The beauty of the apps is that they trick kids into learning because it's FUN!  So why can't we make learning just as fun in the classroom and disguise traditional tests with more informative/fun assessments?  For example, have a student design his or her own math game to demonstrate his or her arithmetic skills, or have a student research the science behind video games to demonstrate his or her mastery of cognitive functions?  I believe that teachers can make school more fun, but can we possess all that an app has to offer?  Perhaps we should be investigating more academic apps to try and emulate pieces of them in the classroom.  You could certainly bring the apps into your classroom through technology, but this is not possible everywhere.  I also think some teachers may be hesitant to bring in technology that may threaten the job of the teacher.  Personally, I think it would be great to disguise testing and learning with games and I intend on researching apps for my science classroom.  I don't know if I will ever teach in a place with a one-to-one policy, but I do not think that should determine how "fun" your assessments are or how much students are engaged in the learning process.  Like I said, I think it's up to me to research these apps and bring aspects of them into the classroom.  What this looks like, we'll have to wait and see.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Cellphones in the Classroom

Yesterday I took away my first cell phone.  I told a student to put it away and that if I saw it one more time I was going to give it to my mentor teacher for the rest of the school day.  I walked away and two minutes later I saw it out again, so I took it away.   Cell phones are a constant issue in my mentor’s classroom and this was the first time I really took action.  I feel like I’m constantly telling kids to put their phones away, which I hate doing, so this made me think about how I could make cellphones part of learning. 

This reminds me of something Rory brought up earlier in the year.  We are living in an age where whatever we as teachers do in the classroom has to be so engaging that students won’t want to have their phones out in the first place.  While I agree with this, it sounds like such a daunting task.  I’d like to think that I’m an engaging educator, but this seems tiring.  One solution would be to use apps in the classroom and integrate cellphones into instruction. Then again, I toy with the issue of equity in my classroom.  From a survey I administered early in the semester, I know that all students do not own smartphones. 

I also think students need to learn how to be respectful with technology.  When you hang out with friends or family, it is not very polite to be glued to your cellphone.  Is this how kids are when they’re out of school also?  I also think about what is going to happen when students apply for jobs or for college.  Will they still be distracted by their cellphones and how will this impact their job or future academic performance? 

While I don’t have the answer now, I think there needs to be a balance between using cellphones for instruction and putting them away when it is not appropriate.  Just as we need to teach students how to manage their online life, we need to teach students how to manage their real life with ubiquitous tech use. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Podcasting and Audio Tools

A few weeks ago I attended a presentation about podcasting and audio tools.  The presentation, led by my peers, addressed a variety of tools that teachers can use to promote learning and engagement in the classroom.  I found this presentation to be eye opening because I was introduced to familiar tools, such as Google Voice, in an unfamiliar way.  I found the presentation useful because it gave me ideas for how to use these tools in my classroom. 

The first idea the group presented was using podcasting as an instructional tool.  I have never really sat down and listened to a podcast so I learned a lot about what they are, their history, and how they can be used in the classroom.  Originally, iPods were built for podcasts so there is a multitude of resources available on iTunes with topics ranging from current events to scientific studies.  I enjoyed learning about podcasts because I like the idea of having another representation of information to give to my students.  Some students may be auditory learners and listening to a podcast may be able to reinforce concepts that I have gone over in class.  Additionally, podcasts can be used to introduce a lesson as homework.  The only issue I see with this tool is that all students may not be able to access podcasts outside of school.  If this is the case, I could attempt to incorporate podcasts into instructional time if I feel the information is relayed in an effective way. I look forward to experimenting with podcasting in my teaching. 

The second idea the group presented was audio and voice recording tools.  Specifically, I enjoyed hearing about Google Voice because I already have a Google account.  There are so many things you can do with Google Voice that I was unaware of before the presentation.  For example, you can set up a phone number that is only connected to your email address.  This way, students can communicate with you outside of school without calling your main phone line.  Additionally, I saw this as a great way to spread access to contact with the teacher.  If a student does not have access to the internet at home, he or she may not be able to email a teacher outside of school.  However, many students do have cell phones and these can be utilized to communicate with instructors for additional help or any other concerns.  As a beginning teacher, I will be interested to see how I can incorporate both of these tools into my instruction.  I think one place to start would be to assess the access students have to technology outside of school.  Once this is quantified I think I will be able to incorporate these tools, or ones like them, into my teaching.  

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Tech in My Placement

As I sat down with my mentor teacher to fill out the tech in my placement survey, I was surprised to find out about all of the resources available to students at DSA.  Within my mentor's classroom, technology is seldom used and if it is, it is often the teacher that is in charge of it.  There are instances where students are permitted to use their netbooks during class, but technology is often seen in the form of a projector where the teacher is guiding students through a lecture.  I was surprised to find out about all of the resources that can be checked out of the library, such as digital cameras, camcorders, laptop carts, headphones, scanners, and smartboards, because I do not interact with them much in my classroom.  I am wondering if many teachers in the building take advantage of these resources.  Perhaps they are not utilized because they are not readily available in a classroom, or perhaps it is because technology is simply not integrated into curriculum in a way that garners frequent use.

Throughout this process, I was also surprised to find out about the differences in resources between individual classrooms at DSA.  There are four other teaching interns at DSA and we all seemed to have a different list of technology that was available in our classrooms.  Some had smartboards and projectors while others did not.  Additionally, we all seemed to have television sets in the classroom, yet some worked and others did not.  I wonder if the discrepancy between available technology is based on content area (math vs. science), or if it is simply a matter of not replacing items once they are broken.

I found it interesting that the technology students interacted with most is in their own hands.  Students at DSA are able to check out their own netbook at the beginning of the year and are responsible for it throughout the school year.  Not all students choose to check out a netbook and I wonder what the motivation is to obtain one.  We have used the netbooks for instructional purposes a few times in my classroom, yet some students use them for inappropriate purposes such as online shopping during class. I hope to incorporate the use of technology into my teaching so that students will be more motivated to use these devices for instructional purposes than for distractions.  There are many resources at my school that I have yet to tap into.  I hope I can take advantage of what is available to me and my students as I start to take over more classes this year.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Build it and the money will come...

When I think about technology use at Detroit School of Arts (DSA) I think about the outdated netbooks that students have access to, the tv in the classroom that isn't connected to anything, and the overhead projector that my mentor teacher uses on occasion.  It doesn't seem like there is much room for innovation, but then I heard from Pete Pasque.

Pete is one of the founding teachers at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor.  He came to class to speak to us about all of the ways teachers are helping students organize their digital lives.  Skyline is doing amazing things when it comes to integrating technology into the curriculum.  Each class has its own Google page and students can organize and manage who they share their work with.  Students have the opportunity to show teachers their research process through Google docs and pages and they can even collaborate with other students.  This digital world that has been created at Skyline is truly amazing, but all I kept thinking was: how could this be implemented at DSA?

Then Pete told us about his experience as a beginning teacher in a wood shop class with outdated technology.  He described how the students were able to utilize the technology that was there in order to demonstrate to the administration the need for updated materials.  By the end of the year, the room was filled with new computers and technology to use in the classroom.

This story was inspirational to me, as I could see what I needed to do in order to update the current technology at DSA.  I simply had to make use of the materials given to me in an innovative way.   If you use the technology and build up the infrastructure, the funding will come.

It is much easier to write a grant for something that is already taking place than to start from scratch.  If you can show someone what you can do with what you have, imagine what you can do with what you don't.  After listening to Pete, I am more motivated to incorporate the given technology into my lessons instead of ignoring it.    It is important for students to learn 21st century technology skills no matter what the medium is that you have to teach it with.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Future of Reading?

When I think about reading, I think about a book.  I don't think about a Kindle, an iPad, or my computer.  But that is what reading is turning into for the students we will be teaching.  Is their concept of reading going to be completely digital?  Is this necessarily a good thing?

The Common Core State Standards seem to think it is.  The Smarter Balanced assessment, which aims to test standards designed by the common core, is presented to students in a digital form.  All reading passages, math problems, and audio segments are presented on the computer.  While most media and information we get these days is online, I can't help but think about how a different format makes you think differently.  We recently read an article about the extra cognitive resources needed to process electronic material.  With all test questions on the computer, how many cognitive resources are left for students to focus on the test?

One solution would be to prepare students for this format throughout the year by presenting information in a mainly digital format.  As a future science teacher, I suggested having students learn to read material on a computer.  But how can I really teach this if I haven't mastered this skill myself?  While I enjoy reading some material on the computer, scientific articles are still the one thing I would rather print out and mark up with a traditional pen and highlighter.  After four years of college, I still cannot get the same value from reading an article on the computer as I can from reading it on paper.

So why would I ask my students to read scientific material in digital form?  Is it for the test?  Is it really the future of all reading?  Ultimately, I want my students to be prepared for tests that they will need to take throughout their K-12 career.  But beyond that, I want my students to be prepared citizens for life outside of the classroom.  Which method is better for personal preparation:  digital or paper-based?