Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

Off the Back Burner

April 9, 2011 1 comment

Serendipity–the lovely coincidences in life where things seem to connect and build on each other.  But do these connections really happen randomly, or is it because our minds are focused on an idea that we are able to see things with different eyes?

Here’s a perfect example.  Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity and risk taking.  As a writing teacher I want to foster opportunities in my classroom for students to take risks without fear of failure.  Ideally I’d like students to leave my classroom unafraid to do something different, because they will know that it leads to greater learning.  Then, thanks to Brian, I came across this article: “Teaching Risk Taking in the College Classroom.” In it author E. Shelley Reid identifies the inherent contradictions present in education that prevent students from taking risks.   According to Reid, students today, “are conservative learners: they worry about grades and want to “play it safe,” they don’t take time to imagine alternatives, or they have low skill or confidence levels that reduce their abilities to try new things. And sometimes my own teaching or grading practices undermine my invitations to take the intellectual risks that are crucial to student learning” (Reid, 2010).  However, instead of going on to bemoan this fact, Reid provides several strategies that teachers can use in order to develop risk taking among students.   While I found many of the suggestions useful, the one that stands out for me is giving credit to students who are willing to take risks, even if the final product is imperfect.   This was a forehead smacking moment.  How perfectly simple and effective, reward the risk takers!

A few days later this post, 10 Ways to Help Students Ask Better Questions was retweeted.    In it teacher John T. Spencer describes the practices he has adopted to help his students become critical thinkers and risk takers. “Question everything has become a mantra in our class and it extends all the way to me,” he explains, providing the important caveat that the questions must always be respectful.    Again, there were many ideas that I can implement into my classroom, but the most important thing I walked away with was the affirmation that if I want my students to learn these skills, they need to practice them.  This is a challenge as I often fall back into previously established habits and routines,  and I am working with students who are reluctant to be wrong.  Still, these ideas, along with the thought of how I can “flip” my classroom have really got my brain bubbling.

At this point I’m not sure what these ideas will look like in practice in my classroom, but one thing I do know.  If I really want to prepare my students for the future I need to help them move away from the need for perfection because it limits their learning and growth.  I also know that initially it will be difficult for my students to let go of their dependency on the right answer, the clean copy and the perfect score, but the benefits of making this shift will be enormous.


Kindling the Flame

February 12, 2011 Leave a comment

The night before the school librarian was to give a book talk to my class she brought the books home.  The next day, she was out sick.  Five years ago this would have meant a total change in lesson plans.  Not anymore.  Instead of a back-up activity, my class participated in a typical 21st century task, they Googled the titles and read the reviews.  I watched as my students browsed sites like Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and viewed blogs and author pages in order to make decisions about what to read.  I listened as they shared a book’s “rating” with each other; making the connection to skills they had learned writing their own reviews.  They were engaged, enthusiastic, and totally on task.  We talked about how to reserve books using the public library’s website and their library card.  Then came the big question, “If I have a Kindle, can I use that?”

Recently e-readers have become widely popular, especially with the event of the iPad. This popularity, along with the Millennial Generation’s affinity for all things technical, has brought about a shift in the market, with adolescents representing a large number of eReader sales, and resulting in a surge in YA downloads.  As a teacher, I want to promote access to tools like this that encourage reading and help students develop critical literacy skills.  But policies designed to protect students, often restrict this.  While there is a movement to lift restrictions and provide students with access to personal devices in school, fear of negative backlash is holding many school districts back.  What does this mean with regard to the digital divide?  Recent studies by the PEW Research Center have found that when it came to broadband access at home, Whites far outranked their minority counterparts, however, Latino’s are more likely to access the internet on a cell phone “in lieu of a home internet connection” (2011).  Providing access to such devices and teaching students to use them as an educational tool could level the playing field in a country where minorities are more often connected to the Internet through their cellphones than on a home computer.

Here’s to you Marshall McLuhan

June 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Today at the New Literacies Institute our keynote, Donald Leu, spoke to us about his work with literacy and technology. Afterword we broke into groups where we generated our own definition of “new” literacies, and were asked to come up with a visual representation of our definition. Although it was meant to generate some conversation around the topic of the institute, I found myself wondering if there really is such a thing as new literacy. Isn’t literacy just literacy?

Kevin H in his post to our Ning stated some things that are helping me to make the distinction. According to him, new literacies allow for more interaction between the reader and the writer, or at least more visible interaction. Now, readers can respond directly to the writer. I also think that new literacy involves understanding this interaction, and recognizing how one viewer’s perspective can be dramatically different from another. There is no truth, just our interpretation of events. Just look at the tweets from today’s session to see what I mean. (#nli10)

Perhaps it comes down to this, digital literacy is media literacy, but it is an evolving media, one that is no longer static and easy to categorize by simple definitions. If we want our students to be critical users rather than merely consumers of information we need to teach them to recognize the layers of meaning inherent in all messages, regardless of the medium.

Playing with Capzels

June 12, 2010 1 comment

I recently revisited Capzels, an online timeline creator I discovered while I was taking a digital storytelling class.  Capzels allows you to upload video and images, as well as mp3 files.  You can also choose from a variety of backgrounds and fonts to create customized timelines.  It was fairly intuitive and I managed to create my own in a short amount of time.   Here is an example of the capzel I created:

This tool has a lot of potential, not only for creating digital stories, but also for creating digital portfolios.  Students could create capzels to show their progress throughout the year, or simply to reflect on a unit.  They could then share them with teachers, peers and family members.  Sharing capzels with families would also help them to see the progression of their child’s learning, not simply the final product.  There are privacy settings, so individual capzles could be available to all, or completely private. Private capzels could only be viewed by those who were given the url.

Capzels does have a couple of drawbacks. Users do have to register, so capzels would need to be managed for younger students. Also, uploading video was a little slow.  Even with its drawbacks, I think capzels will be a great addition to my classroom resources.  Given how quickly they adapt to new tools, I know my students will too.

What Fun We Had

May 13, 2010 Leave a comment

I mentioned that I was trying my hand at a collaborative assignment using Google Documents, Nota and Twiddla. After some consideration I decided against Nota, and sadly Twiddla did not turn out to be the best resource. It was unpredictable. Some students had no trouble returning to their shared work, while others lost everything and had to start over. This stumbling block aside, it was a great activity. The excitement generated as my students learned that what they did effected their partner’s work was contagious. We spent the day giggling, and then settled into some serious work. Would I do this again? You bet. Once we’re finished I’ll post some of their work so you can see how it went.

A final note about Twiddla, I would definitely use it again, but keeping in mind that it’s temporary. I can see it being a great tool for group collaboration, especially if we add a Smart Board to the mix. We could draw, brainstorm and edit as a group and then print our work. What fun!

Social Visions

March 28, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m still pondering the idea of personal learning environments and technology. I’m supposed to come up with my vision for technology use in the classroom and the community, but I have to admit, I’m not sure that I have a one. The more I consider, the more I wonder exactly how useful technology is in sparking creative thought and curiosity.  Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s an excellent tool for supporting creative thought, I just don’t think it generates it.  Here’s where I see the problem. The Internet is too vast, and the volume of information too broad to be of any value to someone looking to pick up a thread and follow it. Imagine trying to explore philosophy, or art, or any subject simply by using the Internet as your guide. Some information is limited, while other information appears in overabundance.

So what role does the Internet play in the pursuit of knowledge, and igniting the fires of curiosity? I think the answer is in social networking. It may be impossible to use the Internet to explore a new subject without some guidance, but with the help of social networks like Nings, Twitter, or Facebook, I can find resources that will steer me in a direction. And from that direction I can pick up a thread and follow it until I am satisfied, or the resource is exhausted.

I guess I do have a vision for technology use in the classroom and beyond after all. To teach my students how to find the resources that will help them explore their interests. To take the haystack of information and remove it to reveal the needle hidden within. I can do this by sharing with them how to use social networks as a resource rather than just a place to connect with friends. I can introduce them to ideas and then provide them with opportunities to explore these ideas and come back with resources to share with others. Most importantly, I can teach them to be responsible, critical users of information, to recognize propaganda and bias, and to draw their own conclusions rather than to rely on the conclusions of others. If I can do this, I have prepared them to be lifelong learners and to establish their own personal learning environment.

Old School

March 26, 2010 1 comment

When I was growing up my public library was like Mecca, with the “Adult” section a Nirvana just out of reach. It contained all the possibilities I imagined for myself, and never was I unable to find something to capture my interest. I never discriminated when it came to my selections. I read everything I could get my hands on, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Biography, Astronomy and Astrology,Yoga training, you name it, if it was available to me, I borrowed and I read.

As I grew up I continued to explore books. Finally able to enter the “Adult” section, I must admit I spent some time exploring the seedier side of the world. I developed a fascination for romance novels and true crime. From time to time I returned to the childrens’ section of the library to revisit old friends and new writers. Soon I outgrew my local library as their collection didn’t grow as rapidly as my interests. I discovered the main branch of the public library, and the fascinating “Johnson’s Used Books” located upstairs from the stationery store of the same name. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was creating my Personal Learning environment, old school style.

In this week’s readings the focus has been on how technology has brought about the creation of the Personal Learning environment. All of the articles speak of how technology can be used in education to help students personalize the learning experience and in some way, imply that this concept of Personal Learning is an offshoot of the technological environment we live in.

My argument is that it has always been in existence. If you disagree with me take a look at history. There isn’t any learning environment that isn’t personal when the mind is curious. Having a curious mind is not dependent on technology, although technology can be a resource for achieving satisfaction. This I guess is my point, to raise the question, both for myself and to others, how can I continue to engage my students curiosity so that they can go forth and explore?