Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Schools That Learn

Schools that Learn by Peter Sange, offers some great advice to educators about how to strengthen schools. For me the most powerful advice lies in the “Classroom” discussion of this book. Here I found some great stories, research, and tips on how create an effective classroom environment.

Something I try to accomplish every year is to create a classroom where students are comfortable interacting academically with me and each other. I want students to work together, pose questions, and feel comfortable and confident to participate. I would like students to walk into my room and become totally engrossed in whatever topics are being studied. In a perfect classroom all of students would be free of insecurities about themselves, home life, social life, etc. I would like students to work together to discover mathematics and learn from myself and each other. I would like them to understand and appreciate mathematics on a higher level and make connections, rather then just memorizing formulas and theorems with little meaning.

Schools that Learn addresses these ideas in “Opening the classroom door” and “seeing the learner”. Getting to know your students, treating and teaching with dignity, are ways to engage students and create an atmosphere conducive to learning. These ideas seem obvious, but with tight curriculums and lots of stress associated with teaching, it is easy for us to forget what is truly important. Senge offers ideas urging educators to take the time to learn about new research on types of learners and promote diverse ways of thinking and interacting in the classroom. Although, this is easier said then done at times, I definitely agree that this type of teaching environment leaves students with a positive and memorable educational experience.

I appreciate that Senge acknowledges the difficulties that exist in having an interacting classroom. It is something that needs to constantly be evaluated and researched in order to be successful. A great deal of reflection needs to occur in teaching to make sure you are reaching all students effectively. We need to be flexible as educators to accommodate the needs that arise. This is not always easy and it is often time consuming. Senge offers us to think of it as a way of being as oppose to an additional requirement to fit into our schedules, so that it becomes a natural part of us.

Finally, I agree with the need to be a life-long learner in order to be successful in your subject and to your students. Students feed off of our energy, and to be passionate about your subject sets the tone for your classroom. Technology and research is always changing and we need to keep up with the latest trends as much as we can and bring this to our teaching. If we are practice this idea of learning and researching, we are serving as role models for our students.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Salon Six

Salon Six discussed the article: Conditions for Classroom Technology Innovations or "Why don’t teachers innovate when they are given computers?" by Yong Zhao, Kevin Pugh, Stephen Sheldon and Joe L. Byers. This article reported on a study to research classroom integration of technology. In the study, a group of k-12 teachers were followed as they attempted to implement technology based projects in their classrooms. The article then discussed factors that helped and prevented success of these projects.
According to this study, the three main factors that determine successful technology integration in classrooms involves: the teacher, the project, and the context. In order to forge what prevents teachers from innovating with technology and their ability to embrace the possibilities with emerging technologies we must consider these three factors. I agree that the most important factor to successful integration is the teacher. I don’t think every teacher is immediately ready and willing to bring technology into their classroom. It is not realistic to believe this can happen for all, but it is important that we give teachers the tools and the incite to do so. The article discussed the idea of social awareness in teachers is a key factor. This is something we can, to some extent, help educators achieve. Teachers need to know where to go for help with technology. In every school there are various experts in the field, and teachers need to be aware of who they are and when they are available. The other aspect that goes along with this idea of social awareness that can not be taught or shared is more ingrained in the personality of the individual teachers. That is, their willingness and drive to seek out these knowledgeable professionals and get the help they need.
Another aspect discussed in the article was the project itself. I know I have been guilty of this myself in that we find or create a project that is so innovative, it becomes too much for the teacher and the students to handle. This leads to the project fizzling out before it is implemented fully. This can be very discouraging for all that are involved and lead to a bad mindset regarding technology and what it can do in the classroom. It is important for teachers to start small with technology and make sure it is something that can be completed on all levels. There are a lot of aspects to consider when tailoring a project for the classroom such as curriculum, student resources at home, school technology resources, time, etc. If we can start small we have a better chance at making a successful project and then in the future we may be able to add to make it grow into our original vision.
One thing the article mentioned that was also brought up in our salon discussion is teacher in-service courses. These courses tend to have motivational speakers that go on about the future vision of our digital schools and spend little time talking about curriculum and school environments. This needs to change to help motivate teachers to implement technology. Many of us expressed that they feel technology as a separate additive to their jobs as educators. Technology in schools tends to have a negative connotation as a requirement to classrooms. It needs to be introduced as a tool to help our students learn and not as an additional job requirement. Schools need to be willing to help teachers in this digital pursuit. Teachers need to be shown how, why, and when to use technology to make it effective.

Salon Seven

Salon Seven discussed the article “Passport to Digital Citizenship” fromTeaching and Leading with Technology, December/January, 2009, p. 14-17 by Mike Ribble. This article talked about appropriate digital behavior and offered nine elements that “help to educate children on the issues that face them in an increasingly technological world”.
Being born in 1981, I fall under the Net-Generation umbrella. In reading the Digital Citizenship norms in this article I feel in general they are timeless. The language used for these nine elements is broad enough that you can mold these guidelines to suite the changing digital world. I am going to discuss three of these elements and see how I might change them to fit with the current time.
Digital Commerce Electronic buying and selling of goods. Do users have the knowledge and protection to buy and sell in a digital world?
I think this element is a valuable topic to consider when we talk about technology uses, however this element (more than the others) seems to have age restrictions. As discussed in our salon, I don’t think this is a topic to be introduced until high school while the other elements need to be addressed early on. I am torn with removing it though because I do think students need to have this skill for life as this is the direction of our world. This element requires more consideration depending on the readiness of the child.

Digital Security The precautions that all technology users must take to guarantee their personal safety and the security of their networks. Do users take the time to protect their information while creating precautions to protect others’ data as well?
This element has and will always be important in a digital world. Students of all ages must be aware of safety concerns and how to build digital security. The idea of digital security can take on so many levels to protecting their computer from viruses, theft, hackers, to putting private information on the web that you may not wish others to see. To this element (or possibly to Digital Rights and Responsibilities), I would add something about the need to protect our own futures. Students today spend so much time on social networking tools, posting pictures, joining and creating groups, etc with little to no concern regarding how this may impact their future (distant or immediate). We need to stress this danger to them regarding future applications for jobs, colleges, organizations, etc and how these might be jeopardized by their internet use.

Digital Health and Wellness The elements of physical and psychological well-being related to digital technology use. Do users consider the risks (both physical and psychological) when using digital technologies?
This element is open to many interpretations. One thing I thought of when I read this was how children today are spending more and more time interacting on the computer that they are not getting enough play, exercise, and communication in the real world. Though I don’t think this was the intention of this element, I think this is an important thing for students to consider. They need to learn to balance their time in order to grow into healthy and well-rounded individuals.

This led me to the idea that we should add an element about the need for Digital Parental Support and Partnership. Parents need to learn and work with their children in every aspect of the digital world. They need to be there to guide them. As a Net-Generation person and through hearing from others in this category, a lot of our parents are not aware of what our students are doing in the digital world. Parents are trusting that their children are using technology for educational purposes or chatting with friends and are not monitoring these uses. Parents need to take the time to help children find the balance that I previously mentioned with technology and the non-digital world. They need to take an active role in learning and teaching their children about digital citizenship.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Salon Five

This blog entry is in reference to Salon Five where we discussed the article "Are Free Tools Worth the Price" from Teaching and Leading with Technology, November, 2008, p. 8-9.

“Are Free Web Tools Worth the Price?” Yes. The benefits of free web 2.0 tools far outnumber any problems that may arise from using them. It is true that often there are glitches in the programs and the availability may not be reliable, however technology is so engaging for students that even a lesson that contains a technology tool gone array can be used as a great learning moment. It is a good way to model problem solving techniques to students. In my experience in the classroom when some technology isn’t working correctly, students are eager to jump in and help to resolve the problem. If the issue is beyond repair, students are understanding and willing to listen to your lead and learn via plan B.

The main argument in the article from Teaching and Learning with Technology against the use of free tools is that educators are burdened with having to rewrite curriculum accommodate the changing and availability of tools. As discussed in Salon Five, educators use technology tools to enhance curriculum and not as the main learning objective. As educators we know that there is always multiple ways to teach any given lesson and we should always be prepared to do so.

David Warlick lists about a dozen reasons why educators should “be the trailblazers of these tools”. The three that I feel are most relevant to me are relevance and audience. As I have gotten more comfortable with using various technologies in my classroom, I feel that students are more involved and excited about lessons that have technology then with those that do not. The reason for this is that technology is a big part of their everyday life, and they are eager to see how the tool connects with the topic they are studying.

I am currently working on a blogging project with my Geometry Honors class. I have done this same project in the past using journal notebooks, and I can definitely see an improvement in the students work on the blog. Having an authentic audience other then their teacher forces some students to put more effort into the assignment knowing that their peers and other teachers will be reviewing their work.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Educational Revolution

Reading this article kind of made me feel like I am in the inside loop reguarding changes that are expected to happen in education in the next 5 years. If it weren’t for TEAM I would not know about a lot of these technologies that the article referred to. This alone makes me skeptical that they will “significantly impact education over the next five years”. I don’t feel that enough people are fluent in these technologies that they will provide much of an impact. In TEAM we have explored the many uses for these tech tools and found that they can be adapted to many different field areas. So for me it is not a question of whether these technology tools are definitely powerful and CAN deeply effect teaching and education at all levels and curriculum areas, I just don’t feel that they will in this time period due to the readiness of educators to embrace them.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Pythagorean what?

“Cognitive learning environments focus on helping students encode information meaningfully to long-term memory so that it can be easily retrieved.” Getting students to “retrieve” previously learned material has always been something that frustrates me. More so in the lower level classes, students can’t seem to remember concepts they have learned in previous years, semesters, and weeks! Math is a very cumulative topic, previous knowledge is almost always necessary to understanding new concepts that are taught. So, I am all for thinking of methods that I can use to help students store some math in their long-term memory so that next time I ask “what is the Pythagorean theorem?”, I will get something other than blank stares in return.
The first thing that came to mind is something I do constantly and that is Organize information so that learners can connect new information to existing knowledge. I usually start each class with a “Do Now” that is a question they have seen before and then build on it in the lesson to explain the new material. An idea I have always liked but never really made it a regular part of my routine is students can journal or blog about a new topic. They would have to summarize it or pretend they are writing a letter to a friend who was not in class the day of the lesson. Maybe encourage them to think about where/when they would use this new concept and maybe come up with a mnemonic (if possible) or method to remember a formula, definition, etc. Students can then read each others blogs and maybe get another view of the topic that might help them to remember it.
I think the idea of groupwork would also benefit students. If students had to explain how to solve a problem to another and talk about the process together I feel that they will better understand it. During a workshop last summer I learned about an ongoing project where everyday a student is selected from the class to type up the notes from that period. They would have to add to the notes explicit directions and explanations of everything that was discussed (applications, questions, steps, etc) and submit this for a grade. I thought this was a great idea but could only see it working well in an honors class. I think it might be a good idea for partner work in a regular or weaker class. Through student discussion and writing I think they might be more apt to listen and remember.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Workshop Week

I have been on a workshop marathon this week with one on the first, third and two this Saturday. Some have been more productive than others so it will be interesting to see what this Saturday brings.