Are We Meeting The Needs of Our Students?

•December 11, 2009 • 1 Comment

How can teachers and schools ensure that their students are learning what they need when it comes to Technology and Information Literacy?

Are we meeting the needs of students today? I think we make a good effort, but there are some areas that could be so much easier if we just allowed time for meaningful integration that wasn’t rushed. Of course, technology takes time and we all know that it doesn’t always go the way it is planned. I think back to my Grade 3 class earlier this semester, and my bright idea of putting their Reading Logs into an Excel sheet to “save time”. It was going to be great … we would just punch in the data, set our rows and columns up, and then voila, everything would be auto-calculated for us. It would save us time!

Well, reality stuck in when I saw my students (most of them) take 10 seconds or more to find the “m” key, and then ask how to do a capital letter. At this point, I asked myself, am I meeting their needs, or just creating another project?

Well, the answer was obvious. I need to backtrack, and backtrack I did. I began by asking myself … what do these kids need? Do they need a machine adding up how many pages they have read, or how many minutes they have read for? Or … oh no … do they need to learn how to type? Can we have forgotten a skill as basic as this, or did I take it for granted that these kids would just know how to type? I decided to take action and introduce the students to BBC Dance Mat Typing, got them all excited in class about it, and then put a link on my blog. It became part of our daily homework routine, and this/next week, when we start to present some of our written work (for Writer’s Workshop) electronically, I am curious to see how they have progressed. Parent feedback has been good, so I know that most of them have been doing it at home, but I can’t wait to see first hand how they have progressed.

I really like the way the ISB21 TAIL standards are set up. I see them as a very useful tool that encourages us to integrate technology where it counts. I often refer to them when I begin to look for ways to use technology in the classroom, and as I plan my final project for COETAIL Course #5, these have been essential. I would hope that over time, teachers and staff at ISB refer to this, while looking at the Grade level curriculum, and loom for meaningful ways to integrate technology. I also think it is important to know what grade levels around us are doing, looking vertically so we can “introduce, develop, & consolidate” skills … not necessarily applications.

The ISB21st century literacy (learner) is another very useful site that I am sure over time will become more important to our school. It has a ton of useful information, such as:

It is still early days for this site, but I can see where it is headed … and I like it.

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Whose Job is it Anyways?

•December 11, 2009 • 1 Comment

Whose job is it to teach the NETs and AASL standards to students?

There are so many facets to this question … and really I don’t even know where to start. Is it about teaching standards, or is it about exposing students to technology in a meaningful way, and modeling appropriate usage and behaviors? Is it about stepping forward and taking responsibility?

This has made for a very interesting discussion piece during our COETAIL course. Many of us feel that it isn’t just a classroom responsibility. The community needs to be on board as well. I really feel at times that if we don’t hold students, staff and parents accountable, then no one will step forward and take ownership. If we don’t put someone at the top of the totem pole, will the students of today actually get the type of education they need to succeed in today’s world? Recently, I have seen 2 models put in place. Both attempt to expose students and staff to technology. Both attempt to educate those involved. And both depend on parents to some extent to “follow up at home.”

Model #1 -The school does not have a technology facilitator, and asks classroom teachers to be tech savy with applications the school has worked into their overall technology program. They need to teach certain programs and skills somehow…

Hmmm. This has good intentions, but places a lot of stress, pressure, and responsibility on teachers who already have a lot to do. Can they take the time to learn new applications which they have no intention of using personally? Is adequate time and training provided, or are teachers asked to become familiar with certain applications in their own time? I don’t know, this may work for some people, but I have my doubts. And I saw a lot of problems with the model. Was it integrated in a meaningful way?

Model #2 – the school has technology facilitators who work in the classroom with the teacher, planning and integrating technology in meaningful ways and supporting “learning” – students and teachers work together to meet a common goal. The only hitch to this plan is when the classroom teacher expects the facilitator to come in and teach a “technology” lesson. Yes, this does happen.

I think the school is accountable for educating our youth, and we need to work together with students towards a common goal – meaningful technology integration. I really like the looks of the AASL “Standards For The 21st Century Learner”. They are wordy, but cover so many aspects of learning, and what it means to be a global citizen.  It is nice to think that parents will be involved, but how many of them really want to be involved? How many of them check my class blog each day to monitor homework and keep up to date with classroom news?

I do feel it is up to us, as educators, to take this on. Not teaching to the standards, but being aware of the standards and integrating them into curricular areas which link naturally. I do not believe in getting the laptops out to teach Microsoft Word as a program. I do believe in a class deciding to present text electronically, discussing which applications they could use, and then working appropriate technology into the classroom to support learning. We need to look at the bigger picture of what learning really is, rather than how to teach technology.

Course #3 – Reflection …

•November 3, 2009 • 1 Comment

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I’ve enjoyed this course a lot, as it has pushed me in many different ways, and as always, made me think about technology in my classroom.

First, new technology. Both screencasts and digital storytelling are tech ideas I would love to incorporate into my teaching. I think one thing I have learned, making the move this year from Grade 5 to Grade 3, is to keep it simple though. Too many steps confuses 7/8 year olds … and long spells of instruction lose them. Also, quite often projects which I find straight forward and fun are exactly the opposite – confusing and frustrating. Kids in Grade 3 need to learn the basics first, and then push them as far as they can go without making them “hit the wall”. A good example of this was recently when I thought that converting our Reading Logs into an excel file would save time. Oops. Yes, the computer does the calculating for you, but watching my group of students take 10 seconds to locate the “c” key was  … well, an eye opener. Will these ever get finished? I don’t know actually. I have reintroduced them to Excel, but made it a much simpler project linking to our Math program, which is right now “Data Analysis”. Students are entering data they gathered through a survey (simple), and then using the program to choose a graph which best represents 2 sets of data – our class compared with another class at ISB. The question – What is your favorite thing to do in your spare time? It is going much better, because they are spending more of their time experimenting with the program, rather than typing in text. I may have to redesign the Reading Log spreadsheet …

Before I do anything too tech heavy, I need to go over the basics. Things such as:

– how to save their work

– how to locate saved work

– typing or keyboarding (we need to spend time on this, so I proposed to the Grade 3 team that we assign 10 minutes a night as homework, using the BBC Typing website)

– introducing them to software

– giving them a chance to play with it

– explaining the possibilities within each program … what it can be used for

– lessons need to be simple, step-by-step, with volunteers from the class who are my “assistants” … who have some experience with the program we are using at the time

And, I am sure there are many others that will come to me as I get further into the year.

The final project for the course was a good one. We worked collaboratively on a digital story which we all plan to use in our classroom – Choosing A Just Right Book. It was interesting discussing with teachers at other grade levels what would be a useful project. We all had similar needs, regardless of the grade level. It isn’t only students in Grade 3 who get to the Learning Hub and forget why they are there, or can’t locate a “just right” book. I feel this project was practical, engaging and definitely relevant. I can’t wait to show my students this week …

Finally, I like how the course has once again given us a chance to play. This is how I learn best, and when I am shown a new tool that I think I can use within my teaching, I want to have a go. Thank you Jeff and Kim for giving us this time, encouraging us, and supporting us when necessary. I am really looking forward to Course #4!

How has the explosion of web based video changed the teaching and learning landscape?

•November 3, 2009 • Leave a Comment

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When it came time to write this post, it was a difficult one to start. I have to admit that I don’t use video a lot in my classroom … yet. Coming from a school last year which didn’t have the space or hardware to support video technology, I have now entered an environment which encourages this through the use of Smartboards, ceiling-mounted projectors, a great sound system, and lots of technical support. It takes time though, as stuff you find online needs to be sorted. A lot of it is geared towards older students, and a lot of it is student generated – not a bad thing, but you need to really preview before you use it as a teaching tool.

I thought about the upcoming FOSS Science unit we are just starting – Earth Materials, and decided to do a search online. Let’s see what resulted …

Brain Pop and Brain Pop Junior have some good stuff, and I will be using this clip (at least) during the unit.

Types of Rocks

Rock Cycle

Mineral Identification

Rocks & Minerals

It is a pretty reliable resource, the school has a subscription, and very kid friendly. Students can access this easily at home as well, so those that need to review something we have watched in class can. I also think that the way they have made the videos keeps kids interested. The colors and animation are simple, but effective.

TeacherTube was next. It is another source I am just getting used to. A quick search there resulted in 3 videos I can post to my class blog, to get students thinking at home and looking ahead to future lessons within the unit. I also think they will instigate meaningful discussions with parents which will help them keep in touch with what we are doing in class.

Rocks Don’t Roll … The Science of Rocks and Minerals

Dr. Loopy Discusses Igneous Rocks

Dr. Loopy Discusses Sedimentary Rocks

Youtube is another tool I am beginning to use more frequently. I even have my own “channel”, which you can find @ ISBGrade3j. I did manage to find 2 videos in no time at all, but may think about branching my search out a little and try to focus on specific minerals when I am ready.

Video #1

Video #2

Discovery Education and their online streaming platform is something I have used a bit in the past, with mixed success. When I checked in, they appeared to have grown a lot, as has their membership price. I think they have a lot to offer, but you pay for it.

Tumblebooks isn’t something I would use for research purposes, but I do use it in my classroom a lot now, especially with the Smartboard. Kids love it, as does my 2 year old son.

So, what role does web-based video have in education today? Well, I feel that what we have right now is nothing like what we will have in the near future. When you think about what has happened in the last 10 years online, it is astonishing. Thinking 10 years from now … it’s kind of scary. Video is one of those things that is booming, and it is only going to get “better”. We can watch TV, movies, talk to people, watch “live” conferences and sports online now. Think what is ahead. Will we need cable TV anymore? Phone lines?

It is pretty exciting, especially living overseas when you do feel removed from your home culture. One thing we will need to iron out is access, as at the moment many TV and movie companies only allow access to American-based audiences. I have tried, many times, to watch ESPN 360 or an online TV station (eg. HBO), only to have access limited to US audiences. This needs to change.

In the meantime, I will continue to focus on expanding my use of web-based video, and when it comes time to locate unit resources, I will definitely turn to any of the above sites for relevant links to classroom activities, as well as  ways to reinforce what we are learning at home via the class blog.

How can digital storytelling be used in my classroom?

•October 31, 2009 • 4 Comments

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Choosing a “Just Right” Book

Digital storytelling is a new concept to me, and it really made me think about my classroom, and how things could change slightly to reach out to different students. I am always thinking about differentiation, and how different students have different needs. Kids that totally tune out during Math discussions are completely intrigued by a good picture book. I can see how digital storytelling can be another tool to “include all”. I love plugging in my Smartboard and connecting to a good book online (Tumblebooks). Kids love stories … and there is a lot to learn from them.

When you think about it, this whole concept goes back in time. Silvia Tolisano, on her blog, says that

Storytelling is also an ancient form of teaching . Before books, reading and writing became widely spread and available, oral storytelling was the only form the wisdom and knowledge of the people were passed down from elders to children

It’s true, and explains why it seems so natural. Browsing through her blog, this has made me think of ways I can use digital storytelling in the classroom. Ways that will involve more kids, engage them, hopefully excite them. Our current FOSS Science unit is Earth Materials. I am already taking tons of pictures, and what better way to summarize their learning than by having each group complete a digital story of the process they have gone through, starting with the analysis of mock rocks, to a scratch test, and finally study of calcite and granite. Photo evidence can be collected along the way, and when the unit is complete, students will summarize their learning. Or even better yet, our next Writing unit is personal narratives. Using photos and iMovie will definitely engage all of my reluctant writers … they won’t even know they are writing as they work through a simple storyboard, knowing that part of the end product will be a digital story!

OK. Back to our group’s project. Like anything else that is tech based, I wanted to make sure that it was relevant to what I was doing in the classroom, supported student learning, and wouldn’t take up a ton of time. How many projects have I got all excited about in the past, only to have them suitable and “fun” for someone my age, but for students, confusing and frustrating …

Outline A Story Idea:

So, we brainstormed possible topics, and then came up with the following story idea:

How to Choose “Just Right” Books

We then developed a simple storyboard on paper which outlined 8-10 sequenced steps, much like procedural writing.

Media to capture the story:

Once our ideas were agreed upon, we needed to pick the right tool to capture our story. We first turned to a FlipCam, thinking that video was the way to go. Capturing the footage wasn’t as issue, but loading it into our laptop was for some reason. After some delay and a “crash”, we took a step back and simplified things. Still images was our alternative, and we mapped out where the pictures would be taken, the main character (thank you Teddy Bear), and any supporting props we would need in the library.

Tool used to build the digital story:

After all the photos were taken, we loaded them into iPhoto and then iMovie. Once our iMovie project was loaded and ready to go, with clips put in place and some simple titles, we added some audio (nice work Dan) to go along with the clips, as well as some background music. Our finished product was excellent. It will (I am sure) get the message across, and I can’t wait to show it to my students. I also think that it will get them thinking about little projects they could attempt, which focus on the concept of a “digital story”.

Finally, in planning future digital story projects (and anything to do with technology really), I found the following outline posted by Jennifer New really useful:

  1. Learn from what you watch.
  2. See technology as a storytelling tool, not as a teaching goal.
  3. Allow your students to push you (and lead you).
  4. Learn by trial and error.
  5. Give your students freedom, but hold them accountable.
  6. Consider yourself the executive producer.
  7. Don’t forget to celebrate your students’ work!

How can screencasts be used in my classroom?

•October 31, 2009 • 1 Comment

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Teaching: After one of our Saturday sessions in the ISB Learning Hub, I started to think about how I could use screencasts in my classroom as another teaching tool. I used Jing to capture a Google Earth tutorial I made, aiming to introduce the students to creating folders, as well as locating, naming, and describing placemarks for our “Round The World” Google Earth tour. My goal was to show the screencast to my class the first time all together, and then from there upload it to my blog and encourage them to view it at school, as well as at home, when needed. This was a great tool for presenting my lesson, but it turned into a more complicated task once I was finished with it. Video files are quirky things, and there are many different types of files … no idea why. I was able to save my “Jing” file, but uploading it to my blog to share was another thing. “Swf” files, which the free version of Jing uses, are difficult to work with. Once again, I saw my “tech” idea start to eat up my time, so I bailed on it. It was supposed to be here for others to view, but that has been put on the backburner for now, until I have more time. Maybe Screencast-o-matic is worth a look? Or the SmartRecorder in Notebook?

Upon reflection, some of the things I have realized are:

  1. Keep them short. Some of my students were tuned out after a minute or so.
  2. Make sure you take pauses as you go. Too much information too quickly doesn’t work. Again, you will lose them.
  3. Model it. If I have used it in class (and found it to be a useful tool), let the students have a go with it … (I haven’t tried this yet, but would love to)

Learning: Below is the link to our class blog, which gives you an idea of the final product. They turned out better than I imagined, and the growth in skills I saw in the students was impressive. The screencast definitely set the tone for the project, raising awareness of the direction we were headed in and getting the students excited. It also was effective communicating “how to” set up folders and placemarks. Of course, there were some challenges along the way. We weren’t able to record the markers themselves in the end, or the text descriptors either. No idea why, so this is something I will need to look at for next year. Also, I will probably have each team focus on 1 type of landform only, and go into more depth with examples found around the world. Then, when we do the final sharing, we would basically be teaching each other about landforms, as well as comparing our Google Earth skills.

Check out these examples, as well as the blog posting:

Rm 210 RTW trips

Sharing: I know I need to spend more time on reflection in class, as well as giving students a chance to celebrate their achievement. Too often, we get caught up in “what’s next” … and move on too quickly. I want to change this, so this week we will share all of our projects, and then take some time to reflect and summarize our learning.

To summarize, I like the idea of using screencasts in the classroom as another communication tool. It will help some students understand how to do something. Actually, the Grade 3 writing curriculum spends some time covering “how to” or procedural writing, so once I become more familiar with the writing workshop model, I would like to see students write and record “how to” screencasts of their own.

Using Visuals to Get the Message Across

•October 10, 2009 • Leave a Comment

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Making “Back to School Night” more interesting … if it’s possible.

I hate boring PowerPoint presentations. Especially the ones where your tongue gets all dry because you end up talking all the time. You know … you have all this information to get across, all of it important (you think), bit it is never-ending. Jeffrey R. Young in When Computers Leave Classrooms, So Does Boredom mentions a few really interesting issues, namely that:

many teachers and professors often lean on the slide-display program as a crutch rather using it as a creative tool.

I agree, and I have done it in the past. Actually, I hate speaking in front of a large audience, so anything that will help distract them is a bonus. It’s the idea of getting naked. As Garr Reynolds puts it:

Being naked involves stripping away all that is unnecessary to get at the essence of your message…. Remove all encumbrances, be in the moment, naked…and connect.

Hmm. Sounds a bit risky to me.

Jeffrey R. Young also mentions that:

Class time should be reserved for discussion …

and I think that this is where a good presentation should be headed; encouraging questions & discussion rather than verbal diarrhea.

How can I change this?

I guess the key is to involve the audience and have them take action for which direction your presentation goes in. I would love to develop a slide show presentation which is like a “choose your own ending” story. The audience controls which direction the presentation goes in. Questions are given, and you then speak or discuss in that direction. A number of images can be displayed to tweak their curiosity and get them thinking …

The original Back to School Night presentation worked OK.  I got the message across I am sure, but it must have bored some. It bored me. Now, I have begun tearing it apart, and thinking carefully about what images I can use to grab the audience, and once they are with me, keep them tuned in.

So, the question was where to start. I began by looking at each slide individually, and recognizing that ALL of them were text heavy, I thought about how each slide could be broken down into a number of sub-slides. These secondary slides could then focus on a different keyword each. I now have a bunch of holes that I intend to fill. It will take time, finding images that steer the audience in the direction I want to go in (for some of the time anyways). Also, I intend to back everything up online. The class blog will be introduced on the night, and all documents pertaining to Grade 3 will be online, on the blog, and ready to download. When you think about it, the ISB Grade 3 handbook would cover most of what I talked about anyways. I may even email ahead of time, announcing that it is online and ready to download, and have them read ahead of time so they come in with questions … good images will encourage good questions! When I am done, I can upload my presentation to Slideshare for others to see, and possibly use.

I plan to use Garr’s guidelines on how to present naked in redeveloping my presentation:

1. Be present in the moment.

2. Don’t try to impress.

3. Keep the lights on.

4. Forget the podium.

5. Use a small remote, allowing you to move around the room.

6. Don’t hide.

7. Don’t become attached to your software.

8. Keep it simple.

9. Be credible.

10. Speak like a human being.

11. Think of your audience as active participants.

12. Be comfortable … be confident with what you have to present.

13. Don’t decorate your message or supporting visuals.

14. Think of balance.

The dilemma is how much freedom do you give the audience, and how do you prepare for something like this when you know that many people sitting there want to be spoken to … presented with information directly. I guess, I will see next year …