Monday, June 3, 2013

Tool Four: The Miracle of Google

Google Apps (and more specifically, Google Drive) is a terrific utility for teachers. It creates a repository for any kind of document that a teacher would be likely to have, and gives us the ability to share these documents with anyone we choose.

This flexibility is important both for planning classes with other teachers (as in collaborating on a lesson plan) or for placing information for students to use. This semester, I have already used Google Docs as my main holding and distribution center for documents my kids need. Although I haven't used it much so far, I am anticipating I will be integrating the doc sharing and form functions far more frequently in my lesson plans. I am already planning on using the forms function to create an introductory questionnaire for new students next fall.

At any rate, Google Docs is a must-have for teachers. It is great that SBISD has embraced it.

Hope this helps. Good luck in the classroom!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Tool 11: Self-reflection

I am looking forward to a greater degree of integration of technology in my classroom. I plan to use the ActivBoard (with its response functions) along with setting up technology stations along the way. I am particularly interested in resources like the Geometry app on iTunes, Mangahigh (for objective-centric videogames), and Google Docs for creating a more interactive learning experience. I imagine that I will use the Mangahigh game regarding equations and shooting asteroids in space as a way of bridging the knowledge for my MMA kids - the Netbooks will probably be an excellent way to do so, and I will probably have a prize for the highest score.

I am no stranger to technology. I have been trained on multiple applications. What has surprised me about the 21st century classroom is not the incorporation of technology into it, but the greater need for teachers to be experts and train their students to effectively use it. For many years, technology education has been an organic, self-directed process - the computer geeks figured it out on their own.

The days of the geek are gone. Everyone must learn to be an effective digital citizen, and it is the job of every teacher, no matter the subject, to instruct students on the proper way to conduct themselves in the virtual space. The biggest challenge will be balancing between this process and the actual nuts-and-bolts of each subject area.

I am excited about all the resources available at SBISD. So, finally, I say to all: good luck in the classroom.

Tool Ten: Teaching Digital Citizenship

One of the biggest surprises of becoming a teacher was not how technologically focused my students were, but how truly bad they are at using technology. Very few of my students grasp usage of the internet beyond Googling, uploading and emailing one another. Even worse, many students have the misconception that the internet is in their wheelhouse, and all answers are but a half-second of typing away.

However, the risk of ruin either via plagiarism, inappropriate content, or simply using incorrect content is great. Therefore, I would teach three basic things about digital citizenship to my kids:

1) Google is not your last stop for research. The algorithms that Google uses to generate results can be manipulated and do not take accuracy into account for their returns. Researching using only the first page of a Google search is inviting terrible trouble.

2) Assume that nothing you find is free or in the public domain. Plagiarism and cheating have become a rampant problem with our students because of the ease of locating answers, passages or whole essays about their selected topics of inquiry. Too many students have fallen into the trap of simply copy-and-pasting information and passing it off as their own, without any thought regarding citations or source references.

3) Use your best judgment. Many unscrupulous people and places exist on the internet. Do not fall victim to any of these sorts of people. Much like you don't venture into bad parts of town or down a dark alley, do not do so on the internet.

Finally, as far as parents go, I would stress the need to not let down their guard when their children (even high-school age ones) are using the internet. Make use of programs like NetNanny or other such applications to monitor their children's activities on the internet. There is simply too much predation and actual crime that comes forth from the virtual world to assume that your child is safe or on-task, left to his or her own devices.

Hope this helps. Good luck in the classroom!

Tool 9: Technology Stations in the Classroom

As I have mentioned in previous posts, the key to technology in the classroom is making sure that assessment is possible with each tool. Otherwise, there is no way to tell whether or not the students are getting any value from the exercises.

For this reason, it is important to tie the technology to the objective. The students need to be able to easily see the connection between what is, admittedly, a novelty in the classroom and the TEKS behind it. Simply setting up stations because they will draw the attention of the students is the electronic equivalent of busywork.

We should also hold students accountable so that they understand that time with the technology is not "blow-off" time or an otherwise lighter portion of class where learning is suspended. The integration of technology into the classroom is heavily dependent on student interaction due to its editable and interactive nature. Students must understand that they should treat that time (although occasionally fun) with the same level of focus as lecture or tests.

I liked two of the sites, Interactivate and Mangahigh, because they presented functionalities that involved competition and measurement. One of the best ways to engage students is to create learning situations where they must strive to excel against one another (in a harmless and fun way, of course). Mangahigh's games would be especially effective for challenging students to improve their understanding in order to "win" the games.

As far as apps are concerned, Isoceles: the geometry sketchpad would be a very useful app for me in terms of creating instruments and assessments. One of the biggest problems I run into during tests and so forth are diagrams and models that are unclear. This app would allow me to draw far clearer pictures for my students to use.

I also like the Geometry app, because it would be a good supplementary aid for my students, particularly after I have taught a lesson. Teachers teach the same subject different ways, and having a second voice, even an electronic one, might improve a struggling student's comprehension of the concept, especially during homework or test review.

Students could also use the iPads or iPod Touches to photograph or download sections of my lessons. During this semester, many students asked me for permission to photograph sections of the ActivBoard or white board where I'd written a great deal of instructional material. I almost always agreed when asked, but expanding this function of the device even further might allow students who don't normally take notes in the classroom to retain a semblance of the knowledge for their future records and learning.

Hope this helps. Good luck in the classroom!

Tool 8: Using the Tools

This semester has been challenging as far as using technology because I have been learning new software along the way (ActivInspire, Skyward) AND I have been a floater without my own classroom. Consequently, I have been hesitant to explore every aspect of technology (such as the Netbooks and the ActivInspire response pods) available to me.

That said, I will be receiving a classroom next year, and have every intention of implementing them within my classroom. From the videos, I learned that each student can have a fully-functioning computer for research and increasing understanding as I am teaching. However, the management of the content will be a concern for me, so part of my classroom procedures will have to reflect a strict monitoring of the content even beyond what the district policies cover (a student can be off-task on approved sites as well as disallowed ones).

I am looking forward to making my learning a far more interactive process in the future, though. I am likely going to record and publish all of my lectures to Youtube, and hopefully, implement a student-driven lecture process.

Good luck in the classroom!

Tool 7: Ongoing Journal as Assessment Tool

Much of the focus in my school is on team teaching. It is effective to pace lessons with other teachers who are teaching the same material. As a result, most of my students take the exact same test over the same material the very same day that students with other teachers are doing the same thing. Lectures typically occur the same day, and a student could move from one section to another without much loss of time.

I believe that asynchronous learning amongst all sections of, say, academic geometry could occur using a Google Doc as a sort of running journal. Here's how it would work:

1) I would create and format a document in Word that would resemble a journal entry book.

2) I would then upload that document onto my Google Drive and share it with all of my students.

3) Students would be encouraged (and given some sort of grade or bonus) to write about their experiences within the classroom each day. They would be encouraged to speak particularly about topics or aspects that they did not understand or exercises they did not enjoy or receive any benefit. They could leave their initials as their calling card.

4) I would also share the document with other academic geometry teachers who could, in turn, share it with their own students.

5) As the year progressed, the journal would be an excellent way to constantly and informally assess the learning within the student body and make adjustments to the curriculum and manner of instruction. The document would also serve to capture the progression of learning and provide a record of areas to address for the coming years. The more input the students yielded to it, the more fruitful it would be.

Hope this makes sense. Good luck in the classroom!

Tool 6: Using Web Tools to Promote Discussion

In contrast to Tool 5, however, web tools can be effective and timely to use as an updating or sharing utility. I have used both Google Docs and Twitter this semester in order to share information with my students and give them vital information for their work.

Here is my Twitter profile:

As can be clearly seen, I use Twitter to disseminate information to any student who follows me. Next semester, I plan to incorporate my Twitter feed into my teaching even more, following my students and using it as the primary way to contact me after hours.

I have also used Google Docs as the repository for files and documents my students need to prepare for class. Here is one such example:

I think that the more you use these tools to make information available, the more fruitful lessons in the classroom will be because they will provide students unlimited opportunities to reinforce their learning and understanding of the materials.

Good luck in the classroom!