Sunday, May 26, 2013

My Takeaways

Takeaways from Blended and Online Learning

     I can honestly say that I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  When we first had access to the syllabus, I immediately questioned if I would be able to effectively complete the course.  I had no prior experiences at all with blended learning nor did I have any technology in my classroom.  But putting that aside, I stayed focused, and took many notes.  Oddly, I hand wrote my notes; guess that's the digital immigrant in me?  

     I am truly excited about next school year.  We are currently rewriting the curriculum for biology right now and I am looking for anyway and every way possible to incorporate technology and many of the digital tools we learned about during this course.  Unfortunately, the ultimate goal at the end of the course is a test, which may become a graduation requirement in Indiana before long.  So, with that in mind, not only do I need to find ways to teach my students the four units of biology that are on the test but I need to do it in a way that challenges my students to a higher level of thinking.  Creating multiple ways of authentic assessment, allowing my students to demonstrate their mastery of skills, may very well allow my students to see how what we are learning relates to their every day world.  If my students can take a topic, apply it to the real world or be able to completely discuss it in their own terms, then I know that they have truly mastered the content and will be able to pass any test, especially the ECA.

     In ICP, I reinvented my simple machines project which allows my students to use multiple digital tools for the organization and developing of their project.  Students will also be able to express their themselves through blogging, not only during this project but throughout the entire school year.  My hope is that students will learn how to effectively communicate online and become effective digital citizens.

     Technology isn't going away.  How am I going to embrace it in my classroom?  How am I going to prepare my students for their futures, for the jobs they will have that probably aren't even in existence right now?  I stumbled upon this YouTube video today and thought it was a fantastic way to sum up the 21st century classroom.  I am honored to have been able to participate in this course and I can't wait to start "Technology Integration 101" this summer!


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Digital Citizenship

Social Media in the Classroom??

Using social media in the classroom would most certainly have its benefits.  Before responding to our question this week, I emailed a few of our school corporations teachers who use technology everyday in their classrooms to get their opinions.  From those I contacted, use of social media in the classroom would be welcomed as long as it could be easily supervised.

Use of social media in the classroom would be a great tool to teach students responsibility and self control.  How many of us get on the computer but very quickly find ourselves surfing through Facebook, looking at pictures, and playing games?  What happened to the original reason we logged on to the computer to begin with?  If we, as adults, fail to show self control and only do on the computer as we originally planned, how could we expect our students to do the same?  

Both Twitter and Facebook would allow our students to interact with people from around the world, especially Twitter.  Our students could follow experts in their fields and stay up to date with some of the latest research and discoveries and then have the ability to correspond with those individuals.  We have an obligation to teach our students how to use these digital tools in a way that is safe, responsible, and educational.  

One of our technology specialists responded with the following: "So many teachers say they are too busy teaching the standards to work social media into their curriculum.  Maybe it is time to look at the "standards" and start looking to the future. Do they really need to know who the 25th president was when they can look it up using the device in their pocket when they are posting their inappropriate party pictures for the world to see?  Which of these will influence their career more?"  She makes a very valid point.  Why aren't we as educators teaching our students how to use their digital tools in a productive way?  Our students have no ability to differentiate between writing on Facebook or in a text messages and writing a formal paper for their teachers at school.  I am all of the time grading papers where students write "cuz" instead of because or just put the letter "u" instead of typing you.  The computer even has spell check, yet they ignore it and think that it is okay.  I can't say that I don't occasionally send the letter "u" instead of spelling out the word or sometimes use "wanna" instead of want to when I send a text message, but I know when I am writing a paper or an email that I can't do that.

Students today do not look into the future.  Every decision they make is based on how it will benefit them right now.  How many freshman say they don't care about their grades but when they become seniors they regret not trying harder?  What they do today will influence everything about their being when they graduate and go into the work place.  Let's teach our students to be professional and follow the rules in any situation that they find themselves in, in person or online.  If it means that I need to incorporate the use of Twitter or Facebook into my classroom, then I'm all for it!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Digital Tools

A New Digital Tool for My Classroom

     A new tool that I will be incorporating in my classroom for next year will be blogger.  Whether Indiana moves to adopting Common Core State Standards or not, writing is extremely important and I am noticing how poorly students write.  I know that I may not have the best grammar or spelling skills, but I at least have some ability.

     My intent for next school year will be every Friday to assign some type of blog entry.  I may give my students 20 key words from our discussions through the week and they may have to use 15 of them in a blog entry.  Or, I may assign my students an exploration activity in which they will investigate a topic and describe what they learned in their blog.
      Using blogger will enable my students to collaborate in ways they can't if they are summarizing what they learn on paper.  This also allows for parents to see what their child is learning about in class.  Students would also be required to visit at least one other blog from their class and comment on a post, thus creating a new form of collaboration with which many could participate, even outsiders or potentially people who work in that particular field of study!

How Can I Apply It?

How Can I Make My Classroom A Blended Classroom?

      A blended classroom, for me, yeah right, or so I thought.  As a new teacher, I had no idea what blended learning was.  I cannot recall a time in college where the term was ever used.  When I was asked to participate in this course, I just figured it would be a neat experience and maybe give me a few ideas on how to incorporate some technology in my classroom.  One of other biology teachers has a set of laptops and truthfully, I was pretty jealous of the activities she was able to do with her students that I couldn't do unless I signed up a week or two early to get a computer lab.  So, I thought that maybe taking this course would be a way for me to actually get a classroom set of laptops instead of these wonderful 15 DNR donated laptops from 2004 that weigh more than two biology textbooks.

     Once the course began, I really started to get into it.  I began to analyze my teaching style, my students engagement, and often times found myself recreating activities in my mind that I had done previously that would have been more successful if we had done them on the computer.  Oh the plans I have for next year!

     As the school year draws ever so closely to the finish line, I find myself extremely excited.  I'm not excited for summer break, I'm excited to redesign my courses for next year.  I have my fingers crossed, hoping for a classroom set of laptops and from what I am hearing, it is very possible.  At first, I kept thinking that I could upload worksheets to the computer and save paper and ink, but quickly smacked myself in the face for thinking like that!  That isn't what technology is for, that isn't what blending learning is about!  It's about student engagement and empowering them to take control over their own education.  It's about giving them an opportunity to see how something we are discussing applies to their life.  A student who understands how something is relevant to them will be way more engaged than a student who doesn't see any real life application.

     My final project for my ICP students was to select a topic and a scientist and write a research paper and to do a demonstration over that topic.  One of my students, which the only thing he was interested in this year was aggravating me and doing the opposite of what I asked of him, chose to do his final project on Simple Machines.  I recently had purchased a K'Nex kit that has tons of things that could built to show the 6 simple machines.  I started him out doing something small and easy, like a hammer and screwdriver.  As he was working through the kit, he discovered a poster called "Launching Dreams, Building the Future!"  A crew of scientists in a 6 week time frame had constructed a spaceship and moving launch pad out of 40,000+ K'Nex that weighs 180 pounds and stands over 10 feet tall.  He just stared at it in amazement.  He looked at me and said, "Brames, if I could come to school everyday to work on a big project like that, I sure would like school a lot more.  I just hate having to read a book."  It really got me thinking.  These students, who I quickly discovered are very uninterested in school and what we have to teach them, need to do something that makes what they are learning realistic.  I failed him this year.  He has had a blast making simple machines out of K'Nex, he even made a fishing pole and asked if he could use fishing line instead of the string the kit came with because he thought it made more sense.  I have to redesign my classroom so that I can find a way to keep all of my students engaged through projects and self exploration.  If I can give my students a topic and allow them to use whatever resources they are comfortable with, how could they not succeed? 

     Next year will be a new and exciting year for the students who have me in class.  We will be blogging, using websites to organize our thoughts when creating projects, using a variety of presentation tools including creating animated movies that allows the students to showcase what they have learned.  My hope is to prepare my students for their traditional assessment, the Biology ECA by using authentic assessment methods to ensure my students have mastered the content that I have presented them.  If they can apply it to the real world, I'm confident that they have a deeper understanding of the material and can pass any traditional test over the content.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Using Technology: Where do I stand?

As a new, inexperienced teacher, incorporating technology can be very difficult.  As I was working on my degree in education, I didn't have the opportunity to develop a good understanding of how to include the use of technology in my classroom.  So, as I sit and prepare lessons the one topic that is farthest from my mind is how can I incorporate technology in this lesson that will benefit my students later down the road.  I remember going through high school and at the most, we would get to make a PowerPoint and of course had to write research papers but we were never given a task that would broaden our understanding and ability to use technology in our lives.

A few weeks ago, I encountered the term "digital native" and it was defined as someone who was born before the age of digital technology and the term "digital immigrant" which is someone who was born before the age of digital techonolgy.  Those who are natives adapt so well to new technology and without any guidance or direction they can make it do whatever they want it to and digital immigrants are often afraid to turn on the device.  I'm slighlty puzzled as to where I fit into this category.  Digital technology was up and coming, but no where near to the extent as it is now.  I remember getting our first desktop computer at home, it was an HP and had Windows Millenium edition and we had CompuServe dial-up internet.  I didn't get my first cell phone until high school, back when text messages were 2 cents to send and 3 cents to receive, so I wasn't allowed to send text messages.  And the only game I had was called Snake and of course, there was no color.  So, I don't consider myself a native nor do I consider myself an immigrant.  I don't adapt to new technology as easy as my students do, but I do adapt easier than those who are older than me.

I struggled with deciding where I fit in the technology matrix.  I have very limited access to technology in my classroom, unless I take my students to a computer lab which can often be a hassle.  Right now, I would put myself in the active and entry category.  My students are using technology to prepare their presentations for class projects, researching topics, and last semester my students had writing prompts to respond to.  I use technology such as PowerPoint, YouTube, and Google to deliver the content I'm covering in class.  I also have a document camera, which allows students to see what I am doing on the screen from their seats.

I'm looking forward to discovering ways to include technology in a way that my students are engaged in the topic and learn life long skills that will enable them to continue to adapt.  With the technology we have available to us today, our students have the opportunity to collaborate not only amongst themselves but with people from around the world.  As the school year draws to a close, I will be looking for ways to adapt my students learning for next year using technology.  I can only hope that in the years to come, I will become a leader in technology integration in my school corporation.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Blended & Online Learning:
An opportunity for our students to succeed in a nontraditional way!

Acquiring knowledge no longer takes place in just a classroom, but continues to change through the combination of tradition and technology.  Blended learning is when a student participates in learning both at school, or in a "brick and mortar" setting, and online where they have a little more control and receive their instruction primarily over the Internet.

As I write this, I'm thinking about my classroom this year.  As a first year teacher, I don't have a lot of experience in the classroom but there are a few things that come to mind.  The biggest issue I have had all year and be summed up in one word: attendance.  Obviously, students miss for health reasons which limits their ability to complete assignments but some students miss because of planned and unexpected family trips.  That is where technology comes into play.  That is where technology comes into play.  They can be miles away and still post on a discussion board, watch a required video, download, complete, and upload a required worksheet, without even setting foot in your classroom.  How many of them have Smartphones?  If so, they can even access the needed websites on their phones, which brings me to my next point.

Our students today are driven by technology.  Everything that they do during the day uses technology in some way, shape, or form.  Why not allow them to do their work in a way that they are most familiar?  Although I oppose the idea of removing traditional work (handwriting skills without the aid of spell and grammar checks) completely, we have to face the fact that this is the direction our culture is headed.  As educators, we must be proactive and start allowing our pupils to learn in a way that is comfortable to them and easily accessible.  All three of my textbooks have eBooks, so students can access their books and complete their assignments online without having to break their backs with backpacks full of textbooks and notebooks.

With every positive thing, however, there is always a negative.  I made mention about Smartphone earlier, but in poor, rural corporations, such as mine, some students don't have Smartphones, or access to the Internet, or even a computer unless they are at school.  We, the teachers, need to be prepared for that.  I am fortunate enough to have 15 laptops available to me, and though they are not the greatest in the world, they get the job done.  I can't assign online work at the end of class and expect it to be done the next day, however.  I have to be flexible and allow those students who do not have access at home enough time to complete the assignments at school.

Consequently, blended and online learning is our future.  It's coming and we have to be proactive and accept it.  Unfortunately, those educators who choose to ignore it will be left in the dust, lost, and labeled ineffective.  Are you ready?