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What is the internet?

Wow, how times have changed.

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Laptop Management in a Third Grade Classroom

Q: Will kids misuse technology?

A: Duh! Of course they will! They’re kids.

Q: Is that a good reason to avoid using technology in the classroom?

A: Ummm…NO! Kids will misuse technology in the same ways that they “misuse” anything else (and you can tell by my somewhat questionable use of quotation marks that I’m not even sure misuse is the right word, but that debate is for another post).

Kids are masters of using tools for other than their intended use. Pencils? Excellent poking devices and fantastic for drawing and/or writing notes when they should be working. Paper? A must for paper airplanes, cootie catchers, and all other forms of classroom origami.

Would we ever consider taking pencils and paper away from kids en masse? Nope. Don’t be ridiculous. Technological tools should be treated in much the same way, as tools to facilitate learning. With well established rules, procedures, and expectations technology can be used just as efficiently as it’s paper/pencil counterparts.

I have to say I’m very lucky. I established very few rules when we started using computers this year. Looking back I can see the few rules I did use were effective because all kids were working on the same projects at the same time. That translates into very little independence. Good for me. Bad for student learning. Now that I am more comfortable using laptops with my third graders and they are becoming more independent (and especially now that we have a permanent cart of 12 computers) it is important to establish clear expectations of laptop use.

Here are things I currently expect:
• Memory sticks/Thumbdrives/USB flash drives
Call them what you will, every student needs one. We don’t save on the computer or the server. The upside? This allows all computers to be available to all students and makes each student as responsible for their memory stick as they would have to be for any other classroom tool. The downside? Student work is not backed up. Luckily for me, this is third grade and no student assignment is crucial. Lose your flash drive? Find a way to solve your problem. This may mean starting over or choosing another method to complete the assignment. This is a great learning opportunity for kids. We have all lost something important that we have forgotten to save. It’s a painful lesson but a valuable one.

• Cooperation (aka “Go find an expert”)
I very rarely help more than one student with a specific task. Once I help one child, they become an expert. Their job is to teach other students how to solve the problem. This both empowers students and frees me up to help students who may be struggling with content related issues.

• Focus
My kids are still so motivated by using computers that this is rarely a problem. They do know, however, that should they ever be on a website that isn’t directly related to their task, their laptop will immediately be given to someone else. That is the beauty of my current 1-2 situation…someone is always waiting for a computer.

• Attention
When I need to tell the kids something, I expect to say it once. To assist with listening I do three things. First, ask students to fold their arms. This is for short quick bursts of information. Next, if I need to speak longer, I ask kids lower their screen. Finally, if I need to share something crucial, I bring the class to the carpet. That’s about as close as you can get to guaranteeing attention from eight year olds.

Here are some things I am considering but have yet to implement:
• Assigning specific computers to specific students
I know some teachers find this useful but I will only do this if problems with my current system arise. I have 12 computers and 21 kids. Students are always at different points of an assignment and having 2 kids assigned to each computer means that a) someone could be kept waiting, or b) you tell the waiting child to take another computer which then becomes a problem for the two students that computer is assigned to. This works for some teachers but this is a last resort management option for me.

• Designating a cart caretaker.
Currently all of my students are responsible for getting and returning their own computers, including making sure they are plugged in. So far this hasn’t been a problem but I’m sure a day will come where a computer or two hasn’t been plugged in to charge. The first time I will allow for natural consequences (You didn’t plug it in? Guess you’ll have to find another way to finish your work.) This works now because my kids are so invested in using laptops. However, if this ever seems to become a strategy for work avoidance or if it becomes a major obstacle to work completion then the monitor solution will have to become adopted.

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So Far, So Fast: Reflection and Proposal

This final post of course four is intended for personal reflection and a project proposal. I’ve put off writing this post not for lack of ideas but for abundance. The door to technology in teaching has been thrown open and there are so many places I want to go!

REFLECTION

Let’s start with the reflection. If you had asked me a year ago about my use of technology in the classroom I would have told you it was moderate. However, that would only have been true if moderate is a synonym for pathetic. I had a class blog but it was focused on parent communication rather than student use. We used computers for word processing and…that’s about it. What I love about looking back, though, is seeing how far I have come.

I started the COETAIL courses last January but didn’t pick up the pace of technology integration right away. Theoretically I agreed with everything the course presented. Practically, I was overwhelmed with my first year at a new school in a new country and the abundance of intimidating tools I knew nothing about. As teachers from the first cohort threw around terms like Voicethread, student blogging, and Wallwisher I realized just how much I didn’t know and crawled deeper into my paper and pencil comfort zone.

My personal turning point came in September at the Learning 2.010 conference in Shanghai. I participated in a Social Media cohort. The facilitators emphasized working within our comfort zone and coming away with something we could use immediately in the classroom. I had completely dropped my classroom blog so I decided to work on that. Having three days to focus on blog fiddling, classroom conversation, and technology exposure was the opportunity I needed to give technology my undivided attention. Cohort members shared ideas, presented online resources and, most importantly, I was able to do things I felt I didn’t have time for in my regular schedule. I didn’t actually learn HOW to do new things. Rather, I learned how to use skills I already had in new ways. This gave me the confidence to try small things in the classroom and, as we all know, small things often grow into big things before our fears have time to stop them.

And just look at me now. I’m one course and one project away from completing this certificate program AND I’m less than two weeks away from facilitating a technology workshop for teachers who have the same deadly mix of ambition/apprehension I had less than a year ago. Who would have thought?!
Well, actually I would have thought. I have always loved technology and really wanted to use it more in the classroom. But, as I have already mentioned, I like to know exactly what I am doing. I put off doing things with my kids because I didn’t feel like I was enough of an expert. As soon as I let go of that fear a little things took off and my comfort level grew exponentially.

PROPOSAL

So, in the spirit of jumping in blindly I propose a project involving the use of Voicethread in conjunction with scientific notebooking and photography (and hoping I’m not biting off more than I can chew).
This fall I took a photography course from this guy that emphasized using photography to enhance student work. I immediately put cameras in my students hands to document a science investigation and this is what happened. My grade level team has had discussions recently regarding the role of notebooking to document and develop student understanding in science. Finally, Voicethread is one tool I have yet to use at all. By putting two things I am working on together with something I’ve never touched I hope to develop all three and provide my students with an opportunity to synthesize and share their learning in a new and meaningful way.

Here are the general ideas of what I hope to do:

  • Follow the FOSS Stuctures of Life module investigations as stated.
  • Provide each group with a camera and assign the job of photographer for each investigation.
  • Students will choose photo(s) from each investigation they feel best represents the learning they want to share.
  • Students will narrate the photo(s) from each investigation to create a mini-digital portfolio of this unit.

Stay tuned for more details as investigation and technological planning progress. Hopefully this is going somewhere good. Suggestions are welcome!

The Outtakes (aka rejected project ideas that I reserve the right to use)

  • Enhanced student blogging: The thought behind this idea was to continue on the blogging path my class has already started, guiding the students through image searches and attribution, linking relevant sites, etc.
  • Tech Train 2011: Come on…planning for and facilitating a cohort of teachers who consider themselves beginners has to count for something! It’s not working with my third grade students but it does involve furthering the cause of technology as a classroom tool.

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Visual Literacy Flashback

This video is a great example of combining technology and a live presentation in a way that conveys complex information in an understandable way. I’m sure hundreds of Powerpoints exist that try to share similar data, but this presentation does it in an enjoyable and informative way.

 

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It’s time to be proactive

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

Answer: Accept it. Embrace it. Plan for it. Make it a valued part of the curriculum. Develop standards and grade level expectations. Assess. Reflect. Evolve.

Technology is not a subject. It is a way of life. It is an umbrella term that incorporates anything and everything electronic and new. And it is an essential part of our students lives.

Most teachers today can remember when they got their first email account or the first time they used the internet. The only class I dropped in college was an art class where the professor wanted us to develop a website. Using HTML. After viewing the internet for the first time.

But times are changing. Graduating teachers have had access to the internet since they were in elementary school. In ten years newly certified teachers will have known nothing but a world with internet, mostly accessible via phones and wifi. We often discuss how technology is affecting our students but we should also be looking at how the permeation of technology is affecting our teaching.

At the schools I’ve been at over the last 6 years, here is how technology instruction has worked: do it if you feel like it, don’t if you don’t. Sure, there is increasing access to resources and pressure to use them but mostly subtle pressure. Without common agreements as to what technology and information literacy is and how we should instruct and assess it, there is essentially no requirement for teachers to incorporate technology into their students’ learning.

So, if we want to ensure that our students are learning what they need when it comes to Technology and Information Literacy we need to make it part of our curriculum. We need to jump ahead of the kids, for once, and proactively determine what skills are important enough to incorporate into our curriculum. Schools must start the curriculum process yesterday in order to incorporate technology in an organized, effective way. Because technology isn’t a fad and the most important education our students need is how to analyze, interpret, and use the information they have had free access to from birth. Throwing the kids into a lab once a week or tossing them the occasional laptop will not prepare them for the future they are already facing today.

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One of those Moments

Do you ever have one of those moments where a student says something that helps you know they are getting it? I had one this morning and I’m writing it down here because I’m sure I’ll forget it.

It was before school and I was taking care of things at my desk. Across the room one student was working on her blog (voluntarily!). She asked a friend how to choose her picture. I’m sure she meant how-to literally, as in what buttons to push on the backside of her blog. But her friend interpreted the question differently. Her answer made my day:

“First, I looked over what I had written. Then I went through my pictures to find one that matched up with it.”

It’s such a simple thing but this was only the second time they have independently uploaded photos to their learning blogs and the first time they had taken the pictures. For them to understand so quickly that the photo is a way to support their ideas just proves they are so ready for visual literacy in their learning. I love it!

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Paradigm Change

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