Sunday, March 20, 2011

How has my viewpoint changed regarding the integration of technology in the classroom?

I just can't imagine, at this point, not diving right into to integrating technology into my classroom. I feel more confidant, now, about moving forward with this goal. I felt insecure walking into this technology class. However, now I see that there are ways to stay up to date on the latest advances in technology--and there are ways to learn how to use them! I didn't think there was any way I could ever do anything creatively on the computer. I love my webquest. It got me excited about being in the classroom again. Photo Story and Scratch have been big hits in my house already--my kids love them. I love when my first grader comes home telling me about a smart board---and I know what he's talking about. I love having the math games that help my third grader "get it". I appreciate the easy-going, laid back format of this course. The hands on time has been invaluable. I've been sending along information to my kids' teachers non-stop--just hoping they are in the mindset of wanting to give them a try. I'm particularly interested in researching how technology can help special needs children. I've found some excellent resources so far, and again, feel confidant about my abilities now. I feel, going forward, I'll be more willing to experiment, research and apply what I've learned. I'm certainly appreciative for my new found confidence! My future students thank you.

Using Instructional Websites to Differentiate

Differentiated instruction is the process of ensuring that what a student learns, it is learned, and how the student demonstrates what is learned, student’s readiness level, interests, and preferred mode of learning. Differentiation stems from beliefs about differences among learners, how they learn, learning preferences and individual interests. Differentiation in education can also include how a student shows that they have mastery of a concept. This could be through a research paper, role play, computer usage, diagram, poster, etc. The key is finding how students learn and meeting those needs.

The author of this article is an eighth grade science teacher with a Special Education degree. He is always accommodating and modifying for students with IEP's, but also "going beyond that to offer multi-modal, engaging instruction and assessment for all students.  The question was always, how?" In the five years in his current position, he's fought to incorporate the latest and greatest technology in order to keep up with his students' needs. He has been successful for the most part, but after all of the school's purchases, "beyond the smart board, document camera and the Flip video, the single most comprehensive differentiation tool we use is our instructional website". The use of a classroom website in the classroom has changed the way the teachers teach, and the way the students learn. All of the other technology used, can be brought together on the website. Students can access  it and have input on what they want to see there, and what helps them most. Websites are an outstanding way to reach students who are kinesthetic/tactile learners. "A dynamic animation of a concept on the smart board (many recent textbooks provide access to free links) can get kinesthetic learners (and students who flourish with attention) up and moving."

Instructional websites also provide in-class individual engagement for students with behavior management issues, perhaps at a computer station with an aide, keeping students in class rather than out in a behavior room. Online textbooks and textbooks on CD provide an alternative for low readers, but managing CD players and other equipment can be an issue. By posting textbook audio clips to the site, scaffolding for low readers is easily accessible--in class, during the review cycle, or out of class with support.

It may be that teachers value their time so much, that they don't want to take what little time they have in order to create a class website. However, "the benefit of investing the time to build a content-rich instructional site, for a subject with a recent adoption, is that curriculum elements, once posted, will be useful for years. So in fact, it saves prep time over the long run."

With an instructional website, assessments and re-assessments can be made easier, and the interest level of the learner is heightened, and kept for longer periods of times. Technology is all around us, and the internet is a very big part of our lives. With a classroom instructional website, it is possible that all learners will benefit, especially those who need that extra support.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Article: Does more technology equal less reading?

In the Tech and Learning, November 2, 2010 issue the article Does More Technology Equal Less Reading? Jumped out at me. I am an avid reader, and have often wondered about this. My son especially spends most of his time on the computer, ipod touch and DSi--and does not enjoy reading for pleasure. My daughter goes through phases, but lately she's been online more than not. She does, however, spend a good bit of this time on websites such as StoryBird--and with this, I take no issue.  The article states that research shows kids between the ages of six and seventeen spend more time texting or surfing than reading for fun. The authors quote a study done by Scholastic, "2010 Kids & Family Reading Report" which compares the percentages of time spent reading books, performing physical activities, and engaging with family, and how technology has stolen this time from these and other important activities.  However, that same study demonstrated that technology actually motivates children to read in different scenarios. A vast amount of students aged nine to seventeen report they would enjoy reading an e-book, and that they would actually be more likely to read using the same.

The report reads: While only 25% of kids have read a book on a digital device (including
computers), many more (57% of kids age 9-17) are interested in doing
so. When asked if they would read more books for fun if they had access
to eBooks, one-third of kids age 9-17 of kids said yes, including frequent
readers (34%), moderately frequent readers (36%), and even infrequent
readers (27%)

Over the holidays my daughter (nine) asked me to go to the library for a book. They didn't have the book she wanted, so she wanted to go to the bookstore to buy it. I decided to first look on my NOOK to see if it was there. When I found it, I bought it immediately and surprised her with it. At first she was hesitant, and it took a long time for her to get used to the buttons and different feeling of the device. She ended up reading the entire book in two days and asked for another one. I did give in and ended up buying her two more. When we got to the third book, she asked if she could just "go back to reading real books". I honestly was shocked, but actually glad. Granted, she is a "reader", but I'm happy she didn't fall for this new "toy" as so many have. On the other hand, my four year old is reading because of her use of our IPAD. The games are easy to understand and fun to learn. She enjoys books, but I have a feeling she will be one of those who prefer technology to "real books". I'm not sure if I should do something to try to maintain balance--or just let it run it's course. I'm not sure what good this study does when there is still the issue of equal access to technology...and if it's a step in the right direction, or making excuses for kids who just don't want to read. I'm all for technology, and I do enjoy my Nook! However, how can we keep up? I've only had my device a few months, and there is already a much nicer version available. Is it that kids just want the newest "hot" thing, or is there something truly magical about reading something with virtual pages rather than paper ones? I have mixed feelings about this, but am glad the article got me thinking. By the time I'm in a classroom again, this query will most likely be moot anyway!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Teachers need to provide equal access to the digital world to all learners...

The whole idea of technological equal access for students is spot on. However, many variables come into effect. Once a school system has the funding to provide enough computers to put in the classrooms, or even into a lab this can be one step closer to the goal. However, there is never a guarantee that any one student has the technology at home. When classwork become too dependent on technology, and students don't have the access, learning may be hindered. Many school systems are aiming for every high school student to have their own laptop. If/When this is finally set into place, the limitations will be lessened greatly. I'm not certain how a single teacher can take on providing equal access, but he/she can certainly make aware those to do make such decisions. If the only access to a computer a student has is at school, homework/projects need to be limited and more flexible. There could be an occasion where a school system cannot afford what might be needed to successfully "keep up" with the most current and up to date technology. When the teachers cannot have the access, it is impossible for students to have the same. Thus, it is imperative that those who do have this luxury demonstrate the true importance of moving forward in this technological world in which we live. There is a student in my child's class who is not allowed to use the one and only computer in their home. We live in a upper middle class town, and the schools are more than prepared to supply anything a student might need when it comes to technology. Yet, this student has one 30 minute session a week in a computer lab. Since the teacher is aware of the issue, it seems she would take the extra time during the week to enable this student to have ample time to master the basics. As it is, he spends the majority of the computer lab time asking questions, where the rest of the kids get that practice at home. On the other hand, I have a friend who teaches in a school in Arkansas where there are only two students who have home computers. They, too, have a computer lab. She spends the first ten minutes of class each time going over the basic steps, and she even has some student "experts" now. She allows them to use the classroom computer as much as possible, and makes sure everyone is comfortable with whatever new technology she introduces. She recently spoke to the school board defending the importance of technology in the classroom. She has no computer training herself, but defends its importance on a daily basis. To just assume that we live in the perfect little world where everyone is fortunate to have access to technology (or "too bad if you don't" as my child's teacher) is a tragic mistake. We should, as educators, always be seeking ways to improve, and setting the "equal access" goal as priority is a great start. It may not be easy, but knowing there is no escaping it should be a good shove in the right direction!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

K12 Online Conference: Learning on My Own

The title of this one grabbed me. I'm intrigued by the idea of allowing students to study what they choose--so was curious about this title. The more I listened, the more I "get it". The teacher had her students create Wiki accounts. I'm just learning about these it had my attention. She had one 3rd grade student who decided to write a review on a play he attended. A fifth grader saw it, then decided to run with the idea. He became a reviewer--critic so to speak of varying plays. He was inspired to see plays by his dad, who was in Iraq. his father was able to see his reviews, and make comments. This was a learning adventure! How amazing is technology where a student can start by doing something as an assignment, then make it into something completely enjoyable and meaningful for himself.  His teacher had decided that turning over ownership of learning to the student made all the difference in this child's life. He said that he became a better writer because he knew that others all around the world would be reading what he wrote--and he wanted them to be able to understand him. He learned how to be specific with his questions (online searches) in order to receive the best possible results from his query. This student blossomed because his teacher gave him guided freedom. He told her that she was his favorite teacher. When she asked why, he responded, "because you let me learn what I know is good for me to learn...and you trust me". This is so key to the education environment! Encouragement, motivation to learn, and support are the basis for a great education for all ages.

I'm not sure how to take this approach with every subject area, but in technology, this teacher nailed it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Teachable Moments

I just listened to (and read) the conversation regarding teachable moments
The irony of the first half of the talk was that it was an actual "moment" about which they were attempting to discuss--they couldn't get the audio to work and then it was in and out--was fun to listen to :)

 This has always been a topic that grabs me. I'm always afraid I'm going to miss out on such moments with my own children. I taught 6th grade in the nineties, and had a student share that her dad was in the service and had to leave for an assignment.  The questions started flying--"why does he have to leave?" "why do people fight?" "if they don't want to fight and we don't want to fight--what's the point? Can't they just talk it out?" And I felt overwhelmed--I could have grabbed that "moment" and really gone with it--but I was so scared I would say the wrong thing. One of the women in the recording mentioned that some of her best "teachable moments" were when she didn't have a clue about the answer, and they would research it. Of course hindsight is 20/20, but what a great moment I missed! I remember being in HS when the challenger launched--then exploded. We were watching it live. We were all scared and upset and some of the teachers (I found out later) really went with it. They talked about the scientific side of it, the possibilities about what might have happened--some allowed their kids to come up with ideas about how to help support the families. One teacher just had a talk session about how it made them feel. My algebra teacher asked us to pass in our homework and prepare for our quiz. I remember my hand was shaking so badly that I could barely hold the pencil. I can't remember much else about that day, but that I knew the kids of the people on that ship weren't doing math. That anniversary is upcoming, and it still hits me hard. Other such topics were discussed such as 9/11 and Haiti...I haven't taught in so many years, but I can imagine it takes a sensitive and wise person to be able to grab such an issue and run with it.

I had a bit of a teachable moment with my son this week. He's got Asperger's, and really can only focus on one thing at a time. One of his favorite pastimes is creating characters on his Wii, the computer, or even pencil to paper.  I told him about the avatar assignment and how I was scared to try it because I'm no good at that kind of thing. He said "Mama--of course you can do it. You won't do it as good as me, but that's okay. It takes practice". I was blown away at this--number one, those words have come out of my mouth so many times, and he was listening! But he grasped that I have insecurities too, and sometimes it's GOOD to relay those to kids!

I feel there are many levels of such moments--from the weather patterns and why it's snowing so much this year, and a pet fish dying when overfed to the enormity of the catastrophes mentioned above. I love that it's okay for me not to "know it all"! My three year old asked me a question last week about who God's mom was, and I answered with "I don't know..." and she gave me a sly smile saying, "You're a GROWN UP!" implying that I should know everything. I'm glad that isn't the case. I'm hoping to be able to grab more and more of these teachable moments that come my way--and get over the fear of approaching topics I'm insecure about--and being more open to learning instead of always "teaching" :)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Digital Nation...Reflection

"We are consumed by that which we are nourished by"~~Shakespeare
The Frontline showing of "Digital Nation" was amazingly informative and interesting. I never knew it was such a hot topic! I am one of those oddities who does not have every technical gadget with me everywhere I go. I just returned from a weekend away where I didn't even think about email, texting, or even my cell phone. I totally enjoyed it! I realize we have to just embrace it all, but for me, it is something that is mostly a necessary evil. I want to at least be on the same wavelength with my children and students--but I don't want to jump in fully. I still believe in the art of letter writing. My three kids each have 3-4 penpals across the US--no email! However, I must say, like the woman who stated on frontline, my son learned to read from gaming! It started with educational games, and then went to webkinz, and on and on--now he is an expert at anything he attempts, and he's only seven. It's tough to know where to draw the line. The study stated that children of today spend up to 50 hours a week with digital media. One of the educators in the study stated that he was concerned as a child's brain is not yet developed, and too much digital media can be detrimental to the learning process. One of the things that shocked me the most with this documentary was the reality of digital rehab! Watching the mother and son relationship where he lost his interest for communication with her, and it seemed any social skills he may have had was heart breaking. When he went to the camp (REHAB) for ten days with no connection of any kind to the outside world, I was blown away. The fact that this is a necessity is truly a sad statement about where our children are spending the majority of their time. I realize that we need to learn to embrace it, but shouldn't it be limited too? Where is the balance? It seems we are creating a world where our kids are not required to remember things, as it is readily available for them. I used to sit and try and figure out an actor's name, or where certain places are in the world--and now I just pop onto IMDB or pull up a world map. Isn't there still value to thinking without assistance? I did like what was said about children being forced to create quicker now that some of the "thinking" is being done for them. Maybe it helps us to learn in a different fashion? The statement was made that "technology is like oxygen--would you ask a child to stop breathing?" I do agree in so many ways, but again--it's about balance.

Some of what was said confused me. For one, the principal who came in and took over a school after several other principals had failed was a good story. He wanted every child to have his own laptop and really embraced what spoke to the school as a whole. It was stated that there was a significant increase in scores and especially in math. Then the next guy who was interviewed called this "instant gratification education" and said that everything was too short, and kids were more likely to be bored. It was also stated that we are creating the "dumbest generation" due to lack of critical thinking, and laziness.

Everyone seemed to either think they knew--or was questioning--what is the best way to teach? There are always gains and losses with anything new, and memory loss is a big negative in this technological world. We are in an informational overload. We seem to be adapting, and open-mindedness and the excitement of exploration helps! But there are dangers as well. The blurred distinctions between reality and virtual reality are frightening. I play a game on Wii with my son called ANIMAL CROSSING. I sometimes find myself thinking about whether or not I put my character (Audrey :)) to bed! The studies done when they told the children they'd been swimming with two whales, then showed them computer created videos of this activity--the kids believed they'd done it!! When my son is crying about one of his characters on WEBKINZ needing to be fed and I made him stop playing too soon, I know it's time to take a break!

I can understand both arguments regarding the Army's gaming rooms for digital youth. There are certainly children who may take it one step too far. Viewing the game they are playing, I can see how they can feel completely immersed! I watch my son more and more to ensure his understanding the line and attempt to help him balance it all out. He has Asperger's, and doesn't know how to do imaginative play much, and doesn't understand how if he sees it--sometimes it's not real. When I speak to him about it, he asks about 100 questions before I think he's okay with what I'm trying to tell him. On the other hand, it continues to amaze me at how easily he figures things out on the computer, where if it's on paper (a book, for example) he really struggles. I can relate to the school who teaches through gaming. My own child THRIVES in that sort of learning environment! If I can find something to keep his attention for any amount of time that actually teaches something valuable, I will definitely grab it. I want to learn, if for no other reason, for him. 

"Technology isn't good or bad, it's powerful and complicated--take advantage, but pay attention to what it is doing..." The goal is to find balance.

Have already recommended this video to several for my friends in the field of education--am so happy I was forced to watch :)