Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

This weekend, I had the exhausting pleasure of attending Educon 2.3 at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.  The first class that I was privileged to participate in was “Crafting Character” led by Karen Blumberg and Meredith Stewart.  Here, the conversation focused on educating students about acceptable behavior online and the implications that mistakes can have in the future.  As a librarian, this issue is certainly not a new one.  We have revised our Acceptable Use Policy with an awareness of the impact of a student’s behavior online, although postings take place after school hours.  We have dealt with the issue by including any derogatory postings about our students, faculty, or school online as falling under the “harassment” section of our disciplinary policy.  I think our AUP has become a fluid document, that is revised and revisted as situations occur.  With this document, and a library curriculum that taught students about protecting themselves online, acceptable behavior, and future consequences of improper behavior, I thought that I was preparing them for the future.

But, as the discussion progressed, it took a turn I had blindly not foreseen.  We discussed taking a more proactive stance by helping students craft a positive digital footprint.  Someone suggested flooding online sources with positive information about oneself in order to subordinate the inappropriate or unflattering information that may already exist in searches.   I had not considered attacking the issue from the other side, from a more upbeat action-oriented way, giving the students the power to take charge of their online persona.  While concentrating on “don’t do this,”  I missed “do that.”  Thanks to all the participants in the class who helped me open my eyes and see that thinking forward  is much better than looking backward.


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After attending the Edutopia webinar, “Education Nation” amidst planning for the beginning of the school year, I was inspired by the idea that there are some classroom techniques and practices that must move from the realm of “nice to know” to “must do.”  As an educator, I have been guilty of learning about new sources and methods, but have failed to completely integrate them into the classroom.  Time has always been an issue.  It has always been easier to fall back on what I’ve used in the past and use what is readily at hand.

But as the school year begins, I think it’s best to review my  lessons and practices of the past school year and employ the  philosophy of Re: Reflect, Reevaluate, and Reinvent.

  • RE – flect: Think about the learning experience of students in my classroom.  Am I challenging and engaging my students?  How many assessments involved more than recall and regurgitation?   How can I best assess their knowledge?
  • RE – evaluate: What classroom projects and practices worked last year, creating an authentic learning experience for my students?  Look at each unit, it’s construct, resources used, and assessment.  Be brutal.  What is worthwhile and worth keeping?  What can be improved?
  • RE – invent: Once the weaknesses in lessons have been pinpointed, I must have the courage to change them.  I have to step out of the box and try something new –use a tool I’ve just learned about, or explore a different dimension of a topic. I’ll do my best to try to engage the students, rather than instruct them.

Now that I’m reinvigorated from the summer, I should have the energy to revise my methods.  That is my goal for this year.

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Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk to some former students who are now seniors in high school.   After the ceremony honoring them (that’s another story), the young men came into the library to talk to me, and a simple conversation about school evolved into an educational policy discussion.

First, they told me about their “silent” library.  They laughed as they told me how they can’t talk in the library, and are threatened with demerits if they do.  “It’s different than here,”  they said.  (I never was known for a quiet library).  I have always tried to encourage discussion and sharing, and have tried to make the library a fun space that students would be happy to come to and stay in.  After all, in a student’s world where social learning and exchange is commonplace and constant, imposing silence seems not only artificial but stifling. We have to encourage enthusiasm and collaboration. And that sometimes results in more noise than most find acceptable, and may look a little chaotic, but it seems to work.  

We talked about past lessons and research, and how I had changed things to incorporate some newer tools like our class wikis, twitter, googledocs, and wallwisher.  All our middle school students have gmail accounts that they use to login to other sites and to communicate with the faculty.  I don’t think of any of these things as revolutionary; conversely, I think they’re a pretty basic step into web 2.0 tools appropriate for students this age.  If anything, I think we could be more progressive than this, and I’m working on incorporating more collaborative tools into their lessons.  I thought my former students would laugh at their simplicity, but the reaction I got was quite different.  My high schoolers look at each other in astonishment.  It seems that social media tools and most types of communication are being blocked at their school.  “They don’t trust us,”  they said.  They laughed as they told me that the school has a twitter account, but they’re blocked from reading the feed at school.  “We can’t use any of that stuff” was the general comment.

That got me thinking — how are schools preparing students for the 21st century, if policy becomes more restrictive as the students get older?  I always thought with maturity comes increased responsibility.  Where have the benefits of social media gotten lost?  Or perhaps, more scarily,  why have they yet to be recognized?  Who is driving the policy that is preventing young adults from using the tools they use now in every other facet of their lives, and will continue to use in the years ahead?  It’s a little scary when middle school curriculum and policy is more progressive than high school policy.  When 18-year-olds recognize the absurdity of a school’s blocking and filtering policy, what does that say about the educators who are perpetrating it?  Out of the mouths of babes —

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As I revised a lesson on search tools for sixth grade this week, research and statistics confirmed what I already instinctively knew: that things have changed dramatically in one short year.  Searchme, which I discussed last year,  no longer exists.  Bing has appeared and made a strong showing.  Google’s search share has increased.  Specific question and answer search tools have cut into market share.  And these are just the glaring examples.  If the tools themselves have changed so drastically, shouldn’t our lessons be changing to reflect these innovations?  It is discouraging to see the same assignments being recycled by teachers year after year, with little or no adaptation to take advantage of the advances in technology.  How are our students going to be prepared for future expectations when they have to take steps backwards to create outdated projects?  And why do teachers continue to insist on the completion of such futile assignments?  Again, I can come to only one conclusion: resistance to change.  But what, if not the needs of our students, is important enough to spur this change? Changes in technology must leave the boundaries of the computer lab and the library.  It doesn’t help to give students information and training if it’s never used in a practical sense to create an original product.  I’m beginning to wonder, though, when this will ever happen.  Technology training for faculty, sharing information on a faculty wiki, and face-to-face discussions have only produced a few converts.  When will the rest see the writing on the wall?  Only time will tell (if it doesn’t run out).

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PencilPaper_FullIt has been a revelation this week that students need a shift in mindset where technology is concerned as much as their parents and some educators do.  While most of us think of students as digital natives, willing and able to use anything remotely connected to technology, I have found just the opposite this week.  Some of my students were given a project on their class wiki to watch a presentation on plagiarism and to comment on it so that their classmates could read their thoughts.  It wasn’t a complicated assignment, and because it was online, there was no time designated for completion other than the due date.  In other words, it could be completed at home any time during the week.  This week, when the class came in, several assignments were still missing.  I was taken aback, because I thought I had made things so easy for them, not requiring that the assignment be completed in class or in school.  But because of this laxity, some students missed the concept that with freedom comes responsibility.  It was actually up to them to complete the assignment and when it fit into their schedule — they had to make time for it to meet the deadline. Unfortunately, some just assumed because it could be done at home, it lost all importance.  Somehow, in the big picture, it became very insignificant.  Somehow, it got lost.  I find it  ironic that easy access to assignments and information has made them less likely to be completed.  I thought students would be more than willing to take advantage of the technology.  I have been proven wrong.  Paper and pencil, anyone?

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acidbeat-afraidThere’s isn’t enough time.  It’s too hard.  We don’t have access to the necessary equipment.  What we’re doing is just fine.  These are just some of the excuses against embracing the use of technology in the classroom.  We’ve all heard them.  But are they a true reflection of  teachers’ feelings? After participating in an #edchat discussion on Twitter last night, some comments by members of my PLN reinforced something I’ve been sensing for awhile.  And that is, that all these comments are based in fear of failure.  All of us are trained professionals, who I think take pride in our classroom management skills and teaching techniques.  To think that something we’re unfamiliar or uncomfortable with is being introduced into the classroom, something that we most probably will not be proficient at, is unnerving.  And unfortunately, insecurity does not breed a willingness to change.  

But educators need to get past these feelings of inadequacy and embrace the tools that will improve teaching.  We need to step out of the teaching role that has become so ingrained, and become the students,  willing to experiment,  to try the unknown, and (should I say it?)  to fail.  There is no shame in not knowing everything, nor harm in making a mistake, even in front of a class.  Perfection has never been a requirement of educators, nor should it be.  Teachers should embrace the chance to continue learning and growing, just as we hope to inspire our students to do the same.  No one ever said it wouldn’t  be challenging, but then, only excuses are easy.

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It has been a difficult week.  Due to a death in the family, I had to be out of town, and out of school for three days.  Those of you who teach know what that means — making detailed lesson plans for substitutes you’ve never met, hoping the students grasp the concepts and understand the assignments, and worrying about behavior.  But thanks to technology, things have been much easier than I anticipated.  Once I received the news and knew I would be out of town, I converted all my PowerPoint presentations and accompanying lectures into slideshares.  These I posted on our Middle School wiki.  I scanned the primary documents they were to evaluate, and posted them there as well.  I used GoogleDocs to create a form for feedback on analysis.  And then, I crossed my fingers and hoped all would be well.  Even though I’m halfway across the country, I could check in with the wiki and answer their questions and concerns.  I could clarify the assignment that may have been a little blurry coming from a substitute.  Being in constant communication and demand 24-7 can sometimes be exhausting.  But this week, thanks to technology, I can relax.

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