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Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

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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Lately, we’ve talked a lot about the necessity for collaboration between educators.  As a librarian, I’m especially interested in the topic, as I’ve come to realize that this collaboration truly produces the most authentic project based learning.  Many teachers are reticent to embrace such collaboration, seeing a division between information use and subject-specific instruction.  But as we all know, 21st century learning recognizes no such division.  I had come to believe that the combination of the instructor’s age and lack of familiarity with technology was responsible for this resistance, but this week I was proven wrong by my students. 

Eighth graders learned this week how to use GoogleDocs; specifically,  the presentation creation feature.  The idea was this:  as a class, let’s create a slideshow about the Winter Olympics, based on research they’ve already done.  To do this , they had to collaborate with classmates, agreeing on backgrounds that did not clash, similar fonts, the formatting of slides, and in what order to place the information.  Students began to argue about the look of the presentation.  More than one student took it upon himself to change the background of all the slides multiple times, resulting in raising the frustation level of the group.  Once it was decided to put the slides in chronological order, students were surprised to see that classmates had moved their slides, often to the incorrect position.  The results would have been comical, had they not pointed out the difficulty of collaboration, even amongst the young and tech-savvy.  I found that group collaboration is hard, regardless of age and experience level, and that the lesson here was not what I intended — to teach the students to use a new tool — but how to work together.  Our class next week was to spend time looking at our beautiful final product, but instead, we’ll look at the project from a different angle — why is working on it together better than doing it apart?  We’ll spend most of our time discussing the difficulties they had working together, and how we can do better next time.  Because, as all educators know, an intended lesson can often have an unexpected result.  It was no longer about  the use of a new tech tool.  It  became something totally different — that collaboration is difficult, but well-worth the effort.  And this lesson is age and ability blind.

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Digital Revolution?

Now that the first full week of school is complete, I can say that I have hope that changes are taking effect.  During the summer, I had learned about numerous new tools and sites that I could introduce to our faculty.  But not wanting them to feel overwhelmed, I had to decide where exactly was the most important place to start.  We began with an evaluation and redesign of each class’ web page, and the incorporation of grade level calendars using GoogleDocs.  Has it been easy?  No.  Is the entire faculty comfortable with these new tools and requirements? No.  Does everything look perfect? No.  But saying that, it doesn’t mean it hasn’t been successful.  I’m seeing changes being made at every grade level, though minor.  I’m seeing an effort to use these new tools and guidelines to make the best effort to communicate effectively and efficiently with parents and students.  Is this a digital revolution?  No.  But what I’m realizing is that the digital revolution is made up of many battles; some so small they could be considered skirmishes.   Alone, each seems minor, but taken as a whole, they show progress toward attaining our goal.  It’s going to take time to shift thinking and increase technological familiarity to win this war,  but I have hope that eventually the revolution will be won.  And I’m digging in for the duration.

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The Power of Belief

As I watch 17-year-old Melanie Oudin win match after match at the U.S. Open, I’m reminded of the power of belief.  This young phenom has gone further than anyone thought possible on the strength of her belief that she can do what no one else thinks possible.  She takes the court with her trademark tennis shoes with the word “Believe” actually printed on the side.  And when you watch her, you believe as well. 

What does this have to do with education? Just think what our students could do if they believed that strongly in their ability.  They wouldn’t be deterred from pursuing their goals, regardless of hardships personal and financial. They would be filled with an optimism and yearning for something better.  But how can we instill that kind of confidence so that they’ll have the strength to overcome roadblocks in their educational journey?  Praise them for their accomplishments, no matter how small.  Expose them to the many educational possibilities that lie ahead.  Listen to their concerns.  If one of the major forces influencing students who stay in school is a connection to an educator and a feeling of belonging, than our attitude can have a much bigger impact than increased funding or improved teaching techniques.  If we believe in our students, they’ll believe in themselves.

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ChalkI recently read “Effective Use of Technology” posted at the Elevated Formation Blog. In it, the author points out that technology can be used three ways in education: one great, one neutral, and one horrible.  He made an interesting distinction here, that I think is often ignored — that is, technology in itself is not great, and use of that technology is not necessarily improving the educational process.  Some educators who have been reluctant adopters of educational technology have felt themselves caught up in a wave a change, and so have been forced to integrate technology into the classroom.  Many times, their familiarity with, and use of, technology is so limited that its integration does not improve the educational process, but is a detriment. Taking class time to set up a simple viewing of a web app on a Smartboard does not necessarily advance the education of students.  To suggest web pages for student research that have not been evaluated actually does students a disservice by providing incorrect information.  To provide a class web page that does little more than provide a schedule of events and is rarely updated undermines the purpose of communication via the web.  Are we willing to accept these “baby steps” by educators because they indicate a willingness to try to change, or should we have higher expectations?  If our goal is to provide the best education possible, then I think we should hold our peers to higher standards.  The use of technology has a purpose — it is not an end in itself.  To use technology merely as a tool to achieve the same end is much like choosing to use a different color chalk to write on the board.  It might look a little different, but nothing’s changed. Let’s use that chalk to create something new, to explore the educational possibilities.  Only then will the results will be great.

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