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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Getting on the technology bus

I am ever astounded at the fast pace of the changes in the world of technology.  The role of technology in education is moving out of the computer lab in the classroom, leading to a greater importance to prepare all educators for technology integration. 

"New technology is a lightning rod and polarizing force because it not only begins to influence what we see and how we see it, but, over time, who we are." (Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.)

In a recent discussion concerning further technology adoption in my school, the point was made that we must consider some key points.
  • What pedagogical practices are being impacted with the inclusion of technology and does it make sense to bring about that change?
  • What do teachers feel comfortable with related to technology, and how do we provide them professional development to feel more comfortable?
  • Do we adopt new technologies knowing that teachers are unfamiliar with their practices and uses? 
  • How do technologies truly impact student learning and skill development?

"Teachers can enhance their lectures with presentation software, videos and other forms of multimedia, but the methods stay the same. For teachers who don’t understand how these new tools can enhance what they are teaching, then technology can be a distraction." (Aran Levasseur, Teaching Without Technology? | MindShift)

As an example, I recently observed a teacher utilizing a Smartboard in our building.  We are moving to adopt more in the next school year and some teachers are eager to try it out now.  Many see it as a great tool and perfect for today's learning, but as this eager teacher found out in is not the education panacea.

What happens when it doesn't work perfectly? 
This teacher thought you hook it up and it works.  However, it was not so.  First was how to hook it up, then what if it didn't project properly, and what if the board needs to be re-calibrated?  What do to if the software decides to quit or the downloaded lesson doesn't work quite right?  These pitfalls can happen with any technology. 

How does the lesson on the board translate to good teacher?  
The lesson doesn't replace good teaching.  The board is just the medium through which good teaching takes place, just as if with a worksheet, text book or other tool.  A good teacher should be able to teach with or without the board with the same effectiveness, and adapt the lesson with the ebbs and flows that technology can bring.

How does the Smartboard impact student learning? 
As one person in the meeting brought up when I mentioned the impact I had seen on student engagement in using the board since September, that it wasn't the board itself, but the impact of my teaching and ability to engage students through the use of the board.  With any technology, thought should be given to its true impact on learning in the classroom.  

What does this all mean? 

This gave thought to the adoption of any technology, Smartboard, laptops, iPads, etc... Those that understand the technology need to guide teachers first, and provide the technology second.  While there a great thoughts for how important technology is to 21st Century learning, it is also important to consider at what pace these adoptions and changes are brought into the classroom.  

Technology can be great a method for alternate assessment and a means to complete a skill, but we need to instruct students how to do this, just as we instruct them to complete a math equation or formulate an essay.  Students cannot learn how to best utilize the tools if teachers are not on the bus with them.

"What's important to remember is that your colleagues did not get there overnight. What's also important to remember is that you can only glean so much about a lesson or project through a tweet, a blog post or a quick walk by a classroom door. I can remember thinking that a project I did was really "cool," only to realize that it wasn't necessarily as effective as I would have liked. From the outside, my lesson looked great -- the kids were content creators, their work was shared with the world and they were using a digital tool of some kind -- but my project objective or outcome was fuzzy, or the process to get there left much to be desired.
Most people who successfully integrate technology into their classrooms on a daily basis have not always had success. Their road to successful lessons has been plagued by tech failures, poor time management, misleading directions or an incomplete understanding of the tool or technology they were putting into their students' hands." (Mary Beth Hertz, @mbteach)

So as schools move forward to include more technologies into the classroom, make sure that right people, the teachers, are on the bus first, and then make sure the bus is headed in the right direction, impacting student achievement.  Don't be afraid to adopt in waves, and to wait to see if the technology is truly having an impact before going to the next stop.  

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The rules of game playing

My husband and I love games.   It is a fun way to hang in on a Saturday night and they are one of our favorite parts of going camping.  This year being so busy we haven't had much time to drag out our Monopoly or Scrabble Board. 

Who needs a Scrabble game anymore when you have Words with Friends?  Sadly last camping trip my husband suggested why drag out the game when we could play on our phones.  When you played Scrabble, you had to look at those letters, hope you could form a word you know, and hope no one challenged you.  The game was not just about forming words, but learning the socialization and rules that went along with playing.  How to take the idea that someone may challenge you and how to take the chance to challenge someone else.  Playing well meant learning new words in the dictionary and how to use those q's without the u's.  There was also the rule that once the letters were down, that was it, your turn was taken and you could not change them.  With my Words with Friends app, I take occasionally take chances playing letters in different locations, trying to form chance words that have no meaning to me.  There is no challenging if a word is real or not, the game decides that for you. Since you are playing away from your opponent, you can use the dictionary...a big no no in the board game.  The score is kept by the game, so not long sheet of adding points. 

Monopoly has always been one of my favorites and I was so delighted to find an app for that!  So recently my husband and I decided to play.  How silly it was sitting on the couch, each with iPad in hand playing the game.  I must admit it was fun to watch the dog pawn run as it moved, and to experience the game with such interaction.  However, once again, the rules were controlled by the device.  There was no money under Free Parking and you didn't get $400 if you landed directly on Go.  Additionally, there was no banker as the device just calculated for you, so no one had to worry about counting money.  All the money you had and properties you owned were right there on the screen, so no trying to hide that extra $500 or property you were holding to bargain with. 

Game playing is a social event and it is also learning to follow rules, with those you are playing with holding you accountable.  With apps and video games, most of that element is taken away.  The rules and regulations are controlled by the game and children do not have to think about what they are to do.  Turn taking is set up for them and scores calculated.  It puts forth for consideration how does this lack of experience effect children.  How can they learn to work within a set of rules that may have consequences if they are not followed?  Watching students at recess is a great example of how kids handle the social aspect of game playing and should be readily observed by teachers to see where is there a teachable moment in relation to this. 

Social Skills is a focus for part of the year in one of my classes.  A great way to work on this is playing games...real games.  I find more and more students need direct instruction on skills such as:

  • Setting up a game
  • How to wait their turn
  • Cheating is not acceptable
  • Knowing the rules
  • Handling the rules
  • Calculating the score
  •  Coping when others call you out on not following the rules

I will not give up playing games on my devices I know, and neither will kids.  However, we should not neglect the importance of playing actual games with kids.  There is so much they have to learn from them.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Empowering or Enabling

In a recent meeting with my headmaster, we were discussing the implementation of a text and email messaging system for closings and delays. We currently provide such information on our info line, school website, Facebook and Twitter accounts; However, with the recent New England storms taking out power, we think there is a need for an alternate way to notify our families of important information.

So it got me looking for a way to easily send text message and email notifications. I found a few web based options, Remind101 and Class Parrot. These sites tout themselves as a great way to disseminate information to your students. One even allows them to text you back.

This is astounding. I was surprised when teachers became responsible for maintaining websites with assignments and information. This was the first step in taking the ownership off students. Now with social media and texting, are we making students less responsible?

Difficulties in the area of executive functioning have become notable in the last several years. These difficulties often arise in organization of assignments. While the current tools related to assignment posting can be argued to support students, empowering them by providing with opportunities to check assignments, could it also be pointed out that it possibly enables the dysfunction. Knowing that they can easily check assignments later, or contact the teacher, takes away the responsibility for them to attend initially in class.

We all like our information immediate and within easy reach, but should it be the first thing we model for students.  I recall my college Sociology professor once said to our class that he was not going to teach us information, but teach us how to find it.  Students need to learn the responsibility for their successful learning, and this "Wikipedia World" seems to be taking that important skill development away.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Is it really that shocking? Technology and academics together

I recently had to complete an assignment for my graduate class that proposed an action plan related to impacting student achievement.  I outlined the implementation of technology curriculum directly into the academic classrooms of our skill-based program from students with learning disabilities.  This plan laid out a interweaving of technology standards and direct instruction within the academic area standards to provide greater utilization of technology as a means of acquiring and demonstrating knowledge in the classroom.

"Media literacy is an important topic to be integrated throughout the curriculum so that every student has the opportunity to become actively engaged in learning about it multiple ways throughout each school year." (Swaim, 2002)

The plan seemed so commonsensical.  The idea developed out of a series of conversations with the Director of Curriculum at my school, and seemed so logical in its development.  As academic technology coordinator, I would develop goals and objects based on state standards and then work with the other department heads to develop technology based projects for their academic areas to meet goals for both domains.  The ultimate goal to have greater technology instruction woven in to demonstrate purpose and provide dual direct instruction to benefit the acquisition of skills.

My plan followed the mission of my school, " help children with learning disabilities develop a foundation of skills, gain an understanding of their abilities, and prepare for a more traditional program." (Eagle Hill Southport), as well as the mission of the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), "To expand learning opportunities for all individuals, especially those with disabilities, through research and development of innovative, technology-based educational resources and strategies."

So much to my surprise, my professor felt this plan was of key importance and that I should publish an article based on my rationale.  I did not find my ideas, foundation of points, or thoughts to be so innovative, but just good practice.  Apparently, maybe good practice in my eyes is different as I teach in an ideal setting of being able to be create the optimal learning opportunities for my students without many restrictions.  My school does best practice on a daily basis to provide for our students, and I do think that what we do, while not innovative, is unique in its actual implementation.  So maybe after all my time there, my ideas are something outside the norm of traditional practice.  That saddens me for public education.  So now I explore the idea of submitting an article. 

As Alan November (2011) says, "The whole capacity to pick a specific curricular area, such as reading, and building a plan around that makes sense to me.  Too often what I see is technology for technology's sake...Whatever the technology du jour is, you know, we'll have our next favorite technology.  So, extending beyond that, the vision absolutely comes first, then the technology.  It is not the other way around."  

The ideas are out there, maybe I can join with those that have the same vision and bring it into practice.  How do you utilize technology in your school and classrooms? 

Alan November,, 2011

Telemedium, The Journal of Media Literacy, Vol. 48, No. 2, Fall 2002

Monday, November 14, 2011

Technology...multisenory learning?

I had an interesting conversation the other day with our school psychologist, Dave, who works at our sister school a few towns over.  They adopt technology a bit quicker than we do, with a 1-1 laptop program for the upper school and a full school adoption of interactive whiteboards a few years ago.

So he came into my first period recently and was asking my class questions concerning our interactive board...the only one in the building and installed this past summer.  My students love it!  I couldn't figure where Dave's questioning was going.

Working with our student population...students with learning disabilities, in a transitional skill based program...multi-sensory learning with consideration for all modalities (verbal, auditory, kinesthetic) is very key to our instruction.  

So again...I am lost as to his questioning....then it becomes clear...Dave states that with the focus to use the interactive whiteboard, there has been a decrease in traditional hands on activities.  Are we truly doing less multi-sensory teaching?

Is the interaction with the whiteboard multi-modal?  While it is many dimensions are you really interacting with?  This was Dave's point, is the interactive whiteboard as multi-modal as you would assume?  It does have many bells and whistles, it is interactive like a video game, however what does it require of the student's modalities? 

Interactive boards are very visual, can be auditory, but are they truly kinesthetic?  This is a fine line.  Students can touch them, they can move objects, they can write on them, but take a game my math class loves where they touch dice to roll them, and then multiple them.  Which is more interactive, touching an image that rolls or actually rolling dice? Doing a word sort, is moving words to a column on the board, where feedback is immediate, or doing a word sort where the answer is not immediately acknowledge, but more thought is required to ensure accuracy a more interactive activity? 

I think of board games versus video games...which requires more interaction, more effort?  This could be argued both ways; however, interaction involved with technology is really between the technology and one person...where an actual hands on activity, involves more interaction with others and tactile feedback.  Without technology there is often less immediate feedback, which means there needs to be more thought on the students part before ensuring accuracy, meaning more metacognition required.

The interactive board has added a lot to my classroom, but it is also not the only tool I use for learning.  This conversation with Dave was crucial to reinforce the need to keep our traditional activities to support learning, that full adoption of interactive boards is not necessarily the best for learning.  Teachers need to utilize these tools with care to the fact that traditional, tried and true practices are not to be left behind.

As we move forward to 21st century practices, we need to remember that there are educational practices that have been used without technology that are just as effective, if not more.  Any tool used in the classroom needs to be to the benefit of the whole student, whether requiring electricity or not.    

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Does technology really impact learning?

I have been contemplation technology in the classroom a lot, as it is going to be the focus of a project for one of my graduate school classes. 

Utilizing the Smartboard in my classroom has been interesting.  I love it for some classes, and find it to be a glorified whiteboard during others.  It draws attention, good and bad for my students.

However, does the cost really correlate to the learning impact?  This I am not sure of, and am leaning on the side of no.  Lessons are engaging, however could putting an iPad or laptop in the direct hands of a student have a greater impact?  For the cost of my board, my school could purchase 8 iPads or 4 laptops.  These could impact student learning in all classrooms, not just mine.  Additionally, aren't these the tools that students need to be utilizing with as they are the real world tools they will use beyond the classroom?

I love technology, and always have the lastest and greatest.  However, I think sometimes people adopt technology into schools without full thought to how it will be utilized in direct practice, how it will directly impact student learning, and what the end goal will be with relation to its use.  Most public schools have interactive whiteboards in the classrooms, but how much are they fully being used and what evidence is there that student learning is improved by them?

In considering the adoption of iPads, I read about many schools that have jumped in with 1-1 programs, but what data is being collect to demonstrate that the use of them is directly improving student achievement? 

What do you think?
I would love to hear from educators concerning these issues.  What do you see?  What proof is out there as to the true growth of our students development with these tools? Are students truly using them to engage in learning or to just engage in interacting with the technology? 

21st century learning should include technology just because technology exists.  It needs to be used to directly impact student learning in ways that could not be done before.  It needs to level the playing field for a variety of learning styles and needs.  It does not need to be there because students only know how to learn with technology. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Teaching and learning with technology....Livescribe

The Livescribe Pen
I became an Ambassador this year for Livescribe.  They sent me a pen to use and to assess how it can impact learning.

I am fascinated by this pen.  You write in special notebooks, and then can upload the files to your computer, or to applications like Evernote (a favorite of mine).  Additionally they have software that can covert your handwriting to text.  This of course is dependent on the neatness of your handwriting.

Storage and organization
My first usage is for my current grad school course.  I began the course typing my notes, but saw this as a great opportunity to put the pen to the test.  I do love traditional note taking in a notebook, but love to have access to my notes on my computer.  The Livescribe is a serious solution for this.  I love that I can store and organize my notes, with papers I have typed for the class, and any other digital resources.

The distractability of technology
Additionally, taking notes with the pen is less distracting than using my computer.  While typing on my computer, I can get distracted with my email, Twitter, Facebook, or any of several other applications.  With the pen, I have it and my notebook, but still will eventually get digital notes.  This could be very key for students.  How easily they can be off task in the middle of class, especially those prone to distractability. There is little on the pen to play with.

I have yet to try the audio component of it.  You can record what is being said while you write it.  They when reviewing your notes, you can touch on the spot you were writing, and play back was was being said as you wrote it.  I think of this as a great tool to address executive functioning and memory difficulties.  I have two students I tutor who could benefit greatly from this.  They are in public schools, and often miss things said in class because they are busy trying to write things down.  This would enable them to record things, and then we could review them later to ensure they received and noted all the information needed. 

I look forward to exploring more opportunities with the pen at work as a teacher, and as a student myself.