Monday, November 30, 2009

Laptop Management

There is a lot of information on this subject “out there” that is necessary for any school or individual to become familiar with before bringing laptops into the classroom. The end of this blog will include several very helpful with a wealth of practical tips.

From my own perspective, I tended to learn rapidly from the mistakes I made as I fumbled my way through attempting to use laptops with my students.

The things that worked for me were:

Initial set up:

* train a few kids in the specifics of collecting, transporting, and plugging in laptop carts

* assign students an actual numbered computer

* train the entire class to remove/replace computers correctly/safely

During Use:

*Insisting on student attention while you are instructing (screens down)

* Using existing technology (notebook recorder; jing) to produce video clips that are stored on the student server for easy access. Students can use these as a resource for going to particular websites.

If one staff member is not consistent with any one aspect (for example charging, sending, retuning the cart; ensuring each computer is plugged into the cart) then the whole system can break down. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. This can lead to frustration, and then less likelihood of the laptops being used by that teacher again - resulting in the under utilization of a potentially powerful learning tool.

Laptop Management Links

Whose Job Is It???

The teaching of the NETS and AASL is the job of everyone in the school community; from classroom teachers to tech people to parents and administrators; and in an ideal meta-cognitive world, students will also assist with instructing and peer teaching their fellow students.

Posts from other course participants
talked about the importance of embedding standards in the courses we teach. One post drew the analogy of ESL learners needing to learn nglish within the context of each subject: this allows a more authentic learning experience, as students will encounter the concepts and at the same time seize the vocabulary that they need to know in order to express themselves. It doesn't make sense to try and separate these out, and in the same way it doesn't make sense to separate out technology standards from the subjects where technology skills are being utilized.

The new middle school math curriculum this year runs off the engine of the Connected Math Program. When I first started to teach this program I was amazed at the amount of "describing, explaining, clarifying and reflecting" that was required. My first question was "where's the math?" ESL learners were horrified; students who had always been "strong" math students were suddenly finding themselves confronting a poor grade in this subject. For some, math was the one curricular area that they could perform well in, without having to take on the extra hurdle of language.

Now, almost a semester in, I am seeing tremendous growth in many of these ESL learners as they take on the challenge of using language accurately to explain their math thinking. The language skills that they are picking up in math will also be transferred and carried over to all other areas of their academic life. In effect, math will be supporting humanities as well as other subjects (and vice versa).

By the same token, I think it is impossible to separate out the technology standards from the classes we teach. By embedding the standards into my day-to-day use of technology, I am making the learning more meaningful and more significant.

Ensuring Students Learn

As time goes by we become further and further surrounded by technology, schools will reflect wider society and be impacted in a similar way. There will be a continuum on where schools sit; some will push the boundaries, and others will lag behind due to other externally enforced limitations, for example budget constraints. However, I believe that over time, almost all schools will see some kind of move to integrate technology into the daily lives of their kids.

Whether this move to integration will actually result in improved student learning is another story. This will depend on the manner in which technology is implemented.

For us to be sure that kids are learning what they need to, we must ensure that teachers are teaching/using/implementing technology in the best way possible. This requires teachers to be able to engage in well-informed dialogue. This cannot happen until teachers actually know what they are talking about, and have had experiences with integrating technology first hand. This will require schools to take a long term and dedicated approach to teacher education.

Without a genuine desire by staff to go through the process of learning a number of new skills, then I believe that schools will be forever hoping that teachers just “pick it up” as they go along. With multiple, demanding commitments on any one day, the barrier for teachers to take on a new personal education piece will be too high.

Schools need to reduce the barriers that exist, so that teachers are more likely to “come onboard” and learn about the benefits of technology. I feel one of the biggest barriers is teacher’s lack of skills or knowledge (whether real or perceived). The “Fear Factor” can be a huge obstacle for teachers when they see technology as a demon they do not understand.

My own learning curve with technology has been greatly assisted by being part of a professional development course such as this COETAIL course. The assignments have been one way for me to push myself to learn new things; but often, it is the informal discussions that rise up out of a topic and then take on a life of their own that I find the most rewarding and enlightening. Hearing fellow teachers discuss and come up with solutions to problems that I am also grappling with has been of tremendous benefit.

The existence of the COETAIL course has been an example of a “reduced barrier” for me. It is at my school; I can go 2 minutes from my classroom; I can get instant support and feedback form both colleagues and tutors. I am able to spend time and effort in the class learning skills that I will ultimately (and often almost immediately) bring to my science and math classes.

Once teachers become more comfortable and knowledgeable about the use of technology in education, worthwhile dialogue can take place. This will allow such discussions such as “who teaches NETS and AASL standards to kids?” to take place.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Digital Storytelling

My attempt to come to grips with digital storytelling has not been a smooth journey. In the previous school year, myself and Martin Hermmann labored through a drawn out process using Movie Maker with a group of ESL kids. Our aim was to take a text heavy, yet important article from our Diversity of Life Science course, and break it into small chunks and have students take a sentence each and turn this into a piece of the story. Ultimately, we would stitch the story together and then the whole class could view the completed project, which would allow them to then tackle the article with greater ease.

The result was several hours of work resulting in a product that was average, at best. The time we lost, compared to if we had used a 1.0 traditional jigsaw approach, didn't seem worth the trade-off. So this year, Martin and I embarked on using PhotoStory 3 to carry out the same task. Martin did the hard yards; he spent time cutting the story into manageable chunks, then modeled the first third of the photostory in the style we wanted the kids to produce. Click here for a more detailed description of how Martin set things up.

My part in the process comes as our class of 26 kids was split, and I was to lead my group of 13 through the process of creating their piece of the puzzle. The first two lessons required the kids to find appropriate images from google or flickr that would support their story. Interestingly enough for me, I was at the same time attempting during the evenings to modify an old power point presentation, and Zen-ify it with the use of powerful images. Having spent hours searching for images myself, I was able to empathize accutely with the student's frustration mixed with excitement and creativity during this process.

By the end of the second lesson, most kids had found images that were appropriate enough. A few kids were still struggling, but the great thing about the situation was that kids who had completed their section were more than happy to peer teach their colleagues.

The next lesson was interesting. Martin had also prepared 4 screen casts for the kids, showing them how to produce their own photostory with images from their powerpoint presentation. His screen casts chunked the process, making it quick and easy to understand for all; I know this, because I watched these screen casts in my prep period before my students arrived to get myself "up to speed"!

A huge plus in using these screencasts were that students could easily come up to the smartboard at the front of the room, and replay the clip in order to clarify things; another way to do this would be to have the clips available on the student share folder, and the kids could access them without leaving their seat or laptop.The final step was to have the kids upload their completed section onto panthernet; that still left Martin the job of taking about two dozen clips and arranging them in the correct order for the final story to flow.

Of 26 kids, we managed to get 24 clips completed; the story was shown to kids among much excitement. It certainly seemed to give them greater access to the science concepts than wading through 4 pages of dense text.

The whole process we went through with the kids still raises important questions, questions we touched on during one of our face to face meetings. Is it possible/necessary/worthwhile for us as educators with an interest in technology, to ensure that our students are leaning certain skills at certain grade levels? For example, 3rd grade powerpoint, 4th grade blogging, 5th grade voice thread, 6th grade photostory, 7th grade Movie Maker etc.

Compared to last year, the effort was much reduced. Martin put a lot of time into the set up, and I was able to benefit from that. As a team, with regard to the next technological endeavor we take on, it will be my turn to 'get the ball rolling'.