Thursday, December 10, 2009

Project Reflection

The project I am designing will be in collaboration with my teaching colleague Martin Herrmann. Out "big picture" goal is to have the students communicate scientific ideas and processes clearly and concisely to a different group of students outside of the class where the science work is taking place.

The method of communication will be to use blogs to post ideas and findings, and then have other the other student group comment on these. We want students to experience first hand how important it is to be able to explain ideas and concepts clearly so that others can understand and then repeat(the scientific method).

Our students will realize immediately when they have not been clear; the reviewing students when seeking clarification will draw attention to any omissions or lack of detail.

In the same vein, our students will also have the chance to use deep thinking to examine and comment on a different groups science investigations, and critique the work of others.

A project sketch with further details can be seen here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Managing Classroom Peripherals

My latest obsession is my document camera. Last year I observed teachers using this tool and immediately saw what a powerful idea this was. It has taken this whole semester however, to start to integrate this technology into my lessons in an efficient manner.

My first few attempts were clumsy and unsure; I had trouble with all manner of details, and the kids probably saw the camera as an expensive paperweight. Now it has become an extension of my body, just like a smartboard. Perhaps more than myself taking the credit for this turn-around, I need to look at the nature of the new math curriculum I am teaching. As with all new initiatives, it as taken a while to figure out exactly how to implement this math via a different philosophy. Gone is the old days of teacher centered math with a lot of "drill and kill".

Connected Math is all about making connections, looking for patterns, explaining your thinking, and looking for multiple problem-solving strategies. In other words, it allows me to "wind up" students in the search of "prove to me/them/us that you are correct!". It gives opportunity for the kids to really talk with each other and debate (often passionately) their point of view.

In order for the energy of this process to remain high, it is crucial that kids are able to display the evidence of their thinking quickly and efficiently. Enter the document camera and smartboard dream duo. The students have the choice of using either the board or the camera to convey their thoughts; they come up to the front of the room, excited and ready to go, and then present their evidence using their preferred tool.

I take a back seat and watch the fireworks. To see kids arguing a point and using their own proofs to illustrate a point is enjoyable and informative. Students are going beyond just the math, and using many other skills like planning and public speaking. The key point for me is having the technology that is able to serve that immediate need: the need for the presenter to be able to show their work quickly and not slow down or disrupt the flow of the lesson.

The start of the year saw the kids very hesitant to approach and get behind the desk and teach the class; now, thanks to the use of relevant and effective technology, students are busting out of the seats to get up and confidently show everyone the nature of their thinking.

How Relevant are the NETs Today?

The answer to this question depends a lot on how you word the answer.

Totally relevant, when we believe in having a set of external standards that we are able to use as a yardstick to make any number of judgments.

Totally irrelevant, if by looking at these standards we see that by removing any reference to "digital" or "technological" , we are left with the kinds of standards that we as teachers are meeting or attempting to meet every day.

If teachers see standards (technological as well as "ordinary") as relevant and worth striving to meet, then it is imperative that they are supported in this desire by school administration. For standards to be met it will require teachers and administrators working in tandem to make this possible.

Becoming a "Visionary Leader" can involve taking risks, and by the same token teachers have to feel that they can try new technological approaches to reaching without a fear of "looking bad" in front of administrators (and colleagues!). Appropriate professional development is also a must; however that's not the end of the story. In schools with many initiatives, administrators need to show awareness of the amount of time required in becoming confident enough with technology to use it competently and efficiently.

Other important areas where administrators can make the standards relevant is in support of parent education. When teachers can dialogue with parents who are aware and well-informed of the issues surrounding the technology, the school amd their child, then meaningful and clear discussions can take place.