Back in the Classroom

After working for five years as a district-level technology facilitator, I am now returning to the classroom. It's my goal to make my 5th grade class a model for how technology can be powerfully integrated into instruction and learning. Join my students and me on the journey! It's sure to be bumpy, but exciting...

Location: Schaumburg, Illinois, United States

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Call for Help to the Blogosphere

On Monday, November 13th I'm making a presentation to my district's Software Review Committee in defense of blogging technology. Currently all blog sites, including those specifically created for the educational community, are blocked by our filters. I will speak about my goals for blogging which include wanting a place for my students to publish and get feedback on: reflections, writing pieces in progress, and independent research. I will also go over how blogging fits with the Illinois State Standards, NETS standards , 21st Century Skills and our District Technology Plan goals. The goals and the educational rationale are easy to cover. What's difficult to explain is the way blogs create communities of learners; it's a community that I'm seeking for my students. I believe children deserve a true audience for their written thoughts and ideas. I also believe that people do their best work when they have the opportunity to share ideas with multiple people who have similar interests.

The purpose of this post is to ask the Blogosphere to help demonstrate HOW blogging creates a community of learners. I'm asking that people who share my passion for educational technology comment on behalf of blogging. What are examples great classroom blogs? What are the observed benefits of student blogging? Why is blogging an example of powerful learning rather than "technology fluff"? Please add your voices to mine so that I can show the power of blogs in education!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

K12 Online Conference

The K12 Online Conference started this week. I downloaded David Warlick's keynote to my iPod. It's about an hour long, and I've yet to find a moment to view it. I love the format of this conference: learn when you have time, and post your ideas utilizing your favorite technologies including blogs, wikis, and Skype conferences. When I first came across this conference, I shared it with everyone I know who's into ed tech. No one has responded to the emails I sent promoting the conference. . I suggested my district make it "take home" staff development, a model we've used for other classes; no response. What's going on? I'm feeling like I'm the only one I know who recognizes the power of these web 2.0 technologies that allow a community learners to form around common learning goals.

I'm hoping, that this conference can re-energize my ed tech passions. Now that I'm in a classroom, and no longer part of my district's technology group, I find that I'm cutoff from those with whom I can have stimulating, thought provoking conversations regarding technology integration. Is anyone out there? I'm looking for you!

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Up and Running...Finally

I can't believe it's been over a month since my last post. I feel like I've fallen off of the ed tech planet completely; I haven't even had a moment to read my favorite blogs. I've followed Will Richardson's recommendation and set my browser's homepage to Bloglines. You know you're in trouble when you have 242 unread posts in your ed tech folder alone.

Much of 5th grade has been humbling so far. While the district tells me what to teach, and as an "old" new teacher I know how to teach, it still takes an enormous time investment to determine the way I wish to teach each of five subjects to this group of kids. I find I'm on the Internet or at the library looking for resources, or creating materials and grading papers in every free moment of my day. None of what needs to be done is difficult; it just takes more time than there is in a day. So, what gives, my passion for staying current in ed tech and working out- neither situation is good! I'm starving my mind and body! Hopefully things will get better as the year progresses...

As for technology in "Fowler's Fabulous Fifth", we're making headway. All of my kids finally have a laptop with a working battery, and as of today, all have permission to take them home. Up until this week, we've utilized the iBooks for reinforcement activities that can be done in small groups, and used them as a reference tool. Those of you how haven't been blessed/cursed with 1:1 laptops are rightfully thinking that this is an under-utilization of a resources. You're right. But, experience in a 1:1 setting has taught me there is a huge investment of time in initially getting the machines correctly set up with folders, network shortcuts, and preferences for applications. I am a huge stickler for saving into folders, both on the machine, and on the network. As a tech facilitator, seeing kids' desktops cluttered with 25 "works in progress" made me crazy! I was unwilling to go through the process repeatedly as all of the iBooks were up and running in the room.

So, today was a good technology day. The kids:
  1. created Inspiration maps detailing what they know about life in the 1400s, which will then be compared to what they know at the end of the explorer's unit we're just beginning
  2. are creating an Inspiration map as homework detailing what's important to them - part of the introduction to the explorer's unit
  3. who identified themselves as auditory learners have downloaded our current literacy anthology story in mp3 format; they will listen to it and read along while...
  4. creating an Inspiration map for homework that organizes the details for our non-fiction anthology selection

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Perspective Revisited

I've joined the ranks of teachers who perpetually feel like they're a month behind on everything that needs to be covered. So much needs to be done to turn this boisterous horde into functioning learning groups. I find the content of many lessons becomes waylaid by the need to establish good processes for accomplishing tasks. I know in my educator’s heart that the time spent up front on building effective cooperative teams will payoff in good team learning later on, but that list of “standards to be covered” isn’t growing smaller. Six-hour days, with time taken out for PE, art, music, sign language, library, library 2, orchestra & band lessons and speech leaves little time to accomplish some heavy goals!

And so where does technology integration fit into this confusion? As a user, I consider myself to be at a high-level on the continuum of technology integration. These past few weeks have knocked me down a few notches. Certainly I’m using technology in my instruction and for preparing materials. My students know the computer is my tool of choice for research on a topic, or for learning through animations. I’ve even managed to grab our building’s new document camera so the whole class can watch me write in my Writer’s Notebook, and we can zoom in on our meal worms.

What’s lacking in my classroom is students learning through touching technology. The excuse of the “iBook battery recall” passed a few days ago. Yet, I find myself hesitating to take out the computers because it’s just one more set of procedures and processes that have to be introduced and managed – one more speed bump in the road to covering what must be mastered. If I, a seriously geeky teacher with over 20 years of teaching experience, am reluctant to tackle just the management end of the iBooks, how must the novice or even veteran non-users feel? I thought I had a pretty good understanding of the classroom teacher's perspective when it came to integration of technology. I think I managed forget or block out some of the more tedious and onerous aspects of a teacher's daily life. This back in the classroom experience is one I’ll share with my friends who still devote their full energies to educational technology!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Evaluating Student Writing

I've been Reading the first book in Nancy Calkins' Units of Study for Teaching Writing: Grades 3-5. One of the final paragraphs discussing evaluation of student work states:
The most important work to save is that produced by the child's own hand. That is, there are lots of reasons to edit, word process, and publish children's writing, but for the purpose of assessment, the writing that really needs to be dated, organized, saved and studied are the rough drafts of what children themselves have written.
A Zits cartoon immediately came to mind where the mother is talking to her son, Jeremy, complaining that he spends all day in front of the computer screen. She suggests he read a newspaper, go to the library or play cards. Jeremy's response is, "Wow, it's like you live in some alternate universe where people actually read the newspaper, play cards and go to the library."

As more students at an early age have computer access at home, we're going to see kids who are more comfortable, and better able to communicate with a keyboard. There is something less "personal" about a typed piece, but for those who struggle with the physical process of writing or the idiosyncratic spelling for our language, a keyboard can be the key that frees ideas.

Our students won't write, edit and word process written pieces, they'll word process to write and revise (just as I am this moment). Why write with one tool and publish with another? I believe Calkins' point is that we need to be able to see how a piece of writing evolves over time in order to evaluate it. Technology solves the same problem it creates - Word's Track Changes feature takes care of the problem. Not all students will be comfortable with a keyboard; many will prefer pen or pencil. We need to let children use the tools that enable them to produce the best writing. However, we do have to teach for ISAT timed paper pencil testing, but that's another post....

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Here They Come!

Well tomorrow is the big day! The classroom is ready, and the lesson plans are set. All I need now is a room vibrating with excited kids. I can't but help wonder what the kids are thinking and feeling this evening. As I recall my schooling, all I remember is worrying about what I was going to wear, who I would sit with on the bus and at lunch, and the excitement of all new school supplies. There was something so cool about a box of 48 Crayons, tips intact and still rainbow organized! I don't remember thinking much about the teacher or what we might do in class. This topic might make a good "quick write" in their writers' notebooks!

On the techy end of the start of school, most of my lessons tomorrow will involve displaying, gathering and sharing information either through an LCD projector or my classroom TV. Things will be pretty low-tech for the kids for a while. I did find out that my Furl account is open - yea, and that my students will have access to their iBooks on September 7th. I'm so fortunate to work in a district with all of these resources, and wonderful hardware support!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Autistic Children's Reaction to Digital Story Telling

This summer, a dear friend and language arts teacher from North Shore District 112, and I had several conversations about one of her students who's Autistic. She was struggling with ways to help this high school student engage in the writing process. Jan is a phenomenal writing teacher, but even she had trouble helping this young man get ideas down on paper.

She had hoped that I might have some ideas with background in special education; unfortunately my experience is almost exclusively with LD/ED students and I wasn't too much help. Recently I heard an interesting Autism article on NPR's This I Believe. In this article, a woman with Autism describes how she views the world differently from others. I as fascinated by her descriptions of seeing concepts as pictures. This made me wonder about how Autistic children might respond to one of my favorite writing projects, digital story telling. None of my students this year are diagnosed as Autistic. Has anyone tried this kind of project with Autistic kids?

Digg for Finding Blogs

I've been listening to an interesting podcast on TalkCrunch about a popular Web 2.0 site called Digg.

"Digg is all about user powered content. Every article on digg is submitted and voted on by the digg community. Share, discover, bookmark, and promote the news that's important to you!"

If you're getting interested in blogging, but having a hard time find quality blogs that are interesting to you, this might be a place to start. Digg users submit articles they like, then other Digg users vote on the article. As more and more people find the content to be good, the article is dug from the bottom of the pile and rises to the top. There are some fascinating articles on top in technology, and science (my favorites). You can also look at world/business, sports, videos, entertainment and gaming. The number of users of Digg is doubling every two months!