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

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!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Do Technology Advocates Promote Blocking?

School starts next week and I find my Furl account is still blocked at school. I haven't been using it very long, and only have 70 sites Furled, but I like the service! I love how easily web site can be Furled using my Furl Firefox tool bar. I've been talking with the head of our instructional technology department as well as our network administrator. The problem has more to do with the time to review the site than a belief that it's dangerous for children.

This issue of blocked technology is echoed all across the web, and we technology users/advocates are constantly bemoaning limited access to sites, tools and applications. Lately, I've found myself wondering if we in the Educational Technology field have played a role in placing limits upon ourselves. I know this sounds counter intuitive, but I believe there's some truth to the thought.

As a Technology Facilitator, I worked with teachers in several buildings. My role was to increase teacher and student use of the wealth of hardware and software available in Schaumburg District 54. I ensured the building principals were aware of the projects teachers and students were working on in class. What I didn't do well was explain the rationale for the projects. As I worked with staff to create projects, I always began with the content to be taught, and then developed projects that stretched the teacher's and the student's technology skills. State and NETS standards were always a consideration in designing a project as well as the selection of the most appropriate tool to complete a task.

As technology users and advocates, we naturally take these factors into account when we decide to devote precious class time to technology-based projects. What I don't believe we do well is to make certain that the "technology muggles" around us understand WHY we are doing what we do. To us it is obvious; to others it may look like fluff in an era of high-stakes testing. By assuming that everyone is as versed in 21st Century Literacy Skills and how our projects connect to them, perhaps we are inadvertently promoting fear or disdain for the very tools we find so exciting. When we in the educational technology community get together (in a room or cyberspace), we all speak passionately and eloquently to each other as to why technology is so important in teaching and learning. Are we as passionate with those who don't share our geekiness? I for one, have not been nearly as passionate when speaking with administrators who have other matters on their minds.

So, what does this mean Back in the Classroom? One of the many goals I have for myself this year is to do a better job of being a WHY technology advocate. I've already had several discussions with my principal as to why I feel it's important for kids to post content to the Internet. She's already had some negative encounters with MySpace postings, so ! I have been quite passionate when explaining that it is our responsibility as educators to do just that – educate. Our students need to understand the responsible use of Web 2.0 tools, and the potential dangers and consequences for their misuse! The best way to teach, as we all know is to do! We have our work cut out for us, but I believe the impact of kids sharing thoughts, ideas and learning with the world community is worth the effort!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Connecting the Spice Trade to Oil

I came across a blog by Tim Lauer on a great web site done by the Chicago Tribune.

Chicago Tribune: A Tank of Gas, A World of Trouble Oil Safari | Chicago Tribune news | Broadband

By Tim Lauer

The Chicago Tribune has recently published a special report by Paul Salopek that traces the gasoline sold at a suburban Chicago station back to its origins. The report discusses the realities of our dependence on oil consumption and discusses the issues we face because of this dependence. The accompanying multimedia materials (video interviews, maps, interactive graphics, still pictures...) are a good example of how traditional print media can enhance their content through the web. The site also includes a great little ticker that counts off US oil consumption while you are visiting the site. Those of you teaching social studies might find this site a good place for your students to begin to discuss this topic.

I have been thinking about lessons and activities that will help connect my kids to the study of Europian explorers. I've got a few ideas that should help them understand why men would get into caravels and sail out to sea when no one knew what we would find. I want the kids to consider what things they personally value, and to help them understand what the people in the 15th century valued and why different "things" were important to them.

As I previewed this site it occurred to me that this would be a good extension and modern-day connection to the early explorers. Oil certainly drives the economies of today's industrial nations, just as the spice and silk trade did in the past. And just as in the past, the relationships between nations is connected to the need for trade of this commodity.