Final reflection for ECI 832

It is so hard to believe another semester is over and another course is coming to an end.  I have had such an intense year of learning and reflecting about what I knew, what I thought I knew and what I have yet to learn.  In the fall when I was taking ECI 831, I was unsure of my technological abilities and spent a lot of the course feeling like I was out of my element.  I learned a lot, but was still feeling unsure about my role and confidence level with technology integration.  ECI 832 has allowed me to grow so much more in this area and I have been able to find the confidence I need to take a leadership role in my school supporting technology integration.  I now have the attitude that I can try anything, it may take a while to accomplish, but I am still capable of doing it.

What new understanding of the role of educational technology to support learning have you gained, acted on, or perhaps strengthened?

I think before the class started that I was confused about what technology integration really is.  It is difficult to sort out the difference between doing things in the classroom that use technology or having technology available in the classroom and having real authentic learning activities integrating technology that are connected to curricular outcomes.  I think that it is all part of the growth in the pedagogy of teaching that is going on today.  Teachers are realizing that it is no longer good enough to fill our students with as much information as we can and hope that they will be able to spit it back to us  in the form of tests and assignments.  Now we are focusing more on our students and what they can show us. We want them to be responsible for their own learning and thinking and engaged in what they are doing.  Student centered learning, needs to be just that…student centered.

Marnie discussed in the Block 8 posting , the 5 things David Warlick thinks we should look for in  tech infused learning experiences. When reading his blog post, I couldn’t help but realize I now find it difficult to imagine student centered learning that does not involve technology integration.  The two ideas seem interchangeable to me.  Our students can now have such  broad audiences  for their learning and have opportunities to communicate and collaborate with other students around the world.  It is a different world that they live in, with so many more opportunities for growth and communication. I think one of the main steps I made in my thinking was to cross the threshold into how I could  meaningfully integrate technology.

I think taking this course has helped me act upon applying for two technology integration grants.  We are currently involved in school division action research grant, that involves the use of Flip video and digital still cameras and how they can affect student engagement and assessment in math.  I have applied for another research grant for next school year that involves using web 2.0 tools with social studies and how that might affect student engagement.  I would not have seen myself taking a leadership role in this area before the exposure to technology and internet tools that I have had during this course.  I have realized that I do not have to be an expert, and more importantly, I can figure anything out if I try.  I am also not afraid to learn with my students.  Some of the best learning experiences happen when we are busy learning things together.

What has had the most influence on your horizon of understanding?

I think that the collaboration with other people in this course and reading technology blogs has had the most influence on me.  I have enjoyed reading the blogs of other people in this course and it was very interesting to see that we are all dealing with the same types of successes and frustrations.  Sometimes it is easy to think that frustrating things only happen in your own little world.  That is not the case at all.  It was nice to be able to share successes and frustrations and be able to encourage and support each other.

I can’t seem to get enough time to read information being shared on technology blogs.  I have found countless ideas and tools that I have used or bookmarked to use in the future.  It is nice to stay abreast of what is happening in the educational technology world and have the opportunity to learn from others.  I now see the importance of collaborating and feel strongly that it is something that teachers should do more often.

What new question(s) emerged? Where do I go from here?

I think my biggest question is always, how do I encourage and support the teachers in my school to move forward with technology integration and see the connection between technology and student centered learning? It is not a new question for me… but it is a  big, important one.  I have moments when I think we are not making progress, like when I felt anger at a staff meeting after making a presentation about  technology integration. On the other hand,  I have had moments when I think we are making progress in this area.

Last week, I had a few minutes to walk about and see what was going on in   classrooms… I was pleasantly surprised. In one classroom the students were actively involved in a world water simulation activity.  The students were in groups representing different countries learning what it is like to have to ration water.  In the next classroom I stepped into,  the students were working on photo stories showing what they had learned about skip counting and multiplication  and in the next classroom, the students were all in groups on the floor, very actively involved in an input and output math game.

I know that these activities did not all involved technology integration, but for me that is what it is all about.  We integrate technology where it makes sense to do so.  What was exciting for me, was these students were all actively engaged in what they were doing and they were all learning.

Where do I go from here?

  • I guess that I keep doing what I am doing.
  • I need to take a step back sometimes and allow people to move at a different pace than me.
  • I need to support teachers where they are in the LoTi framework and help them move forward from there.
  • I think that it is important that I keep presenting ideas and opportunities that fit with curricular outcomes and that I keep offering whatever level of support is needed for each individual  to move forward.

Thank you to everyone who helped me on my journey this semester.  I appreciate all of your comments, support and feedback.  Good luck to everyone!

Master teacher or master learner?

I pondered what direction to take my on-line PD for ECI 831.  I had already done one post a few weeks ago after watching a presentation on media literacy by Michael Wesch and was looking for a different direction.

Earlier this week I was involved in a few conversations about the new RTI, Response to Intervention model that our school division is moving to in an effort to support diverse learners.  Every school in our division will have a RTI teacher next year that is not assigned classroom time.  The whole idea behind this teacher will be to provide support to classroom teachers and students in the areas of curriculum, differentiated instruction and program planning for diverse learners.  Part of the discussion behind this movement was the type of teacher that would best fill these positions.It was brought up that these teachers should be “master” teachers.  What is a ‘master’ teacher exactly?  The first thing that popped into my mind, and I am sure many others, was someone with curriculum experience, classroom management experience and probably  a vast bag of tricks.

Interestingly enough, I came across a blog post at the Technology Fridge related to the idea of ‘master’ teachers. It presented a slightly different view.  “You cannot be a master teacher, until you are a master learner.”  Well now, that changes things, doesn’t it? Could a ‘master’ teacher be a teacher who may not know everything, but has a desire to learn?

I am a strong believer in life long learning and I give the credit  to my father.  He is an avid reader and researcher in his own right.  I often share things with him as he does with me.  He may not understand my world, but he has a desire to know about it.

Now, could we not learn from my father and relate that to  our own classrooms, with our own students?  We may not totally understand their world, but we should have a desire to know about it and be open to it.  Should we be open to the idea that our students may have as much or more to teach us as we do to teach them?

I just finished watching a short presentation given by Anglea Maiers, at the K12 Online Conference, on the topic of passion.  I thought she added to this idea even more.  She retells a story about a very endearing little kindergarten student that was passionate about animal rights.  The point of her presentation was for educators to learn how to follow our students passions. If we use student interests, hold them to high standards and expose them to web 2.0 tools we should be able to turn interests into passions.   It is possible to learn from our students by give them opportunities to lead with their interests and turn those interests into passions.

It is difficult for educators to change the way we look at information delivery.  I think we are held back by the idea that our students might know more than we do.  Since we are so used to being the expert in the room, the idea that the student may be the expert, and we could learn from them, is unusual and sometimes even scary. According to George Siemens, “instead of controlling a classroom, a techer now influences and shapes a network.” We don’t teach subjects, we teach students.

I also watched another K12 Online Conference presentation this morning given by Paul Curtis, a high school teacher who teaches at the New Technology High School in Napa, California. His presentation was on building a culture that empowers students.  This culture is based on trust, respect and individualized learning.  He talked a lot about co-constructing rules for fair use and how we need to let go of the idea that we need to control students.  He even went so far as to put out the idea that students can learn the curriculum on their own.  We need to create a culture by empowerment and hold students to the culture of the community that they helped to create.

Will Richarson at Weblogg-ed, blogs about the same topic and he states, “More and more, though, as I look at my own kids and try to make sense what’s going to make them successful, I care less and less about a particular teacher’s content expertise and more about whether that person is a master learner, one from whom Tess or Tucker can get the skills and literacies to make sense of learning in every context, new and old. What I want are master learners, not master teachers, learners who see my kids as their apprentices for learning.”

I feel like I am jumping a bit all over the place with this post, but everything is so interrelated, it is difficult to separate.  The bottom line seems to be…we need to teach kids how to learn, and we can only do that by being learners ourselves.

Am I out, because I am old?

I don’t know whether I am having a sensitive week or not, but I am starting to take offense to  some of the blogs  I am reading that imply because I am old, I am not tech savvy or willing to learn to be.

Now I would not describe myself as tech savvy, but technology rich…I am!  I hate to admit that I am getting close enough to retirement to start thinking about it seriously.  I am not counting down the days or even the years, but I am not in the first 1/2 of my career either.  The up side is that I can start to feel that warm sun of Mexico on my face when I look it up on my Blackberry!

We teach students all the time to not stereotype or discriminate, but when I hear myself being lumped into a stereotypical category of “sitting around waiting to retire, and not wanting to try anything new”, I get a little hot and indignant.

I don’t think that technology integration, or lack there of, has anything to do with age.  Now, I have never done any formal research and can only go from my personal experience.  When I look at my own school, for example, I see “younger” teachers that are not really doing much technology integration at all and “older” teachers that are doing it all the time. When I was looking for a classroom teacher that would be willing to join me in a blogging project, it was one of the “older” generation that jumped right on board.

I have listened to discussions about technology immigrants vs technology natives.  I can’t really say that I like the terms myself.  I guess you could call me a technology immigrant and it would not insult me.  I was raised with black and white TV and party lines for heaven’s sake. I definitely remember life before internet and I-pods.    Just because I am new to the world does not mean that I am not enthusiastic, willing to try new things, and trying to stay up to date as anyone else.

I think students would consider most of their teachers technology immigrants…we could never know as much as them, no matter what our age.  We are trying to adjust to a world that they have known all of their lives.  My daughter thinks it is weird that I have a Facebook account and for some reason refuses to put me on her friends list.

Now what does all of this tell me?

That I should just get over my indignation and not worry about it?

That I should stand up to the “younger” generation of teachers and show them what I know?

Well, I guess it should tell me…

  • that I need to keep encouraging all teachers to become technology comfortable, no matter what their age.
  • That I need to offer support to others in my profession.
  • That I need to keep trying to explore new tools and integrate those tools into my student’s lessons in a meaningful way.
  • Probably most of all…I need to share my ideas with others.

Don’t write me off because I am old.  I will be twittering and keeping up with Facebook even when I am living in my condo in Mexico!  Maybe my daughter will even agree be my friend…

Is playing games a waste of time?

It seems like every week I get fixated on some topic and it seems to pop up everywhere.  This week it was games.  It started on Tuesday when our staff was having a math lunch.  We try and meet once every month or two and watch some of the Math Makes Sense Video series and have math related discussions.  This week our discussion centered around the role of games in math and the games that were available at the back of the Math Makes Sense Pro Guide.  Teachers would like to use them, see value in using them, but were lacking the time to make them.  We came up with a couple of possible solutions for that problem…but my thinking stayed with the topic of games.

In our division our filtering system tags anything to do with games and gaming and blocks it from our use.  I have been frustrated by this the odd time when I am trying to find a quick little game that might add to the program of one of my learning support students.  There is always the constant debate about whether playing games at school is valuable use of time.  I guess it depends on how you define game playing and what skills you think children can get out of playing games.

I was reading a paper on digital learning and media this week published by Henry Jenkins, the director of the Comparative Media Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and others.  It is called, “Confronting Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century”.  The paper described what they thought were the 11 skills one needed to have to participate within the new media culture, a “participatory culture”, they called it.  It was aimed at education and gave many valuable ideas about projects and activities that fit with each skill area.  One of the core media literacy skills discussed was play.

I really never thought of play being a media literacy skill.  It has long been proven that play is important for children and it helps them figure out their bodies, worlds, social systems, etc.  My idea of  play seems to start with playing house or playing cars, not really playing video games.  Can children learn valuable skills from playing video games?

One of the reasons that children learn from play is because games set them up  to take risks and role play in situations that do not have real life consequences.  They can take chances and still turn around and fix their mistakes or they have the option to start over.  I think one could still argue whether that was good or bad.  Could this teach children to ignore real life consequences? What happens when there is no starting over?

I am not a fan of video games, mainly because I am not very good at them and sometimes I cannot tolerate the movement within the game due  to motion sickness. I have trouble watching my son play when he wants to show me something he thinks is sweet.   I do observe lots of gaming going on in my household though… from afar.   The author of this paper would argue, “Games follow something akin to the scientific process.  Player are asked to make their own discoveries and then apply what they learn to new contexts.  No sooner does a player enter a game than he or she begins by identifying core conditions and looking for problems that must be addressed.” If this is the case, then maybe video games do play a valuable role.

According to Don Tapscott ,in his book, “Grown-up digital”, I am slugging through right now,  ” A recent nationwide survey of 2500 U.S. business professionals  searched for differences between those who grew up playing video games and those who did not.  Professionals who grew up playing video games were more serious about achievement, more loyal to their company and their coworkers, more flexible and persistent problem-solvers, and more willing to take on the risks that make sense…net geners have a desire to win collaboratively…” (p. 171)  Once again, it would seem that these would be worthwhile skills for children to learn.

He goes on to say, “To be a guild master in a game like World of  Warcraft, you need to be able to create a vision, find recruits and give them a platform on which to learn, and orchestrate the groups strategy.  To me [Don Tapscott], it sounds a lot like the skills a corporate executive needs, doesn’t it?” To me it sounded a lot like what a teacher must do every day.  We need to create a plan as to what learning outcomes we are targeting, get the students involved, decide what strategies we are going to use and pull it all together.  These sound like skills that could be related to a number of different situations. Come to think of it…perhaps I should of played more video games!

Well, if you look at it like that, it does seem that game playing in school might be valuable.  Now, I am not saying we should plug them in and let them play video games all day, even though some of them would be pretty keen on that.  I just wonder if we are losing some of the value  to be gained from finding a place for games in education such as  the engagement factor, the need for  collaboration and the thinking involved in some gaming situations.  As a learning support teacher, I can’t argue the engagement level of my students goes up when I say we are going to grab a laptop and add to our learning by playing a little game.  Even drill and practice games can be valuable and engaging to students.

The funny thing is… that was not the last thing about games that came my way this week.  When visiting an interesting blog site called PrincipalsPage. Very funny writer!  I linked to a video on the importance of play for adults.  Now I know that I am jumbling together a bunch of  different, unrelated ideas about play. I have jumped  from childhood play, to math games ,to video games and adult play, but I guess my point is…play is important-and should not automatically be dismissed as a waste of time or a dangerous activity .  Even video games in some format can play a role in the school day.

Of course I see the importance of all kinds of play, in school and out.  Just like everything else in school, it has to be done with purpose and reason.

Catch you on the playing field!

Can we make learning authentic?

I seem to be talking about technology no matter where I go these days.  Last night I was lucky enough to get an invitation to the Farmer’s Appreciation Night sponsored by the Estevan Board of Commerce and Tourism.  It was an excellent roast beef supper followed by a speaker and ending with entertainment by a comedian.   I sat and listened to the presenter speak about world trends in agriculture and the rapid technological  changes happening in  the industry because of the influence of young people with digital expectations coming back to agriculture  and the necessity of the agricultural industry to keep up.  The speaker started out with giving everyone his cell phone number, so that we could text him with questions that he would answer during the presentation.  There were no laptops in the room-of course and this was the next best alternative. Among other things,  he described a system that was being developed using digital tracking  to allow consumers to trace the origin of fruits and vegetables back to the actual farm where they were produced.  The farmer then will provide information about pesticide and herbicide use in production.

So what does all of this have to do with technology in schools?

As I listened to the presentation, I was struck, once again, with the reality that  we are not doing a very good job of preparing our students for their future world.  There is not a part of their world that is not be affected by technology, and yet the education system is lagging behind and we are not meeting the needs of this generation of learners.

I am reading the book, “Grown up digital” by Don TapscottProbably many of you have read it.  It is very interesting and paint a picture of what he refers to as the “net generation”.  In the chapter dedicated to “the net generation as learners”, Mr. Tapscott says the following:

“Net Geners are not content to sit quietly and listen to a teacher lecture.  Kids who have grown up digital expect to talk back, to have a conversation.  They want a choice in their education, in terms of what they learn, when they learn it, where, and how.  They want their education to be relevant to the real world, the one they live in.  They want it to be interesting, even fun.  Educators may still think the old fashioned lecture is important, but the kids don’t, futurist Marc Prensky told me recently.  He remembers one Australian principal who put it this way: ‘The teachers are no longer the fountain of knowledge: the Internet is.'” (p. 126)

So what is holding us back?  When my professor for ECI 832, Marnie McMillan posed the following question… I had to try and consider this carefully.

How could schools implement computer-supported learning in ways that authentically transform teaching and learning?

The problem is not technology.  I think most schools have access to technology, but putting computers and internet access into schools does not mean that authentic learning is taking place.  I found an interesting blog post at coolcatteacher that was aimed at administrators, called Dear Administrator: Focus. The tone, unless I misunderstood it, was one of frustration based on lack of action by administrators  and she seemed unwilling to take any excuses.  I have to agree with her… no excuses should be accepted.  The blog post gives 8 practical and to the point, considerations for administrators of school districts/divisions and schools to use to help make technology use and learning more authentic in our schools. I would like to comment on 3 of them.

1.  Strong technical leadership– this is where the problem begins, I think.  It does not really matter whether we feel we are technologically challenged or gifted, we have a responsibility to be leaders in our schools and promote and demand authenticity in our classrooms.  I strongly believe that the administration in a school sets the tone for the school.  My experience has been that what the administrators see as a priority, becomes a priority and the attitude of the administration in a school affects the attitude within the school. I also agree with coolcat when she states, ” It is often not how the technology works as much as how people feel about how the technology works.”  Administrators, and I include myself in this, need to step up and start showing leadership in this area if we want things to change.

2.  Benefiting the student– that is what is supposed to be all about, right?  It is important for students to stay the focus at all times.  What would benefit the students in my school?  I often get frustrated by school division policies that prevent me from doing what I feel are logical things with my students that would benefit learning.  Using I-pods would be a good example of this.  We can’t use them in our school and students or teachers, for that matter,  cannot get on to WiFi with their own personal devices.  I understand the need for caution, but I hate some of the things we do out of control. Most of my students have this excellent learning tool in their pockets, but we are cut off from using it because of fear.   “Don’t let IT rule just because they are using terms you don’t know.  IT should not have complete control over the sites used on campus – that is often better decided by curriculum.” Coolcat is right… we should not be intimidated by outside forces, when it comes to deciding what is right for our students in our school.

3.  Harness the power of those you have. How true again!  We have lots of talent right around us, but we don’t often take advantage of it.  Having conversations with people, taking advantage of their talents and letting them shine in areas where they have never had the opportunity to before is paramount to change.  Setting teachers up in situations using technology in authentic ways and allowing them to be successful, breeds confidence and that confidence is shared with other teachers.

All this led me back to the National Education Technology Standards (NETS) under the adminstrator and visionary leadership.  This is the one area that I did not feel we did a very good job of in our school.   Perhaps this is where the problem starts and we need to get working on our visionary leadership.  This in turn will have an affect on teachers and students.

  • inspire and facilitate a shared vision of purposeful change
  • engage in an on-going process to develop, implement and communicate technology-infused strategic plans
  • advocate on a local and provincial level for funding to support implementation

I can get frustrated by the fact that we seem stuck where we are and can’t seem to make the jump to using all the technology we have available to us for authentic learning and teaching experiences.  I think that it is the responsibility of administrators, at all levels, to have a plan and make this happen.  When I say all administrators, I guess that also means me- I need to start advocating for my own sandbox and sharing it with others so that we can start playing together to benefit students.

Digital Booktalks-Do they motivate reluctant readers?

I spent a great deal of  today playing in the digital sandbox.  I was trying to find a music video remix appropriate to show to middle years students-I now realize that is almost an impossible task!  As I was waiting for music videos to load on my computer I took the opportunity to read an article titled, “Digital Booktalk: Digital Media for Reluctant Readers”, but Glenda Gunter and Robert Kenny.

I am always in pursuit of anything that will motivate reluctant readers, as most teachers are.  The idea presented in the article is really not a new one, as it was written in 2008, but an idea that should not  be dismissed either.  It is a good question to ask and test as to whether or not digital book talks could be a motivating tool for the reluctant reader.

I am sure that most of you are aware of the push on differentiated instruction that is going on in the province right now-in our school division the push is hard.  Don’t get me wrong…I agree with it whole heartedly, except I hate when it is touted as the magical answer to all  classroom teacher frustrations.

The previously mentioned article states, “…tying literacy to intelligence can result in a mischaracterization  of  a person’s actual abilities.  It may be more correct to recognize the fact that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses.  Intelligence may be more accurately defined as having a skill in a particular medium…”.  The idea fits into differentiated instruction and finding the best way for each student to show what they know.

We might not all agree with that, but I am sure we would all agree with the need to get more involved  connecting our students to their digital worlds and start acknowledging that in our classrooms.  Maybe we are not using the correct instructional strategies to motivate our digital students toward reading and writing.  The most common thing to do when trying to improve reading levels in students is to find out what their weaknesses are and teach to them, as a learning support teacher I have followed this strategy many times.  The article got me thinking…

If we focused on students strengths, rather than their weaknesses, would we get some new insight on what would help motivate them to read?

The premise behind the digital book talk is to try to motivate children to read by having them make or watch book “trailers”  as a motivational tool to encourage reading of a particular book, just as they would see a movie trailer and be motivated to see a particular  movie.  The technology adds a hook to gain student’s attention and gives them the opportunity to participate in a curriculum outcome related activity without having to worry about their vocabulary or grammar level.  It also opens up the opportunity for collaboration and there are many places on-line where digital book talks can be published.

This is not an alternative for reading a book, but rather a motivating factor to prelude reading or conclude reading.  According to T. Hicks (2006, as quoted in the article), “It is not so much about the point that we can make a digital story; it is more to the point that we can make a story digitally.” (p.4)

I looked around for some of the information available on-line and found many different sites full of ready-made, digital booktalks such as digital from the University of Central Florida, as mentioned in the article  and MPL Teenspace You Tube Digital Book Reviews.

There would be never-ending tools that could be used for digital book talks, such as Microsoft’s PhotoStory and at least 50 others listed at Alan Levine’s Cogdogroo wiki.  I also liked the idea of using a podcast as a quicker, less time-consuming alternative.  In my search I did find another useful educational blog called The Edutainers posted by David Widener, on which he describes a booktalk project, but also countless other ideas and projects mainly geared at middle year’s students.  Check it out if you get a chance.

I am not sure if it will actually motivate the reluctant reader, but it  might be another interesting way to get students connected.

832 Project Proposal

I finally sat down and put all my random thoughts into something concrete for my project for 832.  I spent a lot of time last semester begging my principal to put me back in the classroom because I wanted to be able to try some of the things I was learning with a classroom of students without having to beg other teachers to help me.  This semester I decided to try a new outlook on life and come up with an idea that fit into my learning support position. This is what I came up with:

Let’s Get Social

(Just a start)

  1. 1. What is my question for inquiry/exploration?

How can I use digital tools and resources to actively engage middle year’s students with autism in learning about social skills and connecting to their future?

Can I offer educational assistants working with these autistic students the opportunity for on-line professional development through the use of digital tools and resources?

  1. 2. Why I am interested in this exploration?

I have three reasons for wanting to explore this possibility:

  • I am a learning support teacher and often find it difficult to find ways to engage students with technology, because I do not have a classroom of students to work with.  I decided to try and find a way to try to integrate technology into my present position.
  • I struggle with ways to integrate social skills training into the schedule of middle years students with autism.  They often do not engage with traditional methods of social stories and working through pen and paper activities.  Students with autism struggle with reading social cues and knowing how to handle, even simple, social situations. These students also have difficulty thinking about their futures and as I am trying to get them ready to transition into a large and overwhelming comprehensive school it is necessary to spend a lot of time with transition planning.
  • These middle year’s students all have educational assistants that are working with them.  They need help sometimes, but they do not need someone leaning over their shoulder watching their every move.  They are definitely at the age when they seek independence.  Another area I find difficult, as a learning support teacher, is finding ways to offer professional development opportunities to my educational assistants.  The school division only offers 1 professional development day a year.  I was hoping to set up some on-line professional development that they could engage in while their students are working on their activities.  They would be there to offer assistance, but would not need to hover.
  1. 1. Nets for Students

I am trying to consider the Nets for students in my project in the following categories:

  • Communication and collaboration– I hope to try and set my students up with some opportunity to communicate with people of like interests through blogs and other learning communities. Students with autism have difficulty with communication, so even more than other students, they will have to be taught appropriate on-line communication skills.  For example: I have one student who is very interested in art and cartooning.  I hope to connect him with other people of like interests and help him to communicate with them.
  • Critical thinking and problem solving– I hope to involve them in social skills training by using resources on-line such as videos about social skills that are available on Youtube, google, etc. and take advantage of other resources that are free and available to get them thinking and explaining how they would handle different social situations.  For example: eating in the cafeteria or making a phone call.
  • Technology operations– I have many opportunities for involving new technology into their learning and exploring.  A few of them are:

  • Creativity and innovation:

There are many, many opportunities for my students to learn about social skills and to create their own examples to show understanding.  I hope to also incorporate the use of Flip Video and digital cameras to help them with their projects.  For example: they can make their own cartoon as to how they might handle making plans for Friday night.  They can use the still digital camera to make take pictures and produce their own slide show about different facial expressions or what some of our idioms that can be difficult for students with autism to understand.  There is opportunity to involve peers in these projects which allows for collaboration and provides real life social skills training.

I hope my idea works.  If anyone has any ideas or suggestions, I would be happy to hear from you.  Good luck with your projects.

Back to the sandbox…

Technology and theory-am I stuck?

My first thoughts on this topic were… “I am a constructivist of course.”  Most of my learning beliefs are based on the constructivist theory.  Learning is  making connections to what we already know.  I learned this in some of the first teaching training courses that I took… start by finding out what they know and build from there… set a learning context for them before you start…expand on their prior knowledge, etc.

I strongly believe that we need to connect before they are willing to buy in.  They need  to see a reason  to learn something… connect it to something they already know, so they can build on that and create their own meaning.

As I was thinking about learning theories this week and how they relate to what I know and think, I realized I am a constructivist by heart, but at the same time it is difficult, or maybe even impossible, not to acknowledge the influence other theories have on me  as well.

As a learning support teacher I am very interested in brain research and am constantly reworking and reorganizing my ideas about learning, so that I might help my teachers differentiate for students  requiring unique learning opportunities.  There is a big movement in our school division towards differentiated instruction and it is being presented as the answer to everything .  It is not a new theory, just a new name given to something that teachers do in their classrooms every day.

Our new Saskatchewan curriculum supports the idea of student centered, constructivist learning, but does not steer far from the behaviorist theory with its organizational structure of  outcomes, broken into smaller components that are measurable and standardized.  The question and struggle for teachers is how to organize student driven learning, but still make sure outcomes are met.  How do we give students opportunities to go off in their own directions, building on things they already know and moving toward what they want to learn, and  be in control of learning outcomes at the same time?

I spent most of my teaching career teaching in a small rural school in southwest Manitoba. When I moved to Estevan I really had my eyes opened to the real world and the reality that students were dealing with many other things in their lives besides the curriculum outcomes that I was trying to get them to meet.  I spend a great deal of my time dealing with students that are having learning difficulties partly  because they have other things going on in their lives.  There is often an underlying factor that can cause children to have difficulty learning or behaving in an acceptable manner.  I do not think we can ignore Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in our daily quest for student learning.  Sometimes it may not matter what things we are doing to engage them or what learning theories we are using in our classrooms…if their basic needs are not met…they are not going to learn.

So, how can I connect this all to technology? I think about technology use in the classroom so much, it seems to me that I should have it all figured out. I feel as though I am stuck between my theory and practice.   Why am I still struggling with how we use technology?  During  my school day Friday, I observed the grade 4 class working on an internet scavenger hunt while learning about electricity.  I spent 45 minutes blogging with the grades 4/5 students, helping them communicate their ideas, tag and make links.  Later in the day, I went into the grades 5/6 classroom to watch a student  presentation using Smart Board technology and the grade 8 teacher showed me some video her students had taken while they were explaining their math learning,  using the Flip Video cameras we bought to use in a project called, “Flipping Over Math”.

As I reflected on my day and the technology use I observed, I still can’t help but wonder how many of these activities were student driven and how many were teacher driven.  This is where I still struggle.  I looked back to my reflection using the LoTi framework to see that I originally thought most of our digital resources and tools used by students in our school were used to carry out teacher directed tasks.  So I guess I need help figuring this all out and making that step into practicing what I believe and preach.

How do I help teachers in my school, including myself to move beyond this point, where we are allowing our students to use technology tools, but we are directing how, when, where and what, instead of teaching them to ask good questions and look to various types of technologies for use in answering those questions?

This whole idea takes me back to one of the first activities we did in ECI  832, when we were asked to read the article, “The Song Remains the Same: Looking Back to the Future of Educational Technology”, by Punya Mishra, Matthew J. Koehler and Kristen Kereluik.  If we keep thinking about change, but not doing anything about it and in some cases resisiting, the song will remain the same. In the article it states,  “…the power and potential of educational technology much be acknowledged to reside within educators and not within objects.”  It is not good enough to bring the tools in to the classroom , it is to teach them to understand the power of the tools.

I decided to check out,  “Teach Paperless” by Shelly Blake-Plock, and in her post about 21 century learning, she said…   That’s not to say that technology should dictate content, but rather that the method of delivering the content should be of the connected variety. I think what both of these authors is trying to say  is we sometimes get the order of things mixed up.  It is not good enough to have computers and wireless hook-up in the classroom, if we do not understand the power of using it for content delivery.  We need to connect out students to the right tools so they can answer their questions and be learning the necessary content while they are doing it.  That is the key for me- as an educator I need to take chances and be willing to learn along with my students.

So where do I go from here?  Again, as I reflect on my day Friday- it was a busy, but good day.  To be able to witness as much technology use going on around me as I did was wonderful. I have to be proud of the teachers in my school and be content that  we are making progress into  helping our students not be satisfied with memorizing information but have the desire and confidence to question  and learn.  In think we are starting to get unstuck…

Are we powering up?

On Saturday I decided to work on ECI 832, but block 4 was not posted yet.  It all worked out,  because I took the opportunity to start my on-line professional development.  One of my favorite things to is surf the web and stop wherever something catches my eye.  I rarely get time to do this, as I am sure many of you can relate to.  I ended up at the K-12 Online Conference 2009 site waiting for a video to load,  and was led to a presentation by Michael Wesch titled, “A Portal to Media Literacy”, that he presented at the University of Manitoba in 2008.  It is about an hour long, but it was well worth the time I spent.  I am very familiar with Michael Wesch’s work and am a bit of a groupie of his.  He said that his classes at Kansas State University are always full and can be hard to get in to, and I am not at all surprised.

One of the topics that I visit often in my thoughts and rants is our seeming,  inability to embrace technology use and welcome it into our classrooms.  I have stated before that I think most teachers have the desire to do so, but many do not feel like they have the time, support or expertise to do so.  As Mr. Wesch described the typical classroom at the Kansas State University, that was set up to house 200+ students, all seated in rows with the professor feeding them lectures from the front, I couldn’t help but think about many of our public school classrooms today.  Were they so different?  Of course, thankfully, we do not have 200+ students in front of us at one time, but, often, they are seated in desks, placed in rows and we are delivering a message to them in our traditional fashion.  We may use computers to word process and research an assigned topic and we may even use a projector and Smart Board in our classroom to help us deliver our intended message.  Our students have learned to accept that we are the authority on many topics and it is their job to trust our authority and travel along to whatever destination we have pre-planned into their travel documents.

I have heard Mr. Wesch speak of moving our students from just having knowledge-memorizing, knowing and recalling – to the point where they are knowledge-able– which would include such things such as sorting, analyzing, sharing, discussing, critiquing and creating with knowledge.

I have also been involved in many conversations about today’s students… they want to be entertained, they play too many video games, they spend hours on face book and texting, they can’t concentrate, they are not motivated to learn, etc., etc., etc.  All of these things are probably true, but they do not give us an excuse as educators to stay inside our classroom boxes and ignore our responsibility to help them find things that are real and relevant  to them.  Many students struggle to make any connections between their real lives and what they are learning in the classroom.  Now, I know we were saying the same thing when we were in school…”when am I ever going to use this in the real world?”  It is our job to help students find things that are real and relevant to them.  We need to give them reasons to turn off their technologies and focus on their learning.  Do you think that we may be afraid to let some of the technologies in, because we know that we can’t compete with them without changing what we are doing and how we are doing it?

Mr. Wesch has a post called,” The vision of students today (and what teachers must do)”, at the Encyclopedia Britannica Blog Site. He was prompted to make huge changes in his classroom delivery, after doing a project with his students that culminated in a short video that most of you are probably familiar with called, “A vision of students today”. He feels that texting, web-surfing and ipods are new versions of passing notes in class.  Having them in the classroom will not prevent students from being distracted by them.  “Welcome technologies not as distractions, but as powerful learning technologies.”
When I started my masters program, I had the idea, rightfully or not, that the course work would not be relevant to what I was doing on a daily basis.  I thought that the reason I was taking my masters degree was to move me forward in my career and perhaps open up jobs in the future.  I have been pleasantly shocked and surprised by the level of relevance of all the courses I have taken so far.  It struck me, as I was listening to Mr. Wesch speak, that I have learned so much from my course work  because it was relevant to my daily life, but most of all, because I was sent out to explore and discover things on my own.  The questions and answers are not given to me- I need to ask my own questions and work at finding my own answers, so I am able to be in charge of my own learning, for the most part.

Isn’t that the difference between aquiring information and learning?

Mr. Wesch described three ways to create significance for our students:

1.  Provide relevance and context for learning- provide the big picture.

2.  Create a learning environment that values and leverages the learners themselves-give personal meaning.

3.  Do both in a way that realizes/leverages existing media environment in the same way our students do.

“We don’t have to tear the walls down, we just need to stop pretending the walls separate us from the world.”

There are many teachers who already do a fantastic job of looking beyond the walls, for the rest of us-let’s take a chance on powering up, I think we might be pleasantly surprised by what we discover…

My Tuesday Night Tour

I have already expressed my unease with my experience in Second Life.  The past two weeks have been a bit stressful and it seemed that no matter what I tried, I was always one step, okay, more like 20 steps, behind the rest of the class.  Considering my luck lately, it did not surprise me, yesterday at an in service session, when I went to my thaw space to open the  file I needed and my thaw space was empty… that is how it has been lately.

My Tuesday night tour in Second Life did not get off to a good start when I could not get my microphone working.  It would seem like my Second Life is a bit like my first sometimes.  Thankfully my professor in ECI 832,  Marnie McMillan, or in this case, Sunan Skytower, is extremely patient and encouraging.  She finally hooked me up with Garnett Gleim, G 3 Garfield,  and he helped me solve the rest of my technical problems.  I should mention that he is a very patient and helpful person as well.

Once I was able to communicate, I decided to try to make the best of the experience and we did see some very cool things.  I was lost  a few times and was teleported to the next destination.  It seemed funny to me, that I would get that same sense of panic, when lost in my digital world, that I would if I was lost in my real world in an unfamiliar place.  Maybe, even more so, because I was so far out of my comfort zone.

I think that one of the reasons that I struggled with Second Life, was because I am not a video game player at all.  As a matter of fact, I would never choose to play a video game.  I even have trouble managing  motion  in video games.  I had difficulty moving around, which would improve with practice, and I was not comfortable, unless I managed to stay with the group, which was not very often.

It is interesting to reflect on my difficulties, which were laughable, but frustrating.  I can relate to the “just for fun” video called “Second Life”  that Marnie posted in the ECI 832 Wiki space. It was funny, but  that  was my character, Reeve, running into things, awkwardly turning around and getting stuck behind objects.

The positive aspects of my Tuesday night tour were the things I did see, when I managed to get to my destinations or was teleported there. Wow!  My favorite place was the Globe Theatre.  I am a huge fan of Shakespeare and I taught high school English for a several years before moving to Saskatchewan.  I would have loved to take my students to the Globe Theatre when we were studying our Shakespeare units.  It sure would have added engagement and interest.

I think  the most interesting and useful part of the digital world, for me, would  be the ability to experience destinations around the world .  I would not even begin to think that I was capable of creating destinations, but I look forward to the never-ending field trips  my students and I can take  without ever having to leave the computer lab!