Have I had an “ah ha” moment?

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I don’t  know how many times I have posted my frustrations this year about my inability to motivate and encourage my staff to try to integrate more technology into the classrooms in this school.  I have tried a few things, but it took a presentation at a staff meeting that ended with feelings of frustration and anger to make me realize I had to change my techniques.  One of the things I have learned this year as a new administrator, and trust me there have been many, is that my passions are not necessarily other people’s passions. I needed to back up the bulldozer and realize that everyone is not in the same place and I need to respect that.

On the other hand I have had monumental success in the area lately! I decided to apply for a school division technology grant (TIP) this year and sent out an e-mail to see if anyone would be interested in joining me.  What was in it for them was a new Flip Video camera and digital still camera for each of their classrooms, the possibility of learning some new things about assessment in math, and some release time to do it.  I had 4 teachers jump on board and we had a great time.

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Our questions were:

1.  Could we improve student engagement in math by using the cameras?

2.  Could we increase opportunities for teacher assessment through using the cameras?

3.  Could we increase opportunities for student assessment through using the cameras?

The answer was yes, yes and yes!

We had a lot of fun doing the project and we learned a lot.  It had the exact effect on everyone that I wanted and had a few extra effects that I  was hoping would happen and some that I did not anticipate…

  • Other staff in the school were  wishing they would have jumped on board when they saw what we were doing
  • We had the opportunity to share our learning with division staff
  • Another teacher in the school wants to add some more technology into her teaching and has met with me and spent a half a day with the technology consultant discussing possible ways to do that
  • One of the teachers that participated in the action research wants to present our learning at convention in the fall and has taken responsibility for that
  • Three other teachers have agreed to jump on board with another action research grant project I have successfully applied to do in the fall

Wow! What else can I say!  Look what happened when I stopped talking and started walking!

Do I have room for a second life?

I think that I just finished one of the most technologically frustrating weeks ever.  I thought that some of the things that I was asked to do last semester in ECI 831 were out of my element, but my introduction to Second Life was not a smooth one.  The one satisfying thing I learned was, perseverance pays off.  I finally did figure out where I was going wrong and was able to finally get my second life going.  It probably didn’t help to see my son jump right into the program and he was looking for buried treasure under the ocean, before I had my character developed.  Oh, the confidence of youth!  How foolish it is to not tap into that natural instinct and ease that our students have with technology.

I decided that I better try to improve my attitude and try to make some educational connections with Second Life. What was is that my professor for ECI 832, Marnie McMillan, was seeing, that I was not embracing? I was surprised to find myself warming up to the idea.  Was  I feeling a sense of excitement creeping in as I saw what was happening with virtual reality?

I was surprised by some of the projects that I came across and could not believe some of the things that students were doing.  I realized after watching the , “The Social Virtual World’s Tour”, at the Puritan’s Guide to Second Life, that my children have experimented with virtual reality for years… I just didn’t make the connection until now.  My daughters, who are now in high school, used to spend hours on the Neopets site, when they were little girls, feeding and caring for their digital pets and buying and selling digital merchandise.  Now my nieces and other little people  do the same things at Webkinz.

I really liked some of the projects that I came across that students had done on social issues and cultures, such as ones described at the SLED Blog-K-20 Education Using the Second Life World, and closer to home at Regina Public Schools, Examining Social Issues.   What a neat and engaging  way to learn about social studies and show learning.  I could see a lot of potential for visiting and exploring places that are not right at our finger tips which could open up our learning world even more.

I just helped my grade 8 tutorial students study for a social studies test on the cultures unit.  When I was watching the following YouTube video posted by Regina Public School, describing their Grade 8 Cultures Project, I was really blown away by the amount of engaged learning that must have gone into that project.

I wondered, as I was searching around, if there was not an interesting application of virtual reality that could be used as a learning support teacher.  I spend quite a bit of time working with children of all ages on social skills, reading visual cues, etc. I was talking to one of my social skills candidates about virtual reality last week and there was obvious interest in that area.  Any suggestions about how this technology could be incorporated into my learning support world?

So once again, I am brought back to my familiar question…

How can I encourage teachers in my school to get involved with some of this technology that is readily available?

I already know that exposure and support are key, and in this case, I would not be much help to them, we would need major technology support.  With the right idea and the right approach, I think the school division tech staff could be talked into allowing a project to take place.

As always safety is an issue.  Exploration in the SL world and Teen SL would obviously require proper use and supervision, as the use of most social networking does.  I really liked the example of “why we need rules” illustrated in a post at skoolaborate.com in a post called “Why we need rules? Lord of the Flies Island.” The teacher describes a situation where a student wonders why there are rules that prevent them from building wherever they want in their virtual setting.  He found that limiting, and did not understand the reason for the rule.   The writer explains that previously, they had problems with students messing around with the projects being developed by other students.  He decided to open up a place, called “Lord of the Flies Island”, where students could build wherever they wanted.  The student  soon discovered that the new environment did not work so well and could see why the rule was in place.  What a good opportunity for teaching and discovering!

Embrace the virtual reality world?–I have not reached that point yet.  Can I see the educational possibilities and applications?-Absolutely!  Right now, though, I  have to be satisfied with my first life, because I am still not sure I have room for a second one.

Can we rewrite the educational song?

When I finished reading,  The Song Remains the Same: Looking Back to the Future of Educational Technology by Punya Mishra, Matthew J Koehler, Kristen Kereluik. TechTrends. Washington: Sep/Oct 2009. Vol. 53, Iss. 5; p. 48, for an assignment for my ECI 832 class, I couldn’t help but think  this was a conversation we have all been in many times before.  Why are we making little progress with technology infusion in some of our classrooms and schools?  Why do some teachers seem reluctant to use the fantastic tools and resources that are so readily available to us?

It really reminded me of Karl Fisch’s post at  The Fishbowl called ,”What if?” He provides a link to a google video by the same name that is worth taking a look at.

Although the article presented a concern that has been discussed for a while, it gave me a new direction of thinking as to the reason why.  “the power and potential of educational technology must be acknowledged to reside within educators and not within objects.” (p.52)  I couldn’t help but think that our focus my be in the wrong place.

We have this same discussion often in our school division related to new curriculum.  I have heard frustrations voiced many times as to how teachers continue to start their planning with classroom activities, rather than “unpacking” the learning outcomes and starting there.  It is impossible to see the journey, when we start from the end and work backwards.  What do we want these children to be able to do when the journey ends, rather than… here are some things to work on and hopefully while you are doing that we will stumble on some learning.

The last conversation I with my principal, on Friday, happened to be about the lack of technology use in our classrooms and why that might be.  She thinks it is a good idea when I take these courses, but it does add an extra element to her day when I am constantly wanting to share my thoughts and infuse my ideas.  The one thing we said was that our teachers are separating the parts of the whole learning experience,  rather than looking at it as a whole.  What I mean by that is, we look at curricular outcomes separate from indicators, separate from technology, separate from classroom management etc., rather than seeing that they should all work together in the classroom experience and not be seen as separate entities.

I feel this relates to the statement in the article, “…educational technologies exist in the interplay between pedagogical knowledge, content knowledge, and technology knowledge.”  Maybe this is part of our struggle…as long as things exist as separate parts, it is impossible for us to move toward an interplay of the whole learning experience.

The article describes 3 possible reasons for our lack of change. The first one being “using new technologies…requires specific knowledge of how the technology can be used for pedagogical purposes.”   I feel most teachers see the basic benefits to embracing educational technologies and may also have an underlying desire to be integrating them into the daily learning experiences in their classrooms.  I don’t think any teacher can deny the fact that our students today are technologically inclined and comfortable in their world.  In my school division and certainly within my school the problem does not lie with technologies being unavailable to teachers. For some, the idea of technologies changing so fast is overwhelming and creates a sense of defeat before integration even gets started.  The idea of learning so many new things is discouraging.

The second reason given in the article states, “the use of new technology often faces resistance from educators who believe that they perhaps do more harm than good.” The thing that immediately came to mind was the “dreaded” cell phone that I discussed in my last post.  It seems to me that we can get so caught up in all the things that students could possibly do wrong, that we forget or refuse to see the benefits.  I have previously stated my frustration about our need to police students, rather than create opportunities for learning.  If you do a search at YouTube, under cell phone use in the classroom, you will come up with countless parodies made by students showing teachers freaking out over cell phone use. The phone is only one example, but it illustrates how our fear can be our worst enemy.

The third reason does not really have anything to do with technology. “Teachers need knowledge of pedagogy-knowledge of how to teach-in order to accomplish these kind of activities.” So does that mean that our problem does not lie with the technologies surrounding us, but rather our insecurities with our basic pedagogy?

I was reading a post written by Brian Gatin yesterday and he mentioned the need for universities to change the expectations for teacher training.  The authors of the article also mention the need for pre-service teachers to not just see technology as a tool, but rather be empowered to experiment and create as they develop their own pedagogy.  We tend to think  younger teachers will be naturally good at technology infusion. While it may be fair to jump to the conclusion that these young teachers are comfortable using technology, is it also fair to take for granted that they will understand the interplay between content, pedagogy and technology?

This is where team work should come into play.  We need to learn to share and collaborate.  The article mentions, “once a project has been developed, other teachers can replicate it in their own classrooms.”  That is as it should be, especially when we have all the collaboration and sharing tools available to us.  I don’t think teachers are natural sharers, we can be hoarders. We need to stop trying to reinvent things in our own little worlds.  Let’s use the confidence level with technology that our students and younger colleagues have and combine that with the confidence  in pedagogy and content that comes from experience.

In seeing the interplay between pedagogy, technology and content can we help each other rewrite the educational song? I sure hope so!