Archive for March, 2010

Final Reflection

In my final reflection for this course, I will attempt to answer the questions that Marnie has posed for us. It seems like this has been quite a long journey as it is one that I have been on for a few years now. I appreciated having a focused forum for my thoughts and explorations. When I decided to attempt Graduate classes, I had a specific focus for my studies in mind. Exploration of technology in the classroom through an inquiry and project based framework is a major part of that focus. This course has certainly assisted me in meeting that focus. I am going to use Marnie’s questions specifically to address how I feel this course has helped me to meet some of my personal objectives.
What new understandings of the role of educational technology to support learning have you gained, acted on or perhaps strengthened?
I have always seen the importance of the need to integrate technology into my teaching and have sought out opportunities to do so. This course helped me to understand my purpose for doing this. I think in the beginning, I was approaching it from a ” cool gadget” perspective and almost as a novelty to entice my students to become more engaged in what they are doing. I will admit that in the beginning this worked, but with each new group of students, technology will become more and more commonplace and the novelty will wear off. This course has helped me to restructure my view of technology use from being the center focus to engage the students to making sure that it will enhance their learning in some way.
I have also come away from this course being more critical of the tools that I find for my students to use. For anyone that has followed my, you are aware of my disappointing experience with Youth Voices.. This experience has shown me that I need to be sure about something by playing with it before hand, before I commit to using it. It did turn into a good teaching experience for my students as I was able to tell them about my experiences and reiterate to them the importance of critically evaluating web tools.
This course also introduced me to some web tools that I previously was unaware of and often do not have the time to explore. Usually I will come up with an idea and then spend a lot of time searching for a tool that will meet the use that I am looking for. I know have a longer list of resources that I can refer to when looking for something to use, and I can pass this experience on to my students and my colleges.
What has had the most influence on your horizon of understanding?
I think that reading the blogs of others, both from within this class and TeachPaperless has influenced my understanding the most. I really appreciated knowing that there are others out there that share my philosophies of education and have experienced the same frustrations as I have. I think that this was particularly important to me as I experienced some resistance and criticism this year both from colleges and from parents and it was very helpful to me to read that there are people who agree with my perspective. When ever I began to question what I was trying to do, I simply needed to focus on my work for this class to rebuild my confidence. That was huge for me this year. Thank you everyone for that!
What new questions have emerged for you?
As I have discussed many times in my blog postings, it is difficult to move ahead and fully use technology in education the way that I would like without full budgetary and bureaucratic support. I am becoming more aware that I need to be able to work within the confines that I have in these situations and wait patiently for things to improve. My question is now, how do I find a balance between using what I have available to me in the ways that I am able to use it while still fighting for more? I am beginning to approach this by seizing every opportunity that I have to explore new things and use what I have to the best of my ability. I just received notice that I have been selected to pilot a set of iPod touches in my classroom to help the Board explore options for technology in the classroom. I appreciate this opportunity to be part of a team that may open up more opportunities for our students to have access to appropriate technology to support their learning.I will continue to put myself into positions where I can help to make things available to our classrooms.
Thank you all for your comments, questions and support during this class. Good luck to you all!


Creative Commons

As I explore resources for my students to use in their Genocide Project, I have been looking for images that are available under Creative Commons licencing. I discovered Wikicommons a few weeks ago but just discovered the coolest thing. When looking for an accurate description for what a Creative Commons licence is, I found Creative Commons Canada. On this site, if you click on get content, it takes you to a site where you can type in the subject of the image you are looking for and it takes you to a tabbed version of familiar search engines and sites like Flicker and Wikicommons but only profiles the images, sites and videos that are licenced under Creative Commons. This will be an invaluable resource for my students and I wanted to share it with you!

Educon 2010

Please visit my presentation on my virtual trip to Educon 2010 to attend the Youth Voices workshop.

After attending the workshop, I attempted to use Teen Voices in the Genocide Project that my class is engaged in right now. I signed up for an account on two different occasions. To sign up for an account, you first enter a potential user name and password. After doing that, they ask that you email the “community manager” and let them know that you have signed up and introduce yourself. After this, the community manager is supposed to review your application and approve your account. It has been a month since my initial application. I did receive one email from the community manager asking for my user name again, which I replied to but never have had my account approved. I then signed up for a second account, thinking that there must have been a mistake with my first application. I also included an email to community manager explaining that this was my second application and again, I have not heard back from them or had my account approved.
So, I decided to use some of the tricks that I learned in Block 6. I first wanted to see who links to this site. I found out that Youth Voices has won Edublog Awards in 2009, linked to and mentioned many times on Alec Couros’ wiki (if you do not know Alec Couros, he is an Education professor at the University of Regina who specializes in Technology in Education. Having taken a class from him he is someone who’s opinion I value very much) and linked to many other sites.
The site is authored by nine students and teachers from various places in the United States but I could not find one person that is in charge of the whole thing.
So, given the site’s seemingly good reputation, I am not sure what has gone wrong with my application. I am working in a limited time frame and have had to abandon my intentions of using it for the Genocide Project. I am very disappointed in this change but don’t know what else to do.

Information Literacy

My work today was timely as we had a lunch meeting today with Stu Harris from the board office and as we met, we discussed the importance of information literacy within an inquiry based school. Our comitment to be a Structural Innovation school in the 2010/11 school year will require us to rethink what skills our students need to be successful and it is imperitive that information literacy be the first thing that we teach. I is impossible to engage in an inquiry project without knowing how to correctly navigate and use the internet and the tools it offers.

I very much appreciated Marnie’s inclusion of resources that can be used in the classroom to teach information literacy. Some of them I have seen before and I have used in my classroom. For the past three years I have taught from an Inquiry and Project based model and so I have felt the frustration of seeing the information that students have to sort, manage and interpret on a daily basis through this kind of learning.

I started this school year by teaching (ok, trying to teach) my class how to do a basic search with something so simple as changing their question for inquiry into searchable keywords and still even last week I heard, “Mrs. Stinson, I can’t find anything about the weapons that were used in the Guatamanlan Genocide, There is nothing, I have to start over.”
I saunter over to their working space and look at their Google search and what do I see “what weapons were used in the guatemalan genocide?” So, I look to the person next to this student and ask, what is not going to work about this google search
“He didn’t use keywords” is the answer I recieve.
I am met with a sheepish look from the offending student
“oh, ya. I forgot” Okay, so some of them know, good. Then another student comes in exasperated,
“Mrs. Stinson, we can’t find any information on how the Rwandan Genocide began, like seriously, there is nothing on the whole internet.”
Really, nothing? So I take the student to my laptop and type in “How did the Rwandan Genocide start?” The first hits they get are from WikiAnswers, not the best place to gather information. We use it as a moment to talk about why. I ask her, what did you need to use? Keywords is her reply. Right. So if they all know it, why don’t they do it? I have concluded that they need to be taught more, saturated with it at the beginning of the year and then slowly marinated as they go on until they are flavoured with the sweet smell of literacy.
These incidences, seven months into an inquiry based program, tells me that my week-long unit at the beginning is not enough. I need to have continuing mini lessons through out the year and build site evaluation into the process outlines that they complete while engaging in an inquiry. It is imperative that they know how to navigate information online to effectively and INDEPENDANTLY learn from it.

The exploration of information literacy can not be sperated from print literacy and I think that one of the protests that is often made by teachers about teaching these skills it that they do not have them and they do not have the time to learn them. It would not be acceptable for a teacher to say, I do not know how to read, I do not have the time to learn so I just will not teach my students how to or use books in my classroom. Being literate in our schools means knowing how to navigate all media, including technology.

So, having talked about the importance of students and teachers to be technologically literate, especially in the inquiry and project based framework that we are now encouraged to adopt (which, as you all know, I fully support) I must get up on my soap box for just a moment, so bear with me. We as students and teachers can not be expected to be competently literate and engage in inquiry and project based learning if we are not provided the tools to do so. I have said before that I am very frustrated with the lack of computers that are accessable to my classroom. I also just found out that it is not just my school that will not allow student to access our wireless connection, but that it is a board wide policy. How can we make this work with two opposing messages? I am so confused and frustrated. Thank you, I will get down now.

The video below discusses all issues surrounding information literacy and brings up some interesting issues surrounding the teachers role, how information technology is changing and effecting schools and kids. It also discusses the differences between what literacy used to be and what it is now, have a look.

Things That I Would Like to Be Obsolete by Next School Year

I was reading TeachPaperless today and he posted the top 11 blogs from his archives for us new members. I was drawn to his post, 21 Things That Will Become Obsolete in Education by 2020 and I was excited by his predictions, especially when I noticed that some of them were already obsolete in our school. (Namely; desks and fear of Wikipedia) However, there are some changes things in my school that I would like to see obsolete by next year. The list of Structural Innovation Schools for next year was just released and I was glad to see my school on the list. This means that we need to make some changes for next year. We intended to make many changes this year and we had a great plan but unfortunately, there are many things that never materialized so please bear with me as I begin my brainstorming list of ideas of things to get rid of that I am going to bring to the table when we begin to innovate our school.

1. Negative Attitudes: We need to stop saying it’s not going to work. We need to stop saying “we tried that in 1975 and it did not work”. How do we know if we have never tried? Times have changed, we need to give things another shot. Change will not happen in a positive way if all staff is not 100% on board. We will have some students that will be intimidated by the changes along with some parents and we can not reassure them if we do not believe in what we are doing.

Once that is done we can move on to the meat and potatoes.

2. One teacher, one classroom: We need to work in teams with two teacher, our teacher librarian and specialists. And those teachers need to share the same philosophy and really, really believe in the way they are teaching. Without a strong team, everything falls apart. Our students need to be in flexible groups working with teachers on specific and personalized projects.

3. The lack of available technology: We need to have technology available for every unit, activity, project we desire. I want to plan my class around my ideas not around the laptop schedule. In order for this to happen, see #4.

4. The fear of students breaking the internet: We need to let them use their iPods and laptops from home. We need to allow them access to the wireless password. They will not break the internet. Sites with mature content is filtered. Besides, if they really want to see a naked lady, all they need to do is look in those dusty National Geographics in the back of every library.

5. Classroom walls: We need to allow our students out of the classroom. They need places that they can gather and meet and hear themselves and each other speak. This needs to include the hallway, the library and in nice weather, outside. We also need to get rid of the school walls. They need to get out into the community and experience things.

6. Teacher generated projects and assignments: We need to work collaboratively with our students to see how they would like to learn and even what they would like to learn about. We are now of course restricted by the curriculum so perhaps we need to show the kids their options and gather suggestions on what they could do and explore to meet their learning requirements. Maybe that is how we begin the year: this is what we need to learn, how would you like to do it? Let’s brainstorm…hmmm, that is even more of an interesting idea than I originally thought.

7. Book reports, posters, dioramas and tests: There has to be more interesting ways for students to show what they know. Invent something, design something, create, demonstrate, experiment in front of each other and see what happens and what they can conclude from it. The possibilities are endless and so very exciting.

This is what I would like to see change for next year and I really and truly believe that it will happen because of the strong team in our school and the dedication and enthusiasm of all those that want it to. Come visit us next year to see how it all turns out!

What is Wrong With my Kids? (and a look at SurveyMonkey)

What is Wrong With my Kids?

So I was reading my TeachPaperLess blog today and the author was writing about the response from her kids to a Blog Magazine that they have just started. He said, and I quote, “wow”. He wrote about their excitement and dedication to the project and the enthusiasm they have for sharing their thoughts with others. I have to say, I was a little jealous. We talk a lot about student engagement with technology and I have seen it before, but this year, not so much. So what is wrong with my kids?

The first time I introduced Blogging to my students, they groaned. Anytime I suggest using a technology to support or present a project, most of them choose the traditional way. So, what is it about them? Are they lazy? Has the novelty worn off? Are they technologically stunted from previous years? Are they afraid of learning something new? Maybe they just don’t get as jazzed about techie things as I do. I am feeling a little discouraged right now, can you tell? Is anyone else experiencing this kind of disengagement?

I think I need to explore all of my questions. First, are they lazy? Yes, I would say that they are but I have had very lazy kids that flourish when I ask them to use technology, so that can not be the answer for all of them. It is a lot of work for them to learn a new application and I can see how it can become frustrating when the technology does not work as planned.

Second, has the novelty worn off? My answer is, I don’t think so. Web 2.0 is constantly changing and offering new ideas and options. Sure it takes a lot of time to find and explore them, but they are there. Social media and online gaming are part of their social lives. Maybe we are in a transition where merging what is supposed to be “fun” and what you do in school is uncomfortable and maybe they think they are doing something wrong. At the beginning of the year when we used Facebook to take on the persona of a character from a novel to interact with other characters from other novels, they were astounded that they would be able to use Facebook in school. Maybe in a few years they will be used to it. I think that there are many things that are in a transitional phase in schools right now (i.e direct teaching to inquiry learning) and I just need to be patient. I guess this would lead me to answer my question about being technologically stunted. I have some students who in grade 6 did not “believe” in computers and they never used them. They did not have the standard four half functional iMacs in the back. Maybe that has stunted this group of kids. Well, if that is the case, there is all the more reason for me to push them to integrate technology into their learning.

I think that my answers for these questions lie only in the students themselves. I need to find out how they feel about technology. I think that this is how I will introduce my project. I will survey the kids with SurveyMonkey (hey! It can be my last web 2.0 exploration. How’s that for two birds, one stone) about how they feel about technology in class and then again after to see how they felt about sharing their learning in an online public forum.

(and a look at SurveyMonkey)

Well, that was easy to use. For those of you who are not familiar with this application, it is a free online survey generator. I simply created an account and began creating my survey. There were many different kinds of formats for your questions from multiple choice to short answer and essay. The website offers examples of what each would look like to help you properly format the question. Once complete, you are offered either a link to use in an email inviting others to take your survey or a code to embed in a web page or blog. You can also print a hard copy but doing the survey online allows you to analysis your responses automatically. This is something that I, being mathematically challenged, really appreciate.

I am using this application to gather information from my students but it could also be used by students to gather date for so many different things. They could use it to poll participants on any number of subjects from food preferences to use computer, the SAC could poll the school to see what kind of activities they would like to do in a year etc. etc. the possibilities are endless. In short, this application was simple and fast to use and has limitless possibilities. Highly recommended! Have a look at my survey but please do not complete it as you will skew my results!
Click here to take survey