EDUC 573: Week 7–WebQuests, BYOD and Educational Equity

Yes, all those things have something in common.  Mainly that I learned about all of them this week. 🙂

One of the big projects for this class I’m taking is a WebQuest.  While the idea of a WebQuest is not a new one (the concept was created by Bernie Dodge in 1995), it’s a new one to me.  Somehow, I’ve gotten through all of my education thus far–including the teaching part–without having done one, using one or creating one.

One thing I wanted to make sure of was that I made a WebQuest that was actually applicable to my classroom and my students; this is hopefully true of all assignments in grad school, after all!   Eventually I landed on making it applicable to a science unit on animals we were about to begin, since it could be self-paced and open-ended like most of the other projects I assign in science.

Outside of the content piece of the project, there was also the process of using Google Sites to create the website housing the actual WebQuest.  The funny part to me while I was working was how much I had ragged on Google last week, and then how the usefulness of so many Google Apps became clear; if only my students had their Google Drives up and running so that they could download and save their papers to use later, or how they could better collaborate if they could use a Google Doc to record their research–at school or at home.  The whole hangup I had with it last week was that I couldn’t see the necessity of it or how it would work with elementary and all it took was one project where I needed it for it to all make sense!  That was the connection I was looking for, right there in front of me.

Another topic this week was the article Left to Their Own Devices by Jeff Weinstock (2010).  While the article was all about the rationale for BYOD, as well as the difficulties districts face in trying to figure it all out, I was touched by a completely different topic than that of the technology involved.  Rather than focusing on the money, time, or infrastructure involved in having students bring their own devices, I zeroed in on the educational equity piece of it all.

The article began:

At Empire High School in Vail, AZ, every student has a laptop, a fully loaded MacBook supplied free of
charge—to the student, at least—courtesy of the Vail School District. “We provide the entire experience,” says
Vail CIO Matt Federoff.
The 1-to-1 program is a cornerstone of Vail’s Beyond Textbooks
initiative, whose goal is an all-digital curriculum. So facing the decision on whether to expand the program to
another of its high schools, Cienega, the district made the obvious choice: No way.

Maybe I’m reading it wrong, but to me it seems that one school got the whole package of a 1:1 roll out and the other got nothing. While I completely agree that the definition of fair is not “same,” the scenario seems a little unfair to me.  What if I can’t bring my own device to school?  What if I don’t have one?  What if my phone only makes phone calls and isn’t “smart?”   Should I not be allowed to access the curriculum?

I agree that the whole topic of technology in schools and BYOD and 1:1 is not that simple, it’s not a black/white thing with easy answers.  Perhaps the school district was making a good decision in going 1:1 in one place and not another, there could be more to the story that I don’t know.  But isn’t one reason for going 1:1 in the first place to level the playing field?  To give all students an equal chance?

Ok, now I’m rambling….so I’ll ask you: what connection to you see between BYOD, 1:1 initiatives and educational equity?  Tell me your stories and share your thoughts. 🙂

EDUC 573: Week 6–Google Anyone?

I am becoming more tech-savvy as time goes on.  For me, the best way to tackle anything new is to jump in fearlessly with both feet, get really wet and figure it out as I go.  Building the plane as I fly it, so to speak.  Not without purpose or meaning, but without having to know all of the ins-and-outs before I am willing to get started.

I’m far enough into my teaching career that I learned long ago that I didn’t have all the answers.   And honestly, I didn’t even try to fake it very long because kids are smart.  They know when you don’t know, and how much more freeing is it when we admit that?  When we learn together and not pressure ourselves to know everything.  I LOVE that it’s known that in our room, everyone is a teacher and a learner.  I think I’ve said before (even here!) that it’s our room, not my room.

Well, then, it didn’t take long on this new tech journey to figure out that I may have times when I don’t really know what’s going to come next, or what to do about it when something goes wrong.  But I’m ok with that.  Like I said in the beginning, for me the best learning is in-the-moment-getting-really-messy learning.  I have to see it and talk about it and try it for it to make sense.  And even with technology this works.  Nothing has broken beyond repair yet, and no one has died as I’ve tried new things.  And we’ve even had a little fun.

So I mentioned that this week was about all things Google.  Well, it was about other things, too, but Google’s the thing I’m having the hardest time dealing with.

Let me explain…

We also read an article this past week by “Orchestrating the Media Collage” (Ohler, 2009).  In it, he talked about how the definition of literacy is changing, and that “being able to read and write multiple forms of media and integrate them into a meaningful whole is the new hallmark of literacy.”  He had many great points about how important writing is to the thinking process (and as much as you know I love writing, you know I totally agreed with that!), and about how quickly people (educators) these days abandon the tried-and-true for the brand new, not necessarily thinking about the consequences.  He noted that one of the most important things we need to be able to do is to know just what tool to use and when; I agree with this statement related to all things education, not just technology.  Having a toolbox full of sharp tools is crucial to any teacher, and knowing just when to pull out which tool for which job is even more important.

And so here’s my Google connection…

This week we also played around with Google Apps for Educators.  Here’s where I will boldly tell you that I am not a fan of Google Docs (I know–gasp!).  As I wrote in my discussion board post this week:

Ok, so I want to like Google Docs.  I really do.  But I’m just not sold yet.

I have been dabbling for a little while, but until this week I hadn’t really looked in earnest at the how/why/what, etc. of how Docs could work in the classroom.  I have participated in Google Docs collaboration as an adult (mainly in staff meetings and as a means of rewriting our school’s mission statement with a small group of teachers), but haven’t seen any examples of how to use it with my students in a way that makes sense to me.  In many of the videos and such I’ve seen online, the scenarios involve high school or middle school, which is obviously a very different world than I live in.  Every kid in my school has a Google account (given to them by the district), so they have access to their own Google Drive.  I know that could be a place to store our work rather than fussing with the server we usually use, but even the logistics of getting that all initially set up makes my head hurt.  Here’s another bit of brutal honesty about Google Docs–I’m a font snob and the way they look is so unappealing!  As a visual learner (and just being me in general), aesthetics and look matter to me and not having the same options as in Word or Pages is a major reason why I haven’t yet jumped in with both feet.  I like the idea of collaborative writing–and writing is a passion of mine, too, so connecting it with tech could be a great marriage–but am not sure how yet to incorporate this.

So obviously I’m on the fence.  I want to commit, but haven’t yet seen enough that Google Docs does differently that what I’m already doing in other places or with other things.  Can you help convince me?  I’d love more elementary examples of real, meaningful work that can incorporate Google Docs or forms.

I got some suggestions for what to do from both classmates and my PLN on Twitter, but I’m still having the hardest time understanding how and when it makes more sense to use this  than what I’m already doing. I cannot seem to wrap my head around this whole “collaboration” thing with Google.  Maybe the hard part for me is that we are always collaborating in our learning, but I don’t see why we’d do it online when we could just talk to each other, or share a pen.  My students very rarely do projects at home (which is one place/time that I know is mentioned when talking about benefits), but maybe what’s also good is that whatever the file is that is being created can be accessed by everyone whenever they need it?  Like if someone is gone and they’re the one who has all the “stuff”–the rest of the group can still function?  Is that it? Even in that scenario, though, I can easily see how we could figure out a way around it using what we currently have in place.

Another classmate suggested that perhaps in the beginning I use my Google Drive more as an archive for my students, uploading documents and other things that they may need to see or reference for an assignment.  Someone else mentioned how there is the capability to add other fonts to use in your Docs, which is encouraging to me.

But I’m still not convinced that right now is the right time for me to make the jump into this part of the Google world.  I don’t want to be too quick to abandon my tried-and-true for the brand-new, just because I hear that I’m “supposed to.”  I guess for now I will continue to dabble, perhaps by trying another Google App that makes more sense to me.  I am thinking about installing Google Reader, and am also working a little with Google Sites because of this class I’m taking; I can see benefits with both of these apps really easily.  Perhaps after a little more time spent swimming around in the shallow end of this pool, I’ll be ready to jump in deep and give Docs a try.

What advice to you have for this Google newbie?  Which is your favorite Google app to use with your students?  Why do you love it?  I’d love to hear from anyone who’s willing to share, but especially from elementary teachers who are farther on this journey than me and loving it.  Share your thoughts in a comment below! 🙂

EDUC 573: Week 5–I Went to School on a Saturday

Yep, you heard me right.  I got up at 5:45 (which is WAY earlier than a school day), drove my kids 30 minutes to my mom’s house, then drove about 40 minutes in the other direction to go to school on a Saturday.  And it was all by choice.

EdCampStl was the reason.  What’s EdCamp?  Well, it’s honestly just a bunch of teachers who all gather at a school together on a Saturday to learn together, and what that learning is is not decided until we all arrive.  Sessions are planned on the fly, based on what people know and what they want to know.  You’re encouraged to sit in on as many sessions as you can, moving from one to another if it doesn’t end up meeting your needs.  For more about what your brain looks like on EdCamp, check out Krissy Venosdales’ blog where she wrote about it this weekend.

I attended my first EdCamp last year, and this was even more fabulous!  Last time I went alone, which was a little bit daunting, because I am not the most outgoing person.  I had a fine time, but didn’t really talk to anybody or make any new connections.  I did learn more about using social media in the classroom, but didn’t really take away anything I could implement right away.

This time, I was really excited to be able to finally meet some of my online “friends” in person, putting a real face to the avatar I’ve been looking at for the last year!  This was better than I even anticipated, and will make the connection we share online even stronger.  I attended some pretty great sessions, too, where I  learned about a new iPad app, how to use Google forms in the classroom, more about collaborative groups and had a discussion about the impact of ELA Common Core on what we do in our day-to-day teaching lives.

For me, it was the conversations that made this year different.  We’ve been talking alot about PLNs lately, and I definitely have some pretty fabulous people in mine.  Being able to sit in the same room as them and share ideas was a little bit surreal.  Kinda like nerd heaven, really.  And the best part was that since we’re connected on Twitter (which is where I learned about the whole EdCamp experience in the first place), we could keep  the conversation going even after the day was over.  Our learning continues beyond the conference, which is not always something that happens.

I feel really lucky to be a part of a PLN of some really smart, risk-taking, innovative educators from whom I learn something new every time I log on (which is pretty much every day!).  I can truly say that without them, I would not be the teacher I am today. 🙂

Are you a member of a PLN?  Why do you like it?  What do you learn from your PLN?  Have you been to EdCamp?  Tell me about it!


EDUC 573: Week 4–Creativity and Critical Thinking?

This past week we read the article Why Creativity Now: A Conversation with Sir Ken Robinson (Azzam, 2009).  Several points from the article stuck out to me as I considered the answer to the question raised: Are creativity and critical thinking opposed to each other?  Can they exist together?

I guess I’ve always considered myself a creative person.  Until recently, though, I’m not sure I’d have been able to define what that meant.  I could tell you what it didn’t mean, though–my creativity did not involve being able to draw or dance.   In many ways I have always thought of my creative side coming out in relation to making things out of other things–scrapbooking, cards, sewing, etc.  I believe I have a knack for writing in a creative way, as well, but that was pretty much it.  Like I said, don’t ask me to create a song, do improv, draw (anything), or create a sculpture out of clay.  And so just like a misconception mentioned in the article, I equated my creativity with just artistic things.

So what does that have to do with my teaching life?  Or my students for that matter?  Well once I became a teacher, I like to think that that creative side merged with my “thinking” side as I began to work to create situations for my students where they could figure out how they best create new things.  Partly through learning I’ve done just this semester already, I have begun to do even more to allow my students choice in their learning.  Being able to decide upon the topic,  who they will work with and what type of product (if any) they will end up with is highly motivating to students–boys especially.   As we just completed our student-led conferences, I can’t tell you how many students (from both genders) mentioned that they really enjoy the projects we do because they get to make choices about their learning and because they don’ have to “just sit and listen.”  The way these projects are laid out also encourages the “forever and always” type of learning I’m hoping to give my students; I want these concepts to be useful forever, not just for now.

This part of the article was also especially important, in my opinion:

Also, we’re living in times of massive unpredictability. The kids who are starting school this September
will be retiring—if they ever do—around 2070. Nobody has a clue what the world’s going to look like in
five years, or even next year actually, and yet it’s the job of education to help kids make sense of the
world they’re going to live in.

I work a lot with Fortune 500 companies, and they’re always saying, “We need people who can be
innovative, who can think differently.” If you look at the mortality rate among companies, it’s massive.
America is now facing the biggest challenge it’s ever faced—to maintain it’s position in the world
economies. All these things demand high levels of innovation, creativity, and ingenuity. At the moment,
instead of promoting creativity, I think we’re systematically educating it out of our kids.

Now more than ever, it would be utterly futile for me to try to educate my students for the world I live in.  The world of now.  These kiddos are growing up in a time of massive change, where they will have to be able to be ready for jobs that don’t even exist right now.  The possibilities are endless, really.  And I think that one way that I can do my part to help prepare them for that unknown future is to encourage them to think today.  I want them to be able to make rational, logical decisions and then act upon them.  Even if right now those decisions are about who to work with and what to create, it’s a start.

But even still, this point is made regarding teaching creativity:

I make a distinction between teaching creatively and teaching for creativity. Teaching creatively means
that teachers use their own creative skills to make ideas and content more interesting. Some of the
great teachers we know are the most creative teachers because they find a way of connecting what
they’re teaching to student interests.

I hope that I respond to this well when I tell my kiddos I want them to know that they can create knowledge, that they are responsible for their learning.  I am not going to just give them all the answers– say “Here, do it this way.”  I love how often times the way I imagined doing it isn’t at all the best way; my students many times suggest much better ideas for how lessons will go than what I originally planned.  But I have to be willing to let that happen.  I have to be ok with not knowing all the answers or risking looking dumb in front of a class of 5th graders because I don’t know what to do next.  I have to be willing to take risks and let them take the reins.  My job is that of facilitator, not dictator.  It is our classroom, not mine.  We are all students and we are all teachers in Rm. 202.

And so yes, I do agree that creativity and critical thinking can coexist.  I have seen with my own eyes the way a kiddo will dig deep into a subject because I’ve given them just enough guidance and structure to get them going and then I let them go.  And where they ended up was beyond even where we envisioned at the beginning.  Not because I told them to, but because they made the choice, the plan and then made it happen.

Azzam, A. M. (2009). Why creativity now? A conversation with Sir Ken Robinson. Educational Leadership, 67(1), 22-26.

EDUC 573: Week 3–Digital Imminatives?

We’re almost halfway there! Week 4 is next week and I am continually amazed at all the things we can cram into a week of learning. 🙂

This week’s topic was Web 2.0–what it is, how we use it and why that’s important to ourselves and our learners.

I have to be honest that until last year, I hadn’t ever even really heard the term “web 2.0” and until just the other day, I hadn’t really thought much about what it meant.  I think I get it now that it’s the way the internet is no longer a “read only” experience, but is instead a place of co-learning, co-teaching, co-llaboration (hee hee).  Where once you could just look at a website, now you can be a partner in creating it.  Perhaps my favorite part of the whole Web 2.0 movement is how most everything you (I) need is always at my fingertips, regardless of whether or not I’m at my own computer.  Because of applications like Dropbox and Evernote, or numerous other web-based programs, I can work whenever, wherever I want or need to.  (But then, I must stop for a second and admit that while I like this feature, it’s probably not all positive.  There are definitely times and places I should NOT be working, but choose to anyway because I can.  This is definitely something I need to work on. 🙂 ).

I really enjoyed this week’s work, but much of that could have been because it was a topic I already knew much about.  As we were asked to explain a variety of Web 2.0 tools, I was able to easily think about how I’d implement them in my classroom because I’m already doing that!  The great part, though, is reading all of the thinking of my classmates regarding Web 2.0 and learning how I could use them differently.  What else could I do with something with which I am already familiar?

Now on to the explanation about the title (I know you were wondering what in the world I was doing with that!).  The article we focused on last week (and then reflected on this week) was Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants by Marc Prensky (2001).  While I’ve read this article before, and even used it as a reference in a paper I wrote last semester, of course reading it again and thinking about it in a different time and context made me consider different things than I did previously.

As a part of the course, we’re supposed to choose a quote from the article and respond to it.  I could have easily chosen the whole article, as Prensky makes numerous valid points, but alas I chose just one.  Ok, I chose two:

It’s just dumb (and lazy) of educators – not to mention ineffective – to presume that (despite their traditions) the Digital Immigrant way is the only way to teach, and that the Digital Natives’ “language” is not as capable as their own of encompassing any and every idea.

I think what really struck me about these words are that I want to be sure to do everything in my power not to be that Digital Immigrant teacher!  I like to think I am a trailblazer, that I try new things even when I am not sure of the outcome because I think they will help my students learn.  I like to think that I trust my students, that often they are teaching me more than I am them.  And so it’s my job then, right, to help the Digital Immigrants see that there is a better way.  Just like with any new learning, it may not be quick and it may not be easy, but in the end it will be good.

And so this article also led me to another question:  Is there a name for someone who is both a Digital Immigrant and a Digital Native?  I consider myself to be somewhere in the middle.  This part got me thinking:

Digital Immigrants don’t believe their students can learn successfully while watching TV or listening to music, because they (the Immigrants) can’t. Of course not – they didn’t practice this skill constantly for all of their formative years. Digital Immigrants think learning can’t (or shouldn’t) be fun. Why should they – they didn’t spend their formative years learning with Sesame Street.

So like I said, I am somewhat of an Immigrant just because of my age, but that definition doesn’t ring true at all with how I think/believe/feel about myself, my students or learning in general.  I do think learning can and should be fun, I did spend my formative years learning with Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers and the Electric Company, and I am a MASTER at multi-tasking (i.e. learning while watching TV and/or listening to music–I’m doing it right now, actually).  Perhaps its like with any definition or rule, there’s always an exception.  And in this case, an exception is what I long to be.  🙂

So what do you think about the digital natives, digital immigrants and Web 2.0?  Which are you?  How does knowing about digital natives impact the way you teach and the way your students learn?  I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts. 🙂

EDUC 573: Week 2–Edmodo and Twitter

Hopefully it will not come as a surprise when I say that I am a life-long learner.  I feel like it oozes out of my pores, and that if you spend more than 5 minutes with me, you get that vibe.  At least that’s what I hope.

And so I also hope that it’s not a surprise that the learning I’m most interested in these days is related to technology.  I’ve written about some of it already , in the form of how my kids are blogging, and I’m sure that somewhere farther back I explained how I got to the place that I am now with using technology in my classroom (and if I haven’t, I’m sure I’ll decide to write about it!).

This post is the second one for the class I’m taking right now: EDUC 573–Applications of Technology.  It’s a requirement for my Masters; even though my focus is not tech, it’s a topic helpful to every teacher these days.  And even in just two weeks, I’ve already learned about and tried countless things!  I’m beyond excited about “having” to do things that I’m interested in doing anyway.

So that brings me to my goal from last week.  I was most excited about beginning to use my blog “in-the-moment” and pledged that I’d try something on it the next day.  Which I did, indeed.  This week my class reflected on themselves as learners and wrote their own goals, and we used the blog for our ActivActivity in math rotations two different times this week.  And so far I’d say I LOVE IT!  Kiddos loved seeing their work all right there in one place (rather than all spread out on their individual blogs), and I loved it for the same reason.  We could quickly review what we had shared, and compare our thinking.  There have already been several other suggestions for how we might continue to use this together.  Love that my kiddos are such great thinkers, but I love even more that they know I’ll listen to and incorporate their ideas into what we do.  It is, after all, OUR classroom, not just mine. :)

The topic this week was related to becoming familiar with and beginning to use learning management systems in the classroom.  We investigated both Moodle and Edmodo, and considered how they could be used in the classroom to enhance the learning that’s already happening.  And that’s the key, I think, to any tech that you’re using–it should complement the learning goals you already have.  It should be the learning goal, nor should it come first.  I also think that it’s key that whatever you add be easy to use.  And for that reason, I am excited to start playing around with Edmodo in our classroom.

Edmodo is a learning management system that is comparable to “Facebook in the classroom.”  It’s a safe, private, focused way for a class to communicate on a topic, and has countless features useful to teachers, students and even parents.  I think that the first thing I’ll do (after a suggestion from a colleague) is give them some time to see what it can do.  I am sure they’ll figure out alot of the ins and outs very quickly.  Next my plan is to start literature circle conversations on Edmodo.  We’re just about to start them anyway, and it would make sense as a starting place.  I’m excited to see the difference in depth that may happen when kids have a chance to put their thoughts in writing this way.  And as always happens, I’m sure someone will come up with a great idea for what to do with it next.

Aside from the LMS, we also read the article “Taking the Digital Plunge” by Bill Ferriter (2009).  And while I originally focused in on a quote about how quickly finding like-minded learners helped me want to jump in and get my feet wet with tech, this one might even be more meaningful:

Connecting with colleagues online has helped me explore skills and dispositions necessary for
networked cooperation—skills like finding partners beyond borders, making my own thinking transparent,
revising positions on the basis of feedback, accessing valuable information from colearners, and
creating shared content. It has profoundly changed the way I learn.

This week alone, I’ve signed up and am starting to use Edmodo, created the template for my eportfolio, added over 50 links to my delicious account, and planned a Mystery Skype for next week with a teacher in my PLN on Twitter.   I believe these are all powerful tools that used by both me and my students to make connections.

I’m excited to see what continues to come out of this learning I am “having” to do here.  It’s so much fun it doesn’t seem at all like work!

What have you learned this week about technology?  Have you read “Taking the Digital Plunge?”  What did you learn?  Have you tried Edmodo, Twitter, delicious or Mystery Skype?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

EDUC 573: Week 1–Getting Started

This was the first week of a new Masters class.  And while I try to find something to apply in every class I take, this might be the best one yet, as it’s related to technology!

While I am by no means an expert, I do consider myself to be reasonably tech-savvy.  It hasn’t always been that way, but over the last year and a half to two years, I’ve been jumping in and trying things that I’ve never done before–blogging, kid-blogging, Twitter (for my own learning), my class Facebook page and Twitter feed, as well as just learning to use new apps on the iPads at school (for myself and my students).  It’s been great fun to try new things and see them immediately helpful to my students.  I think my favorite part has been the impact that my blog has had on the world.  Ok, maybe not impact necessarily, but it’s definitely encouraging when people around the world that you don’t even know read, comment on and retweet things you post!  Makes what I write feel more meaningful and is motivating to keep me going.  🙂

So since I’ve already been on this technology journey for a while, many of the things we read and watched for class this week were review.  But, like with most things in life, if you pay close attention, you fill find something that you can learn.  And I did! Let me tell you about it…

This week we watched a series of videos from Darren Wilson, a teacher and tech-leader in Texas, about Inspired Classrooms.  While much of what we shared were things I was already doing, I did catch one thing that was FABULOUS and that I will start using even as soon as tomorrow!

One of his main suggestions was to use a class blog to document and record learning, but also (here’s the new thing) as a place to give assignments.  What??  I’d never thought of that before, but as soon as he said it, I knew it was something I had to try!  Up to this point, I’ve only used my blog as an after-the-fact place to reflect on things I’ve done, to share experiences with our families and other readers around the world or to record what we’re learning for a later date.  His suggestion, instead, was to use the blog as a place to share in-the-moment type things, to post articles, projects or assignment directions.  In small groups, kiddos would read the post, do what it says and then “turn in” their work by posting a comment with their thoughts.  Duh!?  Why hadn’t I thought of that before?  So simple but so powerful.

And so that’s what I’m going to do tomorrow.  I shared the idea with my kids and they also thought it was a FABULOUS one!  And, like they do with most things, had a great idea for how we could use it: as a rotation in our math schedule.  We already have a station that is Activ Activity–usually a game or flipchart activity that they do as a group on the Activ Board.  Sammy suggested that I could post their directions for that activity on the blog and they could give their answer during that station.  Brilliant!

Please be sure to check back soon to see how it went!  I am pretty sure it’ll be great, because I know the kids who’ll be doing the work, and they’re pretty great. 🙂