Saturday, February 28, 2009

Working on Big Ideas for Younger Students

I have been introduced to many new ideas, concepts, and tools to help me embed technology and information literacy into my teaching. At times I have felt a little overwhelmed but more often I was excited about what I was reading, hearing, learning, doing, discussing, sharing, etc. I have come a long way in the six weeks of this course but I know that I have a long way to go still. With each new idea, concept, and tool I am usually left with one question – “How can I use this or introduce this to my young students?” I have decided that I need to start looking for others who have the same question or have already answered the question. I am lucky because my first connection was an easy one. Vu and I have worked together for the last two years as part of ISB’s first grade team. We are constantly collaborating and working through new ideas to benefit our students. Now we can both help each other through the ups and downs of using technology to enhance our teaching while exposing our students to a variety of multimedia technology tools.

Since Vu and I are already part of a very collaborative team it was easy for us to work together to complete the final project. We were both new comers to the format used to plan the lesson but by working together (and some phrasing help from Kim) we were able to help each other through it. Our idea of using Skype to bring a far away Mystery Reader into our classrooms was an easy fit to our established curriculum and routines. Now all that is left is to execute it, learn from it, and celebrate our successes and failures together!

Thank you Kim & Jeff for starting me on this journey. You both made it easier for me to take some chances and try some new things.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Understanding Adopt & Adapt But Hating the Delivery

While reading Adopt and Adapt: Shaping Tech for the Classroom by Marc Prensky I found myself having some old feelings that absolutely enrage me. I was taken back to my teaching days in public schools in California, Louisiana, and Texas. It seems to me that teachers and schools are too easily blamed for whatever the issue or problem of the day is. I also deeply resent the fact that he identifies schools as a key barrier to technological adoption because of the unwillingness to except change by the teachers and administrators. He does acknowledge the “extremely delicate balance between many sets of pressures -- political, parental, social, organizational, supervisory, and financial -- that any technological change is bound to disrupt.” But, he provides no answers or ideas to help maintain a balance to make a movement more manageable for teachers and schools.

I do agree with Mr. Prensky’s thoughts on the importance of moving forward and making sure that we are changing with the changing needs of students. I understand the importance of making sure that our students have the skills and experiences that they need in this quickly changing technological world. I also like his explanation of "digital natives" those who are born into digital technology and "digital immigrants" those who have learned about digital technology later in life. I just object to the tone of this article.

I am wondering if Mr. Prensky is willing to be part of the "we" when he states, "So, let's not just adopt technology into our schools. Let's adapt it, push it, pull it, iterate with it, experiment with it, test it, and redo it, until we reach the point where we and our kids truly feel we've done our very best. Then, let's push it and pull it some more. And let's do it quickly, so the 22nd century doesn't catch us by surprise with too much of our work undone." I believe that when you identify a problem you should be willing to be part of the solutions and not just pass it along as someone else's problem. I feel that this article points out a lot of issues but doesn't provide any concrete ideas for solutions.

Crossing My Fingers

I have read the information for our project assignment many times. I have been reluctant to get started (obviously) for a couple of reasons. One is that I feel like my idea for a project is a baby step. I am also new to many of the tools and ideas that are essential to the project. I have spent hours thinking about this concept and trying to convince myself that baby steps is good for both me as a new comer to embedding digital literacy and for my students who are relatively young. After reviewing Blooms Digital Taxonomy, "Remembering" is pretty much where I am so I guess my idea is a perfect place to start. So now it is time for me to just take the leap and do it no matter how apprehensive I feel. (On a side note I am feeling a little hypocritical because I encourage my students to be risk-takers on a daily basis, yet my fear of the unknown and failure has been the cause for my major league avoidance up to this point.)
So the idea for my project is to Skype a Mystery Reader into my classroom for a Read-A-Loud session. Mystery Readers are visitors to my classroom who come and share books with the students. My students look forward to Mystery Readers and get very excited about guessing who it could be. By using Skype I am hoping to show students we can connect to people even if they are far away or away from home. The reader will be a parent that is away on business. The parent has visited the class before so they know who he is. I will also use Google Earth to show where we are and where he is. I am hoping to hit ISTE Student Net Standards Number 2: Communication and Collaboration, by using digital media to communicate with someone at a distant location in real time, and Number 6: Technology Operations and Concepts, by using technology systems. I may even hit a few of the ISTE Teacher Net Standards.
So now to actually pull this off cross your fingers for me that technical karma is with me during the big event and Skype hooks up and works.P.S. Kim I'm sorry my avoidance has trickled down and caused last minute work for you.
P.S.S. Jeff - Thank you for introducing me to Creative Commons Search! So now I am able to promote and model digital citizenship and responsibility when adding pictures to my posts.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Aspiring to Work Smarter Not Harder

I work with an amazing team at the International School of Bangkok. We are always willing to work together to try new things to enrich the learning of our first graders. After reading the comment that Kim made on Vu's blog post, Digital Blooms in the Primary Years - Part 2, (Vu is one of my fab team members) I realize that sometimes even though we are trying to do what we feel is the best for our students we need to stop and refine what we are already doing or at least take smaller jumps when we are trying something new. An example of this is that we wanted to do electronic portfolios with our students this year. We were all very excited about using video clips, voice threads, work samples, and student input to show the progress and learning that takes place during first grade. We set up an very ambitious plan with time lines, schedules, and expectations. It all sounded good and looked manageable on paper. Well we are now in the home stretch, only 13 Mondays left as one of my team members pointed out this week, and I can't speak for anyone else but my visualization of the electronic portfolios isn't even close to what they actually are at this point. I do have lots of pictures of kids and learning in action, some videos, and digital work sample for every child in all of the subject areas. But nothing is organized very well and the thought of having it all put together in less than 3 months makes my head spin. I had a conversation with Kim after one of our face to face sessions and she wisely recognized that my team tends to jump in with both feet before testing the water. After our conversation I realized that instead of trying to do electronic portfolios for every child in every subject we should have each field tested electonic portfolios in different subject areas. I did bring the idea up at a team meeting when we were all sharing our stresses over the whole thing and I think we may take a step back next year and each specialize in one subject area so that we can guide the others. So long rambling short I have a new motto - Work Smarter Not Harder. I know it's not original but it is a good aspiration to have. Hopefully I will be able to remember this as I'm working to become a 21st Century Teacher and meet the needs of my 21st Century Learners. (Kim's blog has a great overview of both that she used in Qatar last week, just follow the links in the previous sentence.)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Learning from My Students

I thought the jigsaw activity that we did at the last face to face was very valuable. It was interesting to hear how my group's facilitators, Robin U and James, are using media tools and blogs to support and enhance their teaching and their students' learning and listen to them share some of their frustrations with the available tools and the management of the blogs. During the session I was having some trouble figuring out where to start with my young ones yet realizing that it is vital for students to start early so that when they get to middle school and high school they have the skills that will enable them to be more self-sufficient when using technology and media at school. I was still trying to figure out where to start with my students and how to make it enhance what I am already teaching when my students came up with the idea themselves. We were reading a book by one of our favorite authors - Robert Munsch - when one of my students asked, "I wonder how Robert Munsch gets the ideas for his stories?" I said, "I don't know. I wonder how we could find out?" Immediately several students told me to look it up on the internet. So I asked them how to do that. They said, "Google!" without a moment of hesitation. As I turned on the Smartboard, they told me to open Safari and type in "". So of course I did what they told me to. After google was loaded they told me to type Robert Munsch in to the search box. When the search results came up they told me what to try and then they proceeded to navigate me through Robert Munsch's Official Website. I was completely amazed that so many of my students could talk me through all of the steps from the very beginning to the very end. The students were able to get the answer to their question and more importantly I got to experience first hand how powerful it was to be able to let my students lead the way to answer a question that they had through the use of technology and how easy it was.

Monday, February 9, 2009

I Guess They Aren't Just Messing Around

I guess I owe my kids an apology for continually giving them a hard time about wasting time on the computer. After reading the "Messing Around" section (pages 20-28) of the MacArthur Foundation Report - Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project, I was amazed by all of the learning that goes on while kids are apparently "messing around". I never really thought about kids learning the ins and outs of manipulating new technology and new media through free, self paced, interest driven exploration and/or experimentation, although it makes perfect sense. As I read the article I was presented with another justification for social networks. While "messing around" kids use online as well as face-to-face social networks to learn about new technology and media manipulation from each other. I was particularly interested in the passage that states: "The most important factors (when messing around) are the availability of technical resources and a context that allow for a degree of freedom and autonomy for self-directed learning and exploration. In contrast to learning that is oriented toward a set, predefined goal, messing around is largely self-directed, and the outcomes of the activity emerge through exploration." (MacArthur Foundation Report - Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project top of page 22) That passage leads me to believe that kids are naturally learning about technology and media through self-directed Inquiry. They are answering the questions that they have by exploring, taking chances, and working together. So now the question is how can I create opportunities that allow my students to explore, experiment, collaborate, and take chances with developmentally appropriate technology tools. According to the report, messing around "involves experimentation and exploration with relatively low investment, where there are few consequences to trial, error, and even failure." To me that sounds like a good place to be right now. My previous post was unintentionally a ramble about my messing around earlier today. So, now from my own personal experience with messing around I can say that I learned a lot today exploring and experimenting with various technology tools and most importantly that messing around isn't just wasting time on the web, it is an excellent learning tool!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

My Choice: Exploring Some New Tools

For this post I am going to share with you all that I have learned while exploring the ISB CoETaIL Wiki, my Google Reader, and iGoogle. I have spent the last few hours "playing" with the before mentioned tools to try and better understand what I am doing and to try and make everything more manageable. I started with exploring the Wiki like Kim asked us to in her Instructor Reflections. I was glad to find out that I could indeed still find all of the information that I needed for the course. I especially like the Course Assignment page. I also read Thoughts from Jeff at the bottom of the Feb. 2-8 page and decided to go back and add links to my previous posts. As you can see from this post I quickly figured out how to add links and I like doing it (I also like the color it adds). I'll save labels for another time. Next I moved on to my Google Reader, where a post on the blog Langwitches caught my eye. The post was links for 2009-02-05 and what caught my eye was SimplyBox - Think Inside the Box which is tool that can be used to capture, share, and organize things found on the web. I watched the SimplyBox video and decided to give it a try. So now I am the proud owner of a SimplyBox account, where I have already created a box for this course. It was easy to do and I'm looking forward to playing with it some more in my "free time". Also in that post was a link titled Facebook for Parents. I haven't had a chance to really look at it yet but I did add the page to one of my SimplyBox boxes where it will be waiting for me! My final stop on my exploration was iGoogle. I created my iGoogle page at the last face-to-face but I didn't get to make it my own. Well it is definitely my own now. I added several gadgets to my home page and now I can see my Gmail account, my Google Reader, updates to the CoETaIL Wiki, and my current blog posts all in one place. I also managed to add a link to my Google Docs but I can't get the documents shared but owned by others to show-up. Any ideas? Again a project for my "free time". In addition to the items that I need to see to organize myself for this course I also added a few extra gadgets like: World Time Server Clocks; a Sticky Note; My ToDo List; and two games just for fun - Flood-it! and Trio. I had a great time and now understand Chrissy's complete disbelief that anyone could go with No Google for a Week. I know that I couldn't and get through this course. ;-)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Google & Fact or Fiction with Chris Betcher

When I wrote my post for the morning Skype session with Clarence I had a Word document open with about a page of notes to refer to. As I scrolled down to look at my notes on Chris's Skype session all I found was "Chris Betcher – Google Search Syntax/Truth & Bias Online" and the rest of the page was empty. Then I smiled remembering that most of the time that Chris was talking I was - Trying to figure out if spaghetti really does grow on trees, if it's possible to turn cats into Bonsai ornaments, and if Napoleon could have fired a cannon. I was busy doing what he was trying to tell us about. It made the time fly by and supported what I already know about myself - that more learning and understanding goes on when I'm actively engaged - which I believe is true for most people. Chris showed me that there are quicker ways to find what I want the first time on Google (especially if I feel lucky) and how important it is to teach children to look at what they find on the internet with a critical eye. Now on to the topic of Wikipedia. Now that I have seen someone navigate through a topic (and doing it myself) I understand how a Wikipedia page grows and develops from as little as one sentence and how the facts can be found among some of the fiction that may exist. I was definitely not a fan of using Wikipedia as a source of information but I can now see that it is truly a collaborative network where information and expertise can be shared by anybody and everybody even if it's only a few words at a time. I guess I can now let my son use Wikipedia when looking for information as long as it isn't his only stop on his search, thanks to Chris & Rob.

Personal Learning Networks

The Skype time with Clarence Fisher on Saturday morning helped me to see the value of Personal Learning Networks for teachers as both educators and learners and for students as both learners and educators. My preconceived idea about blogs was that most were people chronicling their lives on the internet for all to see. I could not understand why someone would be interested in exposing their life to total strangers. After Clarence described his blog as his "voice" not him I began to better understand what a blog can be. As he went on to talk about his blog being a community to try out new ideas, gather, share, talk, discuss, and be challenged, I realized that my concept of blogging was extremely narrow. I am now open to the idea of using blogs to help me grow and learn as an educator. I'm not ready to begin posting on someone else's blog but I am ready to begin browsing the hundreds of posts on my RSS Reader with an open mind. He also made a very convincing argument for the use of Personal Learning Networks with students. I like the idea of using networks to let children know that there is a world outside of the one they live in and see everyday. A world where people and their ideas can be and are different then their own. But, also that there are others out there, near and far, that are very similar to themselves. I also understand that using Personal Learning Networks with students opens up a world of information, ideas, and resources that no one teacher or school can provide within the walls of a classroom without the assistance of the internet. It is wonderful that Clarence's students are able to see the value in their work and ideas by using blogs and that he is able to see them becoming more confident and competent as they work. Of course as a parent the idea of being able to see what my children are working on first-hand and in real time is very appealing. Now fitting all of the puzzle pieces together so that it works for me and my students is my next step. Hearing Jeff say that it's the learning concepts and ideas that are important for us to know and understand and not the ins and outs of the tools that are used - because that's what ISB's tech staff is for - did make me feel that putting the puzzle together might not be as hard as I thought. ;-)