Final reflections



I am supposed to be reflecting on my aims for the SUNY technology in education course that’s just coming to an end.  When I look back at my original aims, and what I hoped to learn, here’s what I wrote:

  • How to use blogging/podcasting in the class room
    How to use google docs effectively

    How to be more imaginative in using ICT in the day to day of teaching
    How to include the above in UbD planning

I really didn’t know what to expect, to be honest.  Ignorance is bliss, as they say, and I was bumbling along in my own sweet way, totally unaware of many of the web 2.0 tools out there available for use for free in the classroom.  While I would not consider myself an expert, I have certainly learned a great deal towards achieving those aims, and more, over the past few weeks.  At the start, as you can tell by reading the first few blog posts here, I was reluctant, hesitant and skeptical about the use of the technology in my teaching.  I now feel excited, motivated and enthused about it.  I have even begun to experiment with some of it. 

One issue that I keep coming back to is time – podcasting, blogging, presentations – all very valuable.  The actual substance of the podcast or presentation doesn’t actually take that long to produce.  What takes the time is the editing and searching for the right photo or quote for your powerpoint.  Is this efficient use of a very scarce commodity?  And blogging – well – that takes on a life of it’s own!  Reading more important than writing in blogging.  Very time consuming as the more you read the more links you follow to more and more interesting websites till you realize you have just spent 3 hrs reading blogs with nothing concrete to show for it.

Collaboration is so important but I found working on the individual projects easier – I could do it whenever I had a few moments.  Group tasks required all of us to sit down at the same time, and if someone couldn’t be there, it was a no go.  This is something I should consider when assigning work to my students too.  The last task – designing a flat classroom project – was perhaps for me the most challenging.  Not sure why, exactly – maybe now having got my head around some of the new technology I need time to assimilate before working with others on a project like this.

Incorporating technology is great when it works.  When it doesn’t it leaves you frustrated beyond belief!  Here you are having spent ages coming up with a dynamic new way of learning for your students only to be thwarted 5 mins before the curtain goes up because of some technical hiccup.  I can’t help feeling a little bit of “why bother?” and I should have just done it the “old” way because that would have been easier… Maybe the need for a tech person on call to help in these emergencies, although I’ve no idea how this could be managed really.  I’m sure if an IT support person were to be in my lesson, then there would be no glitches, simply because they are there.   And again I think it comes back to our reasons for using the technology.  As Jose Picardo says on his excellent blog and in this post,  it is not just enough to plan to use ICT in our lessons, but it has to be meaningful to our students.  To them it is not particularly exciting or new – it is normal.  They are, remember, digital natives, and we are not.



Ideas for using podcasting in my classroom – put kids into groups of 2 or 3, and have them produce a podcast once per semester by rotation – maybe one produced every 2 weeks.  Something along the lines of “Biology in the news” or the like – short – 5 mins or so is enough.  Homework could be to listen to it and comment on the class blog….

I have always been a strong advocate for the IB DP program – and I still am.  It provides a far better HS experience than I ever had – students receive a great all-round education without specializing too early (a la A levels).  They do community service, EE, metacognition… all good stuff.  But over the past few weeks of this course I have been thinking… I miss teaching lower down.  For the first 10 years of my career I always taught the range from Grade 6 to 12, and enjoyed the diversity.  Yes, lots of prep, but it kept me interested and movitated.  In recent years I have become very “exam heavy” in my schedule.  First taking on Maths Studies along with Biology, meant all IB classes, then a move to the Philippines and all IB classes again.  Some of the enjoyment of teaching gets snuffed out when all you are worried about is getting through the syllabus and checking off the right number of lab hours. 

If I have learnt anything over the past few weeks of this course it is to be open to new ideas.  Read, read and read some more, and then try stuff out, and then form an opinion about whether it can be useful.  I’m historically good at the last part without having done the former. I also learnt that I have to take control of my PD, and not wait for someone to come knocking on my door to tell me about a great idea they have and would like to share.  By developing my own PLN, I am in charge of what I am learning, and who I am learning from, and when I learn it.  That is surely better than the “one size fits all” traditional PD that teachers often receive.  There is no criticism here – my current school is AMAZING at bringing in top notch, and at the forefront in their field, educators for us to work with and learn from, but my PLN is specific and targeted and there and ready to answer my questions….

Well – I guess I had a lot to reflect on!  So, I’ll stop there.



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EARCOS education

It’s been a while since I attended a regional conference, and having recently returned from ETC 09 in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysian Borneo, I am unsure why.  I was left with a very positive impression and enjoyed the whole experience.  Here are a few of the things I learned, or relearned.

My fellow teachers are an amazing bunch of professionals, with great ideas and powers of motivation.

There are so many different presentation styles, just in the 3 keynotes, yet all are equally engaging.

There is hope for our planet – John Liu’s work on the Loess plateau in China shows what can be done if we set our minds to it.

There are ways to tackle academic honesty head on.  I attended a workshop by Michael Sheehan that outlined the latest research and gave constructive ideas on how to tackle this issue in schools.

Assessment is different to grading.  We need to assess so that our students can learn, but grading is not part of the learning process.  Bill and Ochan Powell gave some great workshops on this issue.  They also linked much of what they were saying to UbD and what can and cannot be differentiated.

The power of Twitter.  It was actual real life face to face conversations with people who use Twitter that convinced me to give it a go, not the responses to my blog posts on this issue.

Good professional development all round!

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Twitter update

So two weeks after signing up for Twitter, here are my thoughts.

  • Fantastic for procrastination from marking.
  • Superb for expanding my PLN.
  • Amazing for links to interesting, relevant, current and thought-provoking blog posts and articles on education.
Communicate by kimberlyfaye on flickr

Communicate by kimberlyfaye on flickr

I read this post about the different types of Twitterer.  I haven’t been using it long enough yet to decide which category I fall into, but I know that I am following mainly #1’s and #2’s.  I have managed to resist facebook and myspace thus far, saying that I don’t want someone I vaguely remember from primary school, or summer camp, to come knocking on my door, and that I am still in touch with the people I still want to be in touch with.  But Twitter is different.  I have connected with other professionals in education, in international schools and in the US, Australia, NZ  (mainly – it seems UK teachers have not caught on yet).  I can see what they are reading, and ask them questions, and enter into dialogue, all with people I would never have discovered otherwise – at least not without a considerable amount of internet searching.  So I have revised my opinion about this phenomenon (I am allowed.  I am female.) and will continue to tap into it as a professional resource.  I will, however, also resist the urge to become and/or follow any of the twitterers that tell me they are about to board a plane to Bali, have just ordered a tall latte in Starbucks, or are turning in for the night.  Perhaps this youtube video says it best 🙂


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Eating my words…

OK – I succumbed to peer pressure.  Enough people convinced me of the benefits of using Twitter that I decided to take the plunge and give it a go.  24 hrs later and I can already see the positives.  My PLN is undergoing “exponential growth”. For those at ETC09, that will resonate after Alan AtKisson’s amazing keynote speech.  Anyway, I am trying this out, and also trying not to let it take over my life.  Follow me @nadinedickinson if you like.


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Cellphones in class – yea or nay?



My latest reading has been to do with the issue of cellphones in schools.  There is a strong argument that allowing them into class is a major distraction, and that they should be banned.  There is an equally strong case for not only allowing them into class, but incorporating their use in lessons.  I did a little digging around and unearthed a few interesting articles on the subject.  The one I connected with most was this one by The Innovative Educator

Additionally, teachers need to experience, understand the educational value, and be comfortable with technology tools before using them to enhance teaching and learning. If we are exposing teachers to ways in to incorporate cells into the classroom, we are providing that teacher and classroom with tremendous power and access and an ability to model for students how to use a cell phone as a learning tool.

This is very true.  If we are aware of the potential drawbacks of this kind of approach – the most common one mentioned is cheating on tests – then we look for a workaround to this particular issue, such as no cellphones during tests.  The idea that students being able to communicate more freely with each other is surely a positive outcome in most cases.  Sure, there will always be the exception where a student abuses or misuses the privilege.  That happens now with internet access, but we still allow it in schools.  Not in my current school, but I envisage in many, there may be an issue of cost.  Cost of the actual phone, cost of the airtime, etc. that may discriminate against some students.  We don’t need the latest all singing all dancing cellphones for them to be useful.  Read this post by Cool Cat Teacher as to how she begins the school year.

My feeling is that we need to be a bit open-minded about this.  Using calculators is now expected, and taught.  Not that many years ago it was considered quite radical, if not cheating, to allow students to use them in a mathematics exam. 


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Happy Birthday web!



Just came across this article that reminds us we are celebrating 20 years of the world wide web.  To mark the occasion, the authors list 20 ways the web has changed the world, and given an example for each.  I can’t disagree with their choices, but thought I’d have a go at my own, personal list.  Not sure I’ll make it to 20, but here we go…..

Email.  This has transformed my life both in and out of work.  Gone are the days of scribbled notes in pigeon-holes to disseminate information.  Meeting times are reduced because many brief conversations can be dealt with via email.  Down side – colleagues who spend all day cutting and pasting pictures into joke emails and sending them to all (wink, wink).  Serious down side – the vast number of emails received daily that need to be dealt with.  Small price to pay, though for the improved communication, me thinks.  Students email their homework, so less paper is used for printing. On the personal side, I can’t think of anyone I know who doesn’t have an email address.  At least I don’t keep in touch with anyone who doesn’t have an email address.  When I first moved overseas in 1995, I was away from my then boyfriend, now husband, for a year.  He was in the UK, and had email at home (he’s a technogeek).  I was living thousands of miles away in Bogota, and working at a school that had email access on one machine only in the computer lab.  There was no skype, we couldn’t afford too many phone calls, so perhaps this method of communication is to thank, in part, for us still being together.

Banking.  Living overseas and being able to conduct all your banking online is great.  The Finns lead the way here, though.  Several years ago, while living in Helsinki, I didn’t once enter a bank for the entire duration of my contract. 

Shopping. I don’t buy much for myself online, but internet shopping has been a lifesaver when I have forgotten mothers’ day, and scrambled to get interflora to deliver a bouquet in the nick of time.  In May, our amazon account goes into overdrive as my husband buys all the gadgets he needs, and has them delivered and waiting at an address in the UK for when we arrive for our summer hols.

Holidays.  I book virtually (no pun intended) all our holidays over the web.  Flights and accommodation.  No need for travel agents any more.  I do the research about suitable times and layovers.  I hunt for the kind of hotel that would suit my family, and check out the comments on tripadvisor.

News.  I hardly ever pick up a newspaper – certainly haven’t bought one in years.  Occasionally I’ll turn on the TV to CNN or BBC.  Most of my news arrives via the internet.

Information. What do you want to know? I can find out in a few clicks.  No more frustration at trying to remember something – oh, what’s that actor’s name – you know, he was in that other film about life in Africa as well – married to someone famous – it’s on the tip of my tongue.  Just log on. I can remember trawling through the Encyclopedia Britannica from by parents’ bookshelves to get information when I was at school.  The info’s a bit more readily available these days!

Teaching.  How different today because of the internet!  A student asks a question in class, and we can all know the answer in minutes.  I can find pictures and diagrams to illustrate what I want to say – not have to attempt to draw them in a reasonable fashion on the whiteboard.  I can use animations and videos without having to either buy them or book out the VCR.  I can share good sites with colleagues around the world, and they can share back.  I can take courses online for my masters.  I can work for an organization like the IBO without having to go anywhere.

Charity.  For Christmas I buy all my relatives gifts from oxfam unwrapped. The nieces and nephews love getting a goat, or a donkey.  The grown-ups like that they get school dinners or 100 bars of soap.  We ask the folks to do the same for us.  Instead of spending money on gifts no one needs, we give to charity.  I don’t think this would happen without either us living miles apart or the internet.

Blogging.  Admittedly a  new one in recent weeks, but a phenomenon worthy of mention in it’s own right.

What did I miss?

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Podcasting problems and potential

After my initial reservations over the recent podcasting exercise we were given – small groups, prepare a podcast of approximately 10 mins duration, including music – I ended up quite enjoying it.  My colleagues and I certainly had fun recording and editing the piece, and we even managed a serious discussion about the pros and cons of MYP.  Then the gremlins in the computer ate it and regurgitated it in an unrecognizable fashion.  This is certainly frustrating, but provides an important lesson.  When technology functions as it is designed to, it is awesome.  When it doesn’t, it sets you back big style.

frustration-by-dieselbug20071 on

frustration-by-dieselbug20071 on

We ended up starting the assignment again from scratch and re-recording the entire thing.  It actually took us half the time on the second attempt since our learning curve had been practically vertical.  Lessons learned from podcasting, in no particular order:
  • Plan an outline of what the podcast will be about and break it down in sections.  First time around we rambled on for ages.  On the rerun we were much more succinct and subjected our listeners to considerably less waffle.
  • Try to do the whole thing in one take without stopping the recorder.  It is much easier to edit out the bits that you don’t want rather than having several tracks to deal with and splice into each other.
  • Save, save and save again – after every amendment.
  • Make a note of the times on the recorder to give you an idea of where to look when editing.
  • Have everything ready before you begin.  Choose your music first, so you can properly acknowledge the source during your single take.

You can listen to the final version here.

Initially I had trouble seeing how this tool could be used in my lessons in a meaningful way, but then a little light bulb went on over my head.  Oh, and I did a bit of reading as well. I am certain that I am not the first person to come up with this idea, and it is no doubt being done to great effect in countless other educational establishments.  The notion I have is that next year’s grade 9 Integrated Science students can produce a fortnightly podcast in groups of 2 or 3.  This would mean each student having to produce one per semester, but they would be required to listen to several more.  They must make it on some aspect of science in the news, so it will be current.  Something short – say 5 mins – should not be too onerous, and would therefore not take too long to listen to – either in class or on a student’s ipod any time they choose.  Read more about the benefits of this here.

I like this because it will (hopefully) encourage students to read about current scientific issues, and allow them to share their findings with their classmates.  I have done something similar in the past, but instead of making a podcast, students were required to summarize the news article.  I was the only audience, and the most interesting pieces ended up on a noticeboard which nobody read.  I can see podcasting in this way allowing students to make connections between what we are learning in class and the big wide world outside of school, and having to talk about the article in a podcast may eliminate the “cut and paste” temptation.  I guess not if they just read the article out loud, but this is to be discouraged.  I’m envisioning the need to model a really good podcast as a demo for them to start off with.  Maybe even listen for homework and then comment on the class blog.  The group could even email the scientists involved to set up a skype interview for the class – the possibilities are endless!

Watch this space…


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