Monthly Archives: February 2009

Yoyo-ing about web 2.0

Reading Kim Cofino’s recent post and watching the presentations on 21st century learning, I am both daunted and inspired.  I feel like I have been in a coma for 10 years, and woken up to a whole new world that I don’t quite understand. 

First of all, the more I read, the more I feel out of the loop.  It seems as though there are thousands of teachers out there managing to incorporate new technology into their lessons.  They have umpteen ideas for its use and their students are benefiting from their expertise and guidance.  In trying to adapt, I am experiencing severe changes in emotion over this.  At times I feel excited at the prospects; at others I feel like I’m never going to get to grips with it all.

Teachermac talks about connectivism and so does this post over on Once a Teacher.  I am beginning to appreciate the need to develop my own pln, and to encourage my students to do the same.  I have to say, though, that this would certainly be easier if I worked in a laptop/tablet school.  I love the idea of collaborative note-taking [see Less Chalk, More Talk] and have begun taking steps towards this.  A colleague set up a wiki for his students to use in IB Biology.  The original idea was that the students themselves contribute to it by completing a series of questions from the syllabus.  However, these great intentions became derailed somewhat as he discovered only a handful of students could work on the wiki at one time.  In the end, he wrote the bulk of the answers himself, which defeated the purpose of student involvement.  This took a huge amount of time and effort on his part to set up, but now, although it is a great online resource, it is simply like a textbook rather than an interactive tool.

So, I suppose, I am basically reflecting here on where to concentrate my efforts.  I recognize I cannot do it all.  I know I have to be selective in where my energy goes.  This makes it all the more important to choose right.

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It’s not about the technology

What I am getting from reading all these edublogs is this – and others have alluded to it in their blogs, so I will not claim to be an original thinker here – it’s not about the technology.  It’s about good teaching practice.  It’s about engaging students in the learning process, motivating them towards deeper understanding, helping them develop skills in collaboration, application, evaluation, analysis and reflection.  Web 2.0 gives us some new toys to play with, and perhaps makes lessons more relevant to the world of the students we teach, but essentially, it is about inspiring young people to learn, enjoy learning and make connections.  Using technology will not necessarily make me a better teacher, but thinking about how to use it to make the learning process more interesting and exciting for my students, will.

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Turn off the computer?

Unplugged?At the risk of having rotten tomatoes thrown at me, and being ostracised from the blogging community, here is something that occurred to me today in class. 

I was lecturing/encouraging/suggesting that my students devote some time over this coming 3-day weekend to revision for their upcoming mock exams.  I went further and advised them to turn off their phones and computers while doing so.  To devote some uninterrupted time to active learning of the material they will be tested on, without the “distraction” of email, texts, internet, SMS, facebook, etc.  Was this bad advice?  I don’t think so.  Yes they can benefit from an online community of fellow students, help each other understand concepts, get ideas from peers, but I think there has to come a time when they need to focus purely on the revision and not multitask.  Am I expecting too much from them in asking them to do this when they are so used to being connected 24/7?  Is there a new, more effective way to revise material that I don’t yet know about?

I’m ducking behind my computer here!

Image from http://z.hubpages.com/u/136804_f260.jpg

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Classrooms of the future

In thinking about what classroom 2.0 should/could look like in the future, it is worth reading this post.  It is long, but the author makes many interesting, valid and thought-provoking suggestions as to what learning might look like in the next decade.

http://friendlyarachnids.edublogs.org/2007/11/17/9-c-1-2020-vision/

As you can see from the date, the post is already 18 months old, which in technology terms is probably around 10 years.  How exciting a learning environment does the author paint!  Talk about differentiated learning…

I must admit that my classroom today looks very different to the one described here.  I don’t have 7 alternative learning experiences happening simultaneously, integrating technology into each, with every student displaying our school-wide goals (particularly the self-directed learner part).  I’m trying not to feel overwhelmed and see this as a long-term aim for the future – 2020 is the year stated in the post.  A quick mathematical calculation puts me at 51 and still teaching, so this really is something I have to get to grips with.

But part of the problem is this – I don’t know what I don’t know.  I had the same sense during the workshop run by Alan November earlier this school year, which left me feeling inadequate as a teacher for not already being at one with the latest technologies available, never mind using them on a daily basis in the classroom. 

In the spirit of moving forwards, albeit with baby steps, I am slowly formulating a plan.  Next school year, grade 9 science is having a facelift.  It will no longer run as a purely biology course, but as an integrated science program with units that blend aspects of biology, chemistry and physics together.  I hope to be part of the team teaching this new course, and, as we put it together, I will be a strong advocate for implementing and integrating some of these new (to me at least) web 2.0 tools, right from the outset.  A fresh start, with a new group of students, and a new syllabus, may be just the way to go here.  It will also allow for trial and error without the worry of losing a single moment of lesson time with IB HL students.  Once I have experimented with new technologies in the classroom I hope to feel braver in adapting them for use across the range of classes I teach.

Thoughts?

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Getting the balance right

Life is about balance – balanced diet, balancing work and rest, balancing time spent with each of my children, balancing my desire to try new things in the classroom and my innate reluctance to change what has worked in the past…. you get the idea.

As my head is exploding with all the new things I am learning as a result of this course, and the many ideas that are floating, half-formed, in my brain right now, I have a concern:

The time I spend reading [and more recently writing] blogs will potentially take away from the time I spend actually speaking to colleagues – about students, about curriculum, about assessment, about technology in the classroom.  Don’t get me wrong – I can ABSOLUTELY see the benefit of all these new tools and their use in improving learning – but my dilemma is that I will be interacting more with teachers virtually than physically.  Schools are busy places and teachers are a busy breed, so finding time to both learn by networking in cyberspace and collaborate with the teacher in the room next door may be a challenge.

I have read a lot of blogs lately, and one that heartened me greatly was this:

http://pocketsofchange.edublogs.org/2009/02/15/start-small/

Interestingly it is by two teachers at my old school.  I didn’t actually work with them as I was on extended maternity leave when they joined the staff, but in this small universe of international education, it is no surprise that there is a connection.  The post above encourages us novices to start small, and build gradually.  That is a smart plan.

Back to finding that elusive balance….

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Biology + technology = biotechnology?

The thing is, having been a biology teacher for some 17 [eek!] years, I have seen a lot of changes in syllabi and curricula with respect to incorporating new aspects of biotechnology.  But I am noticing a massive shift, much more recently, in the use, application, relevance and importance of actual information technology in my biology classroom.  The more I learn, the more I realise I have to learn.  This is both exciting and daunting at the same time.

Let me elaborate….

It used to be, not so very long ago, that preparing a powerpoint presentation including images and even videos, was considered quite progressive.  Nowadays this is not only passe, but considered poor teaching.  Booking a computer lab for students to research infomation on the web is almost unnecessary, as they show up to class with laptops at the ready.  Watching dated videos is a thing of the past.  Even many “wet” labs are being replaced with bigger and better online simulations that allow students to manipulate and control a wider range of variables.  This saves lengthy experimental set-ups, clear away time, and the inevitable inexplicable results that ensue.  I am reminded here of that old science teacher adage “If it smells, it’s chemistry.  If it moves, it’s biology.  If it doesn’t work, it’s physics.”

Back to the point…

So, with students who are tech savvy, it is vital for teachers to keep up – or at least attempt to keep up – with the latest technology out there.  I feel the need to learn how I can improve my teaching using all these exciting new tools.  I find myself ready to adapt lessons I have taught 17 times before, and bring them into the 21st century.  So in my classroom, biology and technology will become the new biotechnology.

This led me to conduct some research – again – the internet at my fingertips and within 10 mins of searching I have links to several wonderful websites and the opportunity to expand my PLN (shameful new term name-dropping).  Here is one of the more interesting posts I came across.

 http://onceateacher.wordpress.com/2009/01/28/blooms-taxonomy-20/

I like this blog  for what she has to say – and there must be some kind of deeper connection as I chose the identical theme when setting up this blog.

To conclude then, not only can my learning about teaching biology through the use of technology improve my students learning, it can help me grow to. 

This is fun.

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Procrastination

Hooray!  I have found a new method for procrastination – this – blogging!  I have a stack of IB Bio labs to mark, but am telling myself that it is more important for me to practise my new technology skills.  I have found that I haven’t actually thought about what it is I want to say, but it doesn’t matter – I’m procrastinating!

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