Monthly Archives: March 2009

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?

cell-phone-buttons-by-jonjon2k8-on-flickr

cell-phone-buttons-by-jonjon2k8-on-flickr

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!

happy-birthday-candles-by-rob-j-brooks-on-flickr

happy-birthday-candles-by-rob-j-brooks-on-flickr

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 flickr.com

frustration-by-dieselbug20071 on flickr.com

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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To tweet or not to tweet

addictive twitter by carrotcreative on flickr.com

addictive twitter by carrotcreative on flickr.com

I have views on something I have never used.   There are a plethora of blog posts out there (eg pockets of change and once a teacher) that extol the virtues of this new social networking phenomenon.  For those still in the dark about what Twitter is, check out this talk from Evan Williams, the co-founder.

I am finding it hard to convince myself to take the plunge into the world of tweets.  I am partly unconvinced of its uses, and partly afraid of what it might unleash.  I cannot imagine why I would want to tell the world – in 140 characters or less – what I am doing at any given moment, or why I would want to know what anyone else is doing.  Why oh why would I choose to follow someone?  I don’t care that someone I have never met is about to go to a meeting, or get on a plane, or turn in for the night.  It seems a tad voyeuristic to me.  This is from someone who has so far resisted facebook or myspace.  Countless people have tried in vain to convince me to use it.  Yes, I can appreciate some advantages, especially for those of us living apart from many family and friends, but it boils down to this:  I am already in touch with the people I want to keep in touch with.  I don’t want to hear from someone I used to sit behind in primary school, or the person who lived in the dorm room down the hall at university.  If I did, they would already be in my contacts list.  I don’t have the time to see all the people I want to see in the flesh, let alone devote more time to folks online.  And Twitter seems to compound this issue.

Despite this post that describes several ingenious ways to use Twitter in the classroom, I remain skeptical.

And then I read this article which explains how Twitter was used to attempt to locate and save lives during a skiing tragedy… so maybe there is something in it … maybe in the new era of web 2.0, natural selection will favour those with the most followers on Twitter, friends on facebook or contacts on skype.

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New job title … children’s entertainer

how silly, how boring by kaswenden on flickr

how silly, how boring by kaswenden on flickr

Thanks to Kris for prompting this post….

Reading this article by Marc Prensky made me think about what school is for.  The premise is that students today are so used to having a variety of stimuli coming at them, they are bored in school where teachers don’t engage them sufficiently in the lessons.  [He makes another point about the curriculum not being relevant, but I’ll get to that later.]

True, many of us teachers could do a better job of involving our audience.  We all have off days when we give a less than brilliant performance, but here is my beef: schools are for learning.   And learning isn’t always fun and is very often hard work, and as teachers we do our best to plan interesting lessons within the constraints of timetables, curricula and external examinations… but at the end of the day we are devising ways to help our students learn skills, learn stuff.  And sometimes it can’t be an all-singing, all-dancing lesson.

He makes a good point about the curriculum in schools, though:

Yesterday’s education for tomorrow’s kids. Where is the programming, the genomics, the bioethics, the nanotech—the stuff of their time? It’s not there.

We do some modern stuff.  But change is slow.  There’s the need to get everybody to buy into it – teachers, parents, tertiary education establishments, employers, examination boards, students.  Speaking from a personal standpoint – as a Biology teacher – I have seen many changes in the syllabus over recent years.  We now teach about biotechnology and ethical issues in science.  We discuss stem cell research and cloning.  But we are always going to be behind in many ways.  We can’t know what discoveries will be made in the future that will shape our understanding of science.

So, back to the article.  While I accept a lot of what is written, I need to remember that I am a teacher first, children’s entertainer … no, not even second.  A few more things come inbetween – counselor, facilitator, motivator, coach, advisor, supervisor, guide, role model, etc.

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