Tag Archives: teaching

Final reflections

city-refraction-city-reflection-by-lrargerich-on-flickr

city-refraction-city-reflection-by-lrargerich-on-flickr

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.

open-door-by-cedro-on-flickr

open-door-by-cedro-on-flickr

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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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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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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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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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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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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