Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Week 8: Finale

This will be my final blog of the summer schedule. This is not intended to be a complete reflection of the entire semester. That reflection will appear on my ePortfolio site under NETS Teaching Standards.

I want to say as an introduction that I am emotionally drained after finishing my projects for this class and also dealing with student advisors over which classes to take in the Fall. I bring this up as supporting evidence of why I had to switch all of my writings that said I would graduate in December of '11. (Seriously, I have been telling potential employers for six months that I would have my degree in December.) Instead I will graduate in May '12; and I am not happy about it at all. Unless I am supposed to be some kind of mind reader -- or have access to a year's worth of class schedules at hand -- this was not due to a mistake on my part. I messaged my advisor many times between October '10 and May '11 about my schedule. At no point did the advisor warn me of what was to come. The bottom line is the classes I need this fall are all offered, but they're all offered in the final eight weeks; and I can't take that many classes during one eight-week period. What's more, none of the classes I need to graduate are offered during the first eight weeks of the Spring semester either. I could graduate in December if I took a class I had no interest in, merely to get the three semester hours; but I wouldn't want to do that, especially at the graduate level. So I am looking to May as my graduation.

Back to the recent tasks at hand. The NETS project was good. It gave me a great way to gauge the entire semester. I was surprised how many tools and resources we had covered. Then when I thought again, of all the nights during the first four or five weeks when I literally was bent over with my head in my hands not knowing what to do next. As I believed then, it all worked out. But I still feel like I missed something somewhere.

This blog was a big part of the process, and I have enjoyed writing it. The length and frequency of a web log fits my writing and thinking style very well. My Delicious bookmarks have been turned in; and I am a little surprised -- as I looked at my peers pages -- that I actually finished with quite a few bookmarks. Delicious is a great tool that I plan on using for a long time. Not only is it comprehensive, the fact that there is a 'Tag It' icon in my bookmarks bar makes it incredibly easy to add at a moment's notice.

Even as I put the final touches on my final NETS reflection, I know that I'm a long way from finished. I'll still be working on my ePortfolio site, which is my web page that I refer potential employers to. I still have four classes to go before I graduate; and I am assuming most if not all will be as difficult as this one has been. It's not that we got a huge amount of work for this class, it's the way it was given to us that threw me off. I just couldn't keep my brain around it.

I do want to say how much I have enjoyed getting to know Dr. Bass and all of my classmates. The only problem is I will competing with these classmates for job openings over the next few years.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Week 7

As I turn in what I feel is my completed WebQuest, I still think I could tweak it more if I wanted to. Every time I go back to it, I see something else that could be better; or I see something somewhere else, such as an other WebQuest or blog, that reminds me of my WebQuest and makes me think I’d like to see that element on my web page. Such is the life of a teacher, right? Lesson plans are never perfect. They are tweaked, revised and update constantly. That’s what this WebQuest is: it’s a lesson plan, spelled out for students to lead themselves, in a Web 2.0 format.

It is special because students can guide themselves through the process, with only minimal help from the teacher. It’s special too because it can be shared with peers; and experienced educators can give their feedback as to how it can be improved.

My Delicious account is finished, I believe. This has been a slow-paced, little here, little there exercise that has proven to be most profitable. I spent years collecting various bookmarks on my browser. In the last seven weeks I have amassed an amazing list of useful links that I can access from any computer, anywhere.

I still have some work to go on my e-Portfolio. In that project, I have to choose and master five web tools and reflect upon their use in the classroom. However, the five artifacts I chose originally didn’t make it to the final cut. I changed three of them. I did this because I wanted each tool to be a bit more challenging and peer-based: Because that seems to be the pattern of the NETS standards themselves. Each process is difficult to finish, but exploring and experimenting with all of these web tools has been fun. However, I will say that the more of these web tools I sign up for, the more spam email I get on my Gmail account every day. It all goes to the spam folder, but the sheer amount is scary – 10 or 12 spam emails every day in my junk folder. I would like to be able to figure out one day which sites are selling my emails and which ones are not. Next week, or actually a half-week, my final summer blog. I will have a final reflection on my eight-week course.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Week 6: Frustration and Happenstance

For weeks, I have been struggling to gain control over the vast amounts of technology that have been thrown at us. But you know what? There is one thing I cannot control; and one thing that deserves mentioning as we try to make our classrooms completely digitized (oh yes they are!):

Sometimes the stuff just doesn’t work right.

When you are posting a link to someone else’s web page, there is always a possibility that when the person you gave the link to goes there, the page won’t be there anymore. So one must be careful about handing out links. Some web pages will never go away (Library of Congress, for example), but even those pages may change. Some web sites have auto-redirects, some do not.

Or, there is a possibility that entire web sites can disappear. This is especially true of .com sites that are privately owned and come and go quickly. Either way, one has to remember that technology is not perfect. When you rely on it the most, it may fail you.

The same can be said for software programs. Just this past week I was given an assignment that called for me to edit a .rtf file and return it to my editing peer so they could read my comments about their WebQuest. Possibly because I do not have MS Word on my computer, I could not get the file to format correctly. I would fill it out and everything would appear to be in place, but when I saved it and emailed it the person could not open it or if she did it was missing all of my added information. I tried doing it again…then I tried just highlighting my scores and adding notes at the end. It still didn’t work. The last column was missing. I ended up sending her an email with my comments in the text body. Email: There’s a technology that for the most part can be depended on.

Technology is very cool. I personally love working with it. But the more one relies on technology to deliver the needed content, the more control one gives over to pure chance. And it will fail, now and then. It’s cool to use technology to show me how technology works. But sometimes by doing so you’re also showing me how it doesn’t work. Maybe that was the plan all along.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Weeks 4 and 5


There was no excuse for not posting last week; nor will I offer one. I simply forgot to do so. The week was given to us as a chance to keep working on projects, but the load was a bit lighter. Therefore, we could all take a collective breath.

I needed it desperately. Maybe I took too big of a breath, because I neglected this blog, and I did not mean to do that. I have learned so much in this class, it’s amazing. I can no longer imagine teaching effectively in the 21st Century without the web tools we have discovered in this class. (Picturing Dr. Bass with an evil grin right now.)

I completed my Web 2.0 project quickly enough, only to discover that the element I chose was swallowed up by Google a few days after I posted. I did have a couple of alternate sites, but I was so in love with Fridge, a private social networking service, that I left it there thinking, “what if.” In many ways, this will probably improve many aspects of Fridge, but inevitably it will take away from the product as well. Little start up companies tend to do things the right way. That’s why the often get bought out by bigger companies.

I just completed my WebQuest assignment. This is a dastardly difficult tool to master. I’m thinking as I continue to look at other WebQuests that I may have gone into too much detail and failed to effectively express the main ideas of the quest. Still, I really like my choice of subject, and some tinkering may help satisfy me.

However, as much as we’ve learned, and as much as I’ve progressed, I can’t escape the feeling that I’m barely treading water in this class. I spend the majority of the week feeling completely clueless. Eventually, I put enough elements together that I get the desired product. But I’m not sure I’m understanding what I’m doing. Each time, I’m fairly pleased with the end product. But it’s all as a result of major stress throughout the process. I just wish I felt like I was on top of things. I actually felt that way through much of Week 4. But then again, I forgot to post here during Week 4, so that was a failure. I can’t get my brain ahead of – or even in step with – my assignment, if that makes any sense. It sounds like I’m getting by; and that’s what I keep telling myself. But the biggest assignment of them all is staring me in the face. I’ve been working for weeks on my ePortfolio page. It’s now time to start placing NETS elements on the pages, and I don’t know where to begin. Actually I do know where to begin. I think my WebQuest can be one of the elements. But that leaves four more.

I want this ePortfolio to be perfect. I want it to look professional. This is the portfolio I want to present to potential employers as I continue to search for a teaching position. I’m not afraid that I might fail: I’m afraid that the next three weeks will be pure hell.

Somebody give me a hand basket.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Week 3

This was a big transition week for me. I went from completely lost and wondering in the technology forest to setting up camp in forest without knowing where I was.

What I mean by that is: I am still overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information included in the class, the amount of links and examples and trial apps that I have found on the web, and the many ways modern technology can be used in the classroom. I honestly have trouble making sense of everything I have come across.

One positive: I don’t think I’m alone. After reading a few more of my peers’ discussions, I see how everyone is coming at this class from their own angle and viewpoint; and I see that everyone is still trying to find their own needles in the web haystack.

I have learned more about creating and editing websites in the last three weeks than I had learned in ten years, that is for sure. And my head hurts because of it. Whether blog or wiki or some other tool, all of them are basically web sites that allow the teacher or student to add (sometimes edit) the content on the site. It seems that blogs can be wikis, and wikis can be blogs. Didn’t know that. I have also discovered – and this represents a real difference in my thinking – is that I’ll never look at classroom learning projects the same way again. And I’ll never be able to create a unit lesson plan without some major portion of it including a collaborative, analytical web-based project. How will I do this? I don’t know yet, but I realize that I have to discover the way that works best for me and my students.

It’s strange and wonderful how I can be so disgusted with my personal progress in a subject that I know I should understand; and next thing I know I’m grasping it and using it. I know it should be the same way in my classroom. But how do I get to that place without going crazy first? Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Week 2

The two discoveries for me the past week included open-source, web-based software that basically included everything I ever needed to bring my classes into the digital age; and the realization and confirmation that there is a long way to go before the digital age actually arrives -- if ever.

The software is Moodle, which looks to be a teacher's best friend. Whether it's online quizzes, grades, instant feedback, collaboration, this website offers it all ( It's all open-source, which means it's free; but also that anyone with a good idea and programming skills can modify the software and make it better. With the added responsibilities of the modern teacher, like parental and community involvement, differential teaching, cultural awareness, etc., we need something to make it all easier, not harder. Moodle, in the same way as Blackboard or other classroom software, really seems to be poised to help. The instant feedback and gratification may be the most important aspect of sites like Moodle. The ability to give students cooperative tasks to solve problems with modern equipment is huge as well. Doing all of this without using paper is nice as well, although limited resources are still being tapped to run machines all day.

But what we talked about as a group during the week became obvious and troubling. Many students, especially poor and rural students, do not have a computer and/or Internet access at home. If one is to base a curriculum on web-based activities -- which is desired and strongly suggested -- then one must find a way to find the time and equipment to help those that do not have these luxuries. How does one provide universal access to the Internet? How do we make this a part of the American (and World) infrastructure?

At one point, books were the new technology, and few people had books. But we distributed books, and tried to make sure everyone had access to books. Yet there are people in the world that have never read a book, even to this day, centuries after the printing press was invented. To seek universal net access is unrealistic. There will always be those that are left out. Does that mean we should not move toward digital learning? I think we should and must try to move classrooms into this "digital age." With the pace of technological change, most Western classrooms are already behind; and I believe most of the World's classrooms have no electronic technology at all, save the light bulbs in the ceiling.

Government is not the answer. It might be a small part of the solution, but teachers have to be the leaders here. They have to convince the public that modern technology is needed and worth the investment. I'm not sure teachers have the energy to be lobbyists. It has to start one school at a time; one PTA meeting or one community leaders meeting at a time. And still I say: good luck. Good luck getting the equipment, good luck getting teachers to use it and good luck getting them to use it well. This is a long road we are talking about, and it will be difficult to discover where my class in my district fits into this road trip.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Reflection: Impact of Technology

In order to make some sense out of all this information, I believe I should start by describing my classroom dispositions and attitudes:

First of all, I am not a full-time teacher. My greatest experience is one six-week session during Summer School 2010 at Edwardsville High School. My second best experience was my student teaching assignment at Granite City High School. In both instances, I was able to experience the thrill and responsibility of guiding students from point A to point B. At Edwardsville, I actually amazed myself. I was given a text book and some CD-Roms two weeks before class and basically told to “go get ‘em.” I planned and executed a semester’s worth of material in six weeks. I actually had students that were interested, and grades were better than I could have dreamed. But along the way, I made so many mistakes. Oh my gosh, so many. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to apply what I learned to another group of students. As a secondary Social Studies teacher, I am finding the current job market very difficult. Although jobs open up in districts across the region frequently, I find that there are so many unemployed teachers with experience that I can’t even get an interview. I will continue to diligently pursue a full-time position. I continue to substitute at both of the above school districts here in Madison County, Illinois.

I am old school and new school. What I mean by that is, I cling, romantically at times, to the notion that sometimes children just need to sit still, lift their eyes out of their little private space, and as a group focus on the task/information at hand; in other words, look at me and listen. However, there is nothing I enjoy more than using computers to teach my students. I can see the advantages of allowing the students to explore on their own, with me there to help when needed.  I see a need for large group, small group and individual learning sessions. I still believe that, when done correctly, lecture can be an interesting, informative and efficient way to teach. I can deliver more pertinent information more efficiently to the students by lecturing to them. So to make it as interesting as possible, I try to use technology to liven it up and improve the experience. I use sound, video, and other links to liven up the PowerPoint experience. Still, it is lecturing and note-taking, and by itself it’s not nearly enough.

What I believe I truly want to provide to my students is balance. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, a little bit of this over here. If I talk at them all day, they will get bored. If I just pass out worksheets, they will get bored. If I give them the same computer task consistently, they will still get bored. If I make them work individually all the time, they will get bored. If I go to small groups all the time, the method will still grow tiresome; and having them focus as one large group on a task is increasingly difficult in the digital age where attention spans are so small.

This leads me to this point: Computers ain’t all that (pardon my language). They’re fantastic, but that’s why kids spend so much time staring into them. Combine television with computers and cellphones and iPods and tablets and you have children that are missing out on the real world. Hello? Out here! Anybody home? I contend this is not a healthy lifestyle. When it was me growing up and staring endlessly at the television: that wasn’t healthy either. Whatever the rage was before television – music? – that wouldn’t have been healthy either. But in some ways this digital age is different. It infiltrates so many aspects of life that it’s impossible to get away from it, even if one wants to. When is it just too much? So in some ways, the classroom needs to be a place where we don’t give into the “real” world and step back and look at the actual “real” world. There is nothing wrong with reading a book or newspaper – also technology – once in a while. Soon these media may be gone, so we should keep memories of the old traditions alive, I believe. There is nothing wrong with taking a real field trip when students can touch and smell the world around them. There is nothing wrong with occasionally giving the students a worksheet to complete collaboratively. Let them use pens and pencils, and write on paper. Have them use scissors and glue and paste images on poster boards for a geography assignment. I say all of this to underscore that balance is the most important element in the classroom, I believe. I am not convinced that a virtual classroom is the most desired model. Computers can and should be an integral part of the modern student’s learning experience, but the most important; or the only part? I don’t know. Having said all of this, when I looked at the documents we based our reflection on, I began to understand that during those times when I chose to use computers in my lessons, I had much to learn on how to use them and when to step aside.

I would like to begin with the “LOTI” document, or “Levels of Technology Implementation” framework developed by Dr. Chris Moersch in 1994 (an impressive date considering the relatively new existence of web-based instruction). I found this reference to be the most interesting. I was glad to see that I definitely was not a Level 0 teacher, although I have worked with many that would fit this classification (my cooperating teacher during student teaching comes to mind). I studied Level 1 for a couple minutes, then realized that I had at least moved past the “using computers just for reward of prior work” status. No, Level 2 is where I definitely fit in. I am still exploring the resources and methods to properly engage the students when it comes to technologies. I am “guilty” of using computers only to reinforce the lower levels of student cognitive processing. Yet I have allowed students to discover work collaboratively. I don’t believe in placing one student in front of one computer to do one assignment. I found the upper levels of this framework to be a bit condescending. I still struggle with the idea that curriculum should be entirely learner-based.

I found the amount of information included in the “Hallmarks of an Effective eMINTS Classroom” overwhelming. I was doing OK as I looked through the first four or five elements, then when I realized there were 25 different elements I just wilted at that point. Look, it’s all valuable information I’m sure; and it’s a legitimate way to evaluate use of technology. It’s just a bit too much for me to digest. Overall, I found myself in the “experimental” or “transitional” category. That’s not where I want to be per say, but as I’ve said, I genuinely enjoy computing, and genuinely believe it can and should be an integral part of the learning experience. I think as long as those two are in place I can learn and adapt.

Unfortunately my comprehension of the Grappling’s Spectrum was even worse. I just found this reference to be almost worthless. The most informative part for me was at the bottom, the “Staff Development Focus” parts. That was much easier to understand then the bullet points above them. The phrasing and words used just didn’t make sense to me, and I just don’t have time to study a document over and over to try to understand it. I prefer to move on to other documents that actually help me. My final point is that in my lifetime, it will be hard to find a school that actually adheres to the third focus point, “supported and measured for all teachers” and “adequate funding of at least 30 percent of technology budget is in place.”
The situation in the public schools is something like this: “I go into this classroom and the teacher seems to be doing a good job. It’s the same with the other teachers. The kids were working and seemed attentive; the grades are pretty good. I can’t fire this teacher just because I think his/her style is not modern enough. He/she is an experienced teacher, and gets good results. How do I ask for more computers when the ones we have aren’t being used that much; and teachers are getting decent results with what they have? I think using computers in the classroom is great. We’re looking for teachers that are willing to bring technology skills into the schools and pass those skills along to other teachers.”

Whatever. My point is it will take decades before you “get rid” of all the old teachers that miraculously got along without computers for 30 years and get the digitally-savvy group of teachers that these documents suggest are required. And who knows how long it will take to equip all of these schools with the latest technologies, especially when they change so dramatically and quickly. (I think cloud-based technology has a real future here. The schools don’t have to upgrade their technology too often; they just need to have a lightning-fast connection and decent processors.) Economic times are tough, and schools cannot continue to ask for more money over and over, as long as the current conditions exist.

It’s more realistic to do a good job with what one has, instead of thinking about what one could have. Let’s not set full digitalization as the goal, let’s set full comprehension of available resources as the goal.

Week 1

It remains difficult to engage my brain. Not helping is working all weekend volunteering at our local July 4 carnival. I help by selling tickets for the five-day event, as the proceeds go to a community meal effort that my mother leads at our local church. So it's a good cause, but a lack of volunteers this year meant long hours, apart from everything else going on. So what little down time I had, I couldn't make myself complete all of the work that I wanted to complete during the first week of class.

What I will say is that after reading all of the accompanying web links, lectures and articles, the amount of information we are covering is a bit overwhelming. We created our own blog, in which is being written right now, as well our own delicious bookmark account. I spent a lot of time browsing and adding links to that account page. I really like having all of that information at my fingertips, wherever I am, cataloged nicely using tag words. I would add that I already use a browser sync program that keeps all of my bookmarks with me no matter where I go, as long as I can log into my favorite browser. But delicious is better, I like it. We are required to add 50 links by the end of the eight weeks, I almost have that many already, Very useful.

I do like writing in a blog. I started my own a couple years ago, but it never got off the ground, and I when I started classes again I found little time available to write in it. So here I am combining the two. Nice. I believe I will find this useful as I progress through the course. We have the option of writing our reflective pieces here, which I can't wait to do.

I find it all overwhelming because of the sheer volume of it, not necessarily the subject matter or technology. I am proficient at most of what is coming our way, but it feels like we're getting a lot thrown at us in a short amount of time. I think this class involves a lot of material. I have no problem with the challenge, but I need to sense that I'm building toward a cohesive end product, and I don't feel that yet.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Pre-Class Musings

27 June: As I begin to put the pieces together for this new class, I will pause to set the stage for future posts. My summer began with winter.

On Memorial Day, it snowed. In Yellowstone National Park it did, and that's where I was at. It was wonderful. A veteran of Western U.S. travel in my younger days, I always wanted to take my children out there before, you know, I was too old to do it. I love my family, but they are beachniks, which isn't a bad way to be, it just isn't as good as being mountain people. I flew with three people that had never flown before and landed in Denver. We then rented a car and headed for Jackson, Wyoming. It snowed every day in Jackson, which was wonderful. After visiting Teton and Yellowstone, we headed back to Colorado for three more days.

I was happy to have revisited my old stomping grounds, and was happy my family enjoyed it so much. Now as I begin class in late June, it's been nine weeks since I opened a textbook, and I'm finding it a little tough to get motivated. But this class looks so interesting, it might not be that difficult to get going. We'll see.