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.