Thursday, December 31, 2009

Educational Journeys

This blog posting begins from Aaron Eyler's blog (Synthesizing Education) on Dec. 30, “The Appropriate Use of Technology in K-12 Classrooms”, and moves on to, what I think, is an example of teacher preparation, planning, and collaboration.  His blog makes several good points - a weekly visit to the computer lab is not integrating technology.  His view of “having students engage in critical thinking using technology that contributes to their overall learning” is spot on.  In North Carolina, our new teacher evaluation does add technology integration into the evaluation - big step forward.

With all of the demands on teacher’s free time (40 minutes during the day and 30 minutes before and after school in elementary--with the required meetings), finding the time to create lessons that totally integrate technology is difficult.  These lessons should use cooperative learning, use many levels of thinking skills, and have group rubrics; this requires a lot of planning, thinking, reflecting, and tinkering to develop, along with a tremendous desire to “do the best” for the students. It is exhausting.  Time consuming.  If teachers could work in cooperative groups (in elementary, grade-levels), like the students, it would help stream-line the planning.  Add an instructional technologist to this group, and you have a group based on curriculum content and school level tech that is available, allowed by the district, and possibly some new web tools that add interest to the students.  Being there, in the lab or classroom, when some of this work/web tools is being done or introduced, aids and supports the classroom teacher.  It gives a boost to the work production.  Many instructional technologists were previously classroom teachers and do have a good content background. 

At our school, we are undergoing some new projects this spring (along with moving our 3rd-5th graders into a new, technology rich building).  The 4th graders are going on a field trip to the NC outer banks to enhance their study of our state and its history.  The principal bought 6 flip cameras to allow these students to participate and bring home their personal views of what they saw and why it is important.  I made a blog to share links for content, pics of the trip, and allow a conversation to begin on this learning project.  We have a good skeleton project and are adding details and rich content, done individually by the classroom teachers.  I’ll begin working with the teachers and then the students (in groups of 6) to learn to use these cameras, how to download the files, how to discriminate importance of content, lengths of time and sizes of files, etc.  (remember these are 9-10 year olds).  Some of the finished products in this project include written reports by students posted on the blog or wiki page, the finished videos posted, student and teacher reflections of the trip, year’s work, and possibly some skits or reports on the  school’s daily news program.  

Time and postings will show our results - I imagine some will be more successful than others and some tinkering will be done with the ideas along the way.  Interesting and exciting to see students engaged in their learning, making choices, owning what they know and want to know, and working together to strengthen their choices.  Education is now becoming a more personalized journey for students.  This is an exciting time to help students grow by facilitating instruction rather than the teacher as “expert”, lecturing.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Google Apps for Education

We are beginning a new adventure in technology for our students when we return to school in January. Our students in fifth grade are our "test" students in using Google apps.  They will be given a login to gmail and can access docs, calendars, and pages to produce and share their work in a closed environment.  Our goal is to allow use of web 2.0 tools for student work at school and home, and keep it safe.  We will be a totally closed environment.  Only fifth grade students and their teachers, principal ,assistant-principal, curriculum coordinator, and instructional technologist will have access.  Students can use email, docs (document, presentation, spreadsheet, and form) to complete their work and share it on their own webpage.  All content will only be seen by other students and staff.  Of course we hope to learn a lot with these students in our "test" and hope to expand these logins to more students/grade levels next year. Students can use docs to complete homework and save to share with teachers at school, or use the share feature and email the work to the teacher.  With many families having internet connections, public libraries, and the Winston-Net program (puts computers in recreation and other community centers through-out the county), accessibility is possible for students.

I have to say, it took only a week (with just a couple of days) to set-up all the apps in Google for education The other days were waiting for the new web domain to get through the web (TTL) and send and receive emails.  The help screens are excellent and the guide for set-up is very easy to follow.  Just some quiet time to go through the set-up is all you need.  We did purchase a domain so our students have a shortened email address, but that was the ONLY expense.  We immediately applied to be upgraded to Google for education, which is free, and that gives us more logins than the 50 in the orginal set-up.

My experience so far is incredible - easy - offering more opportunities to students - and so exciting.  Student excitement about using new tools brings/increases enthusiasm to projects and school work.

Our thoughts in the test group - fifth graders are only 5 1/2 short months from completing elementary school and moving to middle school.  These apps will allow them to enhance or learn new skills while developing self-confidence in their abilities.  These students are capable and ready to take another step in learning and technology.  They will question, have problems, and solve problems, and give us experience in using these tools with students.  Step one is complete - now it's time to implement - on to step 2.

Periodically I'll post more information on how our test group of students are doing and the successes and obstacles we find.

 I did spend 2 days in Washington, D.C. with 1 1/2 of those days at the Google office there - it was an amazing experience - even though I had bronchitis and coughed a lot!  The people from Google and the groups of teachers attending were helpful, thoughtful, and enthusiastic about helping students learn to manage  web tools and learning. Google Teacher Academy is highly recommended - an experience unlike any other. Never once heard the words 21st century learning - as our local tech people say, we ARE IN the 21st century, we must step up and use the tools and offer our students the experiences they need to be successful and adjust to the fast-paced world of learning and sharing. We aren't "going there" we are here!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Read Around the Planet

Time for teacher sign-ups for Read Around the Planet - this year eight teachers have signed-up.  This is 30 minutes of "fun" sharing reading, writing, skits, learning, but emphasis is on fun!  With all of the testing and time spent on test sophistication, this type of interactive activity with another class shares the joy of reading, the pleasure of sharing what you read, and for children who may not see their parents reading (may be asleep) or just our busy lives, this emphasis on reading for pleasure, besides the reading for information done in schools, jobs, businesses, allows the spark of reading fun to remain active.

Mrs. Church's kindergarten (right) has participated several years.  They enjoy sharing poetry. We have classes from kindergarten through fifth grade at our school.  The upper grade students usually prepare a skit or act out a favorite book.  All of these communication skills help our students learn and grow.