Archive for June, 2011

I had trouble embedding a short Jing Video yesterday. But it looks like WordPress has some sort of connection with TED, which is nice, and they make it really easy to embed video. Now if they just had some sort of connection with Jing…

This is one of my favorite TED Talks, one where Hans Rosling uses some new software to take a look at some old statistics in a new way. The connections to the classroom should be obvious. The technology doesn’t have anything to do with developing countries, health, child mortality, etc. (although that’s the content), but it’s the technology that allows us to communicate something clearer than we could before. That’s huge.

More from Hans Rosling at Gapminder.

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Okay, this is where the experimentation starts, right?

There are a few web tools that I’ve used in class over the past year or two, some with better results than others. So I want to share what I’ve found because you might find it helpful. I was going to explain a few and then talk about some others that I’ve heard of and I’d like to experiment with, but I’ll just let those topics come up in future posts. Let’s start with Jing:

Jing. Love it. Jing with PowerPoint or Pencil Animation? Even better.  This is a Jing Screencast that I made for my Biology class to explain how to embed a Jing tutorial into a blog. Here is the original blog post (Diffusion and Osmosis Assignment) that explains the goals of the project and a bit on how to do it. I was very excited about another Jing tutorial that I recorded (a day later I think) to show how to resize embedded video because I inadvertently managed to capture a Jing-Inside-A-Jing (previously thought to be impossible)! You might note at the very end that I tell the class they can start talking again. I made this tutorial during class in response to that question about how to resize embedded video. They watched me do it on the display screen/Smartboard, and I got to use that Jing to show my next section of Biology an hour later. [Apparently it’s easier to embed video on Blogger than WordPress, or maybe WP doesn’t like Jing’s code, so I’ve included hyperlinks above instead of embedded Jing videos — not ideal for a post on embedded videos, I know. Can anyone help me with this?]

Shelly Blake-Plock of the TeachPaperless Blog posts a great example of how he uses Jing to Comment on Student Work Online. This works great for giving feedback to students on a number of different applications: papers, PowerPoints, videos, blog posts, etc. It’s also useful because you can email the link of the JingCrit (Shelly’s term?) directly back to the student, especially when it wouldn’t be appropriate to post that feedback publicly (like putting their grade in the Comments section of their blog post).

Other uses: students record PowerPoints for practice (at home) before actual oral presentation to the class; for teachers to keep record of those oral presentations; to explain any number of concepts to peers (make a tutorial to show: long division, osmosis, sentence diagramming, study guide for foreign language with pictures, etc.); easy way to narrate a slide show; the Jing as the project itself (in lieu of oral pres to class), to be emailed to the teacher or posted on a blog; etc. etc.

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Cross-posted at HowToUse65.

So, with the interest of collaborating and sharing ideas with other educators, many teachers have begun to “build” their own Personal Learning Network (PLN). “Grow” a PLN might be a better way to put it, since a PLN expands organically (in some ways), and it requires tending, occasional pruning, and general upkeep not unlike a plant or garden. It’s also made of living people. Making connections with other professionals in one’s field is not a new idea. Professors and scholars of all kinds have been traveling to other cities, monasteries, and universities for centuries with the intent of sharing information and learning from others. This happens today, although The Professional Conference now plays a significant role in many fields, as do the organizations that sponsor those conferences (NSTA, NABT, NCTM, NAIS, etc).

Everybody has a PLN, by the way. Your PLN includes the people in your department, colleagues present and past; they could be down the hall or a phone call or email away; it might include classmates from your college or university, folks you’ve met at conferences, on trips, through old fashioned social networking (family connections and cocktails), or sometimes they are simply friends of friends. Who do you turn to when you have a question about content, about teaching, assessment, learning styles, use of time, lab procedure? Who do you bounce ideas off of? Those people are part of your PLN (whether you’ve called it that or not). I can’t help but think of the old Sesame Street song — and I apologize in advance, a little, for getting this stuck in your head — “Who are the people in your neighborhood?

What’s different now is how people are making connections outside of those conferences, using the Web to share best practices, pedagogy, breakthroughs, field work, etc. (a web-based PLN). Blogs can also be a terrific forum for conversations, ones that allow for reflection, thoughtful comment, and discussion.

There are many ways that the Web can help to connect people:

Teaching networks like Classroom 2.0 are designed with connecting teachers of all disciplines. The Synapse is a similar network specifically for teachers of biology, and I’m looking forward to making new connections and participating there.

Twitter is a remarkable resource that’s used by many different people in many different ways. Thousands of educators have latched onto this tool as a way of sharing information and making connections. I joined Twitter during a workshop at November Learning‘s Building Learning Communities conference back in 2008, and it’s been key in growing my PLN. The website Twitter4Teachers is one of many that make it easy to find colleagues by discipline in other schools, districts, states, and countries. It can also be used in the classroom.

I use Delicious primarily as a way to keep track of web links from interesting articles I find online. If I don’t have time to read it all, or if I know I’ll want to have access to it later, I’ll add it to my bookmarks. I’m curious to find out how other people use Delicious.

This is just a start. Which tools you’ve found most helpful in connecting with other educators?

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I started to jump into the world of really using technology in the classroom after attending a Building Learning Communities conference in 2008 (through November Learning). They do a terrific job, and I highly recommend checking it out. Sessions at that conference were eye opening for me in several ways. They collectively planted the seeds that have resulted in my developing a Personal Learning Network (PLN), the beginning of using student blogs in my biology class as digital online portfolios, and I’m sure they were partly responsible for nudging me towards starting this blog back in ’09.

Jeff Utecht’s article “Evaluating Technology Use in the Classroom” and a particular session from BLC08 by Jim Wenzloff struck the same chord with me. The idea of using technology to create new and different learning opportunities for students is the key. Utecht mentions three different questions we can ask to see if what we’re doing is new or different:

Does the technology allow students to learn from people they never would have been able to without it?

Does the technology allow students to interact with information in a way that is meaningful and could not have happened otherwise?

Does the technology allow students to create and share their knowledge with an audience they never would have had access to without technology? [my emphasis]

Three ways it can be different: connecting with new people (now possible geographically in some staggering ways), changing how students interact with (and use) information during the process, and broadening the audience for their work beyond the traditional poster tacked on the hallway bulletin board. In other words: the library has expanded, their potential pool of study partners has expanded, and now everyone in the world can see the hallway bulletin board.

I want to note that just because these are positive new developments, I don’t think that using technology to do “old things in new ways” is bad. Using a Smartboard in class to present content is a good example. I do still have my students take notes from time to time, ask them to actually write things down on paper while I explain something at the board. This is making me feel terribly old-fashioned in describing it this way. I might as well be using chalk and slate, I know. But using the Smartboard (instead of slate) makes my class notes much clearer for students, and I can archive them on the school server, which is a terrific benefit (to me and to my students). In a subject-specific way for me, it’s also great for molecular drawings in biology – carbohydrates, polypeptide chains, and nucleic acids come to mind as being easier to draw with a “shape tool” rather than freehand.) But I’d be naive to think that this is anything but a shiny new way to present notes.

So, what are my Guiding Principles for Technology Use in the Classroom? Let’s give it a shot:

1. Trying out new programs, websites, software, presentation tools, etc. as a way for me to share information with my students (or to have my students to share information with others) in class is a good idea. I’m willing to try new things, and I’m going to ask my students to try new things/formats/software. I’m okay with a little uncertainty (in terms of my mastery of a particular tool before starting a project with it), and I understand that not all these experiments will turn out the way I plan. I have hope that some of them will.

2. Using technology to improve “old fashioned” methods is fine, but it’s important to recognize that it’s just one part of the overall technology picture. If it helps clarify content, or facilitate delivery, documentation, presentation of that content, that’s great.

3. I don’t know everything, but I’m willing to learn. I’d love to teach my students to take the same approach.

4. I understand that my students all have different learning styles, and that some students will gravitate towards certain programs/media/methods based on how their brains work and what makes sense to them. This is a good thing, and I would like to work towards giving them flexibility in how they complete projects, etc (when possible). A phrase from BLC08 still sticks in my head (and I’m sorry that I don’t remember the name of the presenter, though it might have been Alan November), “How would you like your learning?”

5. Lastly, I mentioned this in my Setting the Stage post in more depth, but it’s important to me that the technology is not the focus, but a means to improve instruction and understanding among my students.

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“Therefore, the technology cannot be discussed in isolation—it must be com bined with a description of the teaching strategy. A description of the manner in which a pedagogical strategy is combined with technology to teach specific content is crucial” (Bull, Bell).

At this point it’s become a little cliche to say that we don’t want technology to drive curriculum; we want technology to support curriculum, but it’s absolutely true. This is part of what Bull and Bell are saying above. The next step obviously is to say that the point is not to use computers to do the same old things (show pictures on a screen, type a report), but to find ways of using computers to allow kids to do things that they couldn’t do before (the internet helps with this, of course), with the goal of learning something useful (whether that’s science, math, French, or History). The tech is not the end product (we don’t really even need to teach them to use PowerPoint anymore so much as help them use PowerPoint effectively to show what they know, for example). But even that is fairly limited use of technology in the classroom, and doesn’t even qualify as Web 2.0, since it’s fairly static.

Our kids all use computers. In our school, incoming seventh graders next year will all have laptops as a part of their school “kit.” This presents some challenges in the area of classroom attention, focus, and work habits (keeping kids on target, working on the task at hand instead of browsing, etc), but it also presents some opportunities that did not exist before. The access to information is unprecedented. Students still need guidance on what to do with that information, and more and more, they need help sorting through and prioritizing the information that they find. They’re not so good at Googling yet.

There’s a ton of untapped potential in the area of collaboration and communication with the help of technology (as authors Bull and Bell point out). Having partners in a classroom use Google Docs to share research for a project allows them to do things they are not able to do with pen and paper and hard-copy notes (unless they were faxing each other copies of their notes each night, reading, and comparing. Does anyone fax anything anymore, outside of doctors’ offices?). The SHARING of their research (in real time) lets them divide and conquer topics more effectively, note the progress of a partner, and share their work with a teacher all at the same time (by inviting that teacher as a Collaborator as a new way of “turning in” work, another real time way to see work that also happens to be paperless!). They can also share information on the cloud, and work together while each in their own home. The time stamp and revision history features of Google Docs are also useful from a teaching and assessment perspective.

Friedman refers to the availability of information and the “flatness” of the world now, thanks to changes in technology infrastructure, speed of communication, and the subsequent leveling of the playing field. This matters in the classroom as well. How important are “recall of facts” skills relative to the ability to connect those facts with meaningful relationships? Where does learning happen? Are we still disseminators of information? (The sage on the stage model?) I think not, and since we’re in the thick of things, right in the midst of all this change with a number of new tools at our fingertips, it’s an exciting time to be in education.

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I’m very excited to be starting a class this week called Web Tools for Science Teachers through Montana State’s MSSE program (Masters of Science in Science Education), and I will be using this blog to post assignments, reflections, and examples of web tools that will be useful in the classroom.

While this blog has been up and running for about two years (started just after school let out in 2009), it always seems to mirror the ebb and flow of the school year. Rather, it complements it (to borrow the molecular lock-and-key or coding/non-coding DNA metaphor) in that there’s certainly less blog activity during the more busy times of the school year, and more blog activity during school breaks and holidays. There are only so many hours in the day, as I’m sure you know. It was the onset of summer vacation in ’09 that led to the creation of the blog in the first place.

The story behind the phrase “Once There Were Lions” as a title comes from David Quammen’s terrific book, “Monster of God,” and it references a time in the future when children might be “startled and excited to learn, if anyone tells them, that once there were lions at large in the very world.” It’s a reminder to take care of what we have, and preserve what we can from an ecological perspective. I teach environmental science and biology, so Quammen’s quote resonates with me (and I hope also for my students). You can find a bit more background on the blog in the About tab above.

I’m looking forward to this class, to making connections with new teachers, and sharing information, tools, and best practices. I’m sure we all will benefit.

-Scott Lilley 6/16/11

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Our school is changing to a new schedule next fall, and the change will give us the chance to meet classes for longer periods of time. Our current schedule consists of 45 minute periods and a 10-day cycle of classes. The new schedule will contain 40, 45, 50, and 65 minute periods. A few of us are starting to think about the best ways of using some of the longer periods (65 minute classes for each class once every 7 days). Rather than just do what we’re doing for an additional 20 minutes, what’s the best way to use that time?

We’re also thinking about the best ways to communicate those practices within our community (and among the broader educational community online). To start, how would you (or do you now) use longer periods during the academic day?

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Update 6/12/11

The new blog is up and running! Check out HowToUse65 and add to your Blog Reader to be part of the conversation.

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