Archive for July, 2011

As part of the wrap-up for this course, we’re looking back at some of the first things we wrote in June (Introduction to WebTools, Setting the Stage, and Guiding Principles for Tech Use in the Classroom).

I don’t know that my thinking/philosophy on using technology has changed dramatically in the past two and a half months. I was on-board with tech use in the classroom with the goal of improved learning and connection, and I was excited to try out some new tools and learn from a new and diverse group of educators. I still am. I do have a clearer picture of some specific tools that I’d like to implement this year in my classes, and I am happy to have made many new connections in my continually-expanding PLN. What has changed for me is a renewed focus on the idea that the best web tools allow us to do something completely new. I find myself coming back to three points from Jeff Utecht’s article “Evaluating Technology Use in the Classroom”:

  • 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]

I’ve been focused primarily on the second bullet point (which isn’t horrible). If that’s all we do with new technology, it still represents movement in the right direction. I’ve made some progress on the third point (through student blogging), but I don’t think I’ve tapped into the full potential there. My students were very excited to keep track of their blog’s Page Views counter, and they broadened their readership by putting their new biology blog posts up on Facebook. (Which, come to think of it, is actually a pretty significant step. I wonder if they were sharing any of their history essays, Spanish translations, or math problem sets on FB?) But I want to try to find some ways to have them interact with people outside of our classroom, outside of our state and country, if possible. That’s a new goal of mine for the year.

Lastly, we should recognize that we’re going to ask our students to jump into this whole using tech in the classroom in new ways thing along with us. They’ll get their own crash courses in web tools in the coming year (in many of our classes), and they’ll be fine. They’ll learn the content (most of it, hopefully), and there will be some tools they like better than others (just like us). And all we can hope for at the end of the day is that they’re willing to try new things, that they work hard, and that they’re curious. It is science, right? What’s not to be curious about? In the process, hopefully they’ll understand more about themselves as learners. And as many have said before, the tech is not the point, it’s just a tool, but if it improves learning then we’re moving in the right direction.


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Overview: In the coming year our school is changing the structure of its master schedule; we are moving to a schedule that will include different length periods spread across a seven-day rotation. Every cycle will contain one 65 minute period (20 minutes longer than what we have now). For my final project, I’m planning to rework the way I use my seventh grade class blog and my ninth grade class blog. I have also started a paper.li electronic newspaper called The Landing that I’m going to use to coordinate current event activities in all of my classes.

1. I started my seventh grade class blog last fall with the idea that it could be a place to share information with my students, beyond the daily details of homework and due dates, etc. (that they get regularly through the school website). To say that I used the blog sporadically would be generous (5 posts over the whole year, which sounds a bit pathetic, I know, especially after taking this class!). It would be totally fair to say that I didn’t use it as an interactive blog at all, except for the last post regarding final exam review, which started to approach an actual conversation/discussion. I’m happy about the potential of using it in new ways this year.

2. My goal for blogging with my ninth graders this year is to find more ways to facilitate online discussion/dialogue. My students will create their own blogs in the first few weeks of class, and my plan is for them to experiment with different web tools over the course of the year in order to share information, teach each other, and connect with other biology students (not unlike this class). (As far as tools go, Google Docs, screencasts, Flipbook, VoiceThread, and Slideshare come to mind, but I’m sure there will be others.) I did not require my students to comment on each others’ blogs last year because I was wary of trying to evaluate those comments, but I’m going to jump into that pool this year. Please let me know if you have a biology class that will also be blogging this year, and we’ll find a way to get our students to share.

3. Inspired by several teachers that have started to rework the discussion/coverage of current events in their classes (Marsha Ratzel, Will McDonough, and others), I set out to incorporate a number of Twitter and RSS blog feeds into a classroom daily paper, using paper.li. (See @brunsell’s article on the topic from Edutopia here.) The online newspaper that I’ve created is called The Landing (which refers the common space outside of our science labs, and I think it also suggests a nice place for meeting/sharing ideas). I began by starting a Twitter list so that I can manage the feeds/stories that students will be most interested in and will pertain to what we’re covering throughout the year. It’s a work in progress, as it’s only a few days old. I’ll continue to update this list as I find new sources, which will then get pulled into the daily feed. I have a general idea of how I’d like to use the feed, but since it’s brand new to me, I’m going to see how it goes and I’ll probably blog about it in the fall (which suddenly doesn’t feel so far away). *I should note that I’ve intentionally included sources/topics that apply to biology (9) and environmental science (7) so that I could use the same electronic paper for both of my classes. Some of the biology content won’t be relevent to my seventh graders, and vice-versa, and that’s okay with me.

Overall, I’m looking to provide some continuity throughout each 7 day cycle, tap into students’ creativity, and to take advantage of the extra time that we’ll have periodically (rather than doing the same thing we’ve been doing for an additional 20 minutes — as much as I like to talk, nobody wants to hear me talk for another 20…). By incorporating new web tools; giving students options in how they present material; and having them interact, collaborate, and share information online (using new tech in new ways); I think we will be able to teach more effectively and reach more students. I think what we’re really doing when we teach this way is just diversifying how we communicate with students, and how they communicate back to us (and to their peers). I’m confident that good things will happen.

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I’m pretty happy with the variety of discussion formats that we’ve used for this class: (“conversations” through the comment sections of our blogs; the teachingscience2.0 wiki, and D2L), and I’m happy that we finished out the course with the threaded conversations on D2L. They were a nice change of pace/format, and actually seemed like they were more of a conversation, if that makes any sense. Maybe because there was more back-and-forth than on blog comments, where I felt like I was chiming in every once in a while, but not actually writing to the author (even though I was).

I see three themes that came through loud and clear (and many of my classmates have commented on these already):

1. The increased confidence that comes from getting to know a few tools/skills, having had the chance to test drive them for a while. And even though this course was carried out “in public” (out there in the blogosphere for everyone to read my assignments!) it still felt pretty safe. We were collectively willing to admit that some tools were frustrating, or that we had problems loading, embedding, getting audio levels and image resolutions right. But I’m sure that each of us found websites, software, and new tech tools that we will definitely use (to good effect) in the coming year. We’ll also try some things that won’t work out as planned, and that’s okay too.

2. Students will have similar range of reactions to the new technology, and they’ll need some time to practice and get comfortable with new tools as well. I’m not entirely convinced that all kids take to technology as quickly as we (as teachers/adults) think they do. I’m skeptical of lumping all students in any category (especially one as broad as general as “digital natives“) just because they’ve been around computers since they were born. They’ve been around food since they’ve been born, and some are still picky eaters.

3. The chance to connect with new teachers and expand our personal learning networks has been invaluable, and will continue to be a useful resource. We come from all kinds of schools, we teach different age levels, and we teach various subjects (within the broad heading of science). But we are all interested in making science education better, and we have found new colleagues with whom to share information. I’m happy to have made some new connections, and I look forward to hearing about your classes through the coming year.

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New tools for me to play around with this week:

Co.mments — I’m enjoying this one. Michele Baskin mentioned this in a recent post as a way to keep track of different conversations that you’re following (especially when you’ve commented on a post, or if you’re trying to remember which blog you posted that comment about some web tool, which I had to do to remember who it was who mentioned co.mments in the first place!). Thanks, Michele.

Here’s a Tagxedo cloud of words from this blog. Interesting. It might be more useful in a homeroom/advisory setting, when talking about themes for the year, but perhaps I could do the same thing after a science discussion? Easy enough to use, no login needed. I’ll file this under “things that might come in handy at some point.”

I’m working on a Paper.li “daily paper” to use for current events discussions and assignments in several of my classes (and will be part of my final project). I haven’t named my “paper” yet, but I’ll share it once it’s out. I’m very excited about this tool, as I think the format lends itself to use in education. It’s also a good way to help narrow down the amount of information that we ask students to sort through when doing something like “looking for current events articles on science” (which I’ve found far too wide open). I ask my ninth grade students to use Google Reader so that they can follow their classmates’ blogs, and I usually suggest a few extra blog feeds to pay attention to, but I’m thinking that I’ll use this primarily for my seventh graders, and that it will have an environmental science bent.

Curious about LiveBinders. Haven’t had a ton of time to play around with it yet, but I’ve heard good things so far and I’m going to try it out.

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Cross-posted at Smoke Cure Pickle Brew.

File under: web tools, fermentation, editing digital video, summer kitchen experimentation

I was reading the other day about making ginger beer on a food blog I follow called The Paupered Chef. They make a lot of different kinds of food that I like, they’re adventurous eaters and cooks, and just when I have a general idea along the lines of “I would love to try that at some point,” sure enough, they post about it. It was a post of theirs on making homemade bacon from three years ago that made me think, “I could totally do that.” And soon enough I was doing a bacon-curing lab with my seventh graders to demonstrate the role of salt in food preservation. (Yes, it was a tasty, tasty lab.) So when they wrote last month about making ginger beer at home, I knew that it I’d end up trying it.

What a perfect time to try a new kitchen experiment and to document the process, to see if I could make a simple video tutorial (an explanation really), and embed it on the blog. (Who knew at the beginning of this class that web tools and brewing would overlap?) In another interesting and overlapping layer, I’m also taking MB541 Microbial Genetics this term, so I was happy to throw in the scientific name of the champagne yeast Saccharomyces bayanus and a very simplified formula for fermentation!

I filmed this yesterday in my kitchen, and I used Windows Live Movie Maker to quickly add captions and credits. (Although I’m a Mac person at home, I’m a PC at school, so I figured I’d try the Windows way for future school projects.) That’s it. Really simple. And a good excuse to brew some ginger beer and try out a new web tool. Okay, I was making the ginger beer anyway.

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For more cooking and brewing-related projects, check out Smoke Cure Pickle Brew, a food blog that I started last year with my brother and two friends.

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Happy Birthday Gregor Mendel (and to my sister Rebekah! Sorry that Google didn't work up that sketch I sent them for you)

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I tweeted this a few days ago, but thought I’d repost here since it relates to so many of our final WebTools projects and could be pretty useful. This a great article with a wealth of information on blogging (in and out of the classroom). “Wealth of information” doesn’t even do it justice (I think I counted 38 links to different sites with information for teachers, students, and anyone else that blogs).

The Best Sources Of Advice For Teachers (And Others!) On How To Be Better Bloggers by Larry Ferlazzo. Read it, consider following Larry on Twitter.

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update 7/18/11 Broken link fixed.

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