Posts Tagged ‘technology’

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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I’ve been reading a lot about the use of technology in education, about the connectivity of (and between) teachers and students.  Ewan McIntosh and Alan November are responsible in part; I heard both of them speak at the BLC Conference in Boston in ’08.  But a whole network of educators online have been steering my reading material in recent months.  The Teach Paperless blog has been especially interesting and thought provoking.

So I’ve been reflecting about how teaching is done in general, and thinking about my teaching in particular.  I think this is healthy and important to do.  With a few years of experience, I think I’ve gotten better at reaching individual students and diversifying my approach to material; I’m certainly more comfortable leading and coaching than I was when just starting out.  I am a better teacher.  But I still teach in basically the same ways: provide a framework for the content, make it interesting, set up projects and assignments that allow students to engage with the material, have them learn from primary resources and from their partners, get them to think.

But I have a goal of integrating technology more into what I do in the classroom.  Are there ways that technology can improve how kids learn, and improve how we assess what they are learning?  Can we use computers for things other than word processing and fact retrieval?  What if students build a class wiki or website for a project, use Google Docs to share information with partners, create video tutorials to share skills and content, participate in real time during class on Twitter, blog their creative writing instead of handing in paper?  The answer is a resounding “Yes.”  I’ve done several of these things in my class (student-created website on photosynthesis, Google Docs, video tutorials), and I’m looking to see if any others might also fit.

That much said, there are several decidedly low-tech aspects of my class that I have no plans to change.  My students spend time outside in the woods to learn about classification and ecology, we make sourdough bread from a wild starter to appreciate the beneficial role of bacteria, and we’re planning to plant a small garden this spring.  Those units (and others like them) aren’t going away.  The experiential nature of those projects provides hands-on opportunities for learning that can’t be replicated by software.  So any change or experiment with technology needs to be done with the goal to improve and facilitate student learning.  It can’t be just for novelty’s sake.

I’ve been happy to connect with many educators on Twitter.  They share ideas for projects, software, current events.  It’s a large, vibrant, interactive community.  I found many teachers via the Twitter4Teachers wiki; you can add a brief line about what you teach, as well as links to your website, blog, or Twitter account.  Here’s a bit of what I’ve been reading (thanks to many folks online):

ConverStations: http://www.converstations.com/
Dangerously Irrelevant: http://www.dangerouslyirrelevant.org/
Ewan McIntosh edu.blogs.com http://edu.blogs.com/edublogs/
Open Culture: http://www.openculture.com/
Teach Paperless: http://teachpaperless.blogspot.com/
The Technology Sandbox: http://nccstechinitiatives.blogspot.com/
Twitter 4 Teachers wiki: http://twitter4teachers.pbworks.com/

As this post is also about connectivity, I’m curious to hear what sites and projects have been helpful to you and your class.

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