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Posts Tagged ‘webtools’

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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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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A few years ago my wife and I had the chance to travel to China for three weeks as part of an exchange program with the Jian Ping School in Shanghai. After we returned I presented our trip to the faculty, and I shared some photographs and talked about what we saw and learned. So I thought it might be interesting to use part of that PowerPoint and convert it to VoiceThread, to see how that tool might be useful. I could also have narrated it with Jing, which would have worked. But I understand now that the additional potential of VoiceThread lies in the layers of comments, and the ability to have multiple people contribute. (I didn’t really know what it was before.) Right now my slide show is fairly static. I narrate many of the slides in the same way I did in that auditorium. But if you’d like to add comments or ask questions, please do. I think you’ll need a VoiceThread account (choose the free option); so log in, and feel free to chime in. I think this could be a terrific way to get students involved in what used to be a standard “deliver visual information” medium (slide show, overhead projector, PowerPoint, etc.), but one that can now be interactive. Think: you could show 4 slides, and require students to comment, advance the conversation, answer each others’ questions…

VoiceThread: CHINA 2006

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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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