Sunday, August 5, 2012

Last Days, Pregnant Super Heroes, Smart Boards, Daedalus, and Teach Tech Do's and Don'ts

The last day of the summer session was an interesting one. A panel of past SECMAC students (Secondary Master's in Education with Certification) came to speak to us about the realities of technology in the classroom. Each one had a very different experience with technology.

One teacher, who teaches in a more affluent school (the school itself is affluent, the SES of the students ranges) uses technology all the time. Every student has access to a lap top and they use them weekly.

Another teacher uses technology sparingly. He teaches math and finds that most pieces of technology (like calculators) just get in the way of his students' learning. But, even if he wanted to incorporate tech that would help his students learn, his school really doesn't provide him with the resources.

The third teacher teaches in a school for pregnant or parenting teenage women. I had no idea such schools even existed, but when I heard about this one I was fascinated. I come from an area which has a very high teenage pregnancy rate. Usually, the girls drop out of school and never graduate. I always thought that was such a waste and I wished the girls I knew in high school who dropped out due to pregnancy had a chance to go to a school like the one in downtown Detroit.

(This is Most Fruitful Yuki, a pregnant comic book hero dreamed up by the writer of Juno, Diablo Cody. I truly wish this was an actual comic book. It would be awesome.)

Sorry, wasn't I talking about technology?

Anyway, the third teacher, her name is Jen, had to beg her principal (who really doesn't understand the full scope and possibility of technology) to buy new computers so the girls at her school could be more prepared to go into college or the workforce.

See? The range of teachers who use technology on a regular basis and those who have access to it really varies.

I think that's why it's important to be familiar with certain tools and to be flexible when you don't have access to them. You never know what resources your school will have or won't have. Or what you will be allowed to do or not do.

The rest of the class seemed to deal with which technologies are useful, and which aren't. One of the students brought up smart boards. She thought we absolutely needed to know how to use them and it was a shame we hadn't learned anything about them. The professor responded by saying A) there wasn't enough time in the course, and B) she really doesn't think smart boards are economical (they are ridiculously expensive) nor are they a unique commodity (meaning, you can do similar things with other tools that aren't as expensive). I thought this was a good reason, the student did not. Discussion ensued.

And it got me thinking that a huge part of selecting which technologies to use as educational tools  needs to meet a few criteria:

A) They need to be inexpensive or free (unless you work at a school that doesn't mind blowing its budget on fancy gadgetry).
B) They need to be user friendly. If your students (who are most likely more tech savvy then you are) can't figure something out or find it too complicated, then drop it. Or, if you find it too complicated, then drop it. You are not Daedalus and technology is not a maze you create and then force your students to run through.

C) Less is more. If you can consolidate your tools, or combine them, your life will be so much easier.
D) If you can do the same thing more quickly and more easily by not using technology, then do it that way. Don't make your life harder then it needs to be. You don't need something flashy, you just need something to help facilitate learning.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Ah the Wonderful World of Teaching

Recently, I was introduced to the wonderful world of edubloggers. Edubloggers is a community of teachers who blog about teaching, classrooms tools (especially technology), and teacher resources. And wow, there are a lot of resources.

The first edublogger I looked at was Dana Huff over at Her blog is amazing. In addition to having videos like this:

(The Doctor performs a sonnet by Shakespeare. When things like this happen, when worlds of geekdom collide, I get really excited)

She also talks about and suggests several (and this is an understatement) great resources for teachers. Her most recent blog post talked about twitter and its uses as an educational resource and forum for teachers. I've recently looked into twitter, but since reading Dana's blog I now realize that there is a hashtag I can use to navigate tweets called #engchat. Thanks Dana, you made something difficult (like searching twitter for useful information) a little easier.

She also mentions an ipad app based on the movie The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. Apparently, this is an interactive text that accompanies the movie and allows you to "help Morris get lost in a book, spell with alphabet cereal, make books talk, and so many other cool events drawn from the film. As you read, a narrator reads the story to you, the text of which runs along the bottom of each page."

How cool is that? Ever since J.K. Rowling released Pottermore, an interactive book experience with the Harry Potter series, I have been fascinated with the idea of making literary texts (texts you usually read in English classes) more interactive with websites and programs like this:

The students are still required to read of course (it would be blasphemy if they didn't), but after or before they read they could perform activities that help them delve deeper into the text. You could require them to complete games and work with interactive teaching tools that deal with vocabulary, characters, setting, and themes that run throughout the text. It makes me so excited just thinking about it. I'm seriously considering applying for some kind of grant so I can develop web based reading programs to help facilitate reading on the secondary level.

Another edublogger (or rather edubloggers since the blog is a collaboration between around 30 teachers) I really enjoyed was From the Mixed-Up Files . . .  One thing I found particularly marvelous was the use of graphic novels as a way to introduce middle school students to higher-level reading. They don't want to replace regular books, rather graphic novels serve as a stepping stone to move the students into chapter books and more advanced texts. There seems to be a fair amount of research on graphic novels and literacy. "According to a 1993 study published in The Journal of Child Language, comic books or graphic novels 'introduce children to nearly twice as many new words as the average children’s book and more than five times as many as the average child-adult conversation.' That’s a lot of vocabulary words."

Some of the other benefits listed on the blog:

"Comic books allow children to develop the same skills as reading a more traditional book:
 - connecting narratives to children’s own experiences
 - predicting what will happen next
 - inferring what happens between individual panels
 - tracking left to right and top to bottom
 - interpreting symbols
 - following the sequence of events in a story."

So inspiring! I love innovative teaching. Now, I just have to figure out how to incorporate Usagi Yojimbo into my classroom.