Nov 022009
I had a meeting today ‘downtown’ at our District’s main offices.  There were about 40 TTLs (Technology Teacher Leaders) from different schools across the city all crammed into a small lab all eager to hear why they were there.

What ensued was an overview of resources and procedures that we, as TTLs, should know.  Links to directions on how to access public folders, links to how to order new hardware, dispose of old hardware, etc….  All stuff I’ve known about for years now.  Siiighhh…I patiently sat through the overview while I set up my email on the new iPod Touch we had all received at the beginning of the meeting (more on that later).

At the part of the agenda when we were talking about filtering, I heard my name float across the room from the main speaker, who happened to be standing in the doorway.  I looked up in surprise.  I had no idea who he was, but he addressed me by my first name….hmm….  He was discussing the district’s new system for attending to requests to unblock sites.  I’ve been, well to put in nicely, hounding the filtering team about unblocking GlogsterEDU and VoiceThread since August to no avail.   Apparently I am (in)famous ‘downtown’ for my persistence and big mouth.  He said something to the effect of, “We were hoping to bribe you, Mary Beth, with the iPod to appease your filtering requests.” I smiled.  I liked the guy already.

What the gentleman (who, it turned out is head of Technology Services for the district) began to explain made my heart go ‘pitter-patter.’  He understood.  He explained how they are changing the system by which sites get reviewed.  “We need to have more input on the instructional side.  Right now we have IT guys reviewing sites, and they don’t always get the educational value of a site.”  He explained that the new committee would be made up of members of the Educational Technology Group (ETG), Information Technology and the highest-ups in the district when it comes to technology.

Starting in a few weeks, rather than sending an email to ‘filtering,’ we will fill out an online form stating what the site is and why we want it blocked or unblocked and then the form must be approved by our principal.  That form is then sent out to all 7 members of the committee for review.  He also explained that they are working closely with the company the district hired to do the filtering to get some sites reclassified.  As of now, sites are blocked by software that classifies websites and blocks them according to classification.  By changing the classification, they will be able to unblock those sites.

After the meeting I discovered that filtering is something that even the heads of departments ‘downtown’ have limited control over.  For all of the complaining we do, it is not the people in IT or the people at ETG’s fault.  It is (surprise, surprise) the lawyers who scare the district into such strict filtering that has little human input.  Hopefully, with this committee reviewing sites monthly, there will be more rhyme and reason into what we see filtered in our network.  I also found that I had friends down at 440 (the main district offices) who knew of my efforts and had my back.

The battle is far from over, and who knows if we will ever win, but I feel that this news today was a tiny victory along the way.  I still can’t help but think of that old saying about the squeaky wheel.  Apparently my voice hasn’t gone unheard (for better or for worse).

Battle photo courtesy of eisenbahner on Flickr
Filter photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Aug 052009

This summer I have been teaching Project Based Learning to a small group of 7th & 8th grade boys at a camp in Philadelphia. My classroom is a Study Lounge in a dorm with a dry erase board that barely erases, desks with chairs attached and carpeting throughout.

I have been teaching an Ecosystems unit to my campers in a carpeted room with no sink, few tables and ALMOST NO TECHNOLOGY!

As a lab teacher, it has been a struggle as well as a good reason to reflect:

Do my students feel as frustrated as I do? Can I teach without technology? Can my students learn without technology?

My lessons this summer are very hands on and interactive to meet the needs of boy learners (see Kent Manning‘s blog Motivating Boy Writers). Still, I felt like I wasn’t doing my best teaching sometimes because I didn’t have access to a computer, and even if I brought my laptop in there is no wireless connection. I had to reserve a special room just to show them some Discovery Education Streaming videos I had found about what we were studying. I began to worry: “Can I teach without technology?”

I found myself struggling to engage my boys in the short 1-2 page reading selections we completed despite trying several different methods for making the experience as engaging and interactive as possible. I tried Think, Pair, Share, I tried to do a Jigsaw activity and I tried just the plain old ‘read it’ technique. My students had trouble concentrating, and even if they didn’t have to read the whole selection and knew they would be teaching their peers about what they read, they did not seem motivated to read. What I failed to mention is that they were reading selections about animals they had right in front of them in the classroom.

Then, today I was actually able to squeeze my boys into the only computer slot available all week. We had recently gone on a trip to the Schuylkill Environmental Center and hiked around for a few hours. We saw Bullfrogs, Wood Frogs, Snapping Turtles, American Toads and more! I decided to have them use Glogster to create a research report on an animal we had seen. Once they saw what Glogster could do, and I reviewed the assignment and the kinds of things they needed to find out about the animal, they were instantly motivated. Even those who struggled to read or concentrate were quickly able to find the information they needed and then put it onto a glog. We only had an hour to complete the whole project, but I was proud of what they turned out.

for the full glogs: &

I couldn’t help but wonder: are we all 21st Century learners? I felt like a better teacher while using technology and I watched my campers become truly engaged with the content they were reading. Does this mean that my students NEED technology to be successful learners? Or am I just a better teacher when using technology?

Are we reaching a point where we as teachers are becoming ‘Digital Natives’ like our students and therefore require these techie tools to be successful?

There are students across the world learning new things every day (and surpassing us in test scores & job readiness) without the resources that we have. What are the implications of this?

Some links on this topic:

Teach Paperless: What Makes a Good 21st Century Teacher? (this is a great blog about learning in the 21st Century) (a website dedicated to Technology in Education)

Education World-Technology Integration
(a site with resources for teachers trying to integrate technology)

Cool Cat Teacher Blog
(a blog about successful teaching and effective tools in Educational Technology)

Free Technology for Teachers
(a great resource for free online tools for teachers)

One thing I would like to find: studies, posts, etc… explaining how we don’t need technology to reach our students and to be effective teachers. Please advise!