Mar 132012
 

photo by Mary Beth Hertz

I am humbled to be part of a team of educators, many of whom are esteemed peers, converging in a little under a week at Discovery Education headquarters  to discuss the future of the textbook, specifically the digital textbook. As an elementary teacher, I know that my opinions and experiences with textbooks differ from those who teach high school and higher ed. However, my experience using textbooks in high school and college helps mold some of my views on the topic.

The first textbook I ever remember using was my French textbook in 6th grade. Before that, I don’t have any clear memories of textbooks. After that, my memories are that of doing the odd problems at the end of the chapter in my math textbook, reviewing my notes and trying desperately to figure out the magic in the explanation in the book that would make me able to figure out how to do a problem. I remember my textbook for AP US History, for Global Studies, and a couple of textbooks that were anthology-like. Most of these were heavy and used mostly for homework and for memorizing things that were on a test.

Once I got to college, the only textbooks I bought were for classes I took to satisfy requirements. Psychology, Astronomy, Anthropology (huge, impersonal lecture hall classes)…..  As a French major, I had the delightful experience of shopping for novels and poetry each semester, all hand-picked by the professor for a particular reason (a class on French Vietnamese literature, a class on Medieval French literature). Some of my classes in other subject areas (or seminars as I guess they would be called) involved a mixture of novels picked by the professor and mini books of articles and selected chapters pulled together by the professor. I still have many of those mini books because they were like little gold mines of information and a great resource to refer to later when I was thinking of a particular class discussion.

My textbooks? I sold them back to the store or left them in the attic of my parents’ house to rot.

Moving back in time to elementary school, I am disheartened by the heavy reliance that teachers have on Pearson and Houghton-Mifflin textbooks. I am even more disheartened to hear instructional directors call these “curriculum.”

I was overjoyed to hear about a principal who collected all of the math textbooks from the teachers and told them to teach math the way they wanted to. This was in response to teachers expressing frustration with teaching math and with kids learning math. The result? After stages of anger and helplessness, the teachers figured things out. They taught math better and the kids learned math better. Very few, if any teachers, according to the story, came back for their textbooks.

So what does this have to do with the future of the textbook and digital texts?

Two things.

First, we need to be careful that we don’t waste this new technology by doing the same things in a different way (similar to the way the glorious Interactive Whiteboard still remains a teacher-centric digital chalkboard in many classrooms). Second, we need to use the digital technologies available to allow for professors and K-12 teachers to build the kinds of resources that fit the needs of their classroom. No longer should educators be forced to asked their students to purchase a $100 textbook so they can use the 3 chapters that are relevant to their course.

I also see educators pooling their knowledge to crowd source courses and texts that are inexpensive, flexible, across many digital platforms, are specific to their students, their specific course and that are easily amendable should new information arise that is relevant to the course. This is already happening, and will only become easier as the technology gets better and easier to use.

Another aspect of the new digital textbook is the opportunity to display information through multimedia and interactive activities. Again, I will point back to my first statement above. These tools and mediums are amazing and match much of what brain research shows us about how people learn in different ways and through different modalities. However, let’s be smart and avoid using this new technology to embed lectures or videos that could be found with a simple Internet search or to create fancy “end of chapter” activities that are a waste of time.

I’m not trying to pretend that I have an answer for how we can leverage digital texts to truly do something different, but I won’t accept a Pearson-produced textbook with a built-in dictionary and highlighter with a few videos embedded here or there to be the limit of innovation.

What do you think?

Please share any links, resources or opinions you have in the comment area!

Feb 132012
 

Today as I sat in a session at PETE & C about Acceptable Use Policies, there was a discussion about ‘the IT guy’ and working with ‘him’ and making sure that ‘he’ is on your side. After hearing numerous adults refer to ‘the IT guy’ over and over, I became more and more irritated. When are we going to drop the term and replace it with a more updated, realistic term?

If we don’t, then we are perpetuating the stereotype that IT is only for men, that men are more tech savvy than women and that women do not enjoy being geeky and nerdy and tech-y.

So what label do we use?

 

Feb 032012
 

One of the struggles of teaching a “special” is meeting the needs of over 250 students a week, sometimes for one measly 45 minute period. Differentiation in this setting is hard.

Today I won a simple but hugely important battle in this arena.

One of my 7th graders struggles to do anything independently. She is a hard worker and motivated, but with 23 students working on projects and only 45 minutes (less when you count transition times) for me to check in with each one, it never fails that this student feels frustrated at the end of class.

In steps technology to help the situation. And I don’t mean a computer.

We are building projects in Scratch, a free software that teaches kids how program. The many steps and parts of the program are hard for this student to remember and keep track of. I decided to to use the Livescribe pen I scored last year to record directions for building a simple project. I pulled the student a few minutes early to show her how to work it, and during class she was able to tap on a step number and hear me giving directions. She could pause and replay the directions whenever she needed to and she never had to wait for me. After many classes of frustration, she left class today with a sense of accomplishment.

I immediately got to work recording more directions to other Scratch projects for other students who struggle similarly. Ideally I would love to have this resource available to all of my students. It would be like having clones of myself in the classroom or like providing my students with their own personal tutor.

I look forward to finding other uses for the pen to help meet the varied needs of my students.

20120202-223212.jpg

Differentiating With Technology

 teaching, technology  Comments Off on Differentiating With Technology
Feb 032012
 

One of the struggles of teaching a “special” is meeting the needs of over 250 students a week, sometimes for one measly 45 minute period. Differentiation in this setting is hard.

Today I won a simple but hugely important battle in this arena.

One of my 7th graders struggles to do anything independently. She is a hard worker and motivated, but with 23 students working on projects and only 45 minutes (less when you count transition times) for me to check in with each one, it never fails that this student feels frustrated at the end of class.

In steps technology to help the situation. And I don’t mean a computer.

We are building projects in Scratch, a free software that teaches kids how program. The many steps and parts of the program are hard for this student to remember and keep track of. I decided to to use the Livescribe pen I scored last year to record directions for building a simple project. I pulled the student a few minutes early to show her how to work it, and during class she was able to tap on a step number and hear me giving directions. She could pause and replay the directions whenever she needed to and she never had to wait for me. After many classes of frustration, she left class today with a sense of accomplishment.

I immediately got to work recording more directions to other Scratch projects for other students who struggle similarly. Ideally I would love to have this resource available to all of my students. It would be like having clones of myself in the classroom or like providing my students with their own personal tutor.

I look forward to finding other uses for the pen to help meet the varied needs of my students.

20120202-223212.jpg

Nov 292011
 

 

I attended Edcamp Harrisburg a while back but haven’t had a chance to share my reflections, so here-goes. One of my favorite sessions was run by my friend, Chris Champion and was entitled Doing Things Differently vs Doing Different Things. It was an important conversation about how and why we use technology in our classrooms.

Chris did a great job moderating the conversation, too. It was conversational and while Chris led the discussion, he also laid back (in true edcamp style!) and let the participants discuss and share ideas.

Here is a gist of the conversation. Basically, we proposed how technology allows us to do things differently and then challenged each other to come up with ways that we could do different things with the same technology.

It is vital that those educators who are passionate about brining technology into our classrooms evaluate whether that technology is actually helping us do different things in our classrooms rather than just making what we’ve always done easier or just a bit different.

These are the notes from the session discussion, though I would argue that there is a lot here to examine further. What would you add?

Doing Things Differently Doing Different Things
  • Word Processing
  • Collaborative writing in real time
  • “Blogging” reflections (just for teacher or w/out community
  • Students comment/real audience
  • Online Quiz with immediate feedback
  • Adaptive questions/testing
  • Interactive Whiteboards
  • Manipulative, simulations that require student interaction
  • Interactive video responses
  • Flipped Classroom model
  • driving differentiated instruction and also completing a project or interactive assignment at home w/support for what you didn’t get while you’re at school
  • Presentations
  • immediate feedback (polls/clickers), webinars with chat, microphones and break out rooms
  • Videoconferencing
  • Backchannel

Adventures with Robots

 LEGO, technology  Comments Off on Adventures with Robots
Jul 082011
 

Next week I begin teaching LEGO Robotics for the first time. I was lucky enough to be able to borrow a kit for the weekend to play around with.

Here is short video I quickly pulled together (I apologize for the quality!) of my day. I spent about 45 minutes building the first robot, but spent most of my time struggling with the install of Mindstorms on OS X.

Here’s how I spent my day!

Ending the Year on a Positive Note

 edutopia, teaching, technology  Comments Off on Ending the Year on a Positive Note
May 302011
 

In my most recent Edutopia post I challenged my readers to make a list of at least 5 things they’ve done better this year.

Here are mine:

1) Assessment 
I have taken a lot of time this year to work on my methods and purposes for assessment. While I am still stuck with a numerical gradebook system, I feel that I have a better grasp on what and whether my students are learning and I am able to focus my lessons more on specific learning outcomes.

2) Choosing the Right Tool
This year I stuck to only a few tools with my students. Some of this is because of the slow Internet speed at my school, but some of it is due to my realization that it’s about depth not breadth.

3) Allowing for Re-dos
For the first time, I allowed my students to revise and resubmit their work. Rather than handing back their grade as a ‘done deal,’ I handed back their graded rubric with places for improvement. 90% of my students worked to revise their work and I am 100% sure they learned more through the revising than they did creating the project.

4) Making Sure that Everyone is Done
As a ‘prep’ teacher, specialist teacher, whatever my title may be, I am stuck with a limited amount of time with my students. Some classes I see only 45 minutes once a week and, should there be a holiday or trip, even less than that. In the past I have felt forced to move on once we have spent a certain amount of time on a project partly because of the requirement that I have a certain number of grades in my grade book each marking period (ridiculous) and partly because I felt that we just couldn’t spend a month on one project. This year, however, I allowed my students to spend a month on projects. I tracked student progress and made sure that every student completed their work, even if it meant pulling them for a small period of time outside of their scheduled time with me. This has made a huge difference in how my students have progressed as well as giving both them and me a sense of accomplishment.

5) Collaborating with My Colleagues
This year, as many of you know, I started at a new school. I was so excited to collaborate and learn with my new colleagues, many of whom are enthusiastic about technology.  This year I have done more collaborating, whether it be team teaching or doing a model lesson or bringing technology into a classroom to enhance a unit of study, than any of my previous years. I hope that next year will hold even more possibilities for teachers to bring tech into their classrooms.

What are YOU most proud of this year?

Feb 022011
 

I have been fighting filtering battles ever since I first entered a computer lab as a technology teacher almost 4 years ago. 

Today I got my vindication.

I am lucky that my new school does not block YouTube. My 6th graders are doing research projects that will culminate in them creating a Google Site about their topic. Today they began to (yes, it’s old school) sketch out on paper a basic design for their site. As they thought about their homepage, many of them asked if they could use video. “Of course,” I replied.
I quickly harkened back to last week when my friend Ann and I were embedding video into a Google Site for a presentation we did together this weekend.

“Go to YouTube,” I said. See if you can find a video there. YouTube videos are easily embeddable into Google Sites with the click of a button.

As many of them searched the ‘dreaded’ YouTube for relevant videos, I had not ONE student searching for inappropriate content or looking up videos that were not ‘kid-friendly.’

Why?

The task was authentic, and they had a purpose for searching the site.

Blocking these kinds of resources denies our students access to material that is relevant, interesting and informative.

One student, who is researching drums, bookmarked a video of Justin Beiber playing the drums in her Diigo library with a note: “Even famous people play the drums.”  Another student found a video of a lightning storm for his site about lighting and electricity.

If we design authentic and meaningful experiences and use good classroom management and common sense when using these tools, we can rest assured that little harm will be done.

Jan 212011
 

My last post, Research: One of the Hardest Things You’ll Ever Do, was a reflection on a lesson with my 6th graders about evaluating sites.  I shared it with my network on Twitter and was met with some dialogue about my choice of “Is it a blog?” as an evaluation question.

Here is some of the conversation:

If I had never blogged about the experience and if I had never tweeted my blog post, I would have missed out on a concise, yet meaningful exchange that challenged me to think differently about my teaching. 
It makes me wonder: how I ever did anything on my own before!
Thanks to Bud Hunt and Tom Fullerton for pushing my thinking.
Nov 042010
 

My grade partner happens to be our 6th grade teacher, since there’s only one of her in the building and she’s right across the hall. She and I have been collaborating a lot this year, and her students see me 3 times a week.   She and I also share a love of Science, which has been very exciting.

Today, she brought her students over to the lab to use our Promethean board for a lesson on the Phases of the Moon. They have been studying Astronomy, but many of the students lack basic knowledge about the solar system. We decided to present the information in an interactive way using a flip chart and multimedia. (She had been using a pencil and a tin can to show them how the moon orbits the Earth.)  What ensued was a lesson that mirrored the two-step Constructivist model I’ve been reading about.

Before the lesson began, we made sure that we knew what the learning objectives were. For this lesson they were very simple:

  • Be able to name the phases of the moon and explain how and why they change. 
  • Know that the moon is a sphere and does not change shape.
  • To know that the moon waxes and wanes and be able to explain why.

Step 1: The Exploratory Phase
Students brainstormed what they knew already about the Moon. They then read through some facts, watched a video and a flash animation and then pulled the phases of the moon in order on the Promethean board to reinforce what they had learned about the names of the phases as well as vocabulary like ‘waxing,’ ‘waning,’ ‘gibbous’ and ‘crescent.’

During this phase, we paused a few times to check for understanding, and then at the end we had each student write down and then tell us one thing they had learned.  We didn’t grade them on the lesson, but we made sure to address any misconceptions, providing interventions as needed (when they didn’t understand the concept of the Sun as a bunch of mini ‘explosions’ we showed them a National Geographic video) and checking for understanding.

The purpose of the Exploratory Phase is to use activities, dialogue and interventions to support and assess student learning, understanding and interest.

Step 2: The Discovery Phase

After lunch, the students were given a paper with all of the phases of the moon on it. They had to cut out the each phase and paste it in order on a sentence strip, labeling each phase and stating whether it was waxing or waning.  This is the performance part of the learning process. It is also the part of the process that is graded. The Discovery Phase is where the students ‘show what they know’ by creating a product or completing a task of some kind. This product shows the teacher whether or not they have mastered the objectives laid out at the beginning of the lesson.

I was very proud of my colleague, who had never used the Promethean Board before, but handled it with ease. I also think that our students will go home today with a much better understanding of the moon’s phases as well as a deeper understanding of why and how they occur. I wouldn’t be surprised if they look up more often at night to see what phase the moon is in!

This is what learning looks like.

One of the students asked, “Is this going to be one of those one-day things again?”  We have had a few hands-on, interactive and fun-filled lessons with technology and Science that have lasted only one day due to the nature of the curriculum and pacing schedule.  I said, “I hope not.” In the back of mind I thought: he gets it. Even my student knows what real learning is.  And he’s craving it.