Tag Archives: Technology

Teaching as Learning

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It’s always messy, and it’s always fun.

 Photo by Lester Public Library

This past week, one of my classes required me to write a proposal for implementing a Personal Learning Network (PLN) for faculty in the district as well as an assignment in which students somehow engage with a Personal Learning Network.

When I began working on the proposal and assignment, I had no idea what a PLN was, let alone how it was beneficial to teachers and students.  In order to write the proposal, I had to read a lot about PLNs from many different sources.  I read about what they are, how they function, what benefits they offer, and why some aspects of them may generate resistance.  However, after reading about PLNs from so many different sources and reflecting on my own PLN—which I did not realize existed until I began working—I was able to put together the following proposal.

Creating the students’ assignment was difficult in a different way.  While writing my proposal, I had been thinking about how Personal Learning Networks were appropriate for the professional development of teachers.  The student assignment, on the other hand, required that I think about how Personal Learning Networks can become relevant to students.  I was required to think through the process of creating a PLN as well as the learning objectives that I wanted my students to achieve in the process.  In the end, I decided to require a written reflection and presentation on what and how students learned about Personal Learning Networks.  By discussing the reflection and presentation at the beginning of the project, I hoped to encourage students to monitor and record their own learning.  This project was as much about helping the students to see how they learn as it was about the content they were learning through creating a PLN.

In order to teach  someone else, one has to have a pretty deep understanding of the topic.  When I originally approached the topic of Personal Learning Networks, I knew almost nothing about them.  I began reading about them, but I found that reading a couple of articles on their use was not enough.  It may have been enough to grasp them myself, but it certainly did not provide the type of deep understanding that I needed in order to propose their use in professional development purposes as well as in the classroom.  I finally gathered enough information by reading materials from a lot of different sources, visiting suggested social media and social bookmarking sites, and reflecting on my online activities of the past few months, during which i was unconsciously building a PLN.  By reflecting on my own learning, I was able to anticipate possible benefits and resistance to PLNs.  I was also able to decide what I would want my students to learn as they were creating their own PLNs; I included the reflection component because I felt that my own reflection was the most important part of my learning.  Teaching others–colleagues and students–about the creation and value of PLNs was certainly an effective way of learning about Personal Learning Networks myself.

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Collaboration as Living, Breathing Learning

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Using collaboration in the classroom is now more important than ever before.  Over the course of the past three-hundred years in America, education has evolved.  Some would say that it has not evolved quickly enough, however.  Education cannot seem to keep pace with our constantly-shifting society.  Now, because of the massive changes that we have seen over the past twenty years due to technological innovations, education seems to be farther behind than ever.  Yet, many educators are taking great strides to remedy this gap between the modern world and traditional education.  In my opinion, fostering meaningful collaboration in our classrooms should be our first aim.

Outside of school, students are connected to one another almost constantly through Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, Flickr, online video games, and hundreds of other social networking sites and applications.  Anything that these students want to say or show is broadcast almost instantaneously to these communities, members of which have the option of responding.  For today’s students, this has become commonplace, not something to be amazed or totally baffled by, which—because of my placement on the edge of the digital immigrant and digital native generations—I see as a completely legitimate reaction.

But it’s not just students who are becoming dependent on social media.  Many adults are joining the social networking communities as well.  Employers and employees are relying more and more on such technologies for communication and collaboration within and outside of the workplace.  As we move deeper into the twenty-first century, today’s students will certainly need to have experience using digital media, especially social media and collaborative technologies, in order to succeed in their chosen fields.

Because of the changing nature of our society, and the changing way that we interact, technology has become integral to collaboration.  Therefore, we should make use of its capacity to connect people within a single classroom or across the world.  Not only can we use such technologies to stimulate engagement, but also to promote meaningful engagement.  By working collaboratively within the classroom or with others outside of it, students encounter new perspectives and ideas, navigate disagreements, adjust understandings, and learn when to lead and when to follow.  Meaningful interaction can occur face-to-face or digitally; it doesn’t depend on the medium but on the instruction, project, and student goals.  Collaboration allows students to approach the learning process together and teach one another.  Why not use students’ interest in being connected to other people to our (and their) advantage?

Conspiracy Theories: Collaborative Podcast

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Please click HERE to view our Radio Show Podcast on Conspiracy Theories!

I had so much fun creating this podcast!  It was definitely difficult but in a different way than typical homework assignments.  It was worth the struggle, in more ways than one.

First, I loved the experience of collaborating with my classmates, John and Tim.  If I had tried to create the podcast by myself, it would not have been nearly as fun.  The experience of collaboratively writing a script and using pieces of each person’s input gave each of us better ideas.  It became a better piece because there were three minds working on it instead of one.  Making mistakes was also a lot more fun when I had others to laugh about it with.

Second, I have never made a radio show before, and I learned a lot about the process.  It was really difficult to each write a different section of the show while keeping elements consistent, such as the personalities of the narrators, the tone of the dialogue, target length, etc.  These are components of any radio show or podcast that I didn’t consider until I actually made one.

Third, I have a whole new appreciation for those who use audio and video editing software with proficiency.  This is the second project for which I have used Audacity, and I have certainly improved a lot.  However,  it still took hours to edit out all of our mistakes, input sound effects, music, and commercial breaks, and time everything correctly.  When using technology, there are always all sorts of complications, such as needing the LAME software in order to convert Audacity projects to MP3 files.  Trying to get music files to one another without actually driving to meet one another and without being able to convert to MP3 files forced us to find many ways around these limitations.

Finally, I was really proud of our final product.  We all worked so hard to make the radio show the best that it could be within the time frame.  I found myself working for hours to get the timing perfectly right on each section and element of the show.  I certainly cluttered up my computer with so many saved “in-progress” files.  It was all worth it when we shared in class and saw that our classmates enjoyed it as well.  Since we were actually going to be sharing 20-minutes worth of our work, we wanted to make sure it would be 20 minutes well spent.

I think the benefits of using technologies such as podcasts in the classroom are fairly obvious here.  Our group spent a lot of time (too much time in relation to the work we put off for other classes!) and effort on creating a product that we could be proud of.  Students, when given an assignment in which they are encouraged to use so much creativity and that will actually be showcased for others to view, will put a lot more effort into the project.  This added effort will also result in more learning because the skills that we utilized writing, performing, compiling, and editing this podcast are certainly applicable to other genres, disciplines, and the Common Core State Standards.

 

For more information and outtakes, view our “The making Of” Video.

Technology—The Great Equalizer?

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Usually, simply using the term “technology” makes us think of inequality, deficits.  It leads us to think of the huge gaps between the “haves” and “have-nots,” the possibilities and reality.  However, I would like to suggest that technology can also help promote equality in our classrooms.


As I was reading Dr. Richard Curwin‘s blog post “Reframing: Seeing Students in a New Way,” one phrase was particularly meaningful to me: “Fair is not equal.”

“Fair is Not Equal”

As students of the theory of Differentiated Instruction know, “fair” means “same,” but treating everyone the same does not always result in equality.  Instead, we may need to treat students very differently in order to get them each to reach the desired results.

In order to make this concept clear, I always think of an activity that one of my professors used in his classroom.

  1. Hand each student a slip of paper with a different ailment printed on it.  For example, they may say “papercut,” “headache,” “brain tumor,” etc.
  2. Have students write down the symptoms of their ailment.
  3. Claim that you are going to cure all of the students’ illnesses.
  4. Walk around the room and give each student two M&Ms, claiming that they are Tylenol.

As soon as he began handing out the M&Ms, the students began complaining that Tylenol would not cure them.  Those with the most severe illnesses were most upset.  My professor would then turn the discussion into a lesson on how giving everyone the same instruction or treatment may not result in everyone being equal.  Instead, students should be given as little or as much support as they need in order to reach the class’s learning goals.

Technology to the Rescue!


Technology can assist in our efforts to differentiate our lessons.  We can provide supplemental instructional tools, such as online educational games or explanatory websites.  By incorporating technology and multimodality in assessment, we can encourage students to demonstrate their learning in ways that they are most capable.

This can be especially valuable for those students who do not excel in reading or writing, or according to Howard Gardner, those who are not Linguistic learners.  By utilizing technology, we can reach other types of learners such as those described in Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences.  Using technology to provide examples, illustrations, or support collaborative activities in our lessons can be very valuable to many different types of students.

Everyone is different, and in order to recognize and value these differences, we may need to treat or teach students differently.  Technology is another resource that we can use to help all students reach our learning goals.  The important thing to remember is that our expectations do not change, only our methods.

Here’s to Joining the 21st Century!

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Isn’t Twitter fantastic?  Now that I am a professional blogger (ha ha), I have decided that I need to look at other blogs dealing with issues in Education and Educational technology.  At first, I had no idea where to start.  Well, I happened to check my Twitter account, and the very first tweet I saw was posted by Edutopia to thank their many bloggers.  Thank you, Edutopia!

Philly Teacher’s blog post “The Four Pillars of Technology Use in the Classroom”  really caught my attention.  These are the four pillars upon which this Technology Teacher’s curriculum rests:

I have been reading and thinking a lot about the learning needs and preferences of the Digital Generation, and I think that these four pillars create a very holistic approach to technology and classroom instruction because they:

  1. Promote skills—communicating and collaborating with others, evaluating information, and creating new texts—that are crucial to success in today’s job market.  Students need to know how to access the information they need, how to effectively evaluate this information, and how to communicate and collaborate on projects and problems.  Most importantly, they need to develop the creativity necessary to the act of creation.  The factory jobs of the 19th century are no longer available; we need students who are confident and competent at using technology to enhance their own success.
  2. Are research-based.   Benjamin Bloom created in the 1950s what is now known as Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Those familiar with the revised version will notice that two of the four pillars find a place on Bloom’s taxonomy.  Those that do not—Communicate and Collaborate—have and are becoming extremely important to life in today’s society.  Therefore, I recommend that these four pillars be dubbed “The 21st Century Taxonomy.”
  3. Give teachers a place to start.  Look at the four pillars again.  Aren’t you already teaching these skills?  Doesn’t your instruction contain instances in which students need to communicate, collaborate, evaluate, or create?  Certainly it does!  The technologies listed next to the pillars provide examples of tools that can augment what you are already doing!  Believe it or not, many of these technologies actually make it easier on the teacher!
  4. Provide focus (for the teacher and the students).   Philly Teacher did not keep these pillars to herself; instead, she shared them with her students, and then helped them explore the meaning of the terms by using Think-Pair-Share exercises (developing students’ communication and collaboration skills while discussing these terms!).
  5. Promote student engagement and investment.  Students at the preteen/teen age LOVE to talk.  Why not make use of this desire by not only allowing but encouraging students to communicate and collaborate in order to evaluate or create?  Students actually like creating new things when they are allowed to work together.

My only suggestion would be to switch the first and last pillars so that they read:

Create

Evaluate

Collaborate

Communicate

This way, they more closely resemble Bloom’s taxonomy.  Students work in logical order from the bottom, upward; from easiest to most difficult.  (This way even visually the skills create a sort of staircase from bottom to top).

These are just a few reasons why I respect these four pillars of focus so much.  I would suggest attempting to adopt them in your own classroom.  Part of the reason that I created this post is to keep a record of them for myself!

Kudos to Philly Teacher and all teachers who are making real efforts to meet the needs of this new, very different generation.  Here’s to joining the 21st century!