Category Archives: Course 1

Modifying a Unit

Over the past few weeks I have been mulling over how I could incorporate more technology into one of my PYP units of inquiry.  I decided to modify one that is already in existence within the Grade 6 POI at my school that deals with media.  I felt that this was an appropriate topic that could allow for some interesting conversations and products. However, before I delve into the subject matter, perhaps I should explain the structure of my planner.

The Nuts and Bolts

The IB PYP planner is standard at all schools that offer the programme.  All planners contain have the same basic format and information, however, each school implements the actual method and formatting in a different way.  Therefore the type of information will always be in the same place, but the manner in which it is presented can be different.   For example, the summative assessment task (located in box 1) is broken down in a similar manner as a UbD planner, though I have chosen to use the wording at my school simply for the sake of being able to implement it.  Box 4 includes all the different activities that could be done throughout this unit with letters at the end of each statement.   The letters each relate to a transdiciplinary skill that is required and developed during the process of that activity.   Also at the end of box 1 I ran out of room and thus had to continue in box 9.  I chose to leave boxes 6, 7, and 8 blank as they pertain to reflection on the unit and I have not actually taught this particular unit before.  Finally, I do apologize for the font size but it had to be done to ensure that the planner met the IB guidelines.

The Meat

The central idea of the unit encourages students to explore the manipulative nature of the media.  As I pondered how I could tweak the unit to include more technology, I kept thinking of the show Dragon’s Den.  The show is essentially an opportunity for independent business people to impress four big investors and to convince them to invest in the product being presented.  I thought that this was a wonderful framework to hook the students and one that would have them demonstrating their understanding of the central idea.  Essentially each group of students creates a pitch for a group of investors (the rest of the class), with the goal of convincing them to invest in the product by using the tricks of the media.  Their presentation to the investors can include a varied array of different technology tools to help them.  For example Excel (for graphing product research information), video (to provide a hook for the investors or sample marketing campaign), and PowerPoint (to create their presentation), Word (to create leaflets of information), and iMovie (to create commercials).

After awhile, I began to think of other ways that technology could be used in the unit.  As it began to take shape, I became more confident with the unit and the tasks that it presents.  However, I was aware that I needed to include both a novel study within the unit and math.  It is easy for me to authentically integrate math inquiry in this unit, both with subject and the use of technology.  However, I have difficulty seeing how a traditional novel study can be revitalized using technology.

 Thinking About Implementation

Thinking

As I think about implementing this unit of work I can foresee several difficulties:

  1. There could be potential copyright issues if a piece of student work that criticizes or analyzes an ad is put within a public forum.
  2. How much technology is too much for one unit?  At what point have I crossed the line between teaching big ideas and instead am focusing on teaching students the latest new way of representing?
  3. The students all have various levels of technological competence.  I need to find a way to balance groups so that there is a balance of abilities amongst them.

 Final Comment

Overall I am excited about this unit and the summative assessment.  Judging by the enthusiasm that the students showed for their assembly, they love when they get the chance to use technology and hopefully this unit will encourage them to develop their skills.  I’m also looking forward to hearing suggestions on how I could improve my units both in terms of the technology and the content.

COETAIL Project1

Image Credits:

Pipe joint nut & bolt by hartlandmartin on Flickr, Creative Commons Licensed

Thinking by Brendan Lea on Instagram

Video Credit:

Dragon’s Den – What a Bloom uploaded by kaynada found on YouTube

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Teacher Evaluations and Technology

As part of my COETAIL readings for the week I was directed to several documents on the International Standards for Technology Education (ISTE).  ISTE has created standards that both students (Student NETS) and teachers  (Teacher NETs) should strive to meet when using technology.  After reviewing the standards, the COETAIL instructors asked us to contemplate who should be responsible for teaching these standards and if the Teacher NETS should be used as part of teacher evaluations.

Who is responsible for teaching technology skills?

Everyone should be responsible for using technology within the classroom because technology is a tool that can be used across the curriculum.  However, the question of who should teach students how to use this tool is another matter all together.  The ideal situation would be to have a technology coordinator who works collaboratively with teachers and administrators to determine what skills or understanding are needed.  The technology coordinator would take responsibility for teaching new tools and strategies using the technology either through inquiry or explicit instructions depending on the situation.  Once the students have the skills needed, then it is the responsibility of the teacher to ensure that the skill is used effectively and meaningfully within his or her classroom.

Should the Teacher NETs be part of teacher evaluation?

 

I would personally prefer them to be included as part of my evaluation.  However, my situation as a teacher in a private international school is not that common and while I struggle to justify a blanket yeah or nay, I can’t.  There are many issues that education needs to overcome before any sort of evaluation on a teacher’s use of technology can be used:

 

  1. Standardized Tests:  Most schools have some form of standardized test to evaluate how a school is doing in various areas.  However, I have yet to see one that accurately reflects a student’s competence in their ability to use technology effectively.
  2. Resources:  Different schools have different resources.  While the ISTE standards are fairly broad and are able to be met in different ways, schools need to ensure that they have adequate resources before adding them to their teacher evaluations.
  3. Support:  As a school community a school needs to ensure that they provide support to all teachers to ensure that they can meet teacher NETs, otherwise their inclusion would only set the teacher up for failure.

There may be other issues that schools may need to address before implementing technology as an aspect of their teacher evaluation. Before including technology as an aspect of evaluation all stakeholders within the school should be consulted to ensure that the tools, support, and training are in place to ensure that teachers are able to succeed.

Video Credit

ISTE CEO Don Knezek Discusses the NETS by ISTE

Image Credits:

Responsibility by PaDumBumPsh found on Flickr, Creative Commons Licensed

Using the interactive whiteboard in the classroom by Dell’s Official Flickr Page found on Flickr, Creative Commons Licensed

 

 

 

 

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Starting to Share

As I read the article “Shaping Tech for the Classroom,” I could not help but feel that Marc Prensky was writing a war cry for continued evolution of technology in the classroom.  The article attempts to encourage others to continue to support technology in the classroom, however the author hinders his argument with the way he describes teachers and administrators. While I agree with Prensky that education needs to change, to resort to name calling with those who are resistant does nothing to help support his cause.

I believe that Prensky’s article and “Living and Learning with New Media” both convey the same message: educators and administers need to learn how to integrate technology successfully by modifying how they approach their teaching.  This is of course on top of all the other demands that are already placed on educators.  One key component that the COTAIL program and the workshops The Networked Educator and Create the Future keep reinforcing is that in order make the integration of new technology less daunting and (hopefully) easier for everyone, we need to learn to share with each other.

While I feel nervous about sharing my work, I know that I must do so that I can continue to learn from others and others can learn from both my successes and failures.   It is in this light that I share with you some of my success and some of my failures with using technology in the classroom:

 VoiceThread:

Last year I created a VoiceThread account for my students.  VoiceThread allows users to upload slideshows, videos, documents, and other materials.  Others  can then comment using their voice, typed words, or drawings.  Since this was new for me, I decided to restrict the creation of threads to me only.  One thread that I created was a series of pictures that showed the class doing various things.  When I demonstrated how to use it, the class immediately took hold loved it.  I asked them to go home and place a comment on a slide explaining what International Baccalaureate Learner Profile was been shown.

One of my students, who was incredibly nervous about oral participation in class (more than once I saw her break down in tears when I asked her what she was thinking), went home and produced the most lovely oral comments.  I was so happy that this student was able to find her voice in a way that she was unable to in class.

Mess of tangled cords caused by headphone neglect

Headphones:

To support my use of VoiceThread last year the school purchased several sets of headphones for the computer lab.  I took responsibility numbering them and putting them into plastic bags.  When I took my students to the computer lab I gave them explicit instruction on how to use them.  My class was fantastic with the headphones, however it was not long before cords got tangled and people stopped putting them back properly.  Both my students and I became frustrated when it cam time to use the headphones.  Based on this if you must use headphones, I would encourage each class to have their own set.  This will help ensure that you have control over how they are maintained.

Dropbox:

Over the summer I began to think about using Dropbox with my students. The IT staff at my school were kind enough to create a class Dropbox account and install the program on all the computers in the lab.  Once that was done I created a folder for each class that contained all the students and synced it with my personal folder.  Thus, I will have access to their work from anywhere.  When I introduced it to my students this week I received several “ooh’s” and “ahh’s.”  One student was elated at the fact that if she gets it installed at home, then she no longer has to worry about having to carry around a USB stick.

The examples presented above would mainly fall into the “Doing old things in new ways” category of Mark Prensky’s article.  However as I continue to evolve in my own understanding of technology and how to use it in the classroom I have goals:

Open Things Up:

This is a scary proposition for me but as I become more comfortable with technology I want to open up the world to my students.  I want them to interact with others so that they can learn from the knowledge of others.  I want them to find people who share their passions so that they can follow it even when there’s no one geographically close to them with the same interests.  I want them to demonstrate their learning in a way that interests them using tools that are easy for them to use.  Most of all I want them to continue to evolve as people and leave at the end of every day feeling good about themselves and that they have contributed to the global pool of knowledge.

Changing Assessment:

Tests have their place; I believe that.  However, as I gain more proficiency with various technological tools, I want my students to explore these tools and use them to further their own understandings.  On Monday I texted my co-teacher and told her that I wanted to open up the next assignment and get away from the idea of posters, essays, speeches, and tests.  I want them to be creative.  I want to push them to try new ways of expressing themselves by opening up the project to permit the use of technology beyond research, Word, and Power Point.

Photo Credits:

Headphone Mess by Brendan Lea

Image Sources, Creative Commons Licensed, Found on Flickr

Blue Marble (Planet Earth) by woodlewonderworks

Taking a Test by peruisay

Video Credits:

VoiceThread use in classrooms by ericdvid2

Dropbox Demo by theragax

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“Geek Out”

As I read the “geeking out” section of Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of findings from Digital Youth Project, I could not help but feel that the concept of being interested in something to the point where one actively researches it seemed familiar.  Eventually feeling comfortable enough with the material that one is willing to create and share their own work, was also an experience that I too have shared.  The common thread among the case studies presented in this section appeared to be not only were the participants using technology to further their understanding of a particular activity but were also taking their passion to the next level by creating pieces of work that reflected their interest and ability in the activity.  In the case studies presented examples included participants making music, anime music videos, and game guides.

Brendan "geeking out" over theatre

The authors mention that “geeking out is usually supported by interest-based groups, either local or online, or some hybrid of the two, where fellow geeks will both produce and exchange knowledge on their subjects of interest.”  As I read this, I could not help but think of my own experiences with “geeking out” over theatre.   Growing up I was interested in the performing arts, however not many of my friends in the local community were interested.  Thus, like the people involved in the study, I sought out avenues to further my knowledge and  abilities.  Luckily there was a group close by that was interested and my parents signed me up.  Over the course of the past twenty-one years I have continued to develop my passion for theatre and I have had wonderful experiences as an actor, producer, costumer, sound operator, lighting operator, props master, and stage manager.

Reading the examples, I felt a connection with the participants, because they were following their interests, not for the potential profit, but because they had a passion about the topic.  Regardless of the availability of the Internet, chances are we have all had an experience where we “geeked out.”  What the Internet has done is expand the tools, methods, topics, and even spaces for “geeking out,” by creating places for people to connect with others from around the globe who share their passions.  As educators we hope that students will follow their passions in life; the rise of the Internet has provided the opportunity for students to ‘geek out’ with others of similar interest without being limited by their geography.  In order to encourage this we must expand our own ideas and concepts about what constitutes an acceptable demonstration of knowledge.

I remember being at a workshop where the presenter showed us the video “The Evolution of Dance.”  The video showed a man who had “geeked out” over dance. Throughout the video music from different artists and eras is played, as the music changed he modified his dance to reflect the style of the song and period.  After the video was played our instructor asked us to evaluate its worthiness as a piece of evidence that the man had gained knowledge in the area of dance history.  The general consensus was that it did even though there were no essays, PowerPoint presentation, or speeches.   The above example illustrates how our ideas of authentic assessments need to expand to reflect the interests and abilities of our students.  By doing so we can hope to create a class full of students who are willing to “geek out” both in life and at school.

Photo Credits:

Pippin Cast by Roger Walker (used with Permission)

Video Credits:

The Evolution of Dance by Judson Laipply

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Connectivism: Questioning the role of the teacher in a connected world

It seems that every week there is a news article debating issues in education from the value of standardized testing amongst scandal, the value of technology on education, how to improve the quality of teaching, and trying to figure out which educational theory works best in an always connected world,   Sir Ken Robinson provides an explanation as to why people are constantly critiquing the education system in his speech Changing Education Paradigms.

Mr. Robinson mentions that the current solutions being offered are not working because the suggestions being put forth to improve education do not fit with the current model that exists in schools.  This week I was introduced to the theory of Connectivism which suggests that learning is a process of connecting nodes or information sources to further one’s understanding, in contrast to the current assembly-line model of education.

In his post Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, George Siemens introduces us to his ideas on how we can best educate our students in a digital society.  He makes some interesting points in his article and raises some intriguing questions, particularly concerning the limitations of educational theories because they “…are concerned with the process of learning and not the value of what is being taught.”

Connectivism could be explained as a learning theory that encourages students to use their connections to further their learning in a field of study that is interesting to them.  This theory stresses the importance of being able to make connections between bits of information, discerning useful or truthful information, and maintaining connections to ensure further learning and currency of information.  However, I felt uneasy when I got to the conclusion and read his suggestion that “the pipe is more important than the content within the pipe.  Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today.”

Yes, I agree that being able to learn something is an incredibly valuable skill.  Yes, I act more as a guide with my students, helping them to understand the big idea and allowing them to research their own inquiries. But, do I believe it should be up to each individual to follow only what interests them: hardly.  Reflecting on my own interests as a child, if I had only followed the nodes that allowed me further to develop my knowledge of areas of interest, then I would have wound up learning nothing except how to put on a show, “Who Shot Mr. Burns?,” and perhaps the 100 reasons why cats are better then dogs.

If it were not for my teachers guiding me to learn what they felt was valuable to learn and to understand the bigger picture, I would never have developed an interest in history or religious studies.

I probably will never feel comfortable teaching a course like George Siemens and Stephen Downes did where the only two components were:

  1. enrolled students seeking formal evaluation and recognition
  2. participants engaged for personal learning.

However, after reading the article I am now pondering another question: If technology is to the point where students can access information at any time, then what facts, skills, or “big ideas,” truly need to be taught under the supervision of a teacher?  If the answer nothing, then our profession needs to be reevaluated.  But, if we believe that there are things too valuable to know that leaving it to the chance that students will stumble upon it is not an option, then what are they and what is our position in a world where access to knowledge is as easy as pushing a few buttons? Perhaps the teacher should act as a guide to help students not only see what they want to see but also to guide them to see things that they can’t or don’t want to see but should.

Image Sources, Creative Commons Licensed, Found on Flickr

CMAP of Connectivism v1.0 by  wlonline

Who Shot Mr Burns? shared by Andrew*

Image Source Vladia Vladia

Brendan as Stage Manager by Vladia Vladia

Image Source Graham Lea

Brendan with Mackie by Graham Lea

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Reflections and Questions on Educational Technology

Is the Internet a mass of content or a mass of connections?  As I thought about this question I reflected on my own history of the Internet usage.  When I first began using the Internet I used it primarily to access information that I needed or wanted to know.  However, as I grew older and the Internet grew, my Internet habits have changed.  Now, I use the Internet mainly to connect with my family, friends, other educators, and others who share my passions.  If the Internet has evolved to the point where people are mainly making connections to others, then the question that arises is how can we best utilize those connections to make a positive impact on ourselves and the world around us?  The readings this week provided some insight into how I might be able to do this.  I was particularly impressed with the example of Laura Stockman in the article “World Without Walls:  Learning Well with Others” by Will Richardson.  The article introduces us to Laura as an example of how one person’s global connections can have an impact locally.  Laura’s example highlights the benefits of “The Collaboration Age;” however, as is pointed out in the article, the ability to connect with experts and others requires us to rethink our roles as educators.  The article provides some insight in what that new role might be:

“It’s about being able to form safe, effective networks and communities around those explorations, trust and be trusted in the process, and contribute to the conversations and co-creations that grow from them.”

As I read this quote it reminded me of my own thinking over the summer in preparation for the COETAIL program.  I pondered my role as a teacher integrating technology into the class and the article helped remind me of the direction I should continue to take in my own teaching practice.  Instead of being the provider of knowledge or resources, I need to work with the students to ensure that they have the ability and the understanding of how to create their own learning networks through the use of blogs, VoiceThreads, Wikis etc. That being said, I was left with several questions:

  1. Where do I begin this process with my students, when I feel that my own understanding is not sufficient?
  2. How do I get the parents on board to support their students going beyond the typical classroom walls?
  3. What modifications do I need to make in my teaching in order to ensure that this type of learning is effective?
  4. How do I maintain an effective balance so students develop a healthy online presence but do not neglect face-to-face connections and the experience of hands-on-learning?

Question 4 is the one that perplexes me most.  For example, I could very well create a digital learning experience for my students on dairy-farming by setting up a Skype conference with my relatives in the field and blogs to capture their thinking.  However, how does this experience compare to students actually going to a farm and experiencing the process of farming hands-on?  Or does educational technology function best as a compliment to rather than a substitution for hands-on-learning?  Or do we need to rethink entirely how we view and use educational technology because as Christenson and Horn suggest in Disrupting Class: Student-Centric Education is  the Future

“Schools have done what virtually every organization does when implementing an innovation.  An organization’s natural instinct is to cram the innovation into its existing operating model to sustain what it already does.  This is perfectly predictable, perfectly logical – and perfectly wrong.”

I don’t have definitive answers for these questions, but they will help guide me along the journey toward the continued improvement of my teaching practice. Will Richardson poses many of the same questions in his article.  However, he does not provide any answers; instead he provides a model for teachers to become connectors and offers suggestions to help begin their journey to find the answers that best work for them in their situation.  Both of the sites provided by the author encourage people to connect and share with others.  Perhaps as Dean Shareski suggests in his video for the K-12 Online Conference 2010, the first steps toward furthering understanding and getting involved are not only taking the risk to connect with other educators around world but also to be willing to share my thoughts and ideas with them.

When I first found out that part of the course requirements included keeping a blog, I thought that it was a great idea but that I would only use it for specifically course related entries. This article has inspired me to modify how I view this blog and include in it my own musings about education in general.  Not only that but also to include some examples of work that I have done with my class (as I begin the process I will be putting up resources for people to use and critique).  I invite people to read and to offer their suggestions. As Ewan McIntosh said:

Sharing, and sharing online specifically, is not in addition to the work of being an educator.  It is the work.”

I look forward to working with everyone in the class and learning from each person’s thoughts and ideas.

Image Sources, Creative Commons, found on Flickr

/ponder by striatic

Sharing ideas by festivalslab

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