Friday, March 20, 2015

MACUL Madness

Today I had the pleasure of attending the MACUL conference in Detroit. I prepped for the conference by reading through the program and writing down the names of sessions that grabbed my interest. I began the day ready to learn and find new ways to incorporate technology in both social studies and spanish classrooms. Despite my careful preparations, the day did not go as planned. One session was canceled and another session focused on technology to be unveiled in coming years - and therefore not very useful for lesson planning right now. However, the other sessions I attended were wonderful, inspiring me and teaching me new ways to enhance my practice.

I began the day with a session called "Starting a TED-Ed Club". Led by Teacher Todd Beard, this presentation illustrated the why and how of beginning a TED-Ed club. I, like many others, absolutely love TED talks. (If you haven't seen "The Danger of the Single Story" or "How Schools Kill Creativity," then watching these videos is your homework.) In general TED talks are inspiring, creative, and informative. They challenge, construct, and share ideas in a fun format, but for some reason I had never considered bringing TED talks into the classroom. After this session, it was clear that a TED-Ed club is the perfect venue for students to begin sharing their ideas and developing their presentation skills. The presenter told us about the process of setting up a club, including applying and being vetted. Once approved, thirteen lessons already made are at your disposal as well as the potential to develop new lessons. The concept of TED-Ed Clubs is fairly recent - I believe they were first developed in 2013 - and I am so excited to have found a way to help students find their voice.

I also attended a session called "Connecting with Experts Through Virtual Field Trips." This session advocated videotaping experts in their field and creating a sort of mini-documentary (aligned with state standards of course) providing students with information. Then, once students had watched the video and had some prior knowledge, the teachers used applications such as Skype and Google Hangout to allow students the opportunity to chat with experts. The benefits of virtual field trips include saving time and money, showing curriculum in real life context, and introducing students to new careers. Additionally, once the videos are completed they can be archived and used in future years. I particularly like the Q&A portion of this virtual field trip where students are allowed to interact with and learn from an expert member of the community. I'm still brainstorming how I can use virtual field trips as a history teacher, but I am excited by the possibilities!

Finally, I also attended a session on web tools. The presenter, Dave Tchozewski, was engaging and had a wonderful list of free tools for teachers. (See the full list on his website - look under Web Tools.) Though these apps are not discipline specific, they provide a number of interesting and creative ways to engage students and enhance teachers' practice. For example, the Google Story Builder is an interesting tool that allows the user to create characters, type a story, and then add background music. SmartyPins is a type of geography trivia game. Collaborate with Famous Storytellers allows students to begin typing a story only to have their words edited by famous authors like Edgar Allen Poe!

I'm not sure how to use all of these web tools in my classroom yet, but I am so excited by all of the new resources at my finger tips! MACUL was ultimately a fun, inspiring, and somewhat overwhelming experience and I am so excited to begin developing new lessons with all of this technology!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Technology Teach-In

Community High School has access to a few excellent technological resources, including two computer labs with Mac desktop computers. However, with the exception of a few trips to the lab to play a stock market exchange game, my mentor teacher and I have made relatively little use of the technological tools available to us. For my technology teach-in I plan on working with my students to develop a series of podcasts about the monetary and fiscal policies of the government here in the good ole' USA.

Later in the semester we will have an entire unit devoted to Government Roles in the Economy. Fiscal and monetary policy are difficult topics, yet extremely important and relevant to understanding how rules and regulations affect the economy and the people of a society. This lesson covers expansionary and contractionary policies, the tools the Fed uses to cause change, and effects on indices such as unemployment and inflation. To help my students engage with this material, I would like to take them to the media center to create podcasts. I hope that after thoroughly unpacking the content in class and giving them the chance to do some research on their own, my students will feel comfortable defending some sort of argument or opinion. After helping them to organize their thoughts and ideas (perhaps using a graphic organizer!) we could go down to the media center and students could begin recording.

Though most of my students have never used the technology to create a podcast, I believe that this could be beneficial in multiple ways. My learning goals are loosely structured around the following ideas. First, there are a lot of variables in fiscal and monetary policy and I think that a project or performance type assessment, such as a podcast, would help me to see whether or not they have synthesized the material into a coherent argument or opinion. Secondly, I think that this technology allows students to express their opinions creatively using an innovative new process. Furthermore, creating a podcast allows students to practice a new method of communication, using digital media to publish ideas and information. Finally, I hope that students will take this opportunity to positively interact with a new technological tool to assist them in learning.

I'm very excited about trying to utilize some new technology in my classroom, but I do have a question about this teach-in lesson for my colleagues. Do you think it would be better to have the students work in groups to create a podcast? I'm not sure if this would dilute the experience or create an opportunity for collaboration. I look forward to hearing everyone's feedback/comments!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Technology in My Placement

As we are learning in class, technology can play an incredibly important role in the classroom. It can make teaching easier when used properly and students often find it more engaging than traditional methods of conveying information. However, technology is very expensive and school districts often cannot afford to purchase all of the technological tools that they would like.

Ann Arbor is a very good school district and yet it too does not have the capability to provide all of the possible resources. My placement at Community High School has exposed me to what (I assume) is the typical range of technological resources available to most schools. There are a few computer labs which contain relatively new apple desktop computers and several laptop carts which contain much older macs. Each classroom has a projector and a sound system that teachers can use to share visual and audio media. There is one IT person who comes to Community once a week. Though this technology may seem simplistic and limited, it actually is very functional and seems to work well for the teachers and students of this school.

Though it might be nice for each classroom to have a smart board or for each student to have easy, reliable access to a laptop, it is not necessary. In fact, the addition of such technological tools without the proper training would be disastrous. Teachers must be comfortable and familiar with the technology in their classrooms. Furthermore, they must be able to plan how the technology will be incorporated into their lessons and prepare for a plan B in case something goes wrong. This requires a new type of professional development and many teachers may be uncomfortable reworking their lessons to include technological tools. I think there is a happy medium where teachers can try new things, but don't have to jump on the bandwagon every time a new and improved gadget comes on the market.

My mentor teacher, a graduate of the MAC program, makes use of the projector and the sound system in her room and frequently signs the class up for trips to the computer lab. However, I think the most important technology available in the school is quite simply access to the internet. The most important thing isn't the availability of computers, it is having the ability to use them. We have access to an excellent stock market game that allows students to simulate buying and selling stocks. I think a lesson's success is based on how well you use the tools you have, not whether or not you have the newest gadget. As we've learned in our 504 class there are a lot of web-based tools that teachers and students can use to stay organized, learn, and engage with the material. Though Community High School may not have the most sophisticated gadgetry, I think that the teachers do a remarkable job with what they have.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Exploring Edubloggers

Today I sat down and tackled the task of finding and responding to various edubloggers. This was not as easy a task as it sounds. There is so much out there on the internet that it is actually rather overwhelming. Finding the blogs that are both useful and inspirational took quite a bit of time.  I searched through numerous databases and skimmed dozens of blogs before I found a few that really captivated my interest. Many of the blogs I found were disorganized and cluttered to the point that I had a difficult time navigating and comprehending the information on the site. Others hadn't been updated since 2013 or 2012 and I was hoping for something more recent. Still others discussed concepts in more vague, abstract terms or focused on education as a whole. (This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I was looking for something specific to my content area).

However, after searching for a while I found two excellent blogs! I never thought I would be the type of person to follow blogs, but after reading through a few of the posts on these sites I can say that I will definitely be going back for more! The first blog focuses on Spanish and the second one focuses on history. Both offered excellent resources and ideas that I have not yet been exposed to in my classes or my placement. This is the major benefit I see to participating in the edublogger world - access to new information and ideas. The spanish blog suggested a way to incorporate current events with social media. I was immediately captivated by this idea and the more I thought about it the more I realized it would be a good way to utilize authentic texts and encourage students to use the language in writing outside of formal papers (namely on Facebook and twitter). I love that as I read I not only received new ideas, but also was able to generate connections to what I am learning here in the MAC program. The history blog suggested an excellent resource called the Google Cultural Institute. (All you history teachers out there should check this out. Now. Don't worry, I'll wait) It is the coolest thing I've seen in a long time and it got me so excited to teach again. This is another benefit to finding and reading excellent blogs - you may be inspired.

Both of the edubloggers had numerous excellent posts and I am excited to see what else they write in the future. I was even excited to leave my own comments (Although neither of my posts have been accepted and posted publicly yet. Fingers crossed that they will be soon). Though it took me a while to find blogs that I enjoyed reading and found useful, the effort was well worth it. I probably will not spend a lot of time searching for more edubloggers to follow, but it is nice to know that there are practical, yet inspirational ideas being shared all the time. I look forward to reading what else these bloggers post and beginning my tentative foray into the world of edubloggers.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Technological Tools: Padlet

As a young grad student, many other teachers assume that I know everything there is to know about technology and how to use it in the classroom. This is far from the truth. There are many technological tools about which I know next to nothing, let alone how to best use them in the classroom. Recently I listened to a presentation on Padlet, a pinterest-like wall where teachers can post announcements, resources, and assignments for their students. We were then given the opportunity to create our own padlet. I loved this portion of the presentation (hands on learning is the best) and felt that though they were allowing us to explore on our own, they had sufficiently scaffolded our knowledge prior to setting us free.

As I developed one for my Economics class I learned through experimentation, becoming familiar with the new technological tool and how I could best utilize it. I liked a lot of its features - the colorful wallpaper designs, the privacy settings, the potential to add links to other sites, and the various ways in which to format the layout. However, as I created my own padlet I noticed that it lacked the ease of simple folders containing new information. Instead for every new page (assignments, comments/questions, resources, etc) you had to create a new padlet. Pretty soon I had a padlet within a padlet within a padlet. It was like inception with padlets. This structure frustrated me and despite the advantages of padlet, I don't think that I could organize it to my satisfaction.

However, after allowing us to play around with the padlet application, the group presentation continued on to show a few other ways to use padlet and I was struck by the use of padlet solely as a page for resources. In this way the padlet page functioned very much like a pinterest page, but it was colorful and would be easily accessible for students. By creating a padlet with simple links to various resources there would be no need to create a padlet within a padlet. I can definitely see myself creating a padlet full of information for students to use - everything from sites to help with creating a works cited, to finding resources for research papers, to interesting news articles.

As much as I love the idea of using technology in the classroom, I need to be careful to use it only when I think it will be convenient and purposeful. Otherwise what should have been a useful tool becomes a hindrance to organization and learning. Though I probably will not use padlet on a daily basis for my classroom, I think that using it as a resource page for students could be very helpful and I am excited to have learned about a new technological tool. I was impressed with the presentation and I look forward to learning about more new technological tools soon!

Be the Inspiration, Not the Information

"Why do we have to do this?" "What's the point?" "Do we have to?" These questions are all too familiar for teachers. Students protest new assignments and teachers use the old carrot and stick method to get them to do their work. The issue of student engagement with school assignments is constantly debated, particularly how to get students engaged with the material. I remember other students asking these questions in high school (and asked them myself). Now, as I stand in front of a class as a teaching intern I hear students asking me these questions and the issue of student engagement has suddenly become very real. 

Luckily, I am in an awesome program with some wonderful resources for me to utilize. Recently, a guest speaker, David Theune, gave a presentation during one of my classes. His experiences with motivating students to write showed me that there are various ways to engage students, but that perhaps the most important is purpose. When students ask "What's the point?" they are truly feeling the lack of purpose in their writing. David remedied this situation by introducing real audiences and purposes for his students' writing. He spoke of six new audiences for his students' writing: parents, the world, local non-profits, younger in-district students, peers, and allowing students to choose who their audience would be. 

The idea of allowing students to write for a real audience was a novelty for me. During my own high school career I wrote papers that were intended for specific audiences, but they were never shared. We were just told to write "as if" we were addressing a certain target audience. However, it makes logical sense that sharing your work with the intended audience would incite a sense of ownership in your work and thus a desire to do it well and take pride in it. It seems like such a simple change - have students actually share their work in order to get them engaged - and yet I am somewhat ashamed to admit that it hadn't occurred to me before David's talk. 

Though organizing these assignments and chances for students to share their work with audiences can be difficult, David understands that engagement is vital to students' success. In fact, he said "only engagement can produce mastery" and was willing to go to great lengths to insure that students had the opportunity to feel purposeful and thus engaged with their work. He invited parents to come into the classroom to read/hear students' work, set up live streaming in the classroom to share lessons with peers, and used writing for local non-profits as an opportunity for students to learn and get involved with the community. These types of experiences must be tough to organize, but incredibly rewarding for both students and teacher. He mentioned that, with his students doing more of the work in gauging their audience, perfecting tone and structure, he was no longer just a fountain of knowledge, pouring information into their brains. Rather, he was allowed to be "the inspiration" for students. I hope that I too will be able to use what I have learned to engage students and become "the inspiration, not the information." 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

BYOD Lessons

I really enjoyed the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) assignment. In small groups we created interdisciplinary lessons that incorporated technology and the BYOD theme. My group created a lesson on the development of the English language throughout history and it was so much fun to create! Combining technology and various disciplines made the lesson seem more creative and accessible.

Reading other lessons was also a blast, especially those outside of my subject area. I was thoroughly impressed with the "BYOD to Discover Tree Species" lesson developed by Wilbur, Jesse Sara, and Sarah. This science class is certainly unlike the majority of the classes I had in high school. I think that this lesson will certainly engage the students' natural curiosity and create a more natural initiative for learning. Even the worksheets assigned during the bell work are cute as well as well-structured. I am slightly concerned however that five minutes won't be enough time for them to complete all three pages. This lesson is certainly packed with wonderful material! After the worksheets, students are invited to do two things they love: use their phones and go outside. Collecting pictures of different plant species and identifying them is a great way for students to practice classification and differentiation of species. Overall, this lesson was well organized and well thought-out.

The perks of this lesson aren't limited to moving around and using cell phones though. I particularly love the questions they created to ask students including a. What are some of the key physical characters of the species? b. If you cannot tell what species is it is based on the leaves, what else can you look for? c. If you cannot tell what species is it is based on the fruits, what else can you look for? The last two questions are excellent for stretching students' thinking. This pedagogical approach of questioning and self-led discovery is not often seen in classrooms and I think that it is especially valuable for the encouragement of higher order thinking and evidence based learning in our high school classrooms.

The technology used in this classroom is simple and won't be problematic - as laptop carts and other resources often are. Instead, students are asked to bring their own device (BYOD) and use their phones to take pictures. Furthermore, this group has found an awesome app called Leafsnap that assists in the identification of different tree species. This inclusion of technology teaches students that their mobile devices and apps can be used for more than just angry birds and texting.

Overall, I really liked this lesson. I have only two small concerns. First, is time. A lot of material has been packed into a short lesson and I would hate to see the discussions and discoveries cut short. (But I think all teachers worry about this!) The second concern is the connection of the lesson material to the survival and extinction standard listed in the lesson plan. I do not see any explicit connection to this standard in the material, but it would be easy enough to fix. Thanks to Jesse, Sara, Wilbur, and Sarah for sharing their lesson plan!