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!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Exploring Evernote

For all that I've grown up in the 21st century I don't really consider myself a very technologically proficient person. I pretty much use my computer for Microsoft Office and the Internet which in a way is kind of sad because I know that my laptop is capable of so much more. I knew I was missing out on some stuff, but I was comfortable with what I knew so I didn't explore much with other programs. Consequently, when I learned that I had to explore a new software called Evernote, I was a little worried that I would struggle and my technological incapabilities would become very apparent. In short, messing around on computers intimidates me.

However, Evernote is actually very intuitive and easy to use. I started out with the basics - creating notes and notebooks, setting reminders, and synching my devices. This part was pretty easy. You typed notes and could change font, color, highlighting, use bold or italics, and add bullet points - pretty similar to Word. The assignment required me to explain Evernote for 25 minutes though, and I knew that the basics would take about 5 minutes to discuss. Knowing that I needed more to present to my peers was enough incentive to make me click on every button that appears on the Evernote interface. It may sound silly, but this was a great learning experience and I discovered a lot of useful tools including the shortcut section, the ability to add different tags, and the possibility of annotating notes as PDFs.

In completing this assignment I learned two very useful things. First, that I have a wonderful new resource at my fingertips to assist me in staying organized and completing my work. Just in the past week I have used Evernote to multiple times to jot down important tips or notices and to set reminders. I also use it to record audio of my group's video discussions. Discovering a practical new tool is a great reward for completing this assignment. The second thing I learned from this assignment is that technology should not be intimidating. There are incredible rewards to putting a little effort into understanding new software or programs. Understanding technology and how it can benefit me will be useful as a teacher (we've all had that one teacher who is frustratingly inept with technology). Furthermore, as a future educator, I believe it is important to continue to challenge myself to grow and learn. I appreciate that this assignment pushed me out of my comfort zone, taught me something new, and helped alter my self-identifaction as a technologically challenged individual.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Video Games and Learning

In my last class we discussed the link between video games and learning. This is a really fascinating and very relevant subject. After all, who doesn't like video games? Not only do most students play video games, but they play them with a determination and a willingness to learn that is often unseen in the classroom. Many educators are trying to tap that enthusiasm by using educational online games, so I decided to check out a few social studies games from BBC's interactive games website ( I played quite a few including Gladiator: Dressed to Kill, Mummy Maker, the Elizabethan Spying Game, and Iron Age Life. These games were alright, but in many respects I believe that they fell short.

James Gee writes in his article "Good Video Games and Good Learning" that video games are so wonderfully engaging for a variety of different reasons. However, these educational games do not evoke the same qualities as video games do. I will discuss three here. Firstly the absence of lateral thinking. For example, most of the educational games listed above involved a lot of reading followed by short quiz like questions. You had to answer the question correctly in order to move forward. While this did provide an alternative manner of providing subject information, the format was remarkably similar to the lectures and quizzes of typical classrooms. There was not a lot of room for exploration or lateral thinking, both of which James Gee suggests should exist in abundance for an engaging video game. Furthermore, the students were not involved enough in the game to adopt a new identity - something which Gee also describes as necessary for a good video game. He writes, "players become committed to the new virtual world in which they will live, learn, and act through their commitment to their new identity" (p5). There is no opportunity for the development of any such identity in the short, superficial educational games I explored. Finally, there is no space for system thinking. Most of these games are about facts, not relationships of various concepts and the type of higher order thinking that most of us want our students to engage in.

Perhaps I am being too harsh. Perhaps if played by the appropriate age group these games would be interesting and captivate the attention of students. However, I found it all too tempting to click through the long texts, especially once I know I had the right answer. History is a fascinating subject and I think with better educational video games could be created. We need games that give students not only the three qualities above, but also games that are pleasantly frustrating, provide smart tools and distributed knowledge, allow for a sense of agency, and encourage risk taking. This may be a tall order for educational video games, but the benefits of an engaging, educational video game would far outweigh the costs. I remember being completely engrossed in a video game called civilization revolution in high school that allowed you to play as a civilization of your choice. You had to fight wars, create infrastructure, develop culture, and generally learn about the various components necessary to a civilization. A game such as this, with a more specific history focus, may be much more useful for engaging students.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Challenge Accepted: The Issues with Teacher Evaluation based on Student Test Scores

Today's discussion about online assessment was intriguing and disturbing at the same time - like a bad accident that you don't really want to see, but you find yourself incapable of looking away. Knowing that these issues concerning student assessments and teacher evaluations affect my future career is scary, and the feeling that I have little control over the situation is even scarier.

Let's begin with teacher evaluation based on student's test scores. I know that it is my job to teach, to help my students grow academically. I do believe that teachers should be held responsible for this task and that ineffective teachers should be given opportunities to improve through professional development and feedback before being dismissed. However, I cannot believe that up to 40% of my evaluation as a teacher will be based on student's test scores. Test scores don't measure teacher effectiveness. They don't even really measure student's learning. Standardized test scores prove little except that students are capable of utilizing rote memorization skills to jot down the answers to a bunch of multiple choice questions. Truly effective assessments or tests should be designed to test not just factual knowledge, but also conceptual and procedural knowledge (but more on that another time). Furthermore, a number of factors aside from Teacher effectiveness affect student's test scores including their motivation to do well, their confidence level, their health, and their familiarity with technology (if it's a test on a computer). Any number of situations at home or with family may impact how well a student does on a test and it is unfair to base 40% of teachers' evaluations on these tests.

Basing so much of a teacher's evaluation on test scores will lead to unfortunate and potentially unethical actions. For example, as one of my fellow colleagues mentioned, this new evaluation system may cause teachers to avoid working with students in low-performing, high-need areas (as if they needed another reason). With the knowledge that they could lose their jobs due to poor evaluation scores because their students aren't demonstrating enough growth, teachers may decide that working with AP or honors students is better. What's worse, these AP and Honors students may do well without a particularly effective teacher, causing a teacher who is not particularly effective to receive a great evaluation. Furthermore, teachers who feel that their students are not performing up to par may succumb to the temptation of cheating in order to insure a good evaluation score for themselves. In fact this very phenomenon has been in the news over the past few years as teacher evaluation based on test scores (unfortunately) becomes more and more popular. Here's one example:

And let's not get started on the tests themselves. In addition to not really measuring learning, these tests are often confusing. Today in class I spent some time answering some sample questions for a 7th grade ELA test. The format was awful. There were too many instructions at the beginning and I sincerely doubt that many students will read through all of them. Then there were a lot of buttons and a confusing screen with two panels. In short, the test was poorly designed. It would be even more confusing to students who are unfamiliar with computers or who are restricted in some way. Though this may seem far-fetched in todays day and age, there may still be students who do not know how to type or are otherwise uncomfortable working with technology.

As disheartening as much of this information is, I am eager to learn more and to begin working to change the system from the inside as a social studies and/or spanish teacher. Challenge Accepted!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Clear, Concise, and Confident: Educational Reformer John Dewey

John Dewey's My Pedagogic Creed presents a simple, straightforward picture of his ideal education system. Beginning with a section on What Education Is Dewey writes, "He [the student] becomes an inheritor of the funded capital of civilization." John Dewey believed in students and their potential, their worth as the main arbiters of the next generation. This quote highlights the importance of education for all students. I really love this quote in part because it stresses the importance of education. If we don't pass our knowledge on to children, how will civilization continue? How will we progress? By giving them an education we don't just give them a future career or a well-paying job, we give them a chance to interact with and explore and, in some sense, own the world around them. As Dewey wrote, "education is a process of living and not a preparation for future living." Education should be about fostering curiosity, initiative, and dedication. It should be about critical thinking and new perspectives. Education should open up the world for students. Unfortunately, students all too often do not see knowledge as worthy in and of itself. They want to pass the class, graduate, and get a good job. Some don't even want that much. They are bombarded everyday with the message that kids who do well in school are "geeks" or "nerds". It is time to make Dewey's message a priority and to share it with students. They are the "inheritor[s]... of civilization". 
As evidenced by the section on What School Is, Dewey's pedagogic creed is based largely on the influence and importance of society in one's education. But with society delivering such a negative message concerning education can we hope that Dewey's dream of "the school as a form of community life" will ever come true? Throughout my short time as a University of Michigan intern, I have seen that his dream is attainable. Building community in schools is difficult, but not impossible. Through activities like the Circle of Power and Respect and teaching strategies that include Social-Emotional Learning it is possible to develop a curriculum that teaches not only content, but also community. Development of community is key because it helps students to form support networks and apply knowledge to relevant, real-life situations. 

I also found Dewey's section titled The Nature of Method to be particularly interesting. Throughout this section he addresses the ways in which children are taught and how these methods can be improved. He advocates for the demise of the "passive, receptive, or absorbing attitude" that is common in many classrooms. He proposes, and I agree, that learning is active. It requires thought (yay for metacognition!) and effort. Furthermore, it requires that teachers take notice of the interests of their students. I have learned in my short time working with students that they are all experts in something whether it be skateboarding, dancing, hunting, the cello, or football. They may know a lot about cars or animals or cooking. There is a wealth of untapped resources in these interests. In getting to know their students teachers not only build community, but also open the door to projects or papers that can incorporate the expertise of the student, enticing them to actively partake in their education. 

Dewey uses powerful "I believe" statements to put forth his views on education, stating simply and in no uncertain terms that he is confident in his ideas and their efficacy. These ideas have been incredibly influential and continue to be today for education reformers and for students like myself as we grow as future teachers and leaders in our communities.