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!