Monday, April 19, 2010

Podcasting, Webcasting, and Coursecasting

Podcasting, webcasting, and coursecasting have become quite popular on college campuses, and hopefully the craze picks up at the K-12 end soon. These course enhancements can be something as simple as an audio file or as detailed as a video production. These are quite useful tools to help students study or review lectures or presentations from class. They also benefit those that are absent or those of us in distance courses that can't always attend synchronous learning engagements. iPods have shown efficiency in my classroom by recording student reading fluency. Instead of reading in the classroom, they record on an iPod in a quiet place and I listen and grade later. It's pretty helpful for struggling readers too shy to read in front of classmates. I have also put powerpoint presentations or audio files on them to help students with tests. They are allowed to choose from a variety of resources in the classroom to aid them (cheat sheets, textbook, iPods) and hopefully improve their test scores. I also put this into effect for practicality reasons. How often are we in a position where we can't look up how to do something? I provide this sense of reality to my students and hope they take me up on the offer.

I, however, struggle with listening to just a podcast. I need video. I need visual stimulation. I attribute it to an undiagnosed case of ADHD. So video podcasts are the way for me. I also prefer to make these since I am typically making podcasts for math class. I could verbally tell students how to solve problems, but most need to see math visually.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Educational Blogging

When I hear the the word blog, I think of a diary or the livejournal I secretly kept in high school. It wasn't until two years ago that I recognized blogs being an educational tool appropriate for elementary school. I had a revolution and realized that blogs were an excellent way for students to publish and reflect on content knowledge. This could prove to me that they knew the information (or unfortunately didn't). It was a great way to engage students and their parents with material at home or at the library. At minimum, it would encourage them to work on material after school hours or during free time at school. Sadly, I was never able to implement this in my classroom but our science teacher was. Things would start out great at the beginning of the year, but it was difficult to maintain throughout the school year and students couldn't be penalized for not doing the work if it was assigned for homework since not all students have the internet. It became apparent that students were engaged for awhile because it was new and it was technology. However, the novelty wore off, the teacher became disengaged, and the blog postings went to Hell. Instead of reading about science content, I was reading about which Harry Potter character my students were or about the Reds team. I haven't looked back at blogging since that disappointing day, but writing my own blog has given me a fresh look and encouraged me to reexamine my feelings towards educational blogging.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Mobile, Wireless, and Ubiquitous Learning

With mobile and wireless capabilities, learning is truly ubiquitous, granted everyone has access. The forums this week posed the question of using mobile technologies to take the place of calamity days for schools, something that I have discussed in detail with my classes. Most are interested in mobile learning (mainly via laptop) but not all have access to computers or internet. Until it is true that everyone has access to these technologies, I don't think K-12 schools can require online learning due to expense and it is doubtful that schools will be providing these technologies for students. Ohio's "online calamity day" sounds much more glamorous than it really is. I envisioned skype sessions, youtube vidoes, or at the minimum a discussion forum. This is far from the case and reading the proposed bill was quite disheartening. Lessons must be turned in for calamity days in September, and most calamity days are not used until December. This means the lessons will not be in sync with the content of the class, but hopefully will lead to more "big picture" lessons. It is a step in the right direction, Ohio, but not the giant one I was hoping for.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Alternate Reality Learning: Massive Gaming, Virtual Reality, and Simulations

Second Life is scary for so many reasons. First off, your avatar can fly! I typically hate things that fly including, but not limited to, birds - especially geese and swans, mosquitoes, and bees. Secondly, the learning curve sounds horrendous, although I'm assured it is not as difficult as I have convinced myself. My time is precious and I have become accustomed to a "right now" way of life, not a "two hours from now" way of life. Thirdly, this is yet another thing that will keep me (and presumably others) from having human face-to-face contact, something that my social-butterfly-nature holds dearly. Last but not least, it costs money. I'm used to having everything on the internet be free.

However, despite my rants above, second life possesses a wonderous world of educational opportunity including live classrooms where you can learn second languages to classrooms offering role playing learning opportunities. I would like to learn more about second life and play in this virtual world, hopefully learning new things in the process.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Interactive and Collaborative Learning

Wow how things have changed! I remember sitting in rows, outlining the science chapter, answering questions in a notebook, and turning them in to be graded. It doesn't seem like there were many things done collaboratively when I was in school. In fact, I'm still not sure collaborative learning is a "mainstream" as I'd probably like to think that it is. Haven't people ever heard the coined phrase "two heads are better than one"? When I stop to ponder why people might veer away from collaborative learning, I think the biggest road block for most would be the noise that comes with it. I equate collaborative and interactive learning in my classroom with organized chaos and will be the first to say that I feel my students learn the most when they are loud and working together. It can be difficult to keep all students engaged all the time, so it can be very tiring for teachers to walk around continuously (especially since roughly 90% of one of my classes are all on intervention plans for focusing issues). However, if the lesson is engaging, interactivity can keep them all focused. I found this to be true when I had students constructing their own pots of out newspaper, filling them with dirt, and planting seeds for a garden they each planned. There were spills, of course, but every student could find the volume of one of the pots so we could make sure I had purchased enough potting soil. Collaborative and interactive learning sounds like it would be less work for a teacher, but it is quite the opposite.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Networks of Personalized Learning

With my coming trip to Guatemala and Costa Rica I thought it would be most helpful if I learned some key phrases in Spanish. After all, I'll really just need to know how to say "I'd like a beer", "Where is the bathroom?" and "I don't eat fish". Four years of French in high school isn't really helping out and I don't have a lot of time. After reading about Live Mocha in Dr. Bonk's book I decided to give it a test run recently. It's a good way to spend my lunch break at work. For those unfamiliar, Live Mocha is a language learning site that also involves a social aspect. You can be paired up with someone that speaks the language you wish to learn, practice your conversation in their language and also help someone trying to learn your native tongue. It is free, although a crash course will cost you. Interestingly enough, the article posted for this week's topic goes right along with my frustration of language learning in schools. Vocabulary is great, but good luck having an actual conversation with someone. I have downloaded an audiobook for my iPod to listen to in the car, but I really hope I can get some mad Spanish speaking skillz before I head down that way using Live Mocha. After all, I don't need to write an essay. I simply need to engage with the locals and immerse myself in the various cultures. I think the social feature of Live Mocha will prove rewarding. I've been studying flash cards for about a week now, and hope to engage someone in conversation in the next month!

If not, I may just be downloading Jibbigo for my iTouch. Would be an interesting way to have a conversation, that's for sure.

Monday, March 8, 2010

YouTube, TeacherTube, and the Future of Shared Online Video

I can't even begin to list the things I have learned using sites such as youtube and teachertube. Most recently I learned how to build a raised vegetable garden using the square foot gardening method. The book about square foot gardening is a solid 300 pages, and the information was synthesized into five minute clips! I ended up reading/skimming the book regardless but the videos were extremely helpful.

In the world of education youtube tends to get a bad rap because of the content and the fact that for the most part it isn't censored. I don't think you can access pornography on the site, but vulgar language is definitely there, not to mention countless inappropriate videos that students can have access to. However, youtube has an immense amount of educational videos with the above as an example. My students have used youtube in virtually every subject/content area this year. It does wonders for visual learners - and I have a lot that prefer this learning modality. If they tell me they forget how to find area or volume, it is only a few quick clicks away, same for any topic. I find it especially helpful when they ask me something I don't know, like a definition of the water cycle. We found a pretty catchy song for this earlier this year.

I believe so much in the future and power of online videos that I spent the first two weeks of school showing my students the fundamentals of Movie Maker and giving them ample time to explore and create a video on what it means to have good character. Since then many have taken the opportunity to use videos as a means of presenting projects in other classes or creating memories of class field trips. My plan was to have each student create one informational video to share, but that just hasn't happened this year. Perhaps after standardized tests are over :)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Wikis, Wikipedia, Wikibooks, and Collaborative Writing

The only wiki's I had been exposed to prior to this school year was wikipedia and wikihow. I can't even explain how much I enjoy wikipedia. This school year, however, I have come to loathe the word wiki, and for good reasons I believe. I understand the educational value of a wiki. First off, students get to create their own content, which requires some pretty high level thinking skills. Second, they are publishing their work for the world to see. And last but not least, they are finding, synthesizing, and creating content for their other classmates to see/read/learn from. Every fifth grader in our school have their very own wiki for science class, but I can't say how much learning has taken place through the wiki. A quick survey of the advanced group showed little to no interaction with the wiki. When asked what they learned while doing the wiki, shorcuts for copy and paste were among the top. They also learned how to embed youtube videos of their favorite artists, like Justin Biebler and Beyonce. They all have "about me" pages and "friends" pages. It's more like looking at a myspace page than learning information. It actually makes me quite depressed since I know the possibilities that a wiki can hold and bring. It is supposed to be a collaborative learning tool. The only collaboration my students did was collaborate with Wikipedia by copying and pasting. They did collaborate on their "about me" pages when they changed each others biography. The inappropriate use of technology has deterred most teachers from even wanting to consider using them in the classroom and I can't say that I blame them.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Open Source / Free Software

The open source software movement has been growing rapidly, and for good reason. First off, it doesn't cost any money; second is the fact that you can share it with friends; third, since the code is available, you can change it to suit your needs or fix bugs that pop up - and you won't have to wait for a patch or an update.

There is a downside and strings attached. For those of us that are not technically-savy enough to edit code, we will have to wait for someone else to create updates, so it really isn't free. It often isn't easy to install and searching forums for answers takes a lot of sifting, reading, trying, and sometimes failing. And if it's free, you can't really complain, right? However, if you are a paying customer you have a right to call an 800 number, wait on hold for twenty minutes, and demand your questions be answered! (and hopefully you will).

This is not to say that all open source software is unsuccessful as it is quite the opposite. There are extremely successful programs that shine a spotlight on the open source movement such as OpenOffice, Wordpress and Firefox. I, too, have had great success with Gimp and Linux operating systems. I was even excited to see that some netbooks came with Linux installed versus Windows.

I see a trend in the use of open source software as budgets are being slashed and minds are being opened to the wonderful world of Open Source.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Blended and Online Learning

One of the key findings of the Sloan report is that online education is not part of the mainstream of higher education. Pretty obvious finding, if you ask me. The enrollment growth rate of 18.2% was not so obvious.

25% of students in 3-5th grade want to learn online to "be in control of my learning", and almost 50% of 9-12th graders and 40% of 6-8th graders feel the same way. Why isn't there a stronger push to online learning for K-12?

I surveyed my own students and found several of the same trends. Students wanted to learn at their own pace and thought they would learn just as much online (if not more) than they would in a classroom. Some even noticed the reduced costs to school districts by saving money through conversation of energy, reduction in needed technology on site, no busing, and the cafeteria wouldn't have to make lunches. Some also noticed that having entirely online school would cut several school employees out of jobs - bus drivers, custodians, and cafeteria workers. Most students said they would miss the social interaction of school as well as gym class (of course!).

I am definitely a proponent of blended learning since it has the appeal and benefits of both online and face to face learning. I think a lot of this resonates with the subject matter I teach - math - and the need for visualization. I haven't seen many online math courses, just one to be exact, and it lacked engagement and demonstrations that I strive to have on a daily basis in my classroom.

For the remainder of the year and next year I would like to offer more blended learning opportunities for my students. This could be something simple like online tutorials or a weekly skype session.

Blended Learning Sites

I'm going to steal this from Lisa's post
Free Rice: Use your vocabulary skills to feed the hungry of the world!
Photo galleries, blogs, and maps of the voyages of Karen Fennell and family.
Walden hosted a Scholars of Change video contest. This is the personal story of Elisa Watters, one of the grand prize contest winners. (2.5 minutes)
Behind the scenes video of a science lesson creation at K-12, Inc.
A calculator to figure out how much you’ve saved by taking The World is Open online instead of on-campus.
Another behind the scenes video from K-12, Inc. on how they incorporate animations into their lessons and their philosophy behind doing so.
Brief discussion of the global post-secondary education market by Laureate Education, Inc.
Want to learn Chinese?
Jones International School quiz to determine if you have what it takes to be an online learner.
This five-minute video provides an overview of the Michigan Virtual University and several of the programs aimed at K-12 students. (5 minutes)
Urban Farming video about the program planting urban gardens while educating youth, adults and seniors about providing environmentally sustainable systems. (7 minutes)

Monday, February 1, 2010


I'm torn on e-books. On one hand, I think it's a great idea and a useful tool in the classroom. They would take up less space and ultimately require less dusting. They could be updated quickly and I would like to assume they would be cost effective since the actual publishing part is eliminated. However, you couldn't necessarily assign homework out of the e-book, because not all students have access to a computer or the internet. I guess all students would have access to the public library, but if they cannot drive or their parents cannot drive them to the library, you are back to the original problem. There would be so many benefits, especially if these textbooks were searchable and had links to differentiated activities including videos, experiments, tutorials, games, answers, wikis, forums, etc... This would provide content-rich and interactive learning for students.

I do not know that much about e-books, as I don't have a kindle, but one of my friends does. He loves the fact that it takes up less space and weighs less in his carry on luggage for traveling purposes, although he still purchases hard copies of books. I've read a few places that books expire after so many months, which seems ridiculous to me. The only way books disappear off of my shelf is if I give them away or lose them, not because I have owned them too long. But, this is just what I have heard and not researched, so I am not sure what truth there is in this. Also, I'm not sure that you can share your books, like you can share books from your own shelf. So as far as personal recreational reading goes, I'll stick to purchasing the actual books.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Digital Literacy

To Do List
1. Raise test scores
2. Raise test scores
3. Raise test scores
4. Teach students to be digitally literate

Sadly, the top digital priority for administration is the fingers on the students hands, ensuring they can correctly fill in an A, B, C, or D on a standardized test. This is not to say that being digitally literate is not of great importance to educators, it's just not as great of a (political) importance as a test score. Being literate, whether digital or not, requires a great deal of critical thinking skills. The digital part is more of a bonus for the student and even the instructor. When reading any material one should think critically, evaluating the validity of the material, making connections to other knowledge, and synthesizing what is being read, and ultimately learned. The digital part of literacy just means more access and faster access. Students can get their hands (or digits..) on information on just about any topic.

For the past few days I have struggled with this idea of being digitally literate while reflecting on my own class of fifth graders. I have four that are at a second grade reading level and one that can barely write. With over 50% of your class on some sort of intervention plan it makes doing anything beyond the basic R's seem impossible, so teaching digital literacy skills is out of the question. But, the more I thought about it...the more I realized "hey, I'm already doing that" as I bet most teachers are. My kids are all equipped with their own flash drive and some use google docs to submit assignments. One of my classes enjoys reading picture books and a week or so ago I read The Giving Tree and a few days later I had a student making a connection between the book and one of the headlines on Google News about the earthquake in Haiti. I know these are probably pretty basic skills, but they are skills none the less and will be built upon as their brains mature.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The World is Open

First it was flat and now it's open. I just can't keep up. Thomas Friedman first published his book The World is Flat in 2005 and provided an analysis of globalization where the world has now become a level playing field in commerce with the help of technologies such as supply chains, the internet, and outsourcing. Parallel to this idea of flattening is the idea of the world being opened. The internet and personal computer has given rise to personal education allowing users to learn anytime and anywhere almost anything if your fingers type the right search algorithm. This openness has revolutionized education, allowing those to learn who were unable previously (hole-in-the-wall) and enhance the education of many others. I often try to think of a world pre-internet or even pre-personal computing. Would coffee shops even exist? It all seems prehistoric, although it really wasn't that long ago that my mom was typing a final paper on a typewriter in the library at Villanova. She tells me that they had to take turns and I just stare like she's talking in a foreign language.

It can all just be so incredibly overwhelming, the internet that is. I imagine it is comparable to a group of five year olds walking into a candy store and being told they can have whatever they want and howevermuch they want. I bet a few wouldn't even know where to start! And that's how I feel sometimes. Completely and utterly overwhelmed at what I have access to at my fingertips.

And let's not get started on taking the multitude of Web 2.0 technologies and introducing them to a group of 30 10 year old students and expect to still have control. I guess I didn't think there would be such a large technology gap among students. I have some students asking me how to turn the "brain box" on and others while others are recording and editing their own digital videos.

It is essential that educators muddle through the brain box scenarios to help students become life long learners and stakeholders in their own education, considering they harbor the world's knowledge at their fingertips.