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.