Saturday, January 18, 2014

Time Travel...A Glimpse Into The Future Via The Past

I suppose it is high time to revive this blog.  A long time ago, in 2012, I had a moment of insanity and decided to, once again, go back to school.  Why do teachers like going to school so much?  I guess that's why they became teachers, they just never wanted to leave school.

Why an MA in Instructional Technology?  For me, technology has always been a big part of how I teach.  Over a decade ago I took a graduate course in technology for educators where we coded a site in HTML.  Wheeee!  I registered my own domain at that time and posted homework and links (in a very primitive way, but it was something) for my students.  When our school bought some Macs about 12 years ago I taught myself i-Movie and started doing video projects with my students.  This was when the only way to watch the videos and make copies for the kids was to record it back to VHS tape!  I was probably one of the only teachers in the school who used one of our first digital cameras that took disks and about 600 steps to actually get the picture to a color printer.  (Yeah, I'm kids reading this don't even know what disks are!)

The point is, technology has always been a means for me to make my teaching more exciting and more innovative.  Many teachers might shy away from learning new things or just don't have the willingness to change with the times, but if we don't, we won't keep up with the students coming through our doors.  Participating in this MA cohort has been a good experience and has helped me learn even more new and better ways to incorporate technology with meaning and purpose into my curriculum

What will I do with this degree?  We were asked to think about where the future might take us.  Let's take a look:  (Scroll through with your mouse or click the full screen option)

So, ideally I will just be chillaxin' in Paris, retired while still in my 30's.  Well, one can dream.  Honestly, I don't see myself changing job titles or moving into the role of a tech integration specialist.  For me, my true passion is teaching young people and teaching languages.  However, what I would like to continue to do is help those that I work with become even better teachers by sharing my knowledge and tech skills with them.  I would like to help the tech committee at my school become more focused with goals that will allow technology to increase student learning, not just having technology around for the sake of having technology.  If I can help show teachers who have not yet embraced technology how it can indeed jazz up any classroom and get all kids grooving, this will be fulfilling in itself.

Finally, the choice of medium I used for this assignment was a site called Pixton.  This site claims to be "The world's best way to make comics."  I forced myself to get out of my comfort zone and try something totally new.  Making comics always works well in language classes, so I wanted to try a site that would have good potential with my students.  At first glance, this concept seemed pretty easy - choose a background, click on some avatars, add speech bubbles, voila!  However, once I started clicking around, I got really lost in all of the editing options there were!  You can edit down to the tiniest details, for example, clicking on the avatar's eyes and changing the size and shape of them.  Whew!

I had fun making this comic, but found it pretty time-consuming.  Students would probably catch on more quickly, but the problem I see with sites like this is that, if you take them to the computer lab and give them work time, they'll spend more time on the graphics and the content (in my case, using French) will be lacking.  The biggest downfall of this site is that it is subscription-based.  I was only using a free trial.  I pulled up a price quote, and 50 students for 1 year = $130.  On the other hand, I really like that it seems well organized for teachers and students, has good publishing and sharing options, and also allows for students to record voice with their comic strips.

I leave you with these final questions:
-Where do you see yourself in the next few years?  Will this degree change your career track?
-Do you have any comic strip making sites you like?
-Do you have any sites you pay for or do you only look for free sites and apps?

Monday, April 8, 2013

The DL on UDL

Recently we have been studying and discussing UDL (Universal Design for Learning) in our cohort class.  In this post, I will give you the down low on UDL.

Sometimes in education we might feel bogged down with acronyms and find that our profession is being reduced to a series of letters to describe what we do.  ("I teach in an IB school, mainly in the MYP years, which does cater well to our LD students, especially if we focus on using UDL and TPACK.")  SOS!

Despite adding yet another acronym to our repertoire, I think you will find that taking a closer look at UDL, even for just a few minutes of your time will be well worth it.

What is UDL?
Here is a great, basic defintion from
Universal Design for Learning
is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn.

Here is a nice graphic that shows the UDL concept:

To continue building your knowledge of UDL, I would encourage you to create an account on the CAST UDL Lesson Builder site.  Here you will be able to look at model UDL lesson plans that will show well how to take the UDL guidelines and incorporate them into a lesson.  

Also, the site is a valuable resource for understanding UDL.  You can find a basic overview here.
Detailed descriptions of the UDL guidelines and ways to use them in the class room can be found here.

Finally, in the spirit of UDL, I revamped a lesson that I teach in my French 1 class, and tried to look at a variety of ways I could incorporate the UDL guidelines into this lesson.  Please take a look at the lesson here.  (The CAST UDL Lesson Builder site model was used for this lesson.)

Hopefully you will also find these principles intriguing and useful as you continue to revamp your lesson plans to meet the needs of all of our 21st century learners!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

TPACK! Everyone's diggin' it!

What?  You don't know what TPACK is?  Well fellow educators, it isn't the latest dance craze, boy band, or protein bar you should be eating, but it IS something you should know about, especially in regards to navigating the sometimes murky and uncharted waters of 21st century teaching and learning.

(But don't feel bad... I didn't know what TPACK was either until just this week!)

A nice overview of the basic ideas of the TPACK model can be found in this article by Punya Mishra and Matthew Koehler.  First we should know that TPACK stands for Technological Pedagogical and Content Knowledge.  Well, that sounds fancy, but what does it mean?

As educators, we all must be masters of our content area, but we also must understand the "art of teaching" (pedagogy.)  In the past few decades, however, a third element to the art of teaching has come into play, and that is technology.  If we do not understand how to best meld pedagogy, content, and technology, we are failing to connect with our students and meet their needs.

The following diagram shows and explains the various sides of the TPACK model.  Ideally, we are working to line up our lessons to fall in the middle.  The other overlaps also have their place, and can work very well, but our goal should be the middle whenever possible.

Integrating technology successfully is not a simple task.  It takes time, thought, research, experimentation, trial and error... honestly, it can be a bit overwhelming for many teachers.  How  do we even start?  Where do we begin?

Mishra and Koehler point out the fact that most technologies today being used in classrooms weren't even created for educational purposes.  Our job is to take a look at the technologies surrounding us and "repurpose" them as we see fit for instructional purposes.  Now, as teachers, we have two choices.  We can think of this as something that is a drag and try to resist change, or we can look at this as something fun and exciting!

Before we look at ways to repurpose technologies, let's lay down some ground rules:

1.  "Blinged out" Prezis  ≠ Learning

Just because you are having your students use technology, doesn't mean it is creating learning.    As outlined in this short, but to the point video about TPACK, the creator asks some very good questions we should keep in mind as we look to integrate technology.  For example, "Is the technology appropriate for the lesson objectives?"  They also point out the fact that if the technology side is much "heavier" than the other two, the "novelty of the technology overshadows the learning objective."  We can't just "do technology" for the sake of doing technology!  The fact that our students spent 6 days in the computer lab making awesome Prezis doesn't mean they mastered the content of the particular unit.

2.  Be willing to play

We all love the feeling of being able to grab last year's file folders of already prepared quizzes and project direction sheets, but could a particular unit benefit from some technology integration?  Probably.  Don't be afraid or unwilling to experiment and take the time to play.  You won't regret it.  And your students will think you are a Rock Star.

3.  Don't be afraid to break the rules

This piece of advice also comes from the Mishra and Koehler article.  They remind us that when it comes to technology integration we need to know which rules to bend, which to break, and which to leave alone.  Again, it all comes down to being willing to play, and willing to think outside the box.

Personally in my classroom I have had a lot of fun and success repurposing many different technologies to help meet instructional objectives.  Part of my job teaching French is to get kids to speak a new language, and not be intimidated doing so.  Technology can help greatly with this.  Many years ago I taught myself the basics of video editing, and use video editing software to create and upload videos to my class YouTube channel.  I have been blogging myself for many years now, especially keeping track of my travels overseas, but have found blogging as a great tool to have kids reflect weekly on what is going on in class.  I would be lost without my class WikiSpace and use this as a method of posting weekly homework, but also useful links, games that we play on my Smart Board, bookmarking/embedding videos and sound files, and also posting mp3 files of my students' speaking tests for them to self critique, as well as mp3s of them singing the various songs we learn in class.  Finally, we have just started using Twitter as a way of informally using the language, sharing links, and answering basic questions in French for fun, as well as looking at which hashtags are trending in France as great conversation starters.


So, that might seem quite intimidating, but the above paragraph represents about 10 years of work, playing, learning, and tweaking.  The best advice I can give someone new to integrating technology is START SMALL.  Start with 1 goal, for 1 class.  Or 1 unit.  Maybe all you do by the end of the school year is videotape some presentations and upload them to YouTube.  Or start a blog for just 1 class.  Have students submit 1 assignment via Google Docs rather than hard copies.  Start with what you feel comfortable with.  Or something you personally enjoy or are interested in learning.

Have fun and let's all help each other navigate to the center of the TPACK rings.

PS.  For the fun of it, I looked for TPACK results in French, and yes, the concept has definitely been translated for French educators also!

Video in French about TPACK here.

Article here.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Podcast Outcast

Over the past week or so in class, we have been discussing podcasts, vodcasts, and related technologies such as Voice Thread.

For me, I have always known about podcasts and what they entailed, but I had never taken the time to explore the many options out there!

Here is the definition of a podcast from Wikipedia:
podcast is a type of digital media consisting of an episodic series of audio files subscribed to and downloaded through web syndication or streamed online to a computer or mobile device. The word is a neologism derived from "broadcast" and "pod" from the success of the iPod, as podcasts are often listened to on portable media players.

My first stop was to check out the educational podcasts located on iTunes.  You may find your results a bit limited if you just look here, so make sure you also search Google, where you will find several more options.  One of the first results on iTunes is TeacherCast.  I enjoyed listening to some of these podcasts, and have several more marked for future listening.  Many of the TeacherCast podcasts are quite long, so this was one of the reasons that this particular site was not as appealing to me.  However, in the true spirit of a podcast, I can see myself downloading these and listening to these while I clean the house or take a walk.  When I tried to listen to the longer ones directly on my laptop, I found myself also surfing the web and not paying attention to the podcast!

The format of TeacherCast is nice, in that they usually use a sort of "round table" discussion, which is not scripted, so it flows naturally, and makes it real for the listeners.  In the episode I listened to, the host and 2 guests were discussing "BYOD" or, the "Bring Your Own Device" movement.  2 educators discussed their views on this, pros/cons, ways to implement, and so on.

From a technical standpoint, the intro, music, and audio were all spot on, and this podcast was professional in nature.  I think teachers of all grade and subjects could find something useful on this site.

Doing a search on iTunes for educational podcasts also led me to several podcasts for learning a language.  Oh la la!  As a language teacher, I have used several different online sources for finding audio for my students to listen to, but why have I never tapped into these podcasts before?

One podcast I started with is called Coffee Break French.  Most of the episodes are about 20 minutes long. I clicked on a random episode, which happened to be one about numbers, focusing on the higher numbers.  The 2 speakers are not native speakers, but this did not hinder the overall quality of the program.  In fact, for my students, I think this might make the podcast less scary.  The main speaker, Marc, has a very good accent.  The other speaker, Anna, is "learning" French from him, playing the role of the student.  Marc will stop and explain little things in English, such as grammar exceptions, or why things are the way they are.  This podcast would be very helpful for students to listen to on their own time, because with the English explanations, there would be no questions.  I think I will start linking some of these podcasts to my class Wiki and perhaps require students to listen to 1 per week.  I will continue to look for podcasts that do not have as much English (if any) for the students and myself to listen to in class.

Finally, my classmates and I made our own educational podcast this week!  This was an interesting experience, as we are spread out over 3 states, but can you tell from our podcast?  Nope, we are just that good.  ::smile::

Blogging About Blogs

I have been a fan of blogs and blogging for many years now.  Personally, I first started a blog to keep friends and family updated on my travels when I have spent longer amounts of time abroad.  I decided to keep my blog going to show glimpses of my life for my friends and family who are spread out around the globe.  In the classroom, I have been blogging with my upper-level French students for two years now.  For now, we are using the blog as a way to post weekly responses/reflections to the topic we are studying that week.  Like any technology project, I have found it is best to start small, and grow from there as both the teacher and the students feel comfortable with the technology and make it part of their weekly routine.  I see potential to keep growing my class blog and am looking forward to incorporating ways to make it more interactive.

In the courses I am currently taking myself, we are also blogging (obviously) and following blogs that are relevant to our profession.  To be honest, I have never followed education blogs (I prefer food blogs).  When I first started teaching 12 years ago, I also kept going to school for about the first 8 years, whew!  I think I just got burned out on going to school.  Now that I have had a nice 4 year break, I definitely see and feel the need to continue to find ways to grow professionally.  Educational blogs are a great way to keep up-to-date on new ideas and best practices!

One blog I have enjoyed reading is the Cool Cat Teacher Blog.  The author, Vicki Davis, is a tech savvy educator who shares her passion for teaching and technology through her blog.  The June 5th post about being a geek made me laugh.  I too label myself as a geek!  I'm glad to see I'm not alone, and that it is indeed cool to be geeky.

Seeing that we all just finished up another school year, I appreciated another one of Ms. Davis' posts about ending the school year positively.  I felt like this post had good perspective and I wish I would have read it 3 days ago!  I think I would have ended the school year on a better note.  So, as a reminder, here is a to-do list for myself for next year, summarized from this post:
 End Of School Year Checklist for Mrs. Thompson
1.  Take the time to comment on student's report cards, no matter how much you want to just hit that 'Post Grades' button.
2.  Say THANK YOU.
3.  Remember people you see everyday, but might not speak with often.  (Custodians, lunchroom staff...)
4.   Leave the students with a positive message and remind them they are great young adults.
5.  Leave classroom better than you found it.
6.  "Sprint to the finish line!"  Keep an active and exciting classroom until the last bell of the last day.

And you, how did you wrap up your school year?  Do you agree with her advice?  Do you have any tips to add?

I look forward to reading more educational blogs, as well as my classmates' postings.  Please see my blog list on the right to follow these blogs yourself!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Distributed Learning Communities

Collective, Global, Knowledge, Collaboration, Creation, Sharing, Mastery, Active, Real, Understanding, Diversity. Community, Identity, Intellectual…
 Do I have your attention yet? Do you wish the above words could apply to your classroom on a daily basis? Does the above list get you excited about teaching and/or learning?

 The words above were all pulled from two articles describing “Distributed Learning Communities,” written by Chris Dede of Harvard University. Although the articles were published in 2004, the insight and suggestions he gives are fascinating regarding the concept of this sort of learning and teaching. 8 years later, we are perhaps making a bit of headway, but education still has a long ways to go in creating this type of learning and teaching environment.

 What is a Distributed Learning Community? To summarize some of the definitions given in the articles: -A Distributed Learning Community includes “educational experiences that are distributed across a wide variety of geographic settings, across time and across various interactive media.” -The teacher’s role consists of “organizing and facilitating student-directed activities.” -Students are not expected to all be on the same page at the same time. A student’s “centrality can change over time.” However, all members’ contributions are equally important, and those “working in peripheral roles are also valued for their contributions.” -In summary, a Distributed Learning Community (DLC) means “everyone is involved in a collective effort of understanding.”

 While I found many aspects of this article interesting, one point that really caught my attention was the differences between the DLC concept and that of a traditional classroom. I have always thought that I would not become one of those teachers that would become “stuck in a rut,” but after reading an article like this, I’m ashamed to say that in many ways I have let myself hang on to tightly to some traditional teaching methods and assessment that need to be kicked to the curb. Do I like photocopying the same worksheets and quizzes every year? Yep. Is this a best practice? Nope.

 Dede reminds us over and over in his writing of the need to find ways to foster 21st century skills in today’s learners. We need to prepare them to be global citizens with higher order thinking skills that are needed in a modern workplace. So how do we best do this? As teachers, we have to be willing to change our methods in order to keep up with an ever-changing world! As already mentioned, we need to learn to take on the role of a facilitator. For me, transferring the “power” to my students is hard! However, in letting them be responsible for their own learning AND that of a group, this can only lead to a stronger investment and interest in learning. The teacher needs to be the organizer, but let the students lead the learning.

While all of this makes sense and sounds good, can we really do this in our classrooms? Can we make this type of learning work in our schools? I appreciated the fact that the author repeated over and over that in order to make this work, teachers need to be given the tools, training, and professional development necessary to implement this. How many times have you sat in a meeting or inservice and wondered, “Why am I here?” Hmm, now that I think about it, is that what my students are thinking about my lessons sometimes? But back to our point about professional development – if schools are not willing to adapt their teacher training, this is not going to work. Dede reminds us that we have to stop focusing on the shallowness of prepping students for standardized tests, but learn to “assess and value the many dimensions of student success.” Also, “building teacher capacity to value diverse perspectives and contributions is vital.”

 Over the past two weeks I have appreciated joining a DLC through my online studies at the University of Northern Iowa. It has reminded me that while the role of a teacher is vital, we can learn so much by being connected with our classmates and having to depend on them and work as a team to teach each other and accomplish assigned tasks. As I finish a school year and look ahead to a new one, I feel re energized to revamp some of my lessons and assessments and start to make the changes necessary to foster this sort of learning in my own classroom.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Getting Started

This blog is a work in progress, but should be up and running soon!
Looking forward to finding a focus and purpose for this blog as I continue my studies with my UNI cohort!