Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Let's pretend that after the invention of the light bulb, a decree was made banning the use of candles. After all, light bulbs are safer, more effective, and easier to manage. There would be no need for candles anymore.
But what about the people who couldn't afford electricity? Instead of being illuminated by this new technology, they would instead be cast into darkness. And what about the puppy-love couple looking for a romantic dinner? A softly humming light bulb swaying above the table just wouldn't be the same. And let's not even get into how much of a catastrophe birthday cakes would become.
Banning candles with the advent of the light bulb never happened, because it is a ridiculous idea. No one would possibly want to ban something when it still had so many useful purposes, right?
Then why is there a conversation on Computerworld.com about banning printed books from schools in lieu of ebooks and electronic readers?
Mike Elgan writes:
So that's my proposal: Ban all paper textbooks and go electronic. Students could choose to read on PCs, phones or Kindle-like readers. If students don't have some kind of reader, libraries and computer labs do. (Direct Link)
This is a dangerous idea. Anyone who uses a Kindle or regularly reads ebooks on a computer knows that it's a completely different feel from holding and reading a physical book. If we were to mandate electronic literature, students would have to adapt and I suspect that would bring about the end of independent reading beyond the classroom. If kids don't have access to e-readers at home and fall out of practice reading paper books, then all reading outside of of class is going to end.
I'd rather be enjoying the futility of a candle than be sitting in darkness.
Monday, March 30, 2009
One evening while hunting for 40s-era broadcasting information, I stumbled on a hobby website that sold recreational short-range broadcasting units. The description said they were ideal for drive-in movie theaters, college campuses, and small communities. They were interesting, but irrelevant to what I was looking for, so I moved on.
I happened to run into my principal in the hall later that week and mentioned the transmitter to her. She emailed me a few hours later with instructions to order the equipment – I was now the advisor for the new school radio station.
The radio station is really nothing more than a glorified podcasting club. Everything is pre-recorded using a basic microphone/mixer setup and Audacity. The daily schedule is programmed into Zara Radio (a free auto-scheduling program) and then plays throughout the day. Students seem to enjoy it in the mornings during homeroom, and during free periods such as study hall. Teachers like it because they know it is safe in terms of content and language – something not guaranteed on regular top 40 radio.
The only difference between our radio station and your podcast is a $270 transmitter. A captive audience, student accountability, peer engagement – well worth the money if you ask me.
Of course, there's more to our radio than what I wrote about here. This post is more of a taste for those eager to look into the idea for themselves. The topic will likely come up in future posts, but for those wanting more info now, feel free to say so in the comments. I'd be happy to help out.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
I never plan more than a week ahead. This limit was unconscious – it's just what worked best for me. I was thinking about it the other day as I was working on a lesson for the following day (I don't find this to be procrastinating; it's being intuitive of my students' needs). I wondered if other teachers planned the same way I did, so I sent this tweet to my professional network on Twitter:
The responses I got ranged from full agreement (“I feel that anything else would not be genuine.”) to near disgust (“Absolutely not! There is no way to ensure that you will finish the course if you only plan one week ahead.”). One follower replied discretely through private message and said, “I have to be mindful of my admins on this network.” It was an interesting point. To be effective teachers, do we need to operate in a way opposite than what is expected of us? If I told my administrator that I only have a vague idea of what the kids will be doing a week from tomorrow, would I be viewed as ill-prepared?
There's a good conversation to be had among the replies and direct messages I received, so I posted them all below. I kept replies anonymous in the event of lurking admins. Feel free to add your own response in the comments.
I don't think you can call a teacher good based on how far they prepare in advance. I know good teachers in both categories
I have to be mindful of my admins on this network-I use a calendar that gives me an outline-everything else is all feel! And that feels good.
In planning only a week ahead-I feel that anything else would not be genuine. You've got to have a feel for the group...
In my classes, the students determine the pace, if I try planning too far ahead, I end up moving my plans around anyway
Absolutely not! There is no way to ensure that you will finish the course if you only plan one week ahead.
Good teachers need 2 kinds of plans - long term frame and short term details - details need to be adjusted nearly daily
RE: prep-A good teacher needs a frame/skeletal plan/map for year, but day-to-day plans, I agree, no more than 1 week...
I heard of teacher who used SAME PLAN BOOK for YEARS! Left sub instructions: "Do not write in plan book." True story!
I teach 5th grade. I have all plans for the following week done on Fri when I leave. Beyond that, I have a general map/plan.
somewhat noway 2 know what will b learned fast/slow ea. day so different than b4 plenty of goals - action steps take more time
Somewhat agree..Important to have a solid idea of where u are going over unit/yr.
I am always adjusting the time schedule-I have the big picture & fill in as time allows-I over plan always.
Depends on what you mean by "prepare". I believe in planning with end in mind, but have to be willing to adapt and change too
"prepare" - good teachers have an inner preparedness which resonates with that pulsating, glittering dynamic we call learning
i'm prepared for the year. i adjust my plans as i go. diff. between being prepared&planning 4 me is huge
Disagree. Good teachers prepare months in advance if that is what it takes to know where they want their kids to go
Disagree--teachers need to have a broad overview of where they are going.
I know what I'll teach during the year, but for individual lessons I'm flexible and plan at short notice according to the stds
Nah - I outlined each whole unit, but was then flexible based on what the students needed/liked/wanted
I have an outline of what will be when, but the day to day planning is contingent upon what happened the day before--meet them and I'm a 17 year teacher, not a newbie. I find if I plan too detailed, to far in advance, I'm teaching what I want, not what the kids need.
I have an outline of what will be when, but the day to day planning is contingent upon what happened the day before--meet them
I TOTALLY agree, especially if you are truly using formative assessment and responding to students' needs!
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
What he didn't understand was that those four “non-teaching” periods were either spent dealing with student concerns, or working one-on-one – and I either ate lunch in my room while kids played catch-up or ate in the cafeteria to build better relationships.
At the time my friend was working as a personal trainer at a private gym for some fancy corporation. He showed up at 9am, motivated a few portly CEOs, then clocked out at 5pm. He didn't realize that a teacher doesn't stop being a teacher after the final bell rings. My first year teaching was pretty characteristic of all first year experiences. I got to school early, stayed late, then brought home work to do during commercials.
I'm now in my sixth year of teaching, and this routine has not changed much. Last night after spending almost three hours working on lesson plans, I asked myself, shouldn't this be getting easier? For good teachers, I think there's an obvious answer to that.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Take a look at the car I spotted on my drive home from work the other day. I played chase with it for about two miles before finally getting close enough to snap a picture with my cell phone. Both sides of the car were also filled with bumper stickers, but the driver turned before I could get a chance to capture that as well.
Clearly this person has a lot of strong beliefs. But was his/her method of sharing these beliefs effective?
Actually, no. Until I looked at the picture, I couldn't remember a single bumper sticker on that car. It came across as so abrasive and over-amplified that the messages were immediately overshadowed by the means. These stickers were proclaiming opinions on everything from politics to religion, discrimination to gender rights. When all issues are forced to the front, they are all simultaneously at the end of the line as well.
In New York state, every student has a state assessment for each core content area beginning in 4th grade until they get to high school. Because these assessments are high stakes, teachers undoubtedly stress the importance of each one. That means students listen to someone explain that the next test is “the most important test you will ever take” more than 20 times (including LOTE exams in grade 8) before they get to 9th grade. No wonder test scores stagnate and schools fall below the yellow line (Biggest Loser reference) in the eyes of NCLB.
Where is the happy medium here? I didn't take any message from the car seriously because there were so many. But I also didn't notice any cars with only one bumper sticker. How can we collect accurate benchmark information on our students without overwhelming and devaluing the whole process?
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Last night I attended my first webinar hosted by EdTechConnect. The webinar was titled I Didn't Know you Could do that with an iPod, hosted by Arizona educator, Tony Vincent. During the webinar I used a Word file to take notes, copy links, and capture a few screen shots. Here are my notes from the evening.
- External microphone accessories can turn the iPod into a portable hand-held recorder. Possible uses – Podcasting, collaborative student projects.
- One point Tony mentioned that I found to be interesting was that Apple mis-labels categories on the iPod. The “music” index can really be any audio file. For example, this could be a famous speech, radio broadcast, or historical interview. Transcripts can be added to the file in iTunes using the “lyrics” options. I also thought it might be neat to include response questions. Not only would the iPod hold the audio, but it would become something of a digital worksheet as well! Lyrics can be accessed on the iPod by pressing the center button four times.
- Another great use for the iPod is for editing student writing using SpokenText.net. This site converts a Microsoft Word or PDF file into a spoken audio file. This can be loaded onto the iPod, and then the student can listen to their work. This will help them detect any issues with context, fluency, grammar, etc.
- The iPod's photo section can be manipulated for use beyond just sharing vacation pictures. For example, it can become a personal presentation tool by choosing the “save as jpg” option in PowerPoint. Each slide becomes its own image and can be uploaded to the iPod.
- iPods can also be used for studying in the form of digital flashcards. While it may take a bit of knowledge using programs such as Photoshop, Gimp, or even Microsoft Paint, teachers can create a series of jpg images that, when viewed in the correct order, can be used as flashcards. Tony showed one example that was a review for identifying U.S. states and capitals. The first image was just an outline of the state. When he progressed to the next image, it was a copy of the first image but with the name of the state and its capital included. It may take some time to create and organize a set of flashcards like this, but once made, they can be distributed to an unlimited number of iPods. There are also resources online for downloading already made sets.
- An iPod is capable of reading up to 4000 characters saved in a simple .txt file. The text is unformatted but its small file size means that an iPod could literally hold 1000s of books (albeit not a practical substitute for an ebook reader such as the Kindle).
- Sites like ipod-notes.com and ipreppress.com can help prepare writing for the iPod, but the most useful application of the notes function is in the creation of student-written “choose your own adventure” stories. Students write all the parts to the story and then use iWriter to link the pieces together and load them onto the iPod. iWriter creates hyperlinks at the end of each file that provides the path to the other parts of the story. The only downside is that iWriter has a cost attached, but I imagine anyone with some basic HTML knowledge can figure out a way to hyperlink the .txt files together.
This webinar was focused primarily on scroll-wheel iPods such as the classic, nano and mini. I can only imagine what else can be accomplished on touch screen iPods - and apparently it's enough to warrant another webinar. Tony will be presenting on Ustream as well as at NECC regarding using the iPod Touch in the classroom.
Here's the chat log of the 160+ attendees. If you're interested in learning more, check out Tony's website Learning in Hand, or follow him on Twitter @tonyvincent.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
A few days ago I saw a request on Twitter (a twi-quest?) for someone to speak with a group of secondary Social Studies teachers in Nebraska about the advantages of using Skype in the classroom. I always jump at the chance to share my experiences, so I eagerly volunteered. The conversation was between myself, the teachers, and their facilitator, Corey Dahl. Corey is the Instructional Technology Facilitator for the Educational Service Unit #8 in Neligh, NE and is also on Twitter - @coreydahlesu8. He was nice enough to allow me to record the call so I could share it on on my blog.
|Skype Podcast by Classroom in the Cloud|
Friday, March 13, 2009
Due to stringent district policies, many useful sites such as Youtube, Delicious, and Twitter are being blocked from use during school hours. I wanted to write a blog post about how increasingly difficult it is to participate in digital learning from school. I wrote this story instead.
Damming the River
There once was a village that was built along the shores of a mighty river. The townspeople loved the river, and spent much time rejoicing over it.
“I use the swift current to travel quickly to other villages,” said the trader.
“The river irrigates my crops,” exclaimed the farmer, “and its power operates the water wheel on the grain mill!”
“We love to fish and skip rocks and swim,” cheered the children.
Everyone was happy with the river. Until one day when a young child waded too deep and was swept away. The villagers didn't know what to do. They realized that the river that provided them with so many valuable things could also be very dangerous.
One day, the mayor of the town gathered all the people into the village square and declared that he had a solution.
“My good people,” he began, “It is clear that something must be done with our mighty river to protect us from its dangers. We will build a dam and stop the water from sweeping away any more of our children.”
“But what about those of us who benefit from the river?” called the trader.
“We must protect our children,” reminded the mayor.
“Perhaps we could educate the children on staying safe while playing around the river,” suggested the town scholar. “This way the children will be safe, but everyone else will still be able to harness the power of the river. “
“That just won't do,” responded the mayor. “The children simply can't be trusted. And besides, would any of you want to be held responsible if another child were to be swept away?”
The townspeople looked at each other uncomfortably. Didn't they have enough responsibility in the village already, without having to worry about educating the children on the dangers of the river?
The farmer hesitated slightly, and stepped forward from the crowd. “I guess your solution will have to do,” he said to the mayor. “But who will decide how tall to build the dam and how much water will be allowed to pass through?
“I will,” replied the mayor. And there was no more discussion on the matter.
The dam was built and no more children were swept down the river. In fact, hardly anything swept down the river now because the dam had reduced it to nothing more than a lazy stream trickling through the village. The mayor looked down through his office window (the mayor's office was atop the tallest tower in the village so that he could observe everything with one sweeping glance) and smiled with satisfaction. But as he leaned out the window to get a better view of the village below, he heard a faint murmur. It sounded like the townspeople were upset. The mayor called the villagers back to the town square for another meeting.
“My good people, I have saved your children from certain death caused by the river. Why are you not happy?”
“There is not enough water to grow my crops,” muttered the farmer.
“And without the river,” added the trader, “I have no way of communicating with other villages. I can't sell my wares!”
“Excuse me, Mayor?” A boy stepped forward from the group. “I miss fishing and skipping rocks, and playing in the river. Only one child was swept away, and it was because he was careless. Why should we lose all the positive things the river has to offer because of one poor choice?”
The mayor did not have a good response to any of these concerns. “It is for the good of everyone,” he said, trying to reassure the townspeople. And there was no more discussion on the matter.
If you enjoyed my analogy, feel free to forward the link. You can also download the story in pdf format, here.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Typecast - The act of using a typewriter to compose blog posts. Once completed, the piece is scanned and then uploaded.
Here's my first typecast. I wanted to embed it, but I forgot to narrow the margins to fit on the page. To read, kindly click on the thumbnail below. Comments definitely welcome!
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Over the past 8 years or so, I've slowly found myself getting dragged further and further into the social networking labyrinth. It started as a Livejournal account to keep in touch with out-of-town friends. Then I added a Myspace to promote my rock band. At this point, the Livejournal crew converted to Blogger, and I followed - eventually creating three blogs, all with different intended audiences. In 2006, I found the emerging startup called Twitter and joined that. I rediscovered it again in early 2009, and it has been my social tool of choice as of late. Also thrown into the mix was a Facebook account that I created last summer to check up on a tribute group that was created for my father - he was a junior/senior high band teacher who passed away quite suddenly. Many former students used Facebook to share stories. While I never developed my account, it sits silently waiting for me to get the urge to upload some pictures and start hunting down old acquaintances. Just for the sake of embellishment, I'll also mention that I have accounts on Youtube, AIM, and Skype as well. Look at me - the picture of a renaissance man.
Here's the problem. I've never been a quitter. I still try to update every one of these sites on a fairly consistent basis. There's nothing more sad than seeing someone's personal site that resembles the village of Vesuvius. Instead of deadly gases and volcanic ash, the cause of abandonment being a new hot social networking site.
The solution to this social overload is somewhat of an oxymoron. Too many sites to keep updated? Add one more to the mix! Aside from having a catchy name that takes advantage of an obscure top level domain, chi.mp promises to streamline all social media sites. It's still in private testing, but my much-awaited beta code arrived in my inbox this morning. I haven't done more that set up the basics, but it looks promising. Perhaps the best feature is that you can assign a "persona" to everything you post. That way professional friends will only see my education-oriented blog, but be spared the rambling, sometimes offensive Livejournal account.
And the best part of Chi.mp is that you get your own, free domain name. Take a look at my account - thoughtla.mp (Pretty cool, huh?) - and if you get the urge to create your own account, add me to your community.
Monday, March 9, 2009
I have a confession to make – I've been going about this blog all wrong. And it took a 13-year-old student to make me realize this.
Today in my class we began reading the student-friendly version of John Grogan's Marley and Me. Anticipating an easy read with plenty of opportunity for student reactions and anecdotes, I set up a blog where my kids can share thoughts. Before reading, I took about ten minutes to go over the blog.
Despite its 2005 induction into the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of blog is surprisingly elusive. When I asked my 155+ followers on Twitter to define blog, they were surprisingly quiet (which is a word rarely used to describe the social micro blogging site). Even I couldn't nail down a quality definition that I felt truly encompasses what a good blog is capable of achieving.
So without a best answer, I turned to the kids. Before showing them the Marley Blog, I asked them to define the word. Their answers were pretty good, but one boy hit the nail on the head. I had tried to generate an elaborate definition that spoke of collaboration, reflection, insight, and analysis. He said all that in one simple statement.
“Blogging is an open journal.”
And this was the moment I realized I had been going about this blog all wrong. I originally started it a year ago at Edublogs as a place for me to feature some of the free and open source programs that I used regularly in class. Despite some of my attempts to make the posts witty or entertaining, they usually came across as informative but dull. They read more like infomercials, and that certainly is not the point of blogging.
I was not treating this blog like an open journal. When you steal your big sister's diary from her room, you read the whole thing to get a picture of her inner-most secrets. You don't care that some entries are better than others - it's the big picture that counts. I've been missing that with my blog. Instead of sharing my thoughts on day-to-day happenings, I've been carefully planning each post.
So my door is now open. Will you sneak a peak at my open journal?