Tuesday, September 4, 2012

11 eTeaching Tips

Last year I was an eLearning coach responsible for integrating technology into the classroom.  It was an exciting job and an excellent way to enhance my own professional skills.  It’s amazing what a little time to think can do for an educator.  This year I took a job as a STEAM TAP Mentor.  My new position presents new and unique challenges.  These days I find ways to integrate Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math into everyday curriculum.

One of the reasons I took the new job was because I’ve always felt that STEAM areas are where all of the content of classes come together.  Additionally, last year I learned so much more about student engagement through the use of technology.  As far as STEAM goes, many of these areas come together in engineering, which I also get the opportunity to teach again.  I’ve had several students begin to understand the importance of math for reasoning and how vital science can be to answer the question, “Why?”  Technology is becoming easier for students to use and understand its implications for learning.  Students are even learning the importance of communication in language arts classes because of presentations they develop for products they make.

One concept not so commonly thought out is how the arts integrate into learning.  So many times these courses take a back seat.  Many don’t understand that artistic expression and architecture fit together perfectly.  Perhaps, students have never thought about the social implications delivered in social studies and how they can impact the outcome of a product they create.  These are the things that excite me most.  

At the bottom of this you will be able to find a link to a presentation I put together to help teachers enhance instruction via the use of technology.  These are all things I have tried myself and seem to really engage the learner.  I tried to word most of them so they would apply to all who read them.  However, some were more specific to the need of my staff.  Hope you enjoy and feel free to leave a comment.

Monday, May 7, 2012

One Size Fits All?

As I sit and think about the strategies teachers used for me during my learning career and the strategies I use for my students throughout their learning career one thing becomes clear: there is no one size fits all approach.  I continue to ask myself where this can be found.  Certainly it would make life easier.  I don't read too much about it in text books.  I've heard about it in theory.  I've never seen it in practice.  A big reason there is no one size fits all approach is because today’s learners have and need a variety of different skills.  

Some students need a hands-on approach.  Some students just need a teacher to guide them.  In my current job as an eLearning coach I have learned about many different types of learning models.  I'm a proponent of flipped class, PBL, flat class, and differentiated instruction.  Of course there are many others too numerous to list.  I need to sit back and realize all of these learning models have a place and time to be used.  There is no ONE educational model that is going to satisfy the needs of EVERY student.  I have to take what I know about the student and what I want them to know and find a way to put them together.  These learning models are here to help me, not make or break me.

I know that some students are going to respond well by doing the content learning outside of class.  These students just need me to facilitate the class rather than direct their learning.  The flipped class model allows me to do so.  I also believe my students have to participate in global learning networks if they are going to compete globally.  The flat class model helps me accomplish this.  I know for a fact that I remembered more as a student from posing my own questions and finding a way to answer them.  PBL helps me accomplish this.  Of course, we all know students learn at different rates and in different ways.  I use many concepts I learned through differentiated instruction to help me create a unique experience for learners.

The most powerful tool I have in my arsenal is communication with students.  Simply by talking with them I gain a better understanding of what it is they need.  I also talk with them about things other than school.  Let’s face facts students have a life outside of school and they are often more interested in it.  I do this to help me relate content and anything else to the student.  I have the ability to create surveys, polls, etc., but at the end of the day building a working relationship with the student will carry our learning further.  Having a weekly check-in our round table discussion in which students can simply explain academic, social, or other issues they have helps develop a trust between teachers and students.  This communication piece becomes a way for me to engage students into the lesson.

Any way I look at this I see that we are dealing with people and not products.  We are always going to have a need of finding different ways to do things because no two products are ever going to look the same.  Therefore, the process is never going to be the same.  Continued learning with strategies and techniques will make us better, but not if we don't have some sort of dialogue with students to find out what they need to know.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Student Centered Classroom

Recently I was one of the trainers in a professional development session titled, “The Student Centered Classroom.”  As I talked with the many participants I couldn’t help but wonder how I made my classroom student centered.  I was able to reflect back on my time in the classroom and think of my own experiences.  While planning for the PD I also kept coming back to one question in particular, “Who is doing the work in your class?”

I taught Project Lead the Way pre-engineering curriculum – the curriculum really blended well with student choice and voice.  I always tried to provide students several options to demonstrate mastery of an objective.  One of the most powerful learning techniques in pre-engineering is to realize there are several ways to accomplish one task.  Often times, those solutions have positives and negatives when compared to others.  However, these differences provide a communication piece vital to explain thinking and reasoning to students.

I saw several great projects in the 10 years I taught pre-engineering.  It was simple for me as a teacher too.  The students and I would come up with what the product should be able to accomplish.  Students then chose a pathway to get there.  At first, students did not know how to respond.  However, they quickly learned that as long as they accomplished the task they would be graded fairly.  As time progressed students began grading themselves.  Though I had to have conversations about grading because students were often much harder on themselves. This was important for me as a teacher because it taught the valuable lesson of self-reflection. 

The room quickly became a place for students to display their own work.  I would have students telling me they wanted to take their project and show it to the principal or others.  They took great pride in their work.  It also became an environment for students to challenge each other.  Students began to offer input and suggestions without being critical of others, which is a skill we can all benefit from.  The conversation level in the room was amazing - lots of big words with correct associations.

Obviously this is my story.  I am not trying to convince anyone this is the way to go even though it may sound like it.  This was just the way things happened in my class.  Looking back I wish I had kept data on how it all went down, but it was just how class went.  After a while this is what the students and I began to expect from each other.  I expected the best from them and they expected the best from me.  Most of the time all they needed me to be was an “expert” opinion.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Common Core

The education world is becoming more focused on a new set of objectives called Common Core.  Some folks literally cringe upon hearing about it.  Any time something like this comes along I always try to take a step back and see how I can deal with it.  While I know I can’t satisfy everyone with my beliefs that common core is a good thing, I will explain some ways it is already embedded in schools.

For starters, one of the main goals of common core is for students to explain what they know rather than just provide us the same information we just provided them.  It’s no longer about, “Select one of the following choices: A, B, C, or D.”  This idea also provides greater opportunity for in-depth knowledge.  I think we know that when students feel comfortable talking about solutions they probably have a good understanding of it.

The part I like most about common core is the idea of proving mastery of content.  One of the beauties of technology is that it allows several different ways for a student demonstrate knowledge.  Additionally, there are always new and innovative programs being released that allow the student to show it in a different way.  As an eLearning coach this year I have seen some truly amazing projects completed on student netbooks.   To an extent, I expected those amazing projects to happen, but not to this degree.  Students are continually finding ways to “one up” the last project they completed.  That is very rewarding.

When I think about my career in the classroom as a Project Lead the Way pre-engineering instructor I thought about how common core was already embedded naturally.  No two products ever looked the same.  There were some advantages and disadvantages to each one.  However, when the students were done with the projects they not only felt rewarded by their accomplishments, but also understood the “why” behind it.  Furthermore, these differences in products often encouraged conversation to happen among students.  They asked each other why they chose to design a product in a particular manner.

In essence, I really believe the movement to common core standards is going to allow us to do much more.  We will be able to create environments in which students can converse with other students throughout the country on different projects to get ideas or develop a better understanding.  We are also going to be creating an environment in which students become the center of the classroom because it is going to be the student’s job to demonstrate mastery and provide rationales for decisions.  We will also continue to develop an environment in which students have high expectations and move more toward independence. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Technology as a Tool

Remember when we used technology to make life simpler?  Technology has been around since the Stone Age.  Maybe it has not taken the form we know it as now, but it has always been with us.  Furthermore, it has always served to make something easier for us to accomplish.  Can you imagine someone using a microwave to cook if it actually made the process take longer?  Teaching with technology should be no different.  Teachers want tools that are going to make life easier and enhance instruction at the same time.

Recently my school’s Spanish teacher decided to use Skype to communicate with her former student teacher now living in Spain.  To see the looks on the faces of those students – and teacher - when they saw another person on the big screen that could also see everything they did and talk with them was priceless.  This was a simple concept that afforded that class an opportunity to communicate with someone speaking the language they were studying.

I have a social studies teacher using a modified Flipped Classroom model.  She provides podcasts for students to view at home or in the first few minutes of class while she is taking attendance.  These podcasts provide great avenues for discussion.  Sometimes the podcasts serve as the base of instruction and the teacher is able to walk around the room and assist students that have questions or who just need help understanding. 

The last teacher I’ll blog about is in our language arts department.  She uses webquests to enhance instruction.  She quickly noticed that students loved to “surf” the web.  She understood that she could use this to educate and actually empower students.  By using webquests she was able to allow students the opportunity to learn in a way they wanted.  She is able to guide the students with her questions and has found great discussion as a result.

These technology tools actually made life easier for these teachers and also enhanced instruction by providing real-world experiences.  As a result they continue not only to use these tools, but to actually learn more about them.  This is what teaching with technology should look like.  Furthermore, these are also great examples of what a student-centered classroom should look like.  These teachers are all building learning based on the strengths of the students.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Student Engagement and Technology Resources

Student achievement is a popular topic of discussion in the world of education today.  These days school success is tied strongly to student achievement.  No doubt the concept is important.  Perhaps even more important is the idea of student engagement.  If you asked 100 people the meaning of student engagement there is no doubt about the variety of answers that would follow.  I believe without engagement the achievement level of a student will never reach full potential.

One of the most powerful components of student engagement is for the student to have a voice.  Students should be able to choose different ways they can explain/demonstrate/prove they know something.  That's one of the features of technology.  There are so many different ways for students to assign meaning and expression to learning.

Let's face facts - everyone likes to talk about themselves.  Our kids are no different.  They want people to acknowledge important things in their lives.  How many times in class do we try to relate the content to sports when we have an athlete in our class?  Technology gives us an outlet for all students to express an opinion.  Students may not raise their hand in class, but they will participate in a poll or a discussion board.

An engaged student wants to learn more about the topic.  Engaged students become very resourceful in finding answers.  For example, a student is watching a TV show and a new term is used.  Does the student know how to place a meaning?  Do they know what resources to use?  Do they know if the resource they've chosen is accurate?  I wonder what it would be like if the student picked up a device and looked it up what they might find.  I wonder how many people actually do this.

Providing methods for students to create is essential for student engagement.  As educators we must also realize that these tools must continue to be expanded.  With this in mind here is an A-Z Resource List.  It’s not comprehensive, but does include several resources to help get you started.  It is also continuously updated with new tools.  Feel free to use and share the link. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Keeping it Simple

Last week our school had an amazingly positive experience.  Every week I provide professional development to our staff regarding the integration of technology into the classroom.  My main goal of the lesson was to demonstrate the collaborative features of Google Presentations.  I got way more than I bargained for.  Here is how.

I began the presentation and then created one slide with the assignment.  The assignment was simple.  Log into your Google Apps account with the link provided and answer the following question.  “What was a great moment for you in your teaching career?”  Now, I’ll admit I intentionally asked this type of question because I wanted teachers to spend some time using the software.  The answers were absolutely inspiring.

As this project continued to develop several teachers were accessing the presentation at the same time.  It was apparent that word had gotten around.  You could tell teachers were reading what others had entered into the presentation – mostly because Google Presentations shows a color for the location of mouse pointer for everyone in the presentation.  It was such a great feeling to know that we were talking about positive professional experiences.

In the days following several teachers came up and personally thanked me.  They kept telling me how much the assignment helped them regain perspective and how it was so nice to learn about one another.  Others would tell me, “I needed that.”  No doubt the professional development came to be a great boost for staff morale.  This experience could not have been simpler to develop and hopefully will be an opportunity for someone else soon.  

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

1:1 Initiatives

This is my first year as an eLearning coach.  This year our school corporation went 1:1 with Dell 2120 netbooks for grades 6-8.  We had already been 1:1 in the high schools.  The job is very exciting indeed.  Perhaps the most important question I run into on a daily basis is, "What do we do with these things?"  While the answer may seem simple, "Use them," it's just not that easy.  Teachers need training before unleashing this type of technology in a classroom.

The biggest complaints seem to stem around the issue of classroom management.  The lead question in this category is, "How do I stop them from doing _____?"  I begin to wonder why we need to stop certain things rather than actually channeling those into the proper avenues for success.  If students want to see how email works why not email them an assignment? If they want to see how chatting works, why not have your class in a chat room?

On the classroom management side of things the teacher has to be mobile throughout the room.  The teacher and student also need to have a relationship in which there is a trust.  Students and teachers need to be able to stop for those 'teachable moments' when something goes wrong with a website, or a student accesses something they shouldn't.  All parties involved need to know that some difficult conversations may be had and those need to be viewed as learning opportunities.

Like it or not, technology is here to stay.  Our students today really don't know of a world without it.  Some of us do and while we reminisce about times in which life was simpler we know that today's technology has made things easier.  We also know that the technology toys we have are becoming more and more essential to our own lives and as a result we must continue to learn ourselves.  Isn't that our goal as educators?  For our students to become life-long learners?