Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Perfect Classroom?

What is your perfect classroom (technologically speaking)?  This is a question I recently had the privilege of asking some of my colleagues.  As they ponder their answers, let me ask you what you think it would be for you.
  • What would the room look like?  When I walked through the door, what would I see?
  • What hardware would you have?
  • What software would you be using? Browser? Word-processor? 
  • Would you have a projector, a wide-screen TV, SMARTBoard?
  • Would you have a mini computer lab along one wall? an iPad cart? laptops? 1:1?
Imagine if money were no object (which we all know is a pipe dream), what would you ask your administration for?  Go ahead and tell me in the comment section.  I'd love to know what you think. 

High School Technology Curriculum

I teach in a private PreK-12 school with a total student body somewhere between 350 and 400.  We're not big, but we try to do what we can with the resources we have available.  Recently, I was asked by our principal to contemplate what a high school technology curriculum would look like.

May I take a moment and be honest here? I don't think I realized till the other day that there are no high school technology courses at our school.  I just thought there were.  That means that my middle school course is our "end game" as far as intentional technology teaching.  Something needs to change, and I'm glad I got to play a part in that.

After some pondering, here is what I came up with...

I may be thinking outside the box on this one, but I would really like to see the high school technology curriculum be highly individualized and focused on creativity.  Let me explain.

Former students of mine have started photography businesses straight out of high school.  A friend of mine is a university media professor and talks about students who start successful tech-related businesses while still in college.  It’s a different world and since we don’t have a current curriculum to revamp we can be on the cutting edge. Believe it or not, Northern Kentucky high schools are requiring students to choose their career path as they enter their Freshman year and choose classes that coincide with that choice.  It leads me to think about how we can use technology in the high school to help launch some careers starting after graduation.  
While our EL and MS curricula are in the middle of being revamped, I envision that a student will have learned a lot of computer applications and digital citizenship leading up to 8th grade.  They will have had countless hours of exploring the virtues of iPads, even as we slowly start introducing iPads to lower grades. Through the 20 Percent Time project, they will also have a taste of using technology to create and not consume.  Let’s take it up a notch in high school.
I am a proponent of using technology to create not consume media.  It pushes students to the higher ends of Bloom’s Taxonomy and keeps them from thinking merely in facts. However, I’m coming to realize that even on my most creative day I’m still quite the tech consumer.  I have no idea how the pixels get on the screen, how those pixels travel from this computer through the air and through wires to you or a reader in the Philippines.  I have no idea how to design a web site or how my digital camera works.  I merely manipulate technology to do what I want -- but in a manner that it was made to do.  Surely when I type a blog post I am thinking more critically than if I am memorizing facts with flash cards, but there is more I can be learning.  There is some critical thinking going on with what we do already, but can we do more in high school?
I’m dreaming.  I have no idea how we will accomplish all this, what our timeline will be, or who will teach it all, but these are my dreams.

  • K-2: Basic computer functions and parts, basic computer applications, Internet safety and digital citizenship, some use of iPads, technology integration with other classes.
  • 3-5: Slightly more advanced computer functions and applications (save, word processing, copy and paste, flash drive), introduce GAFE, Internet safety and digital citizenship, integrate iPads into regular curriculum, technology integration with other classes.
  • 6-8: Build on digital citizenship and Internet safety foundation, social media, completely immersed in GAFE and mobile devices, technology integration with other courses, individualize project.
  • 9-10: The basics of a number of concepts: web design, graphic design, networking, photography, animation, servers, etc.  
  • 11-12: Independent study -- students develop a project along their interest level.  Research it, build it, make it happen.   
This has raised conversations about all sorts of stuff.
  • Who is going to teach these HS courses? I look at this and see that it has to be someone who knows a little bit about a lot of things. This person will have to be comfortable to say, "I don't know about that, but I'm willing to learn along with you." Flexibility and humility will be key character qualities.
  • How will Common Core play into this? Actually, this has Common Core written all over it. Technical reading, collaborating with real world experts, writing, higher level thinking. I like it!
  • STEM? Yes and no. It depends on which angle the students take, but even the most "artsy" of projects will need to have a technology bend to it.
  • Computer lab? It will look different, but that's OK. Read this article about how to fix it.
So, I need your help. What am I missing? Am I totally off my rocker? What would you do differently? Thanks!

Monday, January 28, 2013

20 Percent Time

My 7th grade Tools for Tech class is generally a pretty technologically advanced class to start with.  I had many of them last year in 6th grade, and a large majority of them had their own personal iPads.  They come into the computer lab and set up shop.  iPad, iPhone, desktop...Their little work station is all set. 

Now, don't take this to mean that they are ready to work.  It's also a very social group who tends to buck the traditional classroom.  Good thing for me that I bucked the traditional classroom ages ago too. 

I tried to come up with an idea that would teach them technology skills in a way that they would appreciate when it hit me.  Be like Google!

Take a moment and read the link, then come back here. 

We just got started.  In fact, only half my kids have written a proposal yet, but I'm thrilled with the direction they are heading.  Here are our ideas so far...
  • Writing, performing, and recording an original song.
  • Writing and publishing an eBook.
  • A number of web sites -- Weebly or Google. 
  • A programmable robot.
  • A knock-off Temple Runner app.
  • Original software.
It's amazing to see these kids already -- within an hour of hearing about the assignment -- researching what needs to be done.  

We'll see where this goes, but I can't wait to see the final results. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Homework Question Rolls On

Let me pose two very important questions.  
  1. What is homework?
  2. What is your purpose for assigning homework?
I've been reading quite a bit lately about whether or not to assign homework, and there are good arguments on both sides.  As I consider the topic, it all comes down to those two questions. 

What is homework?
I guess we could go with the simple definition that homework is anything required to be done at home. I immediately see reasons why some work must be done at home.
  • Studying for tests.
  • Proofreading and editing by parents.
  • Bringing in supplies.
  • Completing school work not done in class.
  • Make up work from being out sick.
  • Researching for projects.
What is your purpose for assigning homework?
Nick Provenzano ("The Nerdy Teacher") wrote this post about homework in high school English, stating that there isn't time during a normal class period to give time for students to read the class novel and discuss the chapters read.  I imagine I would have read the entire novels in English class if my teachers gave us time to read them in class.  Especially on the high school level, there needs to be time outside of class to accomplish some tasks.

I used to think that giving a student 20-30 math problems was helping him.  If you want to be a good free throw shooter, you shoot 100 shots every day. It may not be fun, but over time you'll build muscle memory which will help you become a better ball player. Why not apply that to math?  There's another angle from which to look at this.  Why kill any love for math a student may have by overdoing the work?  If a student can prove to you in 5 problems that he understands the concept, why give him 15 more problems to do?  

If I'm assigning pointless worksheets or workbook pages, then shame on me for wasting my student's and her family's time.  However, if I'm assigning thought provoking and meaningful activities, is there anything wrong with that?

A colleague of mine requires her students to read 100 minutes a week outside of the classroom.  Is that bad?  Our band director requires 100 minutes of practice each week outside of band rehearsals.  Is that valuable?

I was recently asked to read and review an article with twenty reasons not to assign homework over the holiday. This article suggests many different things families could be doing if they were released from the tyranny of homework.  My first gut reaction was that most families wouldn't actually do most of the things suggested.  Then it hit me.  One, who am I to judge whether a family would or would not go to a museum over the break?  Two, it's not my job to decide how parents parent their families.  My role is to help parents educate their kids, not dictate what happens outside of school hours.  

A former student, now trying to wade her way through her first year of teaching, sent me this article about an alternative to spelling tests. Those of us who have taught language arts know that spelling tests don't do a lot to help kids learn to spell.  At best, it helps them learn how to regurgitate information on a test.  While the alternative is more labor-intensive for the teacher, it helps kids work on spelling in more realistic situations.  Not a bad idea.

As the homework question rolls on in my mind, I keep coming back to those two questions.  What is it and why am I making the kids do it?  There is value in doing some things outside of the classroom but we have to be careful what it is and the frequency of the assignments.

I'm all ears.  Let me know your thoughts.  Am I on the right path or do I need to reevaluate?  

Saturday, January 12, 2013

One Week Down

I'm one week into my new role and it's been a whirlwind.  I'm glad it's the weekend!

When we went into Christmas Break, my students had no idea what was happening.  That news got broken to them in an email the weekend before school started up again.  That meant that Monday was a day of talking through the process with my students.  They had a chance to meet their new teacher (Jessica) and introduce themselves to her.  Since Jessica wanted to see the iPads in action, we used Educreations and StoryKit for kids to introduce themselves.

Monday through Wednesday were used to transition Jessica into the role of the teacher in the classroom.  That meant that each day she saw more time in front of the kids while we spent a lot of planning period time talking through procedures, asking and answering questions, and getting her up to speed on everything behind the scenes.  I know I forgot how much they DON'T teach you in college about teaching. Jessica is going to be a great teacher and blessing in those kids' lives!

I also got to get some fingerprinting done for a must-have background check.  Never can be too cautious these days, I suppose. I had the joy of setting up and running a webinar in my room for a staff meeting as well.  

This transition time also involves meeting my new boss. Joe just moved here from Tennessee to become our new Technology Director.  We've spent a bit of time talking tech stuff, and I admit I've been lost for some of it.  There was one time I told him that he "might as well had said that last sentence in Russian." I recognized FAT32 and quickly got lost from there. I'm so happy to have Joe here getting our technology focused in one direction!

I also have a new office to move into.  The office is attached to the library, so it doubles as a library storage area, parent volunteer work space, and who knows what else?  My stuff was dumped in, and I'm trying to carve my niche into one half of the room. It took a week, but I have a computer set up, and the room looks livable.

By Thursday, I settled into my role of elementary computer teacher.  I had 4th, 3rd, and 1st graders that first day.  Today is Kindergarten, followed by 2nd grade.  I found a great web site for digital literacy and citizenship curriculum called Common Sense Media. This week's lesson for K-2 was about where to go while online, equating it to a field trip.  Well done.  For 3rd and 4th, I did more of an introductory lesson.  They had to type me a letter on Word, then they had an introduction to Sumdog.  Both levels got some typing practice as well:  Type to Lean Jr for K-2 and Mavis Beacon for 3-4.

So far, the biggest challenge is teaching the little ones.  I have been type-cast as an upper elementary teacher my entire career.  I started in 4th grade for two years, then I've been in 5th and 6th for the last 16 1/2 years. Add in my six years as a middle school youth leader, and I have no idea what to do with the kids under 44 inches tall. There were definitely some fun moments this week.

I will be adding middle schoolers to the mix soon.  They are on J-term for another week.  This means that next week will be a bit easier.  I'll have plenty of time for research, planning, and starting to help administration on various projects.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Seismic Shift

For years I've wanted to shift my focus from "regular classroom teacher" to something akin to "technology integration specialist" but haven't really had chance to do so.  Let's face it.  That's not a job title that is readily available these days.  Sure, plenty of schools want to integrate technology to some extent, but creating a job title to help the process isn't easy in this economy.

I'm in my second year at a school that has slowly helped send me in that direction.  In Year 1, I was given a couple of hours a week to help me research and plan ways to best lead our school's iPad initiative.  That went so well, that this year I've been given an hour a day as Tech Lead to further research and help other teachers better integrate technology into their classes.  This extra hour of research time has been wonderful to keep my stress level down and to keep work at work while still helping the school move forward.  I've also been fighting a rare neurological disorder since June, so it gave me the opportunity to rest when the pain/numbness/tingling/fatigue are too much.  However, late this first semester a perfect storm of my health, staffing issues, and new initiatives came together to create a seismic shift in my career. 

Starting next semester, I will be out of the regular classroom.  Instead, I'll be teaching computers and technology for grades K-8 (with the exception of 5th grade). This will include creating curriculum which is both integrated with the regular classroom and aligned to the Common Core.  I'll also be assisting in behind the scenes technology projects from the software and integration side of the coin.  (Actually, I don't know what I'll be doing there, but I want to sound knowledgeable.) This move is listed as temporary.  There is a chance I'll be back in the regular classroom come August.  There is a chance they'll keep me in this role.  We'll see.

May I just say that I am excited, sad, nervous, thrilled, overwhelmed, scared, honored, and happy all rolled up into one?  When I realize that I'm being handed a job that I've wanted for a number of years, I get giddy. When I look at the kids and realize I won't be their teacher anymore, I get sad.  When I think of the job ahead of me, I get nervous -- until I think of the Kindergartners, then I get scared.  Overall, I'm honored that my principal thinks I'm up to the task and is willing to do what it takes to keep me moving forward with the school when my body just wants to take a month off.

From this point on, this blog will reflect this new role.  I'll be talking mostly about my "computer teacher" exploits, but I'll probably mention some things I'm finding in my research and will hope to coerce my colleagues into implementing in class. 

You can start by helping me figure out what my curriculum will look like.  Click on this post to find questions that will help me map the future of my computer curriculum.  Thanks for the help and please keep reading!