This podcast by Kelly Hines highlighted some of the web 2.0 tools that are available for use with elementary age students - MY little peeps! I'm happy to say that, after participating in this class, I'm already familiar with some of the tools, but others were new to me and I've already played around with some of them.
One such new-to-me tool was Wallwisher.com. I particularly liked the element of sorting kids' sticky notes in various ways to show common thinking or simply as a means of data representation. That was a nice cross-curriculum feature that reinforces what kids are learning in science and math.
Though I was already familiar with Wordle, Kelly Hines' additional suggestions for use were wonderful. Though I've had students generate Wordles, I've not used previously constructed Wordles to elicit student predictions or foster deductive reasoning. I can see copying the text from classroom books or from student writing and generating a Wordle from it, then having the students see if they can figure out the main idea of the piece.
The comic creators mentioned , like Comics.com, were entirely new to me. Though I've not yet had a chance to noodle around on those sites, I'm looking forward to doing so and already see possible applications for my first graders with sequencing. The idea of playing around with cartoons is inherently attractive to the elementary school child and it's wonderful to be able to slip in learning when they don't even realize you're doing it!
For my students, Edmodo looks interesting for the survey-building capabilities. Young children love to "vote" on things and then see that data displayed graphically. Again, I'm looking forward to poking around more on this site, learning the tool, and bringing it to my teaching.
In an attempt to put our money where our collective mouths were, my 21st century colleagues and I had a desire to implement some of the technology we've been raving about and update/improve our school website. In an effort to "work smarter, not harder", rather than rewrite for this blog what what has already been written elsewhere, below is the text taken from our teams' Professional Improvement Plan, outlining our original goals: (Thank you, Kristy Johnson, for doing all this work!)
We will work as a team to create an update of the Morse Street School website that intends to communicate effectively with Morse Street families. We will exhibit leadership in our school and professional community by promoting and demonstrating the effective use of digital tools and resources. We want the new MSS site to communicate relevant information and ideas effectively to students and parents using a variety of digital-age media and formats. It is our intent to collaborate with students, parents, and community members using digital tools and resources to support student success and innovation. We hope that the "new and improved site" will facilitate experiences that advance student learning, creativity, and innovation in both face-to-face and virtual environments. Specifically, we plan to make improvements to the site making it more interactive. The site will model the currently possible uses of audio and video.
Originally, our plan was to develop a "mock-up" of the site, which would eventually go public. However, since this original plan was made, we've been informed that the new site for our school must be part of a district-wide "RSU5" site and there will be a committee formed to develop this. Well, no one said it would be easy. Our group has generated many good ideas already and have a working outline of things we'd like to include on the site, so our collective input to any new committee will be of value and we intend to carry on with our mock-up.
Items that we intend to include on the site are:
General information about our school with an interactive site map.
A link to our reading, writing, and math curriculum
A link to the fine arts philosophies and activities
A school calendar
Reminders for upcoming events
A Principal's corner for communication
Examples of student work that would showcase all learning areas
The message expressed in the article by Sir Ken Robinson, addressing the need for schools to validate artistic expression, was in perfect stride with the shift in consciousness that I truly believe is starting to take place globally. Old paradigms are just not working and are (not surprisingly) failing to produce the results that today's society demands. There was one particular line in Robinson's article that spoke to this idea beautifully. He says, in reaction to the idea that our education system is predicated on the idea of academic ability as the truest expression of intelligence, "Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth: for a particular commodity. And for the future, it won't serve us." Just as we, as a unified planet, are finally starting to sit up and take notice that yes, indeed, fossil fuels will eventually run out and it might behoove us to rethink our energy strategies, we must be equally willing to rethink our educational strategies. Get rid of that which does not support the emerging paradigm and focus our attention on that which will. The last thing we need in the face of the daunting challenges we face today is a race of people afraid to take a chance for fear of being wrong.
There will be no argument from ANY elementary school teacher that the acquisition of literacy is critical and foundational, as it is the gateway to learning of all kinds. We absolutely must focus the majority of our resources on teaching children how to read and write. But in doing this, we must be very willing to expand our definition of literacy as it pertains to the medium of the day. As referenced in an earlier post regarding Jason Ohler's article, Orchestrating the Media Collage, in the 21st century, that medium is digital, thus involving literacy with not only text, but sound, graphics, and moving images as well. If we want our kids to have an education that prepares them for the future, then we best focus on supplying them with the tools they need to meet that future. People connect with one another through common experience. You learn of someone's experience when you hear their story. Let's give our students every means possible to tell their story.
I dipped a toe into the digital ocean and found out I could dog paddle. I decided to try something VERY technologically manageable with my first grade class last week, which was just an extension of a lesson I had done with my students in the past. Historically, as I wrap up a science unit on Air and Weather and prepare to move into a social studies unit on Philanthropy, I always read an appealing book to my students called Knut - How One Little Polar Bear Captivated the World (see my Shelfari). It provides a nice bridge between the two, seemingly diverse, topics in that we take what we've learned about air and weather, extend that to the topic of how we, as people, can have an effect on the weather through our actions (global warming), and how that can then have an effect on other species (shrinking habitat). This book, featuring the world's cutest polar bear cub, simply brings attention to the species as a whole and makes the survival of this endangered species more personal for the kids. In the past, after reading this book to my students, they were always hungry for more information about polar bears, their habitat and what they could do to make a difference. What a great segue into the topic of philanthropy, which is, after all, just an extension of our on-going first grade study of community and how we are all part of a whole, working together for the greater good. All that being said...how did technology help out with that, you ask?
After passing by my school's LCD projector in the tech room many times, I thought to myself, "Self, you really ought to learn how to use that thing so you can share interesting websites with your class." The words of a sage educator came to me...work smarter, not harder. So, as stated earlier, I dipped my toe into the digital ocean, went into school on a Sunday, dragged that scary piece of machinery into my classroom, figured out how to hook it up and gave it a test run. It was embarrassingly easy. On Monday morning, my kids got to meet Knut through a book. By afternoon, thanks to www.knut.net, 17 children had fallen completely in love with him as they watched him on a screen, drinking from a bottle, wrestling with a boot, and learning how to swim. By the end of the day, we had learned how to sing a song about him in German and had visited a polar bear habitat. On Tuesday, we learned a bit more about how polar bears live in the wild and then saw an animation about how the WWF tracks polar bears to see if their habitat is shrinking and their numbers are dropping.
The most challenging aspect of introducing technology into this lesson was figuring out how to STOP! I had designated only a couple of days to this and now realize that we could easily have pursued SO many links to SO many cool sites and activities that we could have continued linking and learning about this subject matter until June. As with all things web, it's difficult to cull through the volumes of information accessed, then decide what to keep and what to cut. At least now that I've seen the tip of the iceberg (pun intended), I have a million ideas about how I'll further incorporate this discipline-bridging activity next year.
The title of this article warmed my first grade teacher heart. So much of what I read about incorporating technology in the classroom seems geared toward the middle or high school population - you know, those big-time tech users. Though I agree that opening the door to the world is clearly a beneficial endeavor, even for my young charges, I sometimes question how relevant all of this wonderful world-wide information is to someone just learning how to play well with others. Well, there you have it. When children first enter school, they begin to expand their understanding of community as a collection of individuals bound together by some common element. They begin to learn that they are members of many different communities - their families, neighborhoods, school, clubs, and so on. They learn that, as a member of a community, you share a common purpose as well as a responsibility to be a contributing member of that community. When technology brings a world of learners into their personal sphere, children begin to develop an understanding of themselves as contributing members of the MOTHER of all communities - the whole world. Talk about playing well with others.
Prensky's article, Turning on the Lights, fulfilled every writer's goal of provoking the reader to think. At least it provoked this reader to think. Reflecting on the following questions helped me to fine-tune my thinking around Prensky's approach to the subject of integrating kids' outside use of technology inside the school.
Do you agree with Prensky's notion that requiring students to "power down" in school actually impedes their learning? How might allowing students to use technological devices in class help or hinder their learning?
First and foremost, I believe that the key to student engagement is meaningful content. If the student has no meaningful connection to the subject matter, he/she is unlikely to embrace it. "How am I ever going to use this?", isn't just a question elicited by a boring Trigonometry class. Even our youngest students benefit from having a schema connection to the subject matter, helping them develop a meaningful connection from that which they know to that which they don't yet know. Whenever something can be related to the self, it is inherently more interesting. The place where I see "powering down" in the classroom as an impediment to learning is in the severing of that schema connection. When approaching something that initially holds no real meaning for the student, perhaps the mode of interaction with that subject may be the only thing that connects it to the student. If there is a way that technological devices used outside the classroom help bridge the gap and create connections for the students to access material inside the classroom, then there is greater meaning in the subject matter for that student.
What place do you see in the classroom for laptops, cell phones, mp3 players, social networking sites, Wikipedia, and other technologies?
Though my mind went immediately to the middle and high school age student when first pondering this question, that is not where my own connection lies, so I thought it through again in relation to the elementary school aged child - MY little peeps. Though some of these devices don't readily apply to the younger child, the general principal of what I stated earlier still does. If a technological device used outside of the classroom helps create a connection to the subject matter in the classroom, then it may very well have a place there. I see this coming into play most readily with students' writing. What to write about is the biggest challenge for many of my students. Though we may cringe when a student shares about "reaching level 12" on such and such a video game over the weekend because WE would have preferred that he was out playing soccer, we've severed a meaningful connection for that student by dis-allowing it. What might happen if we allowed occasional blocks for "tech devices" in the classroom? Little folks need things concrete and tangible. How better to elicit rich word choice for describing your game character than to write about him while you're playing the game? How better to describe how a piece of music makes you feel than to write about it while you're listening to it on your mp3 player? How better to practice written communication skills than to instant message with a friend from laptop to laptop? Might a math or social studies concept become more clear in the context of a well known game? As teachers, we are always working toward strengthening home-school connections for optimal learning, so why do we feel compelled to overlook this connection?
What is your school's policy regarding technology in school? Do you believe your policy meets the needs of your students? If so, why? If not, what changes would you make?
Currently, our elementary school does not allow any "electronic devices" to be brought from home. As a general rule for our age group, that policy is sound, as we would much prefer kids to be running and playing with friends on the playground than sitting on a bench playing a hand-held video game. For the above stated argument, however, I see room to improve the language around that, at least.
How can teachers and administrators balance the desire to stay up-to-date with the need to always make sure that teachers can use the techniques and technologies that best suit their students? (1)
Marc Prensky's bullet points for "Turning on the Lights" were terrific in this regard:
Give students the opportunity to use technology in school.
Find out how students want to be taught.
Connect students to the world.
Understand where kids are going—that is, into the future—and help them get there.
Perhaps my favorite quote from Prensky's article was this:
Teachers would no longer be the providers of information but instead would be the explainers, the context providers, the meaning makers, and the evaluators of information that kids find on their own.
Sometimes I think we, as teachers, need to get out of our own way. We are HUGE sources of light for these children, but we're hardly the only source. I celebrate the fact that children are now able to sponge up information from so very many resources and I see my role as a teacher as being even more critical in helping them disseminate it, draw meaning from it, and evaluate it critcally.
The author of this article, Bill Ferriter, is a self described digital junkie. Though I hardly put myself in that category, I was inspired by his description of the genesis of his obsession because, I too, have "a high-speed Internet connection and a bit of moxie" - so what's my excuse for not at least getting started?
One of the things that teachers both love and lack is enough time to commiserate with colleagues and learn from the collective pool of wisdom, creativity, and experience at their disposal. We can't seem to carve out enough time in our day to go to the bathroom, let alone sit and share ideas with our like-minded peers. We are, between the hours of 8 and 3, largely unavailable to our immediate professional learning community. Though there is no substitute for time spent with colleagues who most closely "share our story", 21st century technology opens up other options for professional learning. On our own time, using tools like blogs and RSS feeds, we are now able to connect with and learn from our teaching colleagues across the globe. As the next natural step, teachers must then guide students to do the same, using computers, as Ferriter states, "to learn with- rather than simply about- the world".
It is clear that even the youngest of our students are highly capable of connecting in this digital age. Ferriter encourages the teacher to take a more active role in helping students to recognize the power of these connections. In this age where the globe is shrinking in terms of the ease with which we can connect with others, both young and older have a unique opportunity to use this networking for more meaningful personal growth. As we become more in tune with the idea that we are, in fact, all ONE, we can use today's technology to find others who share our passions and explore global challenges together. We can share what we have learned and, in turn, learn from so many others.
Teachers who are willing to explore these possibilities and become efficient 21st century learners themselves will be better equipped to present that model of life-long learning to our students. Teaching our students the value behind the networking is, perhaps, the most valuable way of supporting our networked kids.
There are a couple of bloggers whose content gives me the nuts and bolts, I-can-actually-use-this, kind of stuff I crave.
Matthew Needleman's blog page,Creating Life Long Learners, is one such contributor. I lost (or one might say gained) an hour of my afternoon looking through his page, checking out some new and creative "back to school" activities and enjoying the fact that I was only one of many teachers wondering how to best utilize Independent Work Time. I also found his information on Using Video in the Classroom really inspiring because one of my goals is to do just that and his guidelines and resources made it actually seem do-able! I so appreciate REAL stuff that I can actually use!
Also love Kathy Cassidy's page, which really shows the "live action" of what goes on in her classroom. As I view it, I think about the empowerment of the students involved in creating the material being presented! How exciting to see one's own learning demonstrated to the public in this way. Again, very inspiring stuff, as it only proves to me that all of these tools are readily available and mine for the learning. I have as much capacity to learn how to use them as Kathy Cassidy did - and will!
Who knew that teachers could still be effective to their digitally savvy students, even without being technical magicians?
While taking a graduate class on 21st Century Teaching and Learning with Technologyhttp://usmepc512.wikispaces.com, I read an interesting article entitled "Orchestrating the Media Collage" http://bit.ly/NdC1. The author of the article, Jason Ohler, helped to define the ever-evolving face of literacy, which essentially boils down to being able to read and write the media form of the day. In the 21st century, that medium is digital, thus involving literacy with not only text, but sound, graphics, and moving images as well. Ohler's article speaks specifically to the role of teachers in this process. He puts forth eight solid guidelines for teachers, which all have a bottom line message of : "Do what you always do as teachers - help your students consume and create quality material." Though he states that teachers must approach digital literacy "as part of their own intellectual retooling", the role of the teacher in helping their students achieve digital literacy is less that of a technician and more that of a guide and manager of their students' work within the digital media collage. Even within the scary context of this digital world in which we, the teachers, are clearly the immigrants and not the natives, our role remains that of helping students connect with the best tools at hand and use them to express themselves well.
From this article, I took away a couple of important things:
1. We are in a unique place in history to be able to "tell a story". The tools at hand are vast and our potential to express is limitless. Rather than approach this push toward digital literacy as something we should fear, due to our own level of "illiteracy", teachers should celebrate the new opportunities being presented to our students to engage in the ageless art of telling a story.
2. Along this same line, I was delighted to read Ohler's support for demanding that we "treat art as the next R, just as important as the traditional 3 Rs". Upon reading this section of his commentary, I actually cheered, out loud, to the universe at large, "YES!". I've long been a believer in the value of art for art's sake, not just as a support to literacy and math, so to have attention focused on art as a critical component of our new age of literacy brings me great hope and satisfaction.