Posts Tagged classrooms

Technology Should Be Fun

Technology is a lot of things to a lot of people. One of the main things it is to me is fun. My students at school and I have spent many laughs from doing goofy things with technology. One day we put my little wall aquarium on the big screen with the help of a document camera. For a few brief minutes, we had enormous plastic fish in the school’s largest aquarium. There are always crazy mishaps when technology goes awry. The power went out at my school the other day and one student said, “With budget cutbacks, the school probably didn’t pay the electric bill.” You have to have a sense of humor in education and in teaching. It makes each day a bit more interesting and enjoyable. Plus, having a playful attitude is good for the creative process. Humor opens the mind to see the world in different ways. In an after school club, the students have been creating “Stick Art Jokes.” I’ve been sharing them with my classes and they’ve gotten to be pretty popular. My kids at home have been in convulsions using technology in the most ridiculously funny ways on YouTube.com or with a digital camera. Is there any serious value to being able to do this? Probably not. Not unless you want to have some serious fun.

Bighead

 

 Too Much Weightlifting

 BigEyes

 Check out what can happen when people have fun: http://thefuntheory.com/. Having fun with technology is a good reminder–smile and enjoy life.

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If It’s Not in Google, It Doesn’t Exist

I’m not making this up. One of the guest speakers at the iNACOL conferencea few years back told a packed audience this. He said, “If it’s not in Google, it doesn’t exist.” Seriously, I’m not making this up. Let me tell you a little more. The conference was about all about online learning. The guest speaker was a recent high school graduate who had done all of his schooling online.  He was there to give us his perspective on the world of online education. Much of what he had to say was very helpful to us as we were in the planning stages of creating our own online school in my district. The the idea that everything of value is catalogue by Google was laughable. Apparently this kid had never been to a bookstore. This was before GoogleBooks deal. Just for fun, I Googled the quote, “If it’s not in Google, it doesn’t exist.” Guess what? 27,100 results! There are a LOT of people who apparently feel this way. Somewhere along the way in the education of these individuals, they missed the part where knowledge CAN and DOES EXIST outside of Google.

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FETC-2009 Conference Keynote Speaker: Cavlin Baker

I just attended the FETC 2009 Virtual Conference for educational technology. The keynote speaker Calvin Baker from Vail, Arizona talked about how his district is using technology to promote teacher creativity. At first I thought it would be a talk about how technology can help teachers create “new media” to “wow” their students out of their stereotypical slumber. As you can tell, I dislike the notion that I need to use technology to entertain my students. Luckily, I was completely wrong. This was a great presentation because what he said made a lot of sense. Here are some poignant highlights. 

Districts need to get new technology into the hands of the teachers first. If you do, then they learn how to use it and incorporate it into the classroom. Bravo! Another thing Calvin talked about was that there needs to be accountability and structure when using new technology. It’s not a free-for-all. Many promoters of new technology want to throw any and everything against the wall to see what sticks. That’s irresponsible in education. Calvin explained a web tool they developed called “Beyond Textbooks.” It’s basically a way to connect teachers together in meaningful ways–in departments, within schools, across the district and even across the state. Too much of teaching is a solitary activity–to the detriment of the profession and to students. This tool includes shared calendars so a teacher can see what other teachers are doing and when. I like this type of sharing and accountability. An open learning environment benefits all. Too many teachers don’t do what they need to do and no one ever knows about it. A shared calendar is a step in the right direction.

Another aspect of Beyond Textbooks is the sharing of lesson plans. A colleague and I have been talking about this for years. There’s no reason a new teacher should have to spend years developing solid lessons when there are great lessons already available: they are in the filling cabinets of most veteran teachers. What Beyond Textbooks does it help pool all of the great lessons from across the district and make them available for all to use. My district has been working towards something like this but it’s a huge undertaking and we haven’t been able to get it off the ground.  Because the lessons are seen and used by other professionals, the quality of the products is very high. When there is an audience, people tend to perform better. Plus it gives teachers the opportunity for others to see what great stuff they’ve created. OpenEducation.org and THE Journal wrote about this initiative. Open up education–what a great idea!

There is a forum attached to each teaching resource so that teachers can connect to other teachers in a meaningful and timely way. Too many websites offer to “connect teachers” but they don’t have any real meaning. As a result, teachers join social networks and then never visit them again. The Beyond Textbook repository is key to the daily life of teachers: specific lessons tied to their specific state standards in their district. The forums allow teachers to comment and give feedback on the lessons thus improving the lessons. This technology can also give teachers the intrinsic rewards that we all crave.  

Teachers love to create and share the things that improve instruction. That’s why a great many teachers are in this business. Technology like Beyond Textbooks can help these creative individuals have even greater impact. I wish my state had something like this.

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“When am I ever going to need this?”

Every teacher has heard this question from students at one time or another. “When am I ever going to need this?” they ask. Sometimes teachers gloss over these questions, other times they retort with the empty response of “I had to learn it so you should too.” This type of question from students isn’t one that can be passed off flippantly. It’s exactly the type of question that good teaching fosters. If we as teachers don’t have a clear answer to it, then what’s the purpose of what we do?

Some educators have misguided answers to this question. “You will use math if you become a banker,” they say. “Let’s bring in a banker and have him/her talk to you about how they use math.” Seriously? If teachers need to bring a banker in to convince students that math is important then they clearly don’t understand the question. And they don’t understand banking either! Students aren’t convinced by pat answers or vague references to professionals “out there.” They need real answers that they can use each day in the classroom.

Early in my teaching career, I learned how important purpose is to the classroom. Since then, I have begun each semester with this question:  “when will you ever need this?” It’s one of the first things I ask them. As they think about it, I even chide them with comments like “Unless you are ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,’ you will never need to know about what we are going to study.” Or, “I’m pretty sure you will never be at the water cooler at your future job and say to a coworker, ‘What about those crazy Minoans.'” I press them to probe deep into the question why. You’d be surprised how many different answers they come up with–and they are real answers.  In our brainstorming sessions, students come up with no less than 15 solid reasons they need to take my class. I don’t teach anything particularly unique or useful. They are just regular social studies classes: Ancient Civilizations, World Geography, Psychology, Government, Colorado History, etc. As the classroom conversation progresses, we even throw in math and science to the mix. Sure, students understand that they aren’t going to love every subject. But they do have good reasons for why they are studying them. They know that they know that they need to learn about the world and that everything in their studies doesn’t have to have applicable to their life today. Of course good teachers know how to connect their content to everyday life but you can’t always do that.

Surprisingly, there is one answer that students rarely think of. To me it seems to me to be the crux of the reason why students need to be educated: it strengthens their brain. We know from years of neuroscience research how young brains develop and grow. We know how important the environment (i.e. education) is on the outcome of the person. Sad but true, I realize that very few people are going to need to know about the Assyrians or how to use the quadratic equation in their future careers. However, everyone is going to use their brain. So, when are students ever going to use what they learn in class? Every day! A good coach knows that physical exercise like push-ups helps improve his/her athletes’ performance. No one likes them but they all know it’s not about the push-up–it’s about the end goal: a strong body. Education helps strengthen the mind. 

Purpose is a powerful thing. Even if students don’t ask it aloud, they are wondering about the purpose of education in their busy brains. “When am I ever going to need this?”  There are simple and valid answers to this question. Our job as educators is to help them find that purpose.

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Talk About Lost Opportunity

When I think about all of the things in technology to discuss, it’s almost overwhelming. Probably the one topic that leaps to the top of my mind is “lost opportunity.” There are so many chances to help teachers integrate technology effectively into their classrooms. However, much of the time, it doesn’t happen.

I just spoke today with a colleague who was part of a year-long technology education program. He wanted to do something new professionally and he wanted to challenge his students. However, after a year in a very “forward-thinking and collaborative technology group,” he only came away with one or two lessons. That and a laptop. (Not surprisingly, the promise of a laptop was the main draw for many who joined this program.) In the end, the main obstacle to effective change in his classroom was time. He told me that it was too difficult to learn the software, to teach it to all of his students and then to teach them how to use it to demonstrate understanding of a concept. For him, it wasn’t worth it.

Unfortunately, there are hundreds of teachers who feel the same way. So what can educational leaders do? They can listen to their teachers. Often the leaders of schools listen disproportionately to the many “technology experts” that promote the use of this tool or that tool. Too often these experts aren’t in the classroom anymore. They spend much of their time learning about new technologies and teaching others. That’s a fine thing to do. But to be most effective, they need to be in the classroom on a regular basis–not just for quick visits but full-time. Then they would know and understand the difficult realities of integrating new technology into the classroom.

Seasoned technology specialists who still teach can help other teachers implement technology effectively in their classrooms. They can help turn lost opportunity into real possibility.

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