Tag Archives: reflection

Doing Learning

February 6, 2013

This semester I’m teaching several sections of an Introduction to Computers course, which is an interesting class to teach for many reasons. One of the most interesting things to me is the range of students that take the class. Even though the course is an introductory one, the ability level and background content knowledge level of students is all over the place. This can make for an interesting classroom culture. One of my teaching philosophies, if you will, is that students have to “do” in order to learn. I think this is particularly true in the case of technology courses. I can lecture and “book talk” all day long, but if students don’t take ownership of their learning, it doesn’t really stick with them.

For this reason, I incorporate quite a few collaborative and self-guided individual and group projects in the course. In my previous job as an Instructional Technology Facilitator, I spent my days working with teachers and trying to convince them to do the same thing in their classes. Being back in the classroom (and for this, I don’t think there’s much difference in being in a K-12 classroom or in higher ed as I am now) has given me an opportunity to practice what I was previously preaching, and to reflect on whether or not it really works.

Yesterday, in the fourth week of the semester, I gave one of my seated classes their 2nd project assignment. Their 1st project was a group effort and they created a Google Presentation. It was more directed from me. For this assignment, I gave them the option to work alone or form small groups. I also gave them a choice of topic (we were focusing on Digital Communications, and they had 5 topics in that area to choose from). I also gave them a choice of tools to use to create their presentation. I spent about 2-3 minutes quickly demonstrating about 6 different web tools, which included Prezi, Glogster, Mixbook, Voicethread, Slide Rocket, and a few others. I made sure to point out that my goal wasn’t to teach them how to use the tools, but just to show them a few different options. I also made sure they realized that part of the project was to spend time playing and learning the web tool they chose to use. They had the rest of class to get started, and they’ll have part of tomorrow’s class as well. Once they finish creating their project, they will post it to their blog and then spend time reading and commenting on each other’s posts.

So yesterday, after I gave the assignment and made sure each knew how to get started, I gave students the option to either stay and work or put in their lab time elsewhere. And you know what happened? They all stayed. Even knowing the project wasn’t due until after next class, in which they have more time, and even though they had the option to go home, they stayed and worked. And not all, but most went ahead and finished the project so they can come in Thursday and write their blog post. They asked questions when they couldn’t figure something out or just to make sure they were doing something such as saving or submitting a link correctly. But they figured out how to create.

And you know what the best part is? I saw some really awesome projects. So these students who had never used these web tools before taught themselves to create some really great things. And was the objective of the assignment that they learn how to use Prezi, or Glogster, or Mixbook, or whatever? Absolutely not. But what they accomplished that I am most happy with is that those students who walked into class afraid to try  anything new or touch a key that I didn’t ask them to touch learned that they don’t have to be afraid of computers.

I think that’s one of the most important life and school lessons- not to be afraid to try. And I guess that’s what makes me sad about what I’m hearing from some of my K-12 teacher friends. Common Core or old SCS, there isn’t time to let students try. And fail. And do. Which is how we learn.

My Advice About Teaching with Technology

March 13, 2012

I spent a little time tonight looking back at the classroom blog that I started back during my first full year as a teacher, before I was even accepted in the Pinnacle Technology Leader program that we have in my county. In fact, I had forgotten that I even HAD a blog way back then, but the proof is there! What’s interesting to me is comparing the blog I had then to the blog that I had the next year. One reason I love having a personal blog is because it’s like a diary of sorts that reminds of those sometimes mundane turned awesome life happenings when memory fails. As is turns out, my classroom and professional blogs work the same way.

In looking back at my first classroom blog, it was totally there to distribute information. It wasn’t to provide collaboration or spur discussion, but simply used as a tool to get information out to parents and students.

1st Class Blog
2nd Class Blog

But then I took a look at the classroom blog that I used the next year, and it had obviously evolved into something more than simply information distribution. By this time, I was not only using the blog to post assignments and communicate with parents, but was also using our classroom blog as a weekly literacy/content center, and as a place to get student feedback on many activities we did in the classroom. 
But thinking back on this time in my classroom, not only had my use of blogging changed, but my use of technology in general had changed as well. When I first started teaching, whatever technology I used was mostly just that- me using technology. I was lucky enough to have a school laptop that I could use to write lesson plans on, and had easy enough access to a projector when I wanted to show a video or a website for use in my lessons. And I think that was natural, especially when I take into account that I started teaching in my own classroom half-way through a school year. It was more about survival and figuring out where to pick up than making things my own.
But…just like my blog evolved in my 2nd year, so did my other use of technology. I started focusing on letting my students use whatever technology was available, not just me. And it wasn’t just about using the technology… I figured out that what was most important was what students were DOING with technology. So using the technology wasn’t important, but learning was. And learning new technologies wasn’t even important, but learning about the moon, or other countries, or about the life cycles of plants, or about how to work together even with people you aren’t best friends with was the important stuff. And if through doing that, students learned new technology or got to use the newest “it” site great. 
And you know what? Teaching with technology, and integrating it in a way that was seamless and flowed wasn’t always easy. BUT. It was possible. I know it was, because I did it. But that doesn’t mean that it is going to happen overnight.
So my advice to all those trying to figure out ways to teach with all this new technology? Whether you’re a veteran teacher trying to update your teaching practices or a novice teacher already in love with all things tech…take it step by step. Baby steps are okay. The same methods don’t work for everyone, and that’s okay. If this year or this semester, you want to try using a class blog or give a site like Edmodo a try and just focus on communication, that’s okay. Don’t feel like you have to do everything at once, and don’t feel like you have to try every single new thing out there. Because you know what? Technology and all the cool new stuff shouldn’t really the focus. Your content should be. All that cool stuff may be a great way to engage your students in your content…but that’s what your Instructional Technology Facilitator can help you with too! 
So if you’re scared, it’s okay! Take small steps, and don’t be afraid to ask for help!
What’s your advice for integrating technology into teaching?