Sunday, February 22, 2009

Thinking Past the Mouse and Outside the Box

In reading other's blogs, I frequently relate to their "rants" or expressions of frustration over what others are doing, or not doing in the world of technology. I didn't think I would start to "rant" after having my own blog for only a few weeks, but now that I see that it can become common on other educators' blogs to vent a little when something is bugging them, I will get a few things off of my chest...

My first "rant" was left as a comment after I read Dean Shareski's post Control is a Worthless Pursuit about limiting the use of Facebook by educators by a Wisconsin school district. The district seems to think that they can avoid legal problems by controlling their teachers in cyberspace. I think that they will end up with more legal problems in the long run. In response to Shareski's post, I left this comment:

"This sounds like another case of a school district not considering their teachers to be professionals. I think it is important to allow educators to connect with their students on whatever level they feel is professionally appropriate. I personally won’t accept friend requests from my students on Facebook because I don’t feel comfortable doing that. I will, however, interact with them by exchanging emails, commenting on their blogs, visiting with them after school in my classroom, by coaching a team or by facilitating a club. The web has added another level to connect with others. It should be up to the teacher to be professional in their contact with students and decide what is appropriate and necessary to foster the relationship required to have that student learn and grow as a person."

My second "rant" is on here after reading Clarence Fisher's post I'm Done with EdTech. After reading his post, I can't help but agree with his point that we need to think past the "mouse" or outside the "box" as educators. I'm not sure what word we need to use to replace the term "EdTech" but after watching the video on Fisher's post about "Shiftables" from TED, I'd like to think that the power of technology in education is the collaboration that takes place from networking and talking to others using the technology, whether that takes place online or in a classroom. Here's the video:

Yes, it would be fun to play with these cubes all day and I can see many applications to using them in my own teaching. But what takes place after the exploration or playing phase with these cubes or any kind of technology for that matter? I like to think that the discussion and analysis of what took place during the exploration phase is where the real learning takes place. It is the role of the educator to facilitate this discussion and learning.

After these two "rants", I leave you with this, my third and final "rant" for the weekend about those who are not ready to change the way they teach. We need to grow as educators and change the way we teach or the 21st century learner will leave us in the dust. Yes, technology can be scary and it takes time and work to reinvent the way we teach. But, if we as educators don't make the effort to change the way we do things in our classrooms and make ourselves relevant to educating the 21st century learner, the real learning will take place outside of our buildings and we as educators will become irrelevant as a 21st century profession. Taking the opportunity to explore new technology and the ability to integrate it into our teaching enables us to become collaborators and mentors. We need to be master learners and be willing to learn with our students in the ever evolving 21st century.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Redesigning The Way We Teach

Our school board is in the middle of a renewal process and has asked its schools to rethink how it delivers curriculum in its buildings. It is encouraging administrators and educators to think out of the box and redesign the way we teach in order to increase literacy and numeracy achievement amongst its students. It is encouraging us to break away from traditional models of education (ex. the one teacher-one classroom model) and it is looking for new models to educate the 21st century learner.

For me, I think that this is a very exciting idea. Our province is currently implementing new curriculum that requires educators to use enganging questions to teach learning outcomes. The redesigned curriculum is perfect for embarking on a project based inquiry learning approach to our instruction. Using technology as a tool, we need to redesign how we collaborate as educators and how we facilitate learning in our classrooms.

I'm looking for ideas and examples from others on how other schools use team teaching models to educate using project based learning and collaboration amongst teachers and students to deliver curriculum. I have come across two models: the Calgary Science School (Grades 4-9) and the Philadephia Science Learning Academy (Grades 9-12). These schools use collaborative teaching and inquiry learning to deliver their curriculum. There must be other examples out there. Please share!

Image: Question!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The need to inspire and to motivate...

Another local teachers' convention has passed and sadly, I can barely remember what took place when reflecting upon yesterday's event. This meeting is a fantastic and expensive professional development opportunity to have as a local organization to inspire and excite teachers about their profession. Unfortunately, I left feeling tiered and unexcited about the pile of work I had lugged home to complete during my long weekend.

The local leaders at the convention made no use of the screen lit up behind them during their speeches. The screen remained blue in the background, ready to show a video at some point in time about the 75th anniversary of our provincial association. They spoke at one point about being a profession for the 21st century, yet used no technology at all in their speeches. How hard it is to have a few power point slides with images or words that highlight what it was you wanted the audience to remember? I find it funny that we as teachers do what we can to incorporate all multiple intelligences into our classrooms, yet at convention, we model what we are told not to do as educators; stand at the front of the room and talk to the audience with no interaction. Our board provide teachers with laptops and most have cell phones. It would have been easy to have teachers participate in audience polls, a rolling blog discussion or comments up on the screen. Much more engaging, and a model for classroom participation.

I feel disappointed to read on other teacher's blogs from other provinces and countries about their sharing opportunities that take place at their local conventions every year. I question why this type of sharing doesn't take place at our convention. The only time it does occur is when our provincial organization organizes as "Showcase" every few years that replaces the local teachers' convention. Why doesn't our local organzation ask its teachers if they would like the opportunity to present or share something during the breakout sessions?

I know you are probably asking yourself why I don't just join the organizing committee instead of blogging about all of the problems with the convention. Perhaps that is something I will do next year. But I do know that I'm not alone in my opinion of the local convention. So I want to hear other's opinions. What would make a great local teachers' convention for you? What would you like to see or experience at this yearly event? For those of you who may read this from other parts of the world, what makes your local conventions great? It can only get better. Please comment and share your ideas! Let's work together to make this a fantastic PD opportunity for all!

On that note, let me share a couple of inspirational type videos that I have seen a few times at a number of workshops that I've attended in the past few months. There must be a reason that more than one presenter has chosen to include them during their session. Maybe I will feel inspired to get started on that pile of marking I need to get done this weekend... enjoy!

First, a video from Joshua B. Bloom for Teachers at the Foothills College in Los Altos, CA and then posted on YouTube:

Second, a video from Tom Woodward of Henrico County schools in Virginia on YouTube:

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Checking out the Flip Video Camera

Yesterday, I got permission from my principal to purchase a Flip video camera to decide if it would be useful in supporting our school's educational technology goals. I picked one up last night and I got a chance to figure it out after school today. A couple of my students were in the after school program and asked me if we could make a video. We had fun going around the school filming little video clips on the camera. My students wanted to convince our principal that we should own a number of these cameras because they are "cool" and would be a lot of fun to use. We made our little video in French but I think anyone would enjoy this video because it is short and pretty cute. You can tell that the students love to perform in front of the camera! Here it is:

I played around with the 6 video clips we shot and made them into this video. This was more challenging than I thought it would be since I wanted to use my computer's own editing software and the video clips were encrypted with "flip settings" that wouldn't let me use the clips in the software. I tried at first on my MacBook and gave up as it was getting to be close to 6:00 and realized I needed to update the Flip software on my Mac to make it work with iMovie. I decided to see what it would do on a PC and was able to make this little movie using Movie Maker.

The Flip is a plug and play type gadget so it comes loaded with its own program that starts to run when you plug it in. It is as easy to operate as any basic digital still camera. You can edit a pretty straight forward video using their video maker program that basically strings your selected clips into a movie. This is all that you need to make simple movies which is what most school assignments at this level involving video would require. I think that the best use of this camera will be capturing video and putting it on our website or class blog right away or even saving it to a computers for future reference. Most videos do not need to be "Hollywood" type complex productions that you are capable of making in iMovie and Movie Maker. The simplicity of the camera is what is nice about it.

I think that sometimes using full software programs that offer the "full-meal deal" are overkill for grades 3-8 and distract students with all the "snazzy" options available like transitions and video effects. I would think that a teacher who wants their students to create a more elaborate video with editing and all the bells and whistles should stick to the more traditional type of digital video camera.

All, in all, I think that this is a very useful classroom tool. I hope we will be able to purchase more of them in the near future. My experience today with my students demonstrated that any integration of technology, no matter how small, can make them excited to learn and do new things.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Podcasting with my students

Over the past two years, I've had the chance to integrate podcasting into my teaching. You can see our most recent podcasts on my podcastpeople website. Here are a few examples of what we've done:

Grammar Podcasts:

My grade 5 students did a wonderful job last year making podcasts that explained a variety of grammar elements in English Language Arts. They read a book about the grammar element and then they had to produce an explanation of their element for younger students in the school.

Meghan's Podcast on adverbs

Molly's Grammarcast on capitalization

"How To" Podcasts:

I found that a simple way to introduce podcasting to my Grade 4 students was to have them write "How To" speeches and then record them in Garage Band. They also had a chance to add some music to their podcasts. This was a great project to work on procedure writing. Here are a few examples:

Kim's How To Podcast

Zara's How To Podcast

Spencer J's How To Podcast

Snowman Podcasts:

My favourite project thus far has been our Snowman podcasting project. It was a great example of integrating technology into French Language Arts and Visual Art. I had the students work in groups to create a story about their snowmen that they had created in art class. We then photographed them in sequential order to go along with the story. They then worked together to narrate the photos in Garage Band and added some sound effects and music. Lastly, they saved them into a movie. The result was 7 "Snowman Podcasts" or "Les filmes des bonhommes de neige". We decided to hold a mini-film festival for other interested French Immersion classes in our school and gave all the students in attendance the chance to vote for their favourite podcast.

Their favourite podcast was:

Jordan, Kyle and Aaron's production of Le montagne mystérieux

Integrating Technology in Heritage Fair for Teachers and Students

I am passionate about teaching Canadian History and Heritage. One of the ways I share this passion with my students in our involvement in Heritage Fair every year. Most of my students look forward to this time of year. They can't wait to get started in this project based learning experience and start talking about their topic in September. I think it is because they have the chance to explore a topic they are interested in and that they get to choose themselves. Their enthusiasm for the project makes it my favourite time of year as well.

A video I have created and have used in many ways is a promotional video for Heritage Fair. I have used this video in school to get students excited about their projects. I have also used this video to introduce teachers to the Heritage Fair process during the professional development workshop I give to interested Regina Public Schools teachers on Heritage Fair every year. Thank you to Dean Shareski for giving me the video footage of the Moose Jaw Regional Fair to use in my video.

I have also ventured into wikis with the creation of my first public wiki. On this Heritage Fair wiki, I have accumulated a number of documents, links and resources for teachers including a link to the video. It has now been used in a number of schools in my system and it has even been used in other districts for the promotion of Heritage Fair.

Another addition to my Heritage Fair file has been the creation of a custom Google search engine developped with Terry Pon. I was first introduced to the concept of custom search engines by Alan November at the TLt Summit in Saskatoon last year. This was the first one that I have used with my students and it has been quite successful. We chose Canadian websites to send students to such as Historica, the Canadian Encyclopedia and the Government of Canada collection as well as the CBC. By using this custom search engine, I have found their online research to be much more productive this year than in years past. The main problem with online research using regular Google for this grade level (4/5) is that they tend to use the first website that pops up in Google and then they think they are done their research. Because their topics are so diverse, it is hard to just direct them to a website or two.

The other challenge I'm experiencing is having them realize the importance of mainting a list of sources for their project while doing their reasearch (in books, online, etc). I find that I'm constently repeating myself when talking about crediting sources in their projects and that "Google" is not a source. There is always an endless number of opportunities to teach "digital citizenship" when working on Heritage Fair.

My digital storytelling creations for students

I have now become an active digital storyteller in my personal and professional life. At school, most of the stories I've created for my students have been ones to introduce them to the new school year or to get them excited about a special project or unit or a year end reflection video that they received as a souvenir of our year together.

Here is an example:

New School Year

Here is a video I made for the beginning of the new school year to welcome parents and students to my classroom. I changed it slightly between the English and French versions because they were intended for different audiences.

I found the student version in French very useful to review rules and expectations on the first day of school. Students were much more interested because it was a video as opposed to me reading out a list of rules and expectations. They also got to see themselves in the story which caught their attention. After viewing the video, we had a good discussion about the upcoming year. I also found the video useful to show to students who didn't come the first day and for those students who came later in the year. They all received the same information in an interesting way.

The parent video was also useful at the Open House as I only had to answer questions and explain a couple of documents that I was handing out. At our school, you give the same presentation twice so it was great to have a video to ensure that parents were getting the same message regardless of the presentation they attended. The parents also enjoyed seeing their "kids in action" in the classroom. They could see it was a fun place where their child was interacting with others, was happy and seemed excited to be there. I also used the parent version when a potential family was touring the school, trying to decide if they should come to our school or go to another school. I showed them the video and the parents were convinced that our school was the right fit for their child.

English version for parents shown at the open house:

French version to show on the first day of school to the students:

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Great digital storytelling workshops over the years

Over the past few years, I've been lucky to have had the opportunity to attend a number of workshops on the use of educational technology in my classroom. I have had many favourites, but the ones I enjoyed the most were when I had the chance to produce something I could share with others later. During my workshops on digital storytelling with Dean Shareski, I got to make a number of digital stories I like to use as models for my students. Here are a few of the products produced during two summer short courses in 2006 and 2007...

A MasterCard ad that was made using Power Point slides and PhotoStory:

Using the same programs, I also made an Aboriginal Art Story that is linked to the Grade 5 Saskatchewan Social Studies Curriculum:

English version:

French version:

My friend and fellow teacher, Terry Pon and I created a video for his library orientation using Windows Movie Maker. I hope he doesn't mind me sharing it on here. It got rave reviews from the students:

The following summer, I got to make an "all about me" type video using Google Earth, Powerpoint and Photo Story:

These projects have definately served as inspiration on how to incorporate technology into my teaching. In fact, digital storytelling is not only a professional persuit, it has also become a personal pursuit as well. In future blog posts, I will share some of my students' work and some of my other personal projects. Stay tuned!

New to Blogging

Although I took some great workshops on Social Networking and Blogging from Dean Shareski a few summers ago, I was never motivated enough to start my own blog. I didn't think I had enough to say or anything of substance to share with the world. I have since accumulated many projects that incorporate technology and ideas for future projects with my students. I was struggling with how to keep all of this "stuff" organized so I thought, why not start a blog of my own. Even if nobody is reading it, I will at least have a digital record I can refer to and reflect upon as my technology integration evolves in my teaching. Welcome to those of you who are following my journey.