Monday, February 28, 2011

A Good Web 2.0 App

For my recommendation I thought I'd look for something that I could use in an ELA classroom. It is aimed at younger students, but I think it could be used at any grade with a little imagination.  I found a site called Story Jumper, which lets your students create their own story books. The online versions are free, though you have to pay for hard copies. Registration is quick and easy. Your students can create their own books from “scratch” or use one of the many templates they have.  They offer lots of easy “props” to integrate into the stories, and you can upload your own photos and type your own text. Once you’re finished, you can email the link to yourself and post it on a student/teacher blog or website.

Web-Based Courses (WBCs) Examined

Looking at the WBC Manitoba Education site there is a good number of classes.  All the core classes are well represented and a good list of elective classes for students in smaller communities where they might not be able to offer them.  I’m talking about classes like: Webdesign, Law, French, Accounting, Animation, Drafting, Computer Science and Digital Picture.  There could likely be additions made to this, but I feel it is a good base and I’m sure it will be added to further in the future.

I chose to focus in on ELA since that is the field I am most comfortable and where I hope to teach.  The classes here cover all the options a high school would offer (Literary focus, Transactional, and Comprehensive – and gives solid explanation of each of these sections of ELA) and for each grade.  There is a lot of room for creativity in the assignments and good sequencing and structure to the overall classes.  I can’t judge on how well it works, but there seems to be plenty of support for students through WebCT , where you can contact an actual teacher if the student runs into trouble.  There are extensive explanations and directions available for the student to read about how the course works and what is expected, as well as explaining how the student can make this course as much about themselves as a person as they wish.  This is a great idea, ELA is particularly malleable regardless of the grade, section, or even unit, which makes it a nice match for Web-based learning.  The assignments seem straight forward and the rubrics give a comprehensive description of what the expectations are for the assignments.

My criticism of the ELA courses is that there does not seem to be much effort to make these classes exciting for the students.  It seems very bland, and though I realize reading is an important part of ELA, there is too much cold reading of how this course works to realistically expect all but the most motivated students to complete or excel here.  There does not appear to be a move to incorporate any of the exciting online tools we have been learning about in our class into these courses, which seems like a real missed opportunity.  I think the ELA classes are fine for self-motivated and confident students, but I feel that many students would be uninspired to complete an ELA course with this method.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Smartphones and Laptops Up, iPads Down! (Presentations Blog)

In a class where I don’t think we had a bad presentation, the best I thought was 'The Personal ICT Devices in the Classroom' presentation.  Personally, I don’t have much experience with many of these devices (except the laptop) and this was a very informative and useful presentation that will help colour my opinion of these devices for quite a while.  I really liked the way the criteria was broken down (accessibility, authentic & engaging, features, production, research and community) because it covers all the bases that I would want to know about as a teacher before I picked one out for my class to use (if I was so lucky!).  
After having seen the presentation and digested its info, I am moved from my newly acquired belief that iPads were the future of classrooms.  Having seen the scores in this presentation, though not a wide variance, it is enough to convince me that Smartphones and Laptops are the future of classrooms.  The reason is not simply the scores, but as one of the articles linked in this presentation reveals, Smartphones and laptops are everywhere.  There is less need to worry about the financial burden of bringing these tools into the classroom when everyone already owns them.  I believe the word used in the article was ‘ubiquitous.’   I enjoyed my time with the iPad, but I was annoyed with its typing feature and often clicked on things by mistake when I was trying to scroll.  That along with this great presentation have given me a firm conviction for Smartphones and/or laptops in the classroom. Great job Shaun and Tim! 
Now to find a job in that classroom!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Smart or Dumber: The Internet? It Seems Clear to Me!

My opinion of whether the Internet made us smarter or dumber was unmoved after reading each these articles.  I see the Internet as another link in the chain of development of human connectedness and knowledge that began with the first humans (or primates or whatever you believe) began to talk, then pass on stories.  The printing press, telegraph, telephone, and television have all been links in this chain and the Internet just continues the evolution.  
I found many of the points made in the “Does The Internet Make You Dumber?” article unconvincing.  Quotes like, “What we seem to be sacrificing in all our surfing and searching is our capacity to engage in the quieter, attentive modes of thought that underpin contemplation, reflection and introspection. The Web never encourages us to slow down. It keeps us in a state of perpetual mental locomotion”  seem to be missing the point.  Our minds will always have a place for that quiet contemplation, reflection and introspection, it will just happen when we are not online.  The Internet could be developing a new gear in in our brains, one that allows us to process information at a never before experienced level.  
Another point the “Dumber” article made that I found hard to swallow was, “Reading a long sequence of pages helps us develop a rare kind of mental discipline. The innate bias of the human brain, after all, is to be distracted. Our predisposition is to be aware of as much of what's going on around us as possible. Our fast-paced, reflexive shifts in focus were once crucial to our survival. They reduced the odds that a predator would take us by surprise or that we'd overlook a nearby source of food.”  This point seems to undercut itself.  If reading long passages is an unnatural state for our minds, and the Internet allows us to return to our intended state of “fast-paced reflexive shifts” then is that not a good thing?  Are we not then going with the grain of our minds, instead of against it?  As it stands how many books does the average person read a year?  Of the world population, how many people go years between reading books?  And in addition, books are still there and to be read, so now we have the best of both worlds.  Books for those that would be reading them anyways, and the Internet for them as well, but also for everyone else!
To me, the Internet is still in its beginning stages.  We are just now understanding the possibilities it can allow.  As we have learned in this class the educational applications that the Internet allows alone disprove the “Dumber” argument.  Is everything on the Internet for the betterment of our minds?  No, but neither was every book, or most of TV, or any of the other various forms we had that lead us here.  The Internet is not making us dumber for the simple fact that it is too busy making us smarter.  Today we have so much information and new perspectives at our finger tips that we are seeing the world in a wholly different way.  We can look at Twitter as a fad in meaningless self-expression, or we can look at it as an evolutionary leap that jumped forward from where human biology could not go.  It is, in a way, mental telepathy.  Our thoughts are now made known across the globe instantaneously.  We can know what others are thinking without any guess work.  Plus with the trends function we can see what the global buzz is at any moment.  This allows for a shared collective consciousness that was nowhere on the horizon even five years ago.
The Internet is not making us dumber.  The Internet is taking us to new places, increasing our collective and individual knowledge bases, and best of all it is only just beginning.
Now to totally contradict myself.  Check out this piece entitled “Is Google Making Us Stupid” from the July/August issue of The Atlantic: the very least it dissuades the point about the Internet not engaging us in long-form!


Check out our (Brody, Dave, and my) website we made on the history of the Internet and how it works.  It was a big topic and we tried to cover a lot of it.  We picked out some really great articles and videos to help explain and give a good overview of this fascinating and ever-expanding entity.  Let us know what you think.  Find it here:

Monday, February 21, 2011

Me and My, Me and My... iPad

To be honest, my 2 and half weeks with the iPad wasn’t what I expected.  I was very excited to get it, but once I got it it seemed like my laptop stripped down.  Yes, it travelled better, but mostly I reach for my computer when I’m at home, so that wasn’t a big selling point for me.  In fact, I was reminding myself to use my iPad only because I knew I was giving it back shortly.  

This seemed like I was not taking full advantage of the iPad.

So after giving it back I looked into ways that it could affect the classroom, both good and bad.  Partly to get more out of my possibly missed opportunity while I had it, and partly because their seems to be a real movement in Ed. to incorporate these devices right now, which to me seems like a frenzy of being in vogue with new technology.

The first thing I found was that the ease of travel with the iPad is indeed a major reason for this frenzy.  Students can unpack their heavy backpacks and just carry a 680 gram tablet.  Their whole school life can be encapsulated in this one place.  The iPad becomes their textbooks, novels, notebooks, homework, and maybe soon tests.  This I knew already and the trouble I was having was that all I was seeing was one thing replacing several things... and that one thing seemed a lot more expensive then the aggregate of rest (at least for one school year).  What I was missing was what this allowed for, which is a constant connection to classmates, teachers and the extinction of the 3:30pm bell that ends classes for the day and therefore learning.

With the iPad students can follow their interests, enhance the community aspect of their classroom, and become teachers in their own right as they find new and interesting things to share with the class.  The iPad in itself is not the revolution, but instead the means that allows the movement of connecting student to school in a 24/7 way.  This makes the Internet not just something happening outside of or to the side of school, but incorporates it in a vital way with real purpose.  

I remember going to computer class in high school to learn about computers and the Internet.  What I don’t remember is what I learned there.  Now the Internet is a major aspect of our lives and having it as a teaching and learning tool not only seems appropriate, it seems necessary.  With the iPad the horizon for teaching and learning is exponentially broaden.  And that seems to me to be reason enough for the iPad frenzy.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Look What I Can Do Now! No More Tests!!!

In Darren Kuropatwa’s presentation “Look What I Can Do Now!” we were posed with the question: How do we know what our students know?  This was a question of assessment.  Darren framed this in a way I had never really thought of before, we give our student-athletes and fine arts students great stages where they can show a real audience what they have learned and what they can do.  But in our classes we don’t give them a real stage and there really isn’t much of an audience for them to perform for.  To better reach our students, we need to figure out ways to give them real world applications for their assessments (not necessarily a new idea) and provide a real stage for them to show what they’ve learned to an audience.  This means no more, or at least a lot less, pencil and paper tests, and more interactive activities where the student teach to each other.  

He talked about the principles of learning, which are:
Students’ Errors and Misconceptions Based on Previous Learning - Teachers must engage student’s preconceptions
Knowledge networks - knowledge isn’t in our heads, it’s shared between us.
Learning facilitated though meta-cognitive approach - he used an example of geese fly in a V so they help each other out and different geese take the lead at different times. Students should learn in the same way.  Sometimes they are leading the class, other times they might be further back getting helped by others in the class.  But it has to be OK for students in your class to be wrong or make a mistake.  There needs to be a sense of community in the classroom, so that when mistakes are made it is seen as a learning opportunity.

One of the lines that really struck a cord with me was, “If the teacher is working harder than the students, then something is wrong in that classroom.”  As teachers, we shouldn’t be the ones doing all the heavy lifting in the classroom.  The link to how doctors learn in med school was made and it seems like a solid way to teach a class: watch it, do it, teach it.  Those 3 steps ensure learning.  And what is best is that it allows for students to make errors, because the classroom will have that sense of community where mistakes are OK, and a student can always get help from another student, and knowledge gained from mistakes can be shared.

As a hopeful future ELA teacher, I know I will not give pencil and paper tests.  I will have students write essays, but I will find ways to make writing a more communal activity, through blogs.  Also, I will find ways to incorporate the other language arts into shared class experience with cool ways to demonstrate learning through representing and speaking.  I want my students to have a real audience to show what they’ve learned.  We were presented with some ways we can make that learning interactive and I think that can make school work a lot more engaging for students, and really motivate them to do great work.  

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sharing: The Moral Imperative

In the video entitled “Sharing: The Moral Imperative” Dean Shareski talks about the importance of sharing and the ease to which today’s technology allows teachers to share with each other.  He even goes so far as to say, “Protecting our work makes us the antithesis of a teacher... sharing is the teachers role.  Teachers love to share!”  The video goes on to show that teachers do indeed love to share and we can see the impact this sharing can have and the reach we as teachers can have through technology today.  

One of the main points I took down during this video was that teachers share resources that could be package and sold to them, so that teachers help one another instead of profiting off each other.  This sort of thing strikes me as really cool, because as teachers so much of what we can do in the classroom is limited by the resources we have access to in our schools.  Through sharing we can gain free access to new resources, try out new ideas, and even share ways to stretch classroom budgets.

It occurred to me that Dean Shareski was right with his proclamation about teachers loving to share.  Yes, we share knowledge with our students.  But we also learn to be teachers from the student-teaching experience where teachers take us under their wing and show us all their tricks and give us the benefit of their experience.  Then we continue that by doing it in the future for the next generation of teachers.  And finally we share with each other through PDs on an ongoing basis throughout our careers.  Using blogs, social bookmarking, PLNs, etc. is just an extension of what has long been established as a part of being a professional teacher.  When Dean Shareski  says, “Sharing allows us to do our job as teachers better and more broadly.  If learning shouldn’t be confined to the 4 walls of your classroom, should teaching?  Why would we hoard good teaching and learning?  There is something very unethical about that.  I believe that good ideas and great work should be shared with as many people as possible” I have to agreed.  A culture of sharing in education would make us all better teachers and result in strong learners in our students.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Blogging in the Classroom

In today’s presentation George Couros spoke to us via a skype feed on the innovations he has made in his school using IT and the Internet.  This was a real eye opener, because he has really seized on the advantages IT and the Internet can bring to the classroom.  He mentioned that just today his school had given out laptops to all his 5th and 6th graders, so obviously computers play an important role in his school.  One of the main advantages that he pointed out to us was the ‘anywhere, anytime classroom’ that is available through blogs, message board discussions, etc because they are online.  Not only does this give students the chance to extend their learning past the classroom, but it also helps parents and teachers to track student learning and have more of a hand in encouraging and assisting that learning.  
The line that stuck out the most to me was when he mentioned something to the effect of “the world has been constantly changing, but our schools have remained relatively unchanged.”  I thought that was a really great point.  In my teaching placements, I’ve noticed that computers are in the classrooms now and students do get to use them, but there are only a handful of computers (rough 1 computer for every 5 or 6 students), there is no connection between the classroom (mostly due to all the social networks being blocked out (including email), and teachers seem to think that IT integration means spending a few minutes a week online... and mostly just using the computer as a word processor.  When I think about how much the world has changed in the last 10-15 years it seems absurd that we wouldn’t be striving to reflect that change more in our classrooms.  After all, isn’t the point of education to prepare students for the world?
Mr. Couros made a good point about the hype-concern over students being online as themselves.  He made a nice parallel to the park where kids play and yell out each others’ names and how that is a much bigger danger than posting something online with their real name.  And yet you never hear a mother tell her son not to use his name at the park.  I thought that was a really good point.  Plus if we want kids to be good online citizens, they have to learn to actually be online and that includes managing the risks and learning the ways to protect themselves.  
It seems clear that schools are moving to a more online-centric classroom.  Mr. Couros has his school at the forefront of this movement, and - to me -  it looks like a very good place for the rest of us to catch up to.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Animoto and

I’m a little slow putting this up, sorry.  I made one in class and thought I’d just mess around with it a little more before posting it to my blog.  This is obviously a bit of a goof, but I think this application has some really fun classroom uses.  As an English teacher I think it could be useful in inspiring kids to do self-presentations.  They could make the video, play with the format, and then present it to the class and tell us a bit about what they are showing us.  That alone hits about 10-20 of the ELA outcomes.  I think Animoto would be seen as something fun to do by the kids, and they could really get into it. 

Create your own video slideshow at

I also have gotten into quite a bit.  I’m not yet sure how I’d apply it to my classroom, but I have been blipping songs all week and sending them out through my facebook page and twitter.