Friday, April 3, 2009

Question #1

A new day brings with it new questions. The problem is I haven't always answered the questions from the day before. Thus I have notebooks full of questions. There are times when I think I have come up with a new and exciting idea or question to answer only to realize I started a similar project in months past. I have always considered myself willing and able to learn new things easily and have readily jumped into the technological world with both feet. But for some reason I have not made full use (or any use) of the Web 2.0 craze to help organize and answer the multitude of questions that come from my brain everyday. So here we go.

Question #1
As we attempt to ban things like personal electronic devices and even certain websites within the school building, I am left wondering about the message sent to students. Are we saying, "You cannot possibly be trusted to responsibly use these technologies and therefore we must 'protect' you from them." Are we giving students a rebellious reason to want to use a cell phone or find a way into a website? What happens when they leave the building and have access everywhere else? Let's get real here...if we block a website the kids will find a way into that site if they really want to be there. The kids taught me about free web proxies one day when I couldn't get to a video I wanted to show them. Some middle school students told me today that in the bathroom at school, kids are "texting like crazy." This just a day after I was proudly told by a teacher from that same school that cell phones are totally banned in that school.

So many teachers feel they are making use of technology if they embed PowerPoint presentations into their lectures or show a YouTube video on the Smartboard. In fact there are so many opportunities to make use of a seemingly endless parade of new technologies, we are really negligent if we don't jump in with both feet and start trying new things. From podcasting to connecting in the global classroom, there just isn't enough time in the day to learn everything out there. So I'll take a deep breath, focus, and just get started.

My quest today (and of course for many days to come) is to develop strategies to integrate old, new, and future technology into the high school classroom. As a quick example, I have students in my class who enter assignments and reminders into their calendars immediately on their smartphones. These are the same kids who would have lost their assignment notebooks and previously not completed homework. So I am jumping in with both feet to ask students to use technology responsibly within our classroom.

Solution #1
Different forms of social networking seems to be the nerve center of many in terms of what we are diverting students from. But the sheer number of sites available and types of networking to utilize is almost ridiculous and certainly overwhelming. From Twitter to Blogger to Facebook and beyond, we have choices to connect with people both personally and professionally. I have been reading blogs by some like bengrey who question how we can integrate things like Twitter into everyday life...even at church. He is so lucky his wife didn't beat him with a stick when he posted to Twitter during a sermon from his iPhone but it begs the question, "Can the tradition in our lives be mingled with the technology we are developing?" (I have ashamedly become slightly addicted to Twitter already and am struggling to find a way to keep it from taking over.) So I decided the simple thing to do would be to jump in using technology already available to teachers at our school through our EdLine accounts. One baby step at a time.

Instead of asking for a weekly current events assignment to be handed in on a multitude of pages printed out absent-mindedly, I now ask the kids to blog through our school website. We started with a single topic which everyone would discuss. The class can only see and post to their blog. The "outside world" cannot see what they are doing.

We will be moving on to multiple posts of topics that each student finds interesting. So far so good. They are required to post their initial thoughts and then to respond to at least one classmate. The kids have been going crazy with some of their much so that I feel as though I may have created a monster (or two). That single required peer response has blossomed into multiple responses to many peers.

The concern from colleagues has been that we will loose the face to face discussion component. I too worried about that but today, a miracle happened. I pulled up the blog on the Smartboard and began a class discussion about the posts. One particular student who has never spoken during class happened to be one of the first to post to the blog. Her comment intrigued some of the other students and they began to ask her some questions. The normally silent student, who likely thought that none of her classmates ever noticed her, was now leading the class discussion! It was spectacular!! You could actually see how proud she was of herself as her peers asked her questions and listened to her answers. And to be honest, I have the feeling that this young lady is truly a genius just waiting for her moment to shine. Perhaps this was that defining moment...who knows but it sure was fun.

Score one for technology.

So now what? What else can I do with the whole blogging idea? Another colleague suggested we use a blog format as part of a take-home test. Hmmmm...I may get that rolling this weekend.

...and even if it hurts my brain, I am going to figure out how to use Twitter in the classroom.

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