Archive for November 2007

Apparently Technology is Ruining Education…

November 12, 2007

At least that is the impression one gets after reading this article in the New York Times.

I actually got a little angry as I read this article. <You are going to have to read the article now if you haven’t yet.>

First of all, I think smashing a cell phone in class because a student happened to forget to turn it off is a little extreme. Yes, I know it was just a ruse cooked up by the professor to “teach” his unsuspecting students a lesson, but really, was it necessary?

“The poor schoolmarm or master, required to provide a certain amount of value for your child’s entertainment dollar, now must compete with texting, instant-messaging, Facebook, eBay, YouTube, and other poxes on pedagogy.”

I have news for you professor, if you are not interesting your students, they will find something else that will whether that means thinking about their upcoming weekend, doodling on a piece of paper, surreptitiously reading a magazine or searching the web. Instead of viewing technology as the enemy, why not use it in your favor to help engage your students in the content you would like them to learn? I realize that college courses have subsisted on lecture since the dawn of time, but is it the best mode of teaching you can muster?

“If you start tolerating this stuff, it becomes the norm.”

No, not the norm! Please say that technology use in the classroom won’t become the norm! Yes, I am being sarcastic, and yes, I realize the professor is actually referencing off-task behavior with technology and not just technology itself… but really, I still find the comment ridiculous.

“The baby boomers seem to see technology as information and communication,” said Prof. Michael Bugeja, director of the journalism school at Iowa State University and the author of “Interpersonal Divide: The Search for Community in a Technological Age.” “Their offspring and the emerging generation seem to see the same devices as entertainment and socializing.”

Wow! I am sure am glad that this guy came along with his stereotypes and cleared it all up for us. <Sorry, my sarcasm is getting a little out of hand.> But really, I know several “baby boomers” who use technology as a means of entertainment and socializing, and I have a classroom full of students who use technology as a means of locating information and completing assignments. Do my students use technology as a means of entertainment and socializing as well? Sure they do… just like they used to write notes and pass them in class.

“All the advances schools and colleges have made to supposedly enhance learning — supplying students with laptops, equipping computer labs, creating wireless networks — have instead enabled distraction. Perhaps attendance records should include a new category: present but otherwise engaged.”

So again, I say, use technology to your advantage. TEACH your students how to use it properly to help with their education instead of hinder it. Join the 21st century.

“The idea that subject matter is boring is truly relative. Boring as opposed to what? Buying shoes on eBay? The fact is, we’re not here to entertain. We’re here to stimulate the life of the mind.”

Hmmm… I am not exactly sure what to say here. Buying shoes on eBay is more fun to me than Calculus but not as fun as reading a novel, so yes, subject matter is relative; however, it can still be engaging to the majority of the class. Do you need to tap dance in front of the class for an hour. No, but you might try something different than just talking at them.

Call me crazy, but I think technology can and is beneficial to education and should be incorporated in the classroom.

Your thoughts?


RCA Small Wonder

November 11, 2007

On Friday my VP delivered a box of 12 RCA Small Wonder video recorders. It felt like Christmas as we unwrapped the box, tore open the individual boxes, wrestled with how to get the cameras out of the plastic shell they were encased in, and assembled the little cameras by adding the wrist strap, placing an asset number on them and putting them in their individual faux-velvet bags.

Sarah and I laughed at the name “Small Wonder” and reminisced about the 80’s sitcom of the same name.  Good times!

We purchased the cameras because we are hoping they will be easy for students to use when they create digital stories and other projects. So, I took one home to review, and these are my findings:

It is definitely easy to use. There are only four buttons, no cable needed since you download via USB, and really that is about it. After playing with it a little, I think they will be great for student projects. The resolution could be a little better on the downloaded videos, but for under $100 what can you expect?  I CANNOT stand to hear my voice record via the Small Wonder because it sounds even more cartoonish that normal… seriously, I sounded about two.  But, all in all, I am pretty happy with them.

You can see some samples of the video quality by viewing the video clips (posted on Youtube) of my dog in her new pajamas below… sorry, no audio.

Oh, and I know it is a little strange that my dog is wearing pj’s, but they keep her warm and she likes them. 🙂

Wheels Off

November 11, 2007

My students have been working on a This I Believe essay.  They finished them and turned them in and Thursday we were supposed to begin recording a podcast version of their essay, but instead, the wheels flew off the entire operation.  I took time the class period before to log in to all of my students laptops and install the audio driver because their mics did not work. We tested a few and all was working well, so we thought we were prepared for recording on Thursday.  But, “HA!” the technology gods had the last laugh because on Thursday, of my 63 students, only 8 were able to record.  DOH! Talk about frustrating.

Of course, Friday I had someone from the district out to help research and fix the problem, and everything worked fine.  The handful of the students I pulled in to test were able to record as soon as we installed the drivers. Isn’t that how it always works?  When the expert is there, everything appears fine.

Well, we are not giving up.  We are going to try again on Wednesday, so keep your fingers crossed that this time luck (and technology) will be in our side.

Setting a Good Example… I Hope

November 5, 2007

My students are editing their This I Believe essays tomorrow and turning in the written copy to me.  We are supposed to begin recording an audio version on Thursday using Audacity, and then they will add some music and make it a podcast… I will let you know how it goes. 🙂

Before they began writing, I shared my This I Believe essay with student, so I figured I needed to show them an audio example as well.  You can listen to mine on the podcast page of our school webpage.  It is my first “official” podcast, and I think I did pretty well. For some reason the students are a little freaked out about recording their voices, so I am not requiring them all to publish their podcasts.  I am requiring them all to record, so they can get the experience and see how Audacity works, and then I am giving five extra points for publishing.  I am hoping they will see that Audacity is easy to use and that recording can be fun… and then they might choose podcasting as an option of presentation for some of their future projects.

Here is the rubric I created in case you are interested –  this-i-believe_podcast-rubric.doc

I am hoping all goes well… we will see, and I will keep you posted.

I’m a Little Disappointed

November 5, 2007

I was contacted the other day by a reporter from the Dallas Morning News who wanted my thoughts on laptop use in our schools for an article she was writing. I am guessing this is the article she wrote, but my thoughts are not mentioned in the article, so I thought I would share them here instead.

How has instruction changed since laptops have been implemented? The implementation of laptops in the high school classrooms has made it easier for teachers to shift from being the purveyor of all knowledge to being a guide/coach who assists students in locating, synthesizing and presenting the information they need to complete assignments. Laptops have also made it easier for teachers to differentiate instruction for the numerous ability levels and interests of students in their classes. Students are able to work at their own pace instead of being locked in to the pace of the others in the classroom. When you enter my classroom, it is not out of the ordinary to see students working on different assignments and to see me walking around instead of standing at the front of the room.

What do students use them for? Students use their laptops to learn and create. Laptops and the Internet give students access to up-to-date information, and students are able to take this information and present it in professional formats. Students use laptops to take tests, manage data and information, write, record, remix and present. Laptops help students actively engage in their learning process by allowing them the freedom and responsibility of finding and verifying information on their own.

What are the challenges for teachers in using laptops? I think the largest challenge for teachers using laptops is to keep up with the continual changes in technology. Teachers need to be dedicated to continually learning new programs and approaches for implementing technology use in the classroom. In order to teach effectively with laptops, teachers have to invest time to learn and plan, and sometimes this requires attending training outside of the school day which is difficult for many teachers. Teaching with laptops also requires teachers to make a paradigm shift from a teacher-centered class to a student-centered class because when students have access to a myriad of information at their fingertips, the teacher is not always the only one in the classroom with accurate knowledge on a given topic.

I think I did a decent job of answering the questions. Maybe I turned them in too late to be considered for the article, or perhaps, they weren’t what the reporter was looking for… I don’t know, but I think I will take a minute now to respond to a few portions of the article.

Actually, before I move on to the article, I must first discuss one of the questions I was asked… I had a tough time answering the question, “What do students use them for?” I find this question odd… why, after seven years with laptops, are we still asking this question? We don’t ever ask business professionals or our teachers what they use their laptops for. We assume they are using them to accomplish their work; it is the same with our students. Now, on to the article…

“But teachers say it’s hard to find meaningful ways to use the laptops in class. And some report students using the machines for instant messaging and Internet surfing during class time. Some teachers have even told students not to open their laptops in class.”

I don’t understand how it is hard to find meaningful ways to use the laptops in class… I don’t get it. How are worksheets more meaningful? Or creating posters? Or writing an essay on paper? Teachers do not seem to have difficulty integrating these sorts of traditional lessons into their classrooms – it shouldn’t be about the laptops. It should be about meaningful lessons and the laptop as a conduit.

NEWSFLASH – Students might use their laptops to IM or surf the Internet during class. OMG! And when they are not allowed to bring their laptops to class, they will revert to passing notes, daydreaming, drawing pictures, etc. when they are unengaged with their lesson… nothing new here.

“Laptops will not replace teachers, but teachers who refuse to use the laptops – those teachers will be replaced,” he said.

If only this actually happened… after seven years, teachers need to either get on board or get off. Perhaps my view seems a little harsh, but if we are trying to prepare students for the future, then we might have to actually change our teaching practices a little.

“The Academy of Irving ISD has adopted the technology well, but other schools have struggled, Mr. DeWitt said.”

“Unless you get teachers to buy into the use of technology it doesn’t matter what you put into kids’ hands,” he said.

Yes, The Academy has adopted the technology pretty well, but we have had something that the other schools have not consistently had, and that is sustained support from our administration. Teachers on our campus are EXPECTED to use laptops and training is offered online as well as after school. Technology use is a priority. Is our technology integration perfect? Of course not. We have teachers who integrate technology use seamlessly, and we have others who simply replicate paper and pen work on their laptops; we are a work in progress.

“The study so far has noted no significant impact on TAKS reading or math scores.”

BEATING!! I am sooo tired of laptops in education being tied to testing. Laptops should enable teachers and students to explore learning in a different format than traditional pen and paper, so why are we still trying to validate the use of technology via the same ol’ standardized testing? I don’t get it.

Well, I guess that is about it for my rant.  🙂

I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic as well.

Things I Have Learned About Life

November 1, 2007

My students have been working on some assignments to get them thinking about what they believe so they may compose their This I Believe essay (based upon the series on NPR).

Yesterday, their warm-up was to read some examples and then write a statement about things they have learned about life. These are some of my favorites:

  • I’ve learned that when I break up with a girlfriend, I still get jealous when they have someone new.
  • I have learned that you have to fail in order to succeed.

  • I have learned that people are like books – the inside can be very different than what the cover suggests.

  • I have learned that education isn’t everything; it doesn’t determine if you are a good person or not.

  • I have learned that life is too short to waste it doing dumb things.

  • I have learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow.

  • I have learned that sometimes waiting for something is worth it in the end.

  • I have learned that no matter how dark and scary the valley is, I can still make it to the mountain.

  • I have learned you don’t have to look for problems; they come to you.

  • I have learned that you should appreciate the people you have because tomorrow they may not be there.

  • I have learned that by asking nicely you can get more of what you ask for.

And here are a couple of the funnier ones:

  • I have learned that pushing a truck into another truck gets you 2 days of suspension and 4 days of ISS – and a lot of drama.

  • I have learned that when you install a turbocharger, you also need to install an intercooler.

All in all, I was impressed with their responses, and it was a fun little warm-up to get them thinking.

If you are interested in having your students write their own This I Believe essays, you might want to visit this site for some resources.

As we start writing and recording our essays, I hope to have more student work to share!

Speaking of sharing… what have you learned? Feel free to share your responses in the comments.

What have I learned? I have learned that you have to live with the choices you make.