Sunday, 28 April 2013

Reaching Out

Programmed to be competitive through both school and sport it has been an adjustment for me to realize that we are all in this together. I had this pre-dispositioned notion that when I entered my first block I would have to start from scratch. Creating lesson plans, managing students, being innovative, differentiating instruction etc etc etc. But it wasn’t like that at all. It was really smooth, really helpful and really supportive to my needs as a new teacher. I was being spoiled and really lucking out with an amazing associate.

At the end of last year I was assigned a VAT (Virtual Associate Teacher). I could choose from a long list of teachers that had volunteered to help us, guide us provide us with resources etc. I will be honest; I found this hard to believe. I reached out chose a couple off the list. Local educators working within the board I am hoping to get into as well as fellow educators in the math and physics subject areas. All seemed great and offered to be a resource to me if I needed anything. I made the mistake of not pursuing this. 

My second block was much more hectic for me.  A lot more on my plate, a subject area I was less confident in and a highly academic school that kept me on my toes. This is where I should have reached out to the VAT’s for help. Ideas, lessons and mentoring would have all been an asset to me at this time but I was afraid. I still had not wrapped my head around the idea that these people were truly there to help. Just a tweet or comment or email away, these people wanted to help me. 

I regret not getting help during block 2 but I also learned a lot on my own, (Like to ask for help when I need it). In my third block the assistance I receive is outstanding. I am completely immersed in a positive learning environment and I think that is what made me realize that I need to do the same with my VAT. This is a profession where we enjoy helping others, where we thrive on one another’s successes, and where we work to minimize failures and maximize the learning that comes from it. 

My next steps will be to connect with my VAT on more than an introductory level. To share my experiences and ask for help on how I can better them in the future. I will discuss difficulties and successes as well as new ideas and activities. It is an adjustment to realize that we are all in this together, but it is an adjustment that I need to make.

Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.
-Henry Ford

What they say… What we see

Throughout my experiences in education I have had to sift through and decide what I am truly going to buy into. Just as we teach our students to critically think, I was learning to do so myself. Immersed in University culture with Professors, with more letters behind their names than I can count, I rarely disagreed with what I was being told in an absolute manner. Finally, I experienced a disconnect in practicum. 

One of the new trends that we began to hear a lot about as “teachers to be” is that students no longer care about marks. This never sat well with me. How can they not care? Not only was this hard to wrap my head around as an educator but also as a student. I care about marks. I also care about the process of learning. After all that is why I was sitting in this class taking it all in and trying to wrap my head around this concept of “not caring about marks”.  

My understanding evolved this day to realize that it wasn’t that they didn’t care about marks. It was that they were more concerned with the recognition of completing the work. I struggled to have students complete work for the sake of practice or simply to learn. They needed a sense of gratitude. If I asked for students to submit their work at the end of the period to me I found that I was getting results. Students were not only eager to complete work but to do a good job and ask questions along the way. By me acknowledging that they completed it they were appreciative, and in return provided me with material to collect. 

Unfortunately, I found myself quickly overwhelmed. How do I balance this method? I can’t collect everything and I certainly can’t mark everything. This is where I dabbled with the idea of the student’s perceptions of marks. When I returned there work rarely did they look for a mark. They looked for evidence that I had read through their work. That  I took the time to appreciate the work that they had put in during the period even if it was completing a worksheet together as a class or working on an in class activity and making a reflection on their learning. Through the use of comments, feedback, praise and guidelines for improvement I had found that balance. I asked students to submit the things that were most important for their learning. The tasks that consolidated learning, encompassed the big ideas and demonstrated to me that they were engaging in learning within the class. In return I made time to look at each piece and provide feedback in some capacity in return; sometimes a grade, a level of completeness, questions to probe further thinking, a sticker or even a homemade good. Just a little something for them to know that I recognized their effort and ability and through this I put the theory I was preached into the practice I had to establish a mode that worked for my students and self.

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is.”
-Jan L. A. Van De Snepscheut

Live and Interactive

Over my University career there was a shift in my learning. I had to learn to memorize less and communicate more. Whether it was through discussion, presentation, reflection etc… I found myself sharing my ideas, critically thinking and commenting on the thoughts of others on a regular basis. 

One of my favourite experiences was when I engaged in a discussion through social media during a TVO episode.  I was able to watch the discussion regarding current issues embedded within Ontario education while simultaneously following the comments, thoughts and critiques of people all over the Country. This was truly my first opportunity to have a discussion in real time not just with a group of peers but with a nation about a topic that we were all passionate about. 

I found this to be a much more realistic discussion; a discussion that people chose to be participating in rather than forced to reflect on. I also thought it seemed less censored. No one was sugar-coating thoughts because they thought it was what the “right answer” was. What they thought others wanted to hear. It was just how they felt.

I think this is an important idea to share with students in the classroom. I would like to introduce them to twitter as a powerful newsfeed option. I want them to see it as not just a tool to see what is happening in their friends or celebrity lives but what is taking place across the planet combined with instantaneous thoughts, feelings and opinions on those issues. Further I think this will be a powerful resource for students to begin to develop critical thinking skills and metacognition. To dig deeper into issues surrounding them and truly explore the impact they have on us. So often students want to be heard, want their ideas and opinions to matter. I would like to share with them a way to communicate with the world and express their thoughts while embedding lessons on safety, moral and world literacy as well as respectfulness throughout.

If there is anything in the universe that can't stand discussion, let it crack.
-Wendell Phillips

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Technology Showcase

Throughout my time here at Brock I have had a variety of classes, peers and professors. With this came dozens of assignments, tests, papers, midterms and exams. Presentations seemed like a treat the odd time we were given the opportunity. As teacher candidates “to be” in the concurrent program, presentations only made sense to us as it was a natural way of sharing our knowledge; a transferable skill that we could use the practice at.

One of the most valuable presentations that I did was just recently in an Instructional Strategies course. I was assigned the topic of technology in the classroom in a group of three. As soon as collaboration began we quickly realized we had a lot of ideas and information to fit into a 2 hour block. I searched out help from another professor who was not only an advocate and leader of integrating technology into the classroom but also my professor in a course involving it. Zoe added more ideas and topics to cover and helped chunk some together. This still did not fix the issue of so much material so little time. This is when she shared the idea of holding small workshops 10 minutes each in which students could circulate through, play with the technology and direct their own learning while myself and group members simply facilitated the learning.

I love it! For once a presentation style that makes sense; adults sharing information with adults - in a hands on way. Our peers would be responsible for their own learning and use us as resources instead of experts. They would get the chance to dabble with a bit of everything we were sharing and get a feel for some new ideas that they may want to test out in their own classroom.

After a brief introduction we addressed a key issue that we felt was important to recognize right off the bat; safety when dealing with technology being one of them. In my experience I have noticed a huge disconnect in information to both students and teachers about safety with technology. On one side we have the push as young educators to integrate technology into the classroom. We also see this demand from our students growing up in the digital generation to keep them engaged and stimulate them during instruction. Further through our education we have been plugged in and turned on whether it be networking with one another, staying current, gaming, tweeting, searching, storing or sharing information … need I go on. On the other hand, we receive direction from our mentors and administration to unplug and shut down. Using technology outside of school is a recipe for disaster. We need to become opaque hiding our personal lives from our professional lives. It was important for us to share with our peers a middle ground option to all this mixed information. This is an option that will help students to brave technology in the classroom while still maintaining a professional image in their personal lives. We discussed how to use things like twitter and texting services that allow one way communication only. We discussed smart decisions on social networking sites and viewing videos that have been vetted and downloaded to avoid inappropriate ads and pop ups that can railroad a lesson. We stressed the importance of being involved and current with the digital world so that when students encountered issues or concerns we could be a resource to them. In future workshops I would like to add the idea of creative commons and copyrighting issues It will be important for me to share with students the legal issues in terms of using someone else’s property as well as model this in my own work. . I would also like to dive deeper into some of the power within these social networking tools as a professional… not only for networking but for media and real-time news and content to bring into the classroom.

Next we broke students into smaller groups and had them circulate through stations around the room. I was excited to demo LiveScribe Pens and the power of Google through things like docs, drive, blogger, calendar etc. Other topics that were covered were GoAnimate and XtraNormal, Edmodo and Schoology, Gizmos and Online Organizers such as Dropbox, Livebinder and Evernote. During these workshops students either participated in an activity with the technology or simply got to try it and ask questions about it. We discussed ideas as to how it could be incorporated into the classroom and tried to focus the conversation on current trends such as 21st century learning, differentiated instruction and assessment as, for and of learning. We finished the presentation off with a short survey on Google forms about what our peers learned as well as a demo of texting polls for students for some instantaneous feedback.

I really enjoyed this presentation and feel as though I as well as my peers took a lot away from it. I think it is important that teachers and teachers to be realize that technology in the classroom is not simply a PowerPoint or a YouTube video. We must be on our toes and current with the changing trends so that we can be there for our students. Further why not do it in a way that we grow as professionals at the same time? If there is fear of our personal lives becoming to transparent online then make our professional lives more transparent. If our students or better yet administrators want to look us up show them who we are; creative and innovative educators reflecting on the current trends and leading new ones. In today’s world we need to separate the men from the boys and I truly believe that harnessing the power of technology in our professional lives and for the classroom is a step in the right direction.

"It is only when they go wrong that machines remind you how powerful they are."
-Clive James

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Blazing a Trail – An Uphill Battle –

If I have not mentioned this before the creation of this blog is for a course I am taking to help me integrate technology into the classroom. Many of my peers say “oh ya … Technology… A power point here, YouTube video there, maybe on a big day some clicker activities... Technology. No big deal”. Upon enrolling in the course I crossed my fingers that my peers would be wrong… and were they ever. Day 1 (or should I say night as this course ran from 7-9 in Hamilton, a minor commute from St. Catharines for me Wednesday evenings) I found myself scooping my jaw up off the floor when I felt the drool forming a  puddle in my dimple. Now my father would ask me “Who was the hottie in the class?” This wasn’t the case (No offense to my peers reading this...). But instead it was the arsenal of technology that our professor Zoe showcased for us. I was hooked. Wednesday evening tech classes… bring it on. 

This leads me to my first challenge. Deploy tech in the classroom. In Block 2 the goal was to use my google site. I was getting it set up. Ready to add notes, videos, work sheets. It would have been perfect for me to catch students up who were away. All I had to do was share the link. Plan B was to dabble with Edmodo in the classroom also. I chose one thing for my first try. One thing I was going to do and do it well. Step 2 was to blog about it. How did it go, what were the kinks, what would I change, what did I love etc. etc. etc. So here I am rambling and not getting to that at all. Well truth is Part 1 failed. 

Upon beginning block 2 I met with my associate eager to observe the class, gather some information and share with him some of my ideas and strategies for the upcoming weeks I would be working with him. The response I received regarding my website was something along the lines with “That’s a great idea, I use a website also so just email me all of your files and I will upload them to my site.” For the first time in a little better than 22 years the stubborn Irish in me rolled over and died and I said. “Oh, okay”. Dumb move Deanna! Lesson learned. The next four weeks (regarding the website) turned into a headache. What was on the website, what wasn’t? Converting everything to a document that he could upload easily, making modifications as needed for students then inconveniencing him to re-upload and the list goes on. I also had no control over seeing who was visiting the site nor was I confident in whether the material was making it up as requested. Now I am making this out to be a big deal… and who’s kidding who… it really wasn’t a huge deal, my associate was great. I was just not able to harness the potential of incorporating a website to accompany my teaching as hoped. But alas there is always Block 3. 

Through having the idea of my own site tucked away  throughout Block 2 I made some mental notes as to how I will do it in Block 3.
  • Provide students with the site and the site only. It will be their hub. Everything else that they will need will either be embedded in it or have a link provided through it
  • Provide students with the site again, and again, and again. I found that the students that needed reminders to things and access to resources the most were the students who didn’t take advantage of the tools being provided to them for accessing it.
  • Choose one method of uploading docs and stick to it. I want to give the students structure and be organized. If the materials aren’t easy for them to find they won’t use it.
  • Make use of the calendar. One of the things I really liked about my associates webpage was that it had a day by day break down of the lesson and the homework. This shifted week to week and kept current.
Rather than being discouraged by this situation in Block 2 I look to my next opportunity to teach.

Instead of forgetting about the whole idea of a website and moving forward in the ways of the past, I instead move forward with lessons learned and prepared to try again.

Prepared not to take no for an answer … not without a fight at least. 

“There can be infinite uses of the computer and of new age technology, but if teachers themselves are not able to bring it into the classroom and make it work, then it fails.”
- Nancy Kassebaum