A Life Our Students Will Never Know

Over the holidays, while attempting to be less “connected”, I’ve been thinking about how much technology seems to be increasingly infused into our day-to-day lives. With laptops, smart phones, iPads, iPods and other portable devices becoming so common place, gadgets are no longer something we go to, they come with us.

This clearly brings about many pros and cons. Technology lets us connect and access information more easily, however, being hyperconnected can compromise our health and wellbeing. Like many things in life, striking a balance is key.

Sometimes it’s fun to think back and remember how you did things pre internet/mobile/computer. These are experiences our students will never know.

  • Meeting someone for lunch/a movie/a walk/any event outside the house and not being able to let them know if you’re running late, lost or if your plans have changed.
  • Researching a holiday destination by reading a book. Booking accommodation by reading and trusting a small advertisement in a travel guide. Possibly going by recommendations of a small number of friends or family rather than millions of anonymous world travellers. Putting holiday planning in the hands of a travel agent.
  • Keeping up to date with news or weather by purchasing an outdated newspaper or waiting for the television or radio to tell you.
  • Learning almost anything from a valued encyclopedia set. If it wasn’t in there or in a book from the library then sometimes you just didn’t learn it! Maybe you would change the topic of a school project in line with what information you had access to.
  • Keeping in touch with friends or family who lived far away by writing letters and waiting patiently for replies.
  • Taking photos and then waiting perhaps a week or more until you had them processed at a shop. If your photo didn’t turn out well, you wouldn’t know. It was always a blind gamble.
While these tasks seem inefficient now, I don’t remember questioning them. Perhaps we had more time on our hands or didn’t desire a faster paced way of living. Perhaps we didn’t consider what would be possible.

This article reminds us that “there are some major downsides to relying on the Internet as our ‘external brain,’ including the desire for instant gratification, and the increased chances of making ‘quick, shallow choices.’ But researchers also say we networked young people are nimble, quick-acting multitaskers who will do good in the world.”

If the pace of the world is fast, connected and dynamic, then surely the networked, nimble, multitaskers will be those who will succeed now and in the future? Or will they?

Will successful teachers need to be networked, nimble and multitasking too? How do we ensure that we have balance in our fast paced lives and how to do we help students with this?

Many children don’t seem overly interested in hearing about days-gone-by, just as we were sometimes bored by stories of our grandparents as children.

The interesting question will be what stories from the year 2012 will our students take with them when they remind their children and grandchildren about the “ways we used to do things”? What will seem primitive about the way we live our lives now?

What do you think?

How has technology changed your life?

Quality over Quantity

I’ve been thinking about how important quality over quantity often is when it comes to effective teaching and learning with blogging, global collaboration and technology.

Here are some thoughts…

It’s not about how many blogging buddies your class has but about having deep and ongoing connections with classes that you can learn with and from.

It’s not about how many Twitter followers you have but about forming connections with educators who inspire you, challenge you, share ideas and are interested in getting to know you.

It’s not about how many different web 2.0 tools you use but about using tools well that meet your students learning needs and your learning intentions.

It’s not about how many student blogs you have but about developing student bloggers who are responsible, supported by families and progressively creating high quality content.

It’s not about how many computers and devices you have in your classroom but about how well you’re using them to amplify your teaching and increase student learning.

It’s not about how many blog comments students write but about how they use comments to reflect, question, offer feedback, make a connection or develop a relationship.

It’s not about keeping up with the plethora of information flying around the internet but about finding the important, reliable and useful information that you need.

Some of these things I have definitely realised over time. Enthusiasm and quantity can sometimes go hand in hand and mask the need for high quality teaching and learning. I have sometimes found that when I take time to reflect I realise the power of quality.

Image: ‘There goes the neighborhood’
http://www.flickr.com/photos/27109792@N00/2475530616

Where else do you think quality over quantity is important in education?

Sometimes quantity has a place too. Can you think of any examples?

Doing Things the Long Way

In many ways, technology can be time saving. Especially if you know the best way to use it!

Yesterday I attended and presented at the 2011 VITTA (Victorian Information Technology Teachers Association) Conference.

One of the sessions I attended was run by Andrew and Beverly from Mitcham Primary School. They gave a terrific presentation about using iPads in the junior primary classroom.

I learnt so much, but one of the simplest tips I took away was that you can sync more than one iPod/iPad at a time. The number of iDevices you can sync is simply limited to the number of USB ports you have.

This is the fourth year I have been using iPod Touches in the classroom and I can’t begin to imagine how many hours I have wasted by syncing the iPods one by one. At one stage I was in charge of updating eight iPod Touches which I did one at a time. I never thought to try to plug more than one in!

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Today I was thinking about how people can go on for a very long time doing things the long way with technology. It’s not until you either try to find an easier way or someone tells you that you realise how easy something could be!

I recently informed another teacher that they didn’t have to type in a URL every time they wanted to visit a site, they could simply save it to favourites/bookmarks. This simple tip which is obvious to most of us made this teacher’s day!

I think it is important that we create a culture of sharing not only with our staff but with our students. I like to explicitly teach my students ICT skills, but I also encourage them to share their tips and discoveries with their peers.

If we have a culture of sharing, perhaps we’ll save too many people from “doing things the long way”!

What is something that you used to do the long way until you realised there was a simpler way?

Image attribution: ‘Who Else Has A Bright Idea?’ http://www.flickr.com/photos/27954776@N04/3168683736

Looking Back 2004-2011

I finished university at the end of 2003 and started teaching in January 2004.

Like all graduate teachers, the beginning of my teaching career was a steep learning curve. Fortunately, I felt like I had a lot of role models around me on staff. As I embarked on my career, I remember thinking a lot about what makes a good teacher and what sort of teacher I’d like to be.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how much has changed in the past eight years. I know I’ve changed enormously since 2004 but have all teachers? Are those teachers who were role models for me in 2004 still roles models?

Sadly, in the majority of cases, the answer is no. The simple fact is, some teachers are teaching the same as they were in 2004 when the world was a different place.

There is no denying that technology has changed the way we live. So many of the tools I use now in my classroom, professional learning or administration have only come about in the last eight years.

Here are some examples:

  • Interactive whiteboards – I didn’t even see one until about 2007. Now most classrooms in our school are equipped with interactive whiteboards and I use mine for every lesson.
  • iPod Touch – Launched in 2007, I started using iPod Touches in 2008 and they’re regularly integrated into my curriculum.
  • iPad – Launched in 2010, I started using mine in the classroom this year.
  • Edublogs – Launched in 2005, I started blogging in 2008. Edublogs has now reached one million blogs.
  • YouTube – Launched 2005.
  • Twitter – Launched 2006.
  • Flickr – Launched 2004.
  • Facebook – Launched 2004.
  • Diigo – Launched 2006
  • Skype – Launched 2003.

The world had changed so much since I began. Who knows what the next eight years will bring. All I can say is I plan to ride the wave, embrace change, reflect and reinvent!

Image: 'The tube' http://www.flickr.com/photos/16932921@N08/2161046983

Image: 'The tube' http://www.flickr.com/photos/16932921@N08/2161046983

How has your teaching changed since you started in the profession?

2011 School Year Begins

Today was the first day back at school for teachers in Victorian Government Schools.

All schools are spending the first three days on professional development and planning.

This year my school is focussing on in-house professional development. Each Monday night teachers will be presenting on Literacy, Numeracy and ICT. I am in charge of ICT professional development.

Last year, I set up a weekly lunch time ICT Drop in Session for teachers to assist them with blogging, IWBs and general ICT questions. I hope to continue with this this year to follow up on my Monday night sessions.

Today I presented to my staff about ICT. My guidelines were broad so I decided to offer my Top Ten Tips to Integrate Technology in the Classroom.

The ideas in the presentation are some of the areas that I will cover in PDs throughout the year. I knew not everything in the presentation would appeal to all teachers however I hoped there was something to inspire everyone.

The highlight of the presentation was skyping with the wonderful Linda Yollis in California, USA. Linda not only spoke about some of the ways she had used Skype in the classroom but demonstrated how Skype is actually used for those teachers who were unfamiliar with this tool.

How does your school structure professional development?

What are you focussing on at the start of the school year?

What would you include in your Top Ten Tips for Technology Integration?

Follow Up: Overcoming Obstacles

In my last post, I wrote about some common obstacles that teachers put forward as to why they don’t blog or use technologies in their classrooms.

I discussed lack of time, lack of equipment, lack of keyboarding skills and internet safety along with possible solutions to these issues.

The comments on this post were very insightful and I enjoyed hearing the viewpoints of others.

The comment that stood out for me most was by Jonah Salsich. I’ve summarised what he said here but go back to the previous post to read his full comment.

I think one of the biggest reasons some teachers are hesitant to blog … is the perceived learning curve. They know how to teach the way they always have … and that way works.
Technology integration requires time investment, learning new skills, and troubleshooting … we are asking teachers to act as students.

I’m beginning to think that working with technology might be a specific type of learning modality. We are familiar with the idea that students learn in different ways – spatially, kin-esthetically, linguistically, etc. It’s no different for teachers, we all have different learning strengths.

… we shouldn’t assume that all teachers can pick up blogging the way many of us have. And I don’t think it has much to do with the whole “digital immigrant/digital native” idea. I’m a digital immigrant (never really used the internet until I started teaching 5 years ago) and I can spend hours tinkering with web applications … (teachers) just may struggle with the type of learning involved.

This made me think, perhaps the unfamiliar learning style/modality is the biggest reason some teachers don’t get into blogging or technology integration?

A visual representation: obstacles to integrating technology in the classroom

I came up with this diagram to explain my thoughts.

Obstacles diagram

Of course, it’s not this linear and exact but it is one way of thinking about the issue.

The unfamiliar learning style could be the biggest obstacle people face when thinking about integrating technology into the classroom. For people like me (and probably you) this is no obstacle. We don’t know everything but we’re prepared to learn. We know that learning won’t be overly difficult.

If the learning style is an obstacle for you, you might stop there. If not, then you can look at the issue of time. I put “perceived” lack of time because, to me, it is a perception. I know people with families and lots of commitments actually do have less time than others, however I’m sure we all know some educators who spend a lot of time chatting and “fluffing around” before/after school and during time release. Or, we know teachers who spend a lot of their time on tasks that could be replaced by blogging/technology.

If you think you can’t find time you might stop there. Otherwise, you can look at the issue of support. School support is crucial however, I have see cases where apprehensive administrative teams or parents can be convinced with education. Often it is fear and lack of understanding that creates negative attitudes. Getting parents to be actively involved in blogs is something I have written about before. Find that post here.

Finding support from like-minded teachers really helps. Sometimes your school isn’t the only place to look for this support. I have found creating a professional learning network (PLN) online to be a fabulous way to become a better teacher. I wrote about how I use Twitter to create a PLN here. There is so much support out there, you just have to find it.

If you can’t generate the support you need, you might stop there. Otherwise, you can look at the issue of equipment. Lack of computers is something I’ve already addressed but as Mrs W pointed out in my last post “Living in rural Australia, at home I can only get wireless broadband and at a low signal strength. Internet comes and goes on and off. Many of my parents have similar issues.” This is very frustrating and difficult to overcome, I know because up until early 2010 our school internet was so slow you could almost not use it! Hopefully the National Broadband Network will provide a solution for our rural classrooms.

Sites being blocked is also frustrating although each school in Victoria can control what they want to block so maybe talk to your school technicians if this is an issue for you. Read my Tech Tools for Teachers about filtering in Victorian government schools for more information.

Finally, if you can get past the issue of equipment and bandwidth there are a multitude of other obstacles that could be important and unique to you such as lack of keyboarding skills and student age. Overcoming these obstacles requires the desire to do so, and a positive and creative approach.

What do we do about this?

After pointing out the unfamiliar learning style as being a major obstacle for many teachers, Jonah Salsich went on to say

However, just as the student who struggles with maths (or literacy, communication, etc.) still needs to learn those skills, teachers need to learn the new skills inherent in tech integration.

Or do they?… Are their colleagues telling them they need to? Are their administrators telling them they need to? Are the parents telling them they need to? If not, then they don’t need to learn it. We would like them to because we see the benefits and we enjoy it, but until they need to learn it many of them won’t. If I didn’t demand that my students who struggle with maths learn it, they certainly wouldn’t do it on their own.

I responded

The thing is, yes there are kids that don’t like maths and there are teachers that don’t like maths but can those teachers get away with not teaching maths? No way.

As you said “Are their colleagues telling them they need to? Are their administrators telling them they need to? Are the parents telling them they need to?”
When it comes to maths, reading, writing, history, geography and every other subject the answer is yes. Colleagues, admin and parents all expect the teacher to be teaching these things.

Why is technology still optional? Such a big issue! There is not only the issue that experienced teachers need to be encouraged, expected and supported to make that change but new teachers training at university need to have technology made a priority. From my experience with unis and student teachers, this is not usually the case.

Another issue is, teachers need to realise that their students are really missing out if they feel they cannot or will not integrate technology into their classrooms. It’s really doing their students a disservice. Maybe they don’t realise or maybe they choose not to think about this?

Sarah Leakey added

The fact that teachers might find it difficult and it may not come easily to them makes it all the more important for it to be taken up by them. What a great message to be sending kids: I find this tough and challenging but I believe it’s important so I’m going to give it a go and try and do the best that I possibly can. That’s the message a lot of us try and pass onto our kids everyday so why not show them that we practice what we preach.

Thank you to everyone else who took the time to comment on the post. I found all the comments incredible insightful and I encourage others to take a look!

I’ve come to realise that I am lucky that technology is a learning modality that I’m comfortable with (if it was music, physics, woodwork or something, I’d struggle to say the least!) I want to help other teachers become more comfortable with this way of learning.

I think it is important that this issue is discussed and personal teacher obstacles acknowledged. I believe the dialogue about solutions needs to be ongoing and support for all teachers to join us “where the grass is oh so green” is crucial.

What do you think about all this?

Leave a comment and share your thoughts!

Could You Teach Without Technology?

In November last year I wrote a blog post about how I was missing my interactive whiteboard (IWB). My projector had broken and I was without it for all of Term Four. My classroom program suddenly became less authentic, less personalised and less engaging for both the students and myself.

Ironically, the same thing has happened this year! I have been without my IWB for two months and there are no signs of it being fixed any time soon. Luckily, I team teach in a double classroom with Kelly Jordan this year and we both have an IWB. So while this is hard to adapt to, I’m not totally lost!

All this has got me thinking…

Could I teach without technology?

I’m thinking the answer is no.

I mean, of course I could teach. I’d be capable of it. I just don’t think the teaching would be engaging, personalised, authentic, creative or collaborative enough to make me want to do it!

Not many people know that about three years ago I was ready to give up teaching. This would be hard for some people to believe considering how obsessed I am with the career now!

I had been teaching for about four years and I was already getting bored of it. Every day seemed to be the same and I felt confined to the four walls of my classroom.

Technology saved my career and aren’t I glad about that!

I was granted Teacher Professional Leave in 2008 which allowed me about 30 days out of the classroom to explore how technology could be used in the classroom. Through school visits, professional development, a visit the Education Department and a lot of experimentation I suddenly became extremely engaged in my career again!

I became familiar with blogs, web 2.0 tools, iPod Touches, interactive whiteboards, global collaboration and suddenly I was no longer confined to the four walls of my classroom. I instantly saw student engagement levels increase and student learning improve.

I became hooked and wanted to learn more and more about how technology could amplify my teaching and enrich my classroom program.

The journey I’ve been on over the past three years has been hugely satisfying and I am now more passionate than ever about my career.

Technology fuels my passion while enriching my students’ learning; it is now non-negotiable in my classroom program.

DSC06564

What do you think?

Could you teach without technology?

How did you get into technology?

Why do you like using technology in your classroom?

Learning ICT Skills Incidentally

Last night I was reading Edna Sackson’s latest post which focusses on subjects that are still often taught in a separate way in schools rather than in an integrated manner. One of these subjects is technology.

At most primary schools in Australia, children go off with a specialist teacher to a computer lab one hour a week for their ICT lesson. In the past, many teachers have felt satisfied that ICT was being “covered” by this weekly specialist class. In 2010, is this attitude acceptable?

While we may not see the demise of the ICT specialist class anytime soon due to many classroom teachers’ lack of skills and confidence, I believe all teachers have a responsibility to teach ICT skills in an incidental manner every day in their classroom. By incidental, I mean rather than making it a separate lesson, explicitly discuss the ICT skills that you or the students are using while completing other tasks.

This year, I have become very focussed on making my use of ICT explicit to my grade two students. As a result, after three terms I have found my students’ ICT skills have improved dramatically.

While teaching incidental skills, rather than simply instructing, I like to ask the students what they think we should do. I believe that confident users of ICT use their intuition a lot and this is something I want to develop in my students.

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Here is a list of ten things I’ve been teaching incidentally in my classroom (please add your ideas to it!)

  1. Links – at the start of the year I was so surprised that very few students knew what a link was, how to recognise one (the mouse changes to a hand when hovered over, usually underlined and a different colour). I also show the students how to “open the link in a new tab” for easier browsing of websites.
  2. Shortcuts – keyboard shortcuts can make the lives of computer users much easier! Through explicit and incidental teaching my students have become familiar with the shortcuts for copy, paste, cut, select all, undo, refresh etc.
  3. Troubleshooting when a website isn’t working properly what can you do? My students have learnt to refresh (F5) and close other programs or tabs if they have too much open as a start. When the computer isn’t working what can you do? My students are learning to check that the cords are plugged in, jiggle the mouse, check the monitor is on etc. When the computer freezes? Wait and then press control-alt-delete.
  4. Tab for cell entry – another keyboard skill that many students are unfamiliar with is using the tab key on the keyboard to move between cells or boxes on websites.
  5. The best program for the task – in ICT, the students have learnt about program such as MS Word, PowerPoint and Excel however having them develop a feel for the “best program for the job” is something we can discuss incidentally. Eg. we want to type up a letter – what program should we open?
  6. Google search skills– this is something we have the opportunity to work on regularly. When we’re not sure of something, I ask the students how can we find out? They usually suggest Google and then we can discuss what key words would be best to type in and how will we choose which websites from the list might be the most reliable.
  7. Cyber safety and netiquette – this is discussed in an incidental way almost every day in my classroom. Eg. If we’re writing a comment on a blog together we can talk about what name we should put and what information would be appropriate to post on the internet. This makes learning so much more authentic.
  8. Help – using the help feature of a program or website when you get stuck is a good habit for all computer users to develop. This can be modelled and investigated in an incidental way as the need arises.
  9. Vocabulary – what is URL, www, search engine etc? When these terms come up, it is a good chance to discuss their meaning.
  10. What do you think? Leave a comment and tell me what you think or what else you could add to this list.

Leave a comment.

Will the ICT specialist class have a future?

What do you think of the concept of incidental teaching of ICT?

What else could be on the list of skills to teach incidentally?

Top 100 Tools for Learning 2010

Jane Hart, a social business consultant, and founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies, has been compiling a list of the top 100 tools for learning since 2007.

The 2010 list is currently being compiled and you can view the full list here – Emerging Top 100 Tools for Learning 2010.

Interestingly, you can compare the ranking of the tools over the last four years.  So far, it is fascinating to see how popular Twitter and YouTube have become since 2007. It is also interesting to see how many top 100 tools there are this year that were not rated in previous years. Most of the tools on the list so far are free which is great to see.

Voting will close on 17th October 2010. I encourage all educators to take the time to share their Top Tools, to help make a comprehensive and useful list for all.

It was a very tough choice but my top 10 tools are

What are your top tools for learning?

What do you think makes a good tool?

Student Blogging and Internet Images

A few weeks ago I set up blogs for two of my most enthusiastic student bloggers, Rhiannon and Bianca. I chose these students as they regularly left comments on our 2KM class blog and were committed to learning as much as they can about blogging.

After gaining their parents’ permission, I set their blogs up, adding myself as an administrator. I had a discussion with Rhiannon and Bianca about what they’re going to blog about and how often they’ll post. We then revised the features of quality posts as well as revising the cyber safety and netiquette guidelines they were already familiar with.

After some initial familiarisation sessions my students were off and it didn’t take them long to learn the basics of blogging.

Click here to check out Rhiannon’s blog.

Click here to check out Bianca’s blog.

Before long, my students were keen to use images off the internet to enhance their posts.

This was a dilemma for me. While my students are only in Grade Two and I don’t want to make blogging too complex for them, I knew that I would have to delve into the topic of copyright and Creative Commons to help my students develop good blogging habits.

Little do many people know, you can’t just use any images off the internet in your blog posts. Not only is this ethically incorrect but you could leave yourself open to copyright infringement.

Wanting to make this process clear to my students, I typed up a document explaining copyright, copyright infringement and Creative Commons while also offering step-by-step instructions on how to use FlickrCC to upload and attribute images in blog posts. Obviously, there is more than one way to do this but given the age of my students, I wanted to keep things as straightforward as posssible.

Below I have embedded this document. Feel free to use it with your students to teach them about these important blogging habits (note: the instructions for uploading the image to a blog post apply to Edublogs blogs).

Note – guide updated to include Wikimedia Commons instructions 20th August 2012
Using Creative Commons Images From FlickrCC and Wikimedia Commons in Blog Posts

One of the things I love about teaching seven and eight year olds is that I can teach them about issues such as copyright, cyber safety, netiquette, social networking etc just before they reach the age where they would dive into these areas, prepared or not. I feel like I can make an impact in setting my students on the right path for their futures.

I am constantly amazed at how my students respond when I challenge them and engage them with ICT and their results across the board never fail to impress me. Set your standards high, provide the structure and the support that your students need to scaffold their learning and reap the rewards!

Will the how-to document be useful for you and your students?

Do you have any questions about blogging or using internet images?

What results have you seen from using ICT and setting high standards for your students?