Monday, September 29, 2014

Tech For the Expansion of Audiences

Thursday, I had the pleasure of hearing David Thuene (pronounced Toony, which is kind of awesome) discuss how he uses tech in his classroom, a pleasure which is usually reserved for those attending his panels at teaching conferences. Through the power of the University of Michigan and the awesome abilities of my tech professors, I had him hand delivered to my tech class. Mr. Thuene is not exactly you’re stereotypical techno geek. He’s much more on the touchy-feely, favorite drama teacher side. And this may be exactly what the technology field needs. He doesn’t use tech a as gizmo and he doesn’t emphasize how great technology can be for research or cool projects (although it certainly can be). Rather, what I saw him doing was using technology to connect people and expand students’ audiences.
For example, Mr. Thuene teaches English and came to the very reasonable conclusion that students shouldn’t just be writing for their English teacher. The purpose of writing is usually to reach an audience and students can be pretty limited in their learning potential if they are only writing for a teacher. Mr. Thuene had a variety of solutions for this, ranging from non-tech solutions such as inviting parents in to listen to student read essay out loud, to connecting with other students via webcam. He also had a great idea to have students advocate for a particular charity, then award money to the charity with the most votes, as an alternative to the usual persuasive essays we all had to write in high school.

The talk was full of great ideas, not all of which were directly related to technology, but it made me think about the role of technology in a people-oriented framework. (People-oriented frameworks are not my forte).  I’ve usually thought of technology as a tool for research or organization. I love the internet because it gives me literally millions of articles about whatever I need to know about. I remember listening to professors with horror as they told me about the bad old days when you had to look up paper copies of journals. However, I haven’t spent much time thinking about how amazing it was to sit in Japanese class and talk to students in Hiroshima. How fundamentally powerful connecting with people in a different country or a different school district could be. Tech gives us the ability to connect in ways that were simply unfeasible a few decades ago. Since we are supposed to be preparing students for life in a global age, helping them connect with and understand people outside of their communities is becoming more and more important. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Steali, I mean borrowing other ideas

                One of the cool things about education is it is one of the only fields where colleagues actively encourage you to borrow their ideas. After all, we want all students, not just our own, succeed. The internet has really improved the flow of ideas as more teachers start “edublogging”. I looked at some of bloggers my professors recommended and found this gem:
The writer, Silvia Tolisano, has been pondering the idea of documenting for learning. She is talking about documenting such as a blog, diary, scrapbook, video, annotated notes, mind maps, etc.  Basically, making record of an event or a thought process is documenting. She argues that documenting for learning, that is intentionally documenting in order to reflect or aid learning, could:
Serve a metacognitive purpose
Be a creative multimedia expression (oral, visual, textual)
Be a component of reflective practice
Help makers take ownership of one’s learning
Be a memory aid
Curate a project
Be a tool for professional development

This is a simple but great idea with a lot of possibilities. I would like to add another purpose; we could use this process to teach students that history is a process, not a jumble proven facts to be memorized. For example, we could have students make a scrapbook page about their last year in school. Students will have to choose how they want to represent that year. Will they include all good things? Do they focus on their friends or on a hobby? They automatically have to select what they think was important about that period. Just like historians and document makers of the past. I think this could be used to start a conversation on how history is made. And that’s the beauty of the education blogger community. We can read each other’s ideas and add to and adapt them for our own work. And then share it from there so someone else can add to what we’ve made. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Teaching with Apps and Teaching Apps

One of the challenges faced by teachers today (and probably throughout history in one form or another) is that teaching technology. Often, students need to be taught how to use technology in addition to the subject area. For example, they need to know how to take computerized tests. Also, there are a lot of excellent tech-based teaching tools out there but unless teaching and students know how to use them, everyone can be equipped with the greatest in-class tablets or fantastic lab devices but it won’t do any good. Colleagues of mine put together a lesson plan which uses an app called Geogebra  to teach how to define, evaluate, and compare linear functions.

Geogebra is a nifty little app that can help students visualize how graphs and equations relate to one another. Note that they students still have to do the work the old fashioned way before they can use the app to figure it out. Some advantages this approach has include giving students both visual and hands-on interactions with the problems and whole lesson is structured very well for an “I do, we do, you do” style of scaffolding. Another advantage though, isn’t really related to math or to traditional teaching techniques. By using the app as a tool, the students can learn a little about how apps work in general and that there are more useful functions of a smart phone or tablet than Candy Crush. Realistically, apps are no longer just a way to waste time and show off the capabilities of a prestige item. Being able to navigate an app is becoming an important part of being able to navigate our society.  And this isn’t likely to change. While there are obvious challenges and questions related to teaching technology in the classroom, I think lessons like this one which integrate content and other skills is a way to help students be able to prepare for their futures.