Tuesday, July 12, 2011

New Beginnings

Where has the time gone?  Only eight short weeks ago, I had never posted a blog, and saw very little purpose in creating one.  I feel like I have come such a long way and learned so much.  I have been forced out of my comfort zone and have had to do things I would not have done otherwise.  I am really looking forward to using all the things I have learned with my students this year.  My webquest, my technology-enhanced lesson plan, my iPad (our emerging technology project), even podcasts might find a way into my classroom this year.
I think more than anything, I have discovered that I can use technology in authentic ways that enhance students’ learning of primary curriculum, rather than being just something else to do.  I am feeling more creative in my teaching than I have in years, in ways that I believe will become natural to me and will fit into my personal teaching style and beliefs of how students learn best.
I cannot even begin to explain how I anticipate how my teaching practice will change.  I will absolutely be looking for ways and times to integrate technology.  Even my room arrangement will have to be modified to accommodate this new focus to my instruction.  My NETS standards will be included in my planning binder along with my standards, Bloom’s Taxonomy, and Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences.  I will be planning with technology in mind, which is going to be something completely new and different for me and for my students.  I think they will be so excited (especially for my fourth graders!)
Though this is likely my last blog on this site, I am not seeing this as an ending but rather a beginning, the beginning of a new way of teaching and viewing technology.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Teacher's Teacher

Teaching with technology is an important step for me, personally and professionally.  But what about helping my colleagues to see the significance of this instructional media and encouraging them to "jump on the bandwagon" with me?  Is this something I am ready to do?  How can I go about this with respect and integrity when I am only just beginning to incorporate technology in meaningful ways myself?
I think the first thing I need to do is to share my enthusiasm, and my students’ enthusiasm, for this “newfound” teaching method.  Teachers’ curiosity tends to be piqued by students’ excitement.
Next, I need to share concrete ways in which to use technology in the classroom.  I know that I am much more likely to use new ideas when I have been given ways to use them, rather than having to sort it all out on my own.  Good, bad, or otherwise, it is the plain and simple truth that teachers are busy people who do not always have the time to develop new activities, especially when they are unfamiliar with the method of delivery.
I anticipate that one way to really help the other teachers to see the effectiveness of using technology in their classrooms is by allowing them to experience it for themselves.  Creating a PowerPoint presentation to explain the importance of integrating technology and for sharing examples and creating a webquest designed to guide them through how to use our available technology are two tools that I could use.
I think the most important part of being a leader is leading by example.  I cannot lead where I am not willing to go.  I love being a teacher, whether I am teaching my students or I am facilitating the learning of my colleagues.  My passion for learning, my own and others, is what I believe makes me the teacher I am.  Sharing that passion is what makes me the teacher I want to be.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Whose Afraid of...the Internet?!

What concerns me about using the internet in my classroom and how can I alleviate those fears?  Well, that is the million dollar question, now isn’t it?
Deciding how to use (or if to use) all the different internet-based technology available is a difficult task.  First, it is big.  There is so much out there and what isn’t already out there, prepackaged, ready to use is available to anyone with the time and talent to piece it all together.  Second, it is scary, like Gotham scary.  There are people out there pretending to be what they aren’t.  Domains that were good and child-friendly one day, are porn sites the next.  There are no guarantees on the internet.  Third, it is unpredictable.  You never know if your connection will work (especially if you are on a wireless network), if the site you are wanting to use will be having technical issues, if you are going to be able to do today what you did yesterday or the day before (even the minute before, for that matter).  The weatherman has been known to be more reliable than our school’s internet!
So what do I plan to do about it?  The first thing I have to do is give myself a specific amount of time to explore, then make a decision, and finally, use what I find.  I am notoriously awful about spending inordinate amounts of time finding really cool things and then never getting around to using them (I am the queen of overplanning-there is never a chance of being left with nothing to do in my classroom!).  Then, if at all possible, I will come up with at least two other options (just in case), only one of which is not technology-related, and both of which take up a different amount of time (this will cover all the usual bases-not enough time, the internet is down, the site is having problems).
I think the other key to my using technology more effectively is to work on the design of my room.  I know this sounds ridiculous, but technology is like everything else, if it isn’t convenient it won’t get used.  I have to make my room ready for using technology.  I need to have things ready and set for the natural integration of technology into my regular, every day routine.  This is really, for me, probably the single biggest factor in my using technology with my students.  Because if it is important enough to me for it to influence the way I have my room arranged, then it is going to be important enough to do! 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

What's to know?

Microsoft Word, Excel, Publisher, PowerPoint.  Internet Explorer, Mozilla FireFox, Safari, Google Chrome.  Discovery Streaming, Accelerated Reader, HeadSprout, Learning A to Z.  The list of computer applications that I use on a regular basis makes my head swim just to think about.  There are days I would love nothing better than to retire my computer, my iPad, my cell phone and go on a technology hiatus.  I am surrounded by technology and, as I like to say, know just enough about it all to be dangerous!
I have grown up with technology.  I had computers in my home before I had air conditioning.  I remember DOS-based machines and the advent of Windows.  I don’t think my ability to use computers and technology is a significant issue with my lack of technology integration in my classroom.  Losing my laptop would be like losing my purse.  I cannot imagine teaching without the availability of a computer.  My lesson plans are in Word, my grades are in Excel, my newsletters are in Publisher, and I have presentations in PowerPoint.  Though there are many tools out there that I am not familiar with, I honestly do not think that I am lacking in any way that impacts my efficacy as a teacher.  Quite the contrary, I sometimes wonder if technology and all the distractions that come with it are not part of the problem.  I get lost on some tangent when I am trying to get something accomplished.
What I really need is to be more focused in my use of technology and not get diverted by all the shiny things I see.  So ambitious or not, I am not looking to “improve” my software skills.  There are absolutely applications out there that are not part of my general repertoire and I do intend to continue expanding my technological horizons (if we do not move forward, we are quickly left behind), but insofar as creating a plan of action and having a technology “bucket-list” of sorts, I am not seeing it.  I will learn whatever comes my way that appeals to me and seems to have value in what I am doing in my classroom and as a professional.  Right now, the Google Apps and Google Docs fall into that category.  I am also learning how iPads and iPods can be used with my students to improve their learning.  What comes after that?  Well, only time will tell.  It may be something that hasn’t been developed yet, I really don’t know.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bringing it into the 21st century

This week I am being asked to consider how well I feel prepared for 21st century teaching and learning.  How well does anyone feel for anything new?  If I said “I feel absolutely prepared, I am ready to teach my students everything they need to know in exactly the ways they need to know it,” I would either be lying or ridiculously naive.  Since I am neither one, I must say that I am unsure about my ability to adequately prepare my students for the world that they will encounter when they leave school.  But thankfully, it is not solely up to me to prepare the students I teach; I share the burden with many others.
As I review the literature on “21st century skills”, I believe that I do work toward preparing my students to do all the things listed as 21st century skills.  We work on developing critical thinking and problem solving and practice collaborating and communicating with our peers as we participate in small group and class projects.  We learn to be flexible and creative as we find that our plans are going to be disrupted for whatever reason and we have to not only change our schedule, but also have to rearrange our lessons to still get everything to “fit”. Also, in designing lessons that give students choices and ask them to decide how to present information, they are required to practice decision-making skills and to be creative.   But what about making certain my students are information and technology literate?  Am I preparing them to be globally competent and financially literate?  How do I even do these things?  Does information literate mean academic content?  Is technology literate the same as being able to use appropriate technology?  How am I going to know that my students are globally competent?  Is financial literacy being able to write checks and balance a checkbook, or is there more to it than that?
Even as I ask myself these questions and wonder about the terms, I also think about how “21st century” these skills really are.  Aren’t these skills that we have needed all along?  Every generation has needed these skills in order to be successful.  I think what makes them seem so new and shiny is that, like character education and values in the 1980s and 1990s, they had been taught at home and now we are finding that too many people are lacking these skills and it is suddenly the responsibility of teachers.  So we say they are 21st century skills, wrap them in pretty colors, and hope no one notices that these aren’t so new or exciting and that once again we are giving teachers the responsibility of raising our nation’s children.
I struggle as I consider my strengths and weaknesses.  Right now all I can think about is how it is yet again teachers that are being expected to clean up the mess that society has created.  But I do know that I am passionate about learning and about encouraging my students to be independent learners and that means that I am going to have to do all those things that are so 21st century, but I have been doing since 1997 and my teachers were doing in the 1980s and 1990s.  So I guess my strength is that maybe, with the exception of technology, I know that I am a strong teacher of all the 21st century skills and incorporating them into the academic curriculum.  I know that I need to challenge myself to use technology more with my students.  I also know that my pessimism and frustration at the sleight of hand and subterfuge in calling these 21st century skills is a challenge because it causes me to lose focus, which does not benefit my students or school.
So where do I go from here?  The same place I always go, back to the beginning.  I read some encouraging professional books (by Steven Layne and Mem Fox) and good children’s fiction (by Blue Balliett, E.L. Konigsburg, and Madeline L’Engle) and then start working on a grand and glorious plan to be the most amazing teacher anyone has ever imagined or written about.  I dream not about the perfect class, but about the perfect school year—where I am the best and most exciting teacher any of my students has ever had.  And since it is almost summer, I am at that point, full of hope and ready to start again.  Looking back on everything that didn’t go the way I would have liked and determining how I can do it right this time.  That is the most wonderful part of being a teacher, every year is new and I have yet another chance at making it perfect!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Where to begin?

There is always a beginning, an initial point at which one realizes that it is now or never.  I am at that point.  I am taking a class (not my first and most assuredly not my last) on technology in education and I realize that though I have dipped my toes in a time or two, it is time to head to the high board and jump in.

This first week, we were asked to read the NETS for Teachers standards on the ISTE website (a highly informative, easy read that I would recommend to any teacher who, like me, knows they should be using technology but has never really truly grasped the necessity of it).  It was revealing to see what I am expected to do with technology in my classroom, with my students and how I have neglected it.  Shame on me.

I am still apprehensive about integrating technology into instruction and using it regularly with my students.  It seems like everytime I have tried, something goes wrong--the wireless goes out (usually), the website is down, someone else hijacks the lab (even though I have a note on the door, but where did the note go?), the lesson before runs over, we have a drill (fire, tornado, whatever!), I have a sub (who is inevitably afraid of computers), no one has done the necessary homework to be able to use the technology, the computers are "acting up" again, ...Do I really need to keep going?

I would not really say that I am afraid to begin this journey (please forgive me for mixing metaphors).  I am more feeling overwhelmed and not sure exactly where to begin.  Right now I am looking for suggestions and support.  I need some encouragers, some friends to come along side and walk with me through this, pointing out areas that could use a bit of technologizing, keeping me motivated when I want to give up.

So, here I am, preparing to enter a whole new phase in my teaching.  Challenging myself to become the teacher I want to be, the best!