Passport to Technology

Students today are almost constantly using, accessing, and sharing information through technology.  It is important that we share common rules and practices with students so they can learn the norms of this technology culture.  You wouldn’t dream of taking a group of students to a museum if they don’t first understand the rules and norms there..  There is no way you could let a student take a trip without some guidance about the cultural practices of the country they were visiting.  Sure they could wander around and pick up some of the customs but you’d be sure to tell them if something was drastically different or if certain behavior would put them in a dangerous situation or get them arrested. Teaching digital citizenship is important in today’s classrooms in order to allow our students to use technology correctly and safely.  Sure, they know and understand some of the customs but we need to help lay the important ground rules to this foreign digital country.

Attempting to improve my own knowledge of different technology I have started to follow some people on Twitter and found some resources to use in the classroom to teach digital citizenship.

https://twitter.com/n_pinn/status/436366685893693440

This tweet (above) by Edutopia was really helpful because it allowed me to explore another online platform in order to learn even more about digital citizenship.  I wasn’t really sure how pinterest worked but now I see how helpful it can be.  This collection of items related to digital citizenship.  It has posters and good tips to give to students.  It even has creative ways to talk about this with students through links to websites like this one.

https://twitter.com/n_pinn/status/436976469764747265

In another tweet by Edutopia, there is a link to other resources to again help teachers bring up this subject.  It’s important to have these resources so that you can reach your students in the best way possible.  By following some of the links and watching some of the videos that one site created to bring it up to younger students, it helped me see some of the simplified views of what could happen.  This website uses the think aloud method which might help to keep kids safe when using the internet.  Though some of the things they mention are a bit outdated, it helped me realize how internet safety seems second nature to me now but it actually is a lot of information for kids to take in.

https://twitter.com/n_pinn/status/436979174746505216

This article shows how much impact technology can have and that commonly used websites like Facebook are taking notice.  The article linked in the tweet mentions how technology is often very natural for students today but there is a culture that comes with it.  If we want students to be safe we have to help them understand that culture and all of the aspects that come with it.

Thinking Differently

Temple Grandin’s TED talk about people on the Autism Spectrum and thinking about how others think definately relates to us as future special education teachers.

I think she brings up a lot of good points about making sure that we realize that not everyone thinks in the same way.  I think that is what the UDL is all about, it’s allowing access to curriculum through different channels so that people who do think differently are still learning. I believe that the best way to reach students is by recognizing the way they think compared to the way you at the teacher think. It’s so important to remember not everyone sees the world through the same lenses.  That is the real challenge in teaching is trying to figure out what your student’s lenses look like and how to help your students see through them.

I have also read her book, Thinking in Pictures, and the depth she went into about how she saw the world really made me stop and look back at my own thinking.  We don’t spend a lot of time thinking about thinking because it’s difficult to do but it is necessary.  If we can help our students use metacognition to think about their thinking and find a way for them to explain it to us just as Ms. Grandin did then that would help tremendously.  Unfortunately that’s pretty hard to do so it is up to us as the teachers to try and find what works best for the student.

Differentiation is all about designing learning for the student, it’s important in all classrooms but especially in a special education classroom.  Unfortunately, special education has a negative connotation but to me a special education students is just as smart as a general education student but they learn in a different way.  This is where differentiation can come in.  By capitalizing on what the student is good at  they can learn just as well!  As she mentioned in the TEDtalk some of the most brilliant people in the world were autistic, we need people who have have specialized thinking so as teachers we may need to use more specialized teaching.  That shouldn’t be seen as something negative, just something different.  As a special education teacher we need to be ready to have students like Temple Grandin and like the boy mentioned in this article.  We need to build on their strengths and give them opportunities to thrive.  Instead of writing a paper on a topic in history, can they write about a specific invention or theory and how that relates to history?  As mentioned in the TED talk, it’s all about sparking an interest in these children, does it matter if they do everything the exact same way everyone else in the school is doing things.  That makes it more complicated for teachers to grade students, and to handle the issue of fairness between students, but school should be about allowing all students the best access learning.

Learning

What does it mean to learn?  What does it look like when someone is learning?  We all learn different things whether it is something we might not think about like tying our shoes or it might be something more obvious like learning from a book.  Sometimes we are stretched to learn things in new ways, like practicing ice skiing where we have to focus on things foreign to us.  Sometimes traditional methods of learning doesn’t always have learning involved.  But everything we do at one point or another had to be learned.

Taping Teachers

After watching Bill Gates’s TEDtalk on giving teachers feedback three things came to mind:

  1. I agreed with some of his ideas and statements
  2. I didn’t know how I felt about some of his ideas
  3. How much I hate seeing myself on camera

Watch the TEDtalk here:

I think teachers need feedback.  We won’t grow or change without if we think that we have nothing to change, that goes for people in all aspects of life.  I once had a teacher for an English class who didn’t grade our writing and hand it back until the end of the year.  I’ll never forget when after our third assignment of the year he commented how our writing should be improving but he didn’t feel like it was. The comment shocked me, how we were supposed to improve if we had no idea what we work on?  And did I ever wish I could have been able to tell hime what he needed to work on. Here’s the thing with feedback, no one really wants to hear what they are doing wrong all the time.  I sure don’t.  But here is the second part, we need to hear what we are doing wrong.  Teachers owe it to their students to know how to help them better. I like that Bill Gates is trying to help improve schools through helping teachers, I feel like it would be nice to have some more support because I feel like I am just going to be thrown into the classroom.

Student evaluations could help teachers understand what they need to continue to teach and how they need to continue to improve.  In this article: http://www.edutopia.org/student-feedback-accountability-teachers the author makes a good point that if we are evaluating the students they should evaluate teachers as well.  Maybe not to the point of giving grades but to gauge how they are taking the information. Now, as with any evaluation or assessment there is no way to know exactly how accurate they are.  As discussed in this article http://blogs.berkeley.edu/2013/10/14/do-student-evaluations-measure-teaching-effectiveness/ and the article mentioned before if you have students give grades or numbers that can be very arbitrary.  (And from the student perspective when I am asked to fill out evaluations on my professors I have no idea what the difference is between ranking them a “4” or a “5” because those are just numbers. But maybe that it’s not a “1” so they have to be doing better.)

I’ve actually always wondered why in high school at least they never asked for my opinion of the classes I was taking or my opinion of the teachers. I’m not asking them to have me rank them or grade them but allow me to give my written feedback.  It’s always easier to complain and it’s always harder to read someone’s complaints especially if they are about you but it could be a great way to learn what we need to do better.

Bill Gates also spent a lot of time talking about video taping teachers and having them turn in the videos they want in order to be reviewed. I’m not really sure about this but I do know that it is an up and coming idea for educators and will be implemented with the new edTPA requirements.  If the video is used in the way that the teacher in the video showed then it could be great to help teachers see how they interact.  If teachers reflect on it as they are watching and think about what they are going to change in the future then that could be really beneficial.  The problem is that you have to be pretty secure with yourself and open yourself up to the idea.  I have had the privilege of hearing that teacher speak at a conference where she discussed the video she said she got the most attention for:

 https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/when-lesson-plans-fail

She was strong enough to not only review the video itself but open up her “failed” lesson to the world.  She shouldn’t be evaluated as a bad teacher because she had one day that went wrong.  I would actually consider her a great teacher because she admitted what she did wrong and wanted to fix it.  Maybe we should allow teachers to video themselves but make sure offer them a supportive environment to help them improve.

The downside to giving teachers feedback is if there are other things riding on it.  If they are given poor feedback and there is no improvements made will they be fired?  Will salaries ride on how “well” someone is preforming? I’m not sure if that’s fair. I’ve had plenty of classes where one day there is an administrator sitting in the back for evaluation and all of a sudden the teacher has objectives written on the board and they super concerned with making multiple students share ideas.  That skews the evaluation because when the administrator isn’t there or if the camera isn’t on it changes the behavior, and really we can’t blame them.  Wouldn’t everyone in every profession do the same?  So how do we help teachers receive quality feedback?  I think its about building a positive network in the schools, having teachers regularly support each other and encourage asking for help.  Show them it’s ok to mess up sometimes and give them a camera to film their class.  If you encourage teachers to evaluate themselves maybe they will become more likely to do it and to improve our schools.

All I can think of though is how much I hate to see myself on video.  But maybe that’s because while I am aware of what I say and do every day, it is much different to actually see yourself, hear your tone, and see all the mannerisms you might not catch otherwise up on a screen.  Seeing myself on video always makes me critique how I am acting even if I videotaped myself for a project and had the chance to redo it multiple times (and makes me cringe just thinking about it). In the classroom you don’t have multiple times to redo every lesson so it’s critical that you have the best shot at getting it right the first time and maybe watching yourself on video (though I’m cringing just thinking about it) can help you get it right the next day.  We make students struggle through things all the time, I think we owe it to them to make ourselves struggle through our own evaluations.

Is It Ok?

In my prior experiences I have seen a few extremes of using technology.  From a personal standpoint technology has always been very challenging for me so I tend to be apprehensive to use it.  Recognizing this and reading about the needs of a 21st century learner has made me realize that technology is something I need to begin to adopt in order to better prepare my students.

One extreme I have seen is at a pre-school I worked in.  I had been there for years and had never recognized the lack of technology in the classroom.  One day a teacher made a comment about the “Heads Up!” app and how she thought it would be fun for her students and good for her classroom.(An example of how to play: youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOgi-yh2b9g) She said she wished that she could use it in class, and mentioned how she felt it was a shame she couldn’t use technology in the classroom.   The comment struck me as odd and I overheard another teacher comment that she could play the game herself, copy down the words, and still have the children play with notecards or something similar to that. After thinking back, I had never seen technology used in any of the classrooms I had been in for three years.  From my understanding, the school didn’t allow technology so the teacher couldn’t play a wonderful and engaging game.  A teacher on another teaching blog (http://techieteachertales.blogspot.com/2013/06/thanks-ellen-degeneres.html) commented on how great “Heads Up!” would be to help children develop their description skills and I can only imagine how much it would encourage class interaction and word and letter association.  I agree with the teacher from the pre-school that is truly is a shame they couldn’t use the technology and in this classroom the teachers weren’t even given the option to use the technology.

On the other side of the spectrum, I also tutored in a classroom that had the students log on to computers to use a reading website and a website called MobyMax for math.  They spent around 20-30 learning from the teacher then spent around 20-30 minutes on the computer with very little teacher interaction.  MobyMax claims to improve math skills by 1.5 grade levels for every 40 hours spent on the site (http://data.mobymax.com/mc/documents/MaxMax%20Research-Based%20Pedagogy.pdf).  It was great that it differentiated the problems to each student but made me question the effectiveness because sometimes I had to coax students through around 20 minutes of them trying to open the program.  They were stalling and didn’t want to log on or we simply had technical difficulties.  The program itself likely offers benefits but the time wasted certainly solidifies the prior method of keeping technology out of the classroom.  It makes me wonder though if our society is becoming so technology based as mentioned in the National Education Teaching Plan that allowing students to practice logging on the the computer is also beneficial even if it took away from learning math.  This thought makes me think it was important that the teacher included the online program in her lessons but I still question if it would have been more effective to keep the students focused off of the computer.

My third experience with technology was in a class here at Illinois that I was apprehensive to take due to my lack of technology skills. I took Writing with Video as an advanced composition class and we were required to create and use a blog and all of our assignments required us to create, shoot and produce videos and upload them online. This experience though is different from the other two because I was a participant in the class, not worrying about the teaching aspect.  Not only did I learn how to use a new program but the different types of projects we completed forced me to stretch how I thought about things and also allowed me more creativity to expand on and explore different ideas. We are surrounded by technology all the time and now that I know how to use a little bit more of it it has helped me learn new ways to communicate my ideas to others.   In this short video, (http://www.wired.com/business/2013/11/bill-gates-bill-clinton-technology/) Bill Clinton and Bill Gates discuss connectivity and, while what they are speaking about is somewhat broader than schools, what they say is still relevant.  I think kids are naturally curious so if we equip them with the skills and resources to access all aspects of technology, especially the internet, it will allow them to better connect with the world and learn even more about what is going on around them.  Technology may give them the materials to a better future though, simply giving them the technology may not be enough, it is definitely a good place to start.

This article, “Why Integrate Technology into the curriculum?” (http://www.edutopia.org/technology-integration-introduction) outlines many of the benefits of using technology. As I mentioned before from my prior experience as a student I felt I learned more in my Video class than any other because I was challenged to express myself and my beliefs.  I was given creativity, allowed to explore the technology and was encourage to use  multiple platforms to complete my project in the way I wanted.  The article states that it will help students be more prepared for the “modern office” and I think that is very true. If students can benefit so much why do teachers shy away from technology?  Why do I shy away from technology?  I think it is because of a few reasons:

  1. We don’t know how to use it and become frustrated or overwhelmed
  2. How do you handle situations when the assignment can’t be turned in because of technical difficulties?
  3. How do we grade the use of technology or lack of? Should we grade the use of technology?
  4. Most importantly, it hasn’t been done before!  Using technology in an extremely revolutionary way (like my video class) has the potential to completely change the classroom and the typical structure of the classroom. Older teachers might be opposed to these changes and new teachers have usually been in very few classrooms with a different structure.  It would change the way classrooms are structured and we aren’t sure how to do it.  What if it doesn’t work? What will others think? What if we fail?

What if we don’t? What if we don’t fail and we can change the face of education?  Technology can be scary and overwhelming.  I don’ know if it is fair to demand all teachers to include technology, especially if they do not have a good background in it, but I think it is a necessary to prepare our students.  There are so many resources, like Heads Up!, and great online programs; technology can allow teachers and students to think out of the box.  Technology definitely has it’s problems and as teachers that is something we will have to work though.  But if teachers can balance between non-technology based teaching methods with an effective use of technology our students might be stronger.  Like I said before, I am the first one to take out a piece of paper and write something down versus typing it on the computer and I think students can learn the same material on a white board, but school is all about preparing students for the future and being expressive.  At least some technology should be included in the classroom because students need exposure and it can help teachers teach more than what they can say within the walls of their classroom.