Friday, October 5, 2012

Teaching and Technology, We Meet Again

Hello again!  After a long break, I have returned to the blogging world to continue my technology in the classroom musings.  This week, I watched a webinar that explored the website  The website was designed by a MAC alum as a way to tackle the problem of balancing time spent grading and giving students useful feedback.  I really like his approach to solving common problems English teachers encounter.  I'll list some of my "how cool!" reactions below, and hopefully you English teachers out there will check out this site.

1.  First of all, watching a webinar was pretty gosh darn cool.  I have been invited to numerous webinars but always declined.  I was a little upset with myself after watching the recorded webinar- I could have  been learning interesting things from the comfort of my couch!  I loved that attendees were able to interact with the speaker through virtual hand raising, participating in polls, typing questions and comments into the chat box, and more.  All the benefits of participation but none of the pressure one faces in a large group!

2.  I loved how the speaker took the time to talk about how to integrate webinars with the classroom.  A teacher is always looking for new ways for students to participate, especially the quiet ones!  The teacher can also look back at the log of the webinar and see who was commenting, participating, leaving and signing back on, etc.  The students can't hide!

3.  This site is a major step toward addressing the problem of teaching grammar.  Students never find it interesting.  By integrating topics they are interested in, there is a connection to the task at hand.  Since it is online and gives immediate feedback and help, students aren't left working on grammar worksheets without any immediate feedback.  Much frustration can be avoided by having tools to address where the student is going wrong.

4.  The webinar leader was a genius!  He took the time to write out common grammar mistakes in a handout and assign specific numbers to the mistakes.  He can then write the number next to a mistake on a student's paper, and they will no exactly what they did wrong, and they have an explanation right away.  The most ingenious part is that he had students do corrections for points.  This helps to avoid the problem of students seeing their papers marked up and immediately disposing of them without looking at their mistakes.

I can't wait to use this with my students!  Grammar has always been a drag, but I can't resist clicking buttons online and making a competition out of the work!

Monday, August 6, 2012


The day has finally come.  The day of my last summer term blog post.  Oh, if I could only tell my two-months-ago self that yes, indeed, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  Or at least the first of three rest stops before the longed for exit off the grad-school highway.  Sigh, we've jumped in and there is no turning back.  Soon we will be technology champs riding the express train to employment.  Right?

Friday's class helped to ease my nerves about successfully integrating technology into the classroom.  We had a panel of five SeMAC graduates telling us their woes of grad school and the various paths that lead them to their current teaching positions.

They were all older than me, which also helped calm my nerves.  If these people that didn't grow up in the world of MySpace dictating middle school social lives and bare-bones Power Points infiltrating the classroom, but could still embrace it at a later age, I could do it too.  That being said, one day I might be on one of those panels, being that older generation that didn't grow up with having iPhones right out of the womb.  Am I going to be able to keep up with the times once I have been out of the real world for some time?

It was also a relief to hear that all the members of the panel used technology to the extent they were comfortable.  They did not feel pressured to use it in every aspect of their lesson plans- something I feared would be a common occurance.  The panel's use of technology confirmed I can adapt my levels if usage year to year, and as my school provides more and more resources to support my technology use.

I noticed that a lot of the members of the panel looked a little embarrassed when asked how much technology they used- like it wasn't as much as Jeff expected.  I often feel bad about my resistance to the amount of technology introduced to us each class, but maybe we learn so many technologies so we can find the select few that will stick with us and make our lives easier.  If we didn't have such an overwhelming array of choices, we might not find anything that we want to use!

After the panel, our cohorts got together to discuss technology.  Well, more like make impassioned speeches about our likes and dislikes.  While I felt uncomfortable at times by the tones being used, I reminded myself that these tones showed people had passion- one way or another.  People were able to voice different sides of arguments, even if those arguments did not sit well with other members of the class.  Changing our ways involves a lot of give and take, a lot of fervent discussion, and that is what we saw in Friday's class.  Another step in our journey of change.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Oh So Knowledgeable Edubloggers

I read the EduBlog, "The Book Whisperer."  Quite honestly, I clicked on the link because it made me laugh.  I imagined someone sitting in a room with a bunch of leather-bound books and pulling down a worn and neglected copy of a Victoria era drama.  She was stroking its spine and asking, "Why are you so sad, why won't you share your stories with the good people of the library?"

When I started to read the description of the blog, I was excited to see the blog was written by a middle school English Language Arts teacher.  Ah a resource to be able to explore what I might run into in the classroom!

I appreciated the conversational tone of the post.  Instead of plugging a tool because she is paid to, she actually gave pros and cons of a product.  In the comments section, other bloggers  gave lists of good books for certain grade levels, as a supplement to her post about the Lexile Framework for Reading.

I never thought about other bloggers adding relevant information to supplement the blog.  It is like a more in depth Twitter sharing tool.  Yay for collaboration!

I also really like how her blog was hosted on a larger site that featured other edubloggers and teacher goodies.  You could read one blog, get inspired by an activity, and then search other blogs to see if there were variations of the activity.  How cool!

So many topics to explore!

Monday, July 30, 2012

So Much Technology, So Little Time

As a SecMACer, I may be utilizing at least 18 hours of my day for school (or in a semi-conscious state thinking about school), but I still feel like I need more time.  Time is the only thing in this program that is in short supply.  We are given all these wonderful technologies- like Diigo and Dropbox and Google Reader and Evernote and this list goes on and on and on- to simplify our lives.

 But right now, I feel like simplify is more like "simplify."

I feel like a child in a candy store when I have to decide which new technology to use-- "Ooo do I want to highlight with Diigo??" "Do I want to share on Dropbox?  Or would Evernote be better?"  Ah the choices, the choices!  I think I spend more time trying to decide on which service to use than it would take for me to save my work to a flash drive and move on with my life.

But I know, in the future, these technologies will save me time... and the heart attack that ensues after misplacing a flash drive.

I would love to sit down and play around with all the services, if only I had time.  We had the opportunity to do just that, when we had to make a handout for class Friday. Though instead of listening to other presentations, as delightful and informative as they were, I would have preferred having that class time to explore and practice on my own.  I've been using Skype for years, but all the features of Diigo and Evernote and novel to me, and I just wanted to spend my time in class clicking around-- an urge that was hard to surpress and pay attention to my fellow group members.

I often have the attention span of a gnat when I have to listen- something I know I must work on to be a successful teacher.  But my best learning takes places when I am in control of what I am exploring.  Maybe having us explore the technologies on our own during class, and then doing a write up on two of the services could have been an alternative for us hands-on folks?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Teachers and Twitter?

I never thought that teachers would embrace the technology that limits thoughts to 160 characters.  Teachers are all about fleshing out ideas and supporting one's thoughts.

That being said, one would naturally assume Twitter is a natural enemy of teachers.  But Friday's class changed my mind.  I never thought of Twitter as a platform to spread creative lesson plans.  Searching relevant hashtags, following edubloggers, responding to lesson suggestions- all are much more productive (and more interesting) than reading what your former neighbor had for breakfast this morning.  Twitter makes it easy to quickly filter relevant posts, and collects posts from a plethora of other tweeters in one convenient location.

My sophomore year of undergrad, I took a class called "Technology and the Humanities."  We had to create audio essays, wiki pages, write reaction blogs (much like this one...), post our feelings about class each afternoon on Twitter, and much more.  That class made me accept the role of technology in every day life a little more, but I still thought Twitter was a useless platform that would die out within the year.  Yes, it allowed students to makes comments and react to class. It was nice for students that hated writing and gladly accepted the 160 character limit.  It was nice to think that students had to be creative and learn to be concise because of the space limit.  It was nice to have instant feedback from one's peers.  But all those "nice" things didn't seem very valuable to me.  I felt like other online platforms would allow for more nuanced and thought out responses.

Using Twitter to share links- now that is more like it. Posting a quick snippet to let others know what a link is going to share and having a tinyurl link to a blog or website combines the best of Twitter and Blog worlds.  It is like having a bunch of headlines to scan (like a newspaper) and choosing which to read up on.  Thoughts don't have to be cryptic because of character limits.  Teachers can still have faith that people can expand on their ideas and actually use descriptive words instead of using the bare bones of a sentence and throwing grammar to the wind.  "C U l8er" and "BRB" don't have to replace real speech.  Hoorah!  Proper English still has a chance!

I am still a bit skeptical about the personal websites to share with employers.  Sarcasm and jokes are still difficult to decipher at times- especially when reading something without the author present.  Even if I screen everything I put on my website, I don't like the idea of having a cyberspace trail that I can never get rid of.  The website can be useful for interviews where people can't meet in person- but I think Skype is still a better alternative.  Things are less likely to be lost in translation when you can see and hear the other person.  I fear getting to a point where I feel I need to self-censor so much my true personality can't shine through.  I'll be so worried about seeming professional I can't be myself.  I can't be there to read the mood in the room (or the cyber connection online), so I can't decide if it is OK to start letting my humorous side out.  The website leaves me exposed, without being there to defend myself, and reduced to the bare bones of what I think someone else wants to see with no room for adapting during the process (as in when the interviewer is looking at the cite).  Call me old fashioned, but I would prefer practicing my people skills.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Gamers Saving the World?

Gamers our future saviors?  What?  Those men-boys that live in their mother's basement and haven't seen the sun in weeks?  Ok... you have me listening.

Jane McGonigal has a wild theory, that we can channel gamer's drive for an "epic win" to solving real world problems.  Gamers spend billions of hours a week playing their online games, saving fictional realms, and helping strangers in need.  Jane wants to know, can we harness this drive?  Can we create games that require us to come up with creative solutions to everyday problems?  Will people really carry their game-world habits to the real world?

I think this is a creative and out-there solution-- that just might work.  But I still have my doubts.  Yes, people tend to be completely different when playing as their online avatar.  Yes, they are willing to risk their lives for another.  Yes, they spend hours on quests because the work is "just right" (to borrow a phrase from our Scarlett friends)- problems are presented to us, but only when we have enough experience to make it through the level.  If we die, we can start over.  If we run out of credits, weapons, or money- we can reload.

That doesn't happen in real life.  There is a finite amount of resources that the world needs to share.  People from different countries have different motivations and interests.  I would love to say that we can all work together to create a world that is beneficial to all, but, we are human.  There is greed in the world.  People will fight for power.  There will be conflicts over how to divide supplies and power.  Religion, philosophy, beliefs, etc. will create conflicts.  Game designers can try to design the playing field in the game, but when the gamers emerge from their basements, the real world won't have level playing fields.

Gamers can create deep relationships online, but then have trouble interacting with people in real life.  Wouldn't it be a better idea to try and create the sense of security that the online world offers, but in the real world?  We can't live our lives completely online.  We can't have designers giving us perfectly designed situations for every problem.  We don't live in a vacuum.

In the end, I think Jane McGonical has an interesting theory.  But I would tweak it a bit.  Research has been done (for example, Bronson and Merryman in Nuture Shock), that shows people are more confident when role-playing, we can blame mistakes on the character we are playing.  How about we role play in live sessions?  From the classroom to a club to the workplace, we can integrate these role playing techniques to help solve problems we face in our everyday life.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Group Work

Group Work.  Two simple words.  Yet they have the ability to send chills down my back.
In high school, I was the controlling over-achiever that dreaded putting any task, no matter the size, in someone else's hands.  I was the student teachers put in a group to whip other students into shape, inevitably resulting in me doing the entire assignment because I wanted an "A" and the others did not care.  "Group work" was synonymous with headache, struggle, control, frustration, dread, long nights- the list goes on and on.

Fast forward to present day.  I'm still struggling with the aftermath of high school group work.  When I saw we had a three-hour block of group work and discussion, I immediately started the mental preparation for making it through the day.  My four years in undergrad helped me let go of some of the control, but a ball of dread in my stomach was always waiting to awaken for the next group activity.


Oh man, 6 over-achievers in one room.  Working on one assignment.  This is not going to go smoothly.

I was right.  We all had different interpretations of the assignment.

Alright, you have three hours with these people, sit back and get a feel of the power dynamic. This might be a preview of your future faculty meetings.   Think of this as practice.

To start off the session, we went around the group, each person sharing their ideas.  Immediately it was clear everyone looked at the assignment through a different dimension of English.  One person wanted to focus on research skills, while another was looking for a way to physically engage students, another wanted to work on writing, and comments were made about every idea in between.  I never thought about the scope of the English department- all the teachers have different ideas about what is most important and what should be emphasized.

It was obvious we were a group of individuals that were used to being in control, and we had a hard time compromising on our opinions.  We tried to make a lesson plan that gave teachers choice, so we could let everyone have their ideas represented.  At times, the constant attempts to put multiple choices led to confusion about what we were discussing.

The back and forth was not all bad.  It allowed all the members to get feedback about their own ideas and hash out the limitations of various lesson plans.  We were able to combine approaches to create a (semi) finished product that drew on different skills needed in an English class.  Though it was hard at first, I am glad we had the three hours to work on the assignment.  The long time frame allowed us to get over our initial desire to control, and move in the direction of compromise.

I saw a glimpse of my future faculty meetings, and realized I need to keep an open mind and loosen the reigns.  Maybe some cookies to sweeten the mood :)