Bio Fair Frenzy

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It’s been a fun yet perplexing week in eighth grade science.  For quite some time my students have been building up background knowledge on different bio systems and now they are preparing for our upcoming Bio Fair.  Booths are being constructed.  Activities are being planned.  Speeches are being crafted.  Our audience?  The ever eager third, fourth and fifth graders.

It’s been interesting to watch the ebb and flow of student expression throughout this unit.  In some ways I’ve sort of become a bit fearful about the blind way the kids have followed my guidance.

I suggested Google Docs for collaborative notes.  Most followed, a few tried PiratePad.

I modeled a practice mini-presentation using PowerPoint.  Other than two Prezies and  one Mac made video, the rest were PPTs.

I discussed the attributes of a well made visual aid, showing a few posters from years’ past.  As a result, I’ve yet to see my kids generate anything on their computers that will be used as a visual.   Poster paper has been flying everywhere.

The only tech request I’ve received so far was for, “You know that thing  that is  really old that shines and you can write on it?  Can we get that?”   An overhead  projector.  The AV guy had a good laugh at that one.  Can  you still get  transparencies?

I’m proud of this unit and I’m proud of my students.  They have learned so much and will be sharing that knowledge with others.  But I do find it interesting that they are really only marching behind me mimicking my every move.  Should I not have shown them exemplars?  Did those examples actually curb their creativity instead while trying to model excellence?  Is it just that my students use their computers 24/7 and may need a break?

I’ll do my best to gather alternative examples as the unit wraps up.  I may also need to force my students to ..

communicate relevant information and ideas effectively to students, parents, and peers using a variety of digital-age media and formats. (ISTE NETs for Teachers)

One idea I’ve thought about is using a technology program selecting/tracking card for each student.  This would be similar to the commonly used partner tracking card.  The goal being in the latter to never work with the same partner twice.  Maybe a technology program selection card would help students experiment with other modes of expression besides PPT.  Students would need to experiment with a required list of programs throughout the year, choosing which project they match the programs with.

Just a thought.  For now, I’ll embrace the colored paper tornado that awaits me in my classroom.

NETs

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Compared to the current set of IT standards I’ve been working under, the NETS seem like a logical set of objectives.

Creativity and Innovation-a medium of expression for preexisting classroom standards.

Communication and Collaboration- a means for developing deeper understanding of the pre-existing classroom standards.  Once you teach others, you will understanding a concept in a much deeper way.

Research and Information Fluency-a natural digital extension in a science classroom.

Critical Thinking, Problem Solving and Decision Making- a logical fit for any type of current events discussion.  Also a real bridge into the preexisting resources found in most school libraries.

Digital Citizenship-creation of one’s professional self. Showing strong values and morals along the way.  Thanks to Jeff for getting me thinking about this.

Technology Operations and Concepts- the only set I see as possibly existing in isolation.  Really only a fit in a computer class.

At TAS we are continually told that our 1-to-1 computer program  is the implementation of a tool.  One tool, in the arsenal of gadgets, strategies and techniques that any good teacher uses.  These gadgets, strategies and techniques have changed over time, but the underlying goal of most educational constructs has always been the same. We want to empower.  The NETS seem like a thorough, yet flexible, group of standards to guide empowerment.

I’ve been thinking about the required project for this class.

I’ve been thinking about Alan November’s theory of reversing the traditional flow of education. Or rather, having students learn content at home and practice using this content while in the classroom, under the guidance of a teacher.

Conclusion, find some open source content my students could access and learn from at home. This content would need to go beyond what their textbook already provides. The Horizon Report got me headed to a few promising sites.

MIT, how could that go wrong? Isn’t that the promise land for all science related intellectual growth?

“Basic Calculus” and “Statistical Mechanics” are most probably going to be a bit of a reach for the average adolescent that is still struggling with the difference between astronomy and astrology.   I’m looking to supplement the resources I already have, not cause adolescent mental breakdowns.

Metal realignment…I need to find open source content that is actually age appropriate.  My students are not ready for university quite yet.  Lots of dead ends through the Horizon Project links.  Next step, Google.  I tried doing a search for open source+astronomy. I found two very promising open source programs. 

Celestia supposedly allows students a 3D view of space.  Cool.

Stellarium would show my students a realistic view of the night sky without the aid of binoculars or a telescope.  Very helpful while living in starless Taipei city.

Oh wait, then I  remembered that  my students  and I don’t have the  administrator rights that would allow us to download these resources.

Back to Google.

But then I stumbled upon a real gem.  Zooniverse.    Trough a series of training questions you can learn how to catalog galaxies, the surface of the moon and other astronomical features.  What is this? An education tab with lesson plans to assist with website usage. 

-Zooniverse goes beyond my current textbook.

-The language is age appropriate.

-It is actually REAL science.  My students would be cataloging real galaxies and contributing to the greater good.

Perfect!

This post is dedicated to my new loves.

Let’s face it. I am a total organizational nerd. Words like streamlined, efficient or increased productivity get me down right excited.

I just received my reimaged computer back from the IT department. Windows 7 I love you! I actually feel like a cool, computer savvy chick as I toggled between programs with ease and organize my professional life.

I’ve also fallen head over heals for net vibes. How did I live without this aggregator for so long? Email, Facebook and new recipes slip into my “personal” tab and my “blog” tab is just filled with inspirational reads.

 TedTalks-I hope Jeff had a front seat when Steven Johnson spoke about where innovation arises from. “Chance favors the connected mind.”

Langwitch links- The Future of Print- Amazing! Dangerously Irrelevant has definitely been added to my RSS feeder.

The Thinking Stick- Wasn’t that Rod Narayan featured in the winning 12 second video from the Learning 2.010 conference?

My organizational needs are getting a mega fix and I’m feeling inspired to learn.  I’ve been looking for a source of professional inspiration for a long time.  I’ve been at the same job for 8 years.  I had no idea that my personal learning network was just a few clicks away. 

Connections at Camp

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I’m currently recovering from an amazing week at middle school camp.  A week where teachers and students alike walk away from the traditional classroom and connect while challenging ourselves in the out of doors.  Students are not allowed to have computers, cell phones or ipods on this adventure.  It is about fostering independence and connecting with others.  Jeff’s TED talk focused on connections being more important than content.  This sort of lines up with what we tried to accomplish at camp.  Another interesting  parallel to our class discussions is our inability to keep up with our students.  Just like they blow me out of the water when it comes to technology, I somehow doubt their backs and feet where throbbing quite as much as mine.

My students were truly great at camp.  I am so proud of them.  Most of them have never been so physically challenged.  I heard them encouraging and including each other throughout our five days together.   At one point I pulled out my cell phone to call a fellow staffer and a student lunged to touch it moaning, “Technology, technology, I need technology.”  I thought it was quite pathetically cute.  I’m sure that my students are just reveling in their technology fixes as typhoon  Fanapi has us trapped indoors.  Enjoy your hanging out, messing around and geeking out kids.

Through some bizarre twist of circumstances I’ve become the sponsor of our middle school tech club.  We are in our third year of existence and we are finally….dare I type it….thriving.  It wasn’t my tech skills that placed me in this position, no disillusionment there,  but rather my nerdy organization abilities and desire to put my efforts into a club that was actually needed.  Let’s face it, my average tech club member has knowledge that blows me out of the water.  They can write HTML, create a website and somehow find ways around those blocked admin privileges all at the same time.  Half the time I don’t even know what they are talking about.  They outright laughed at me when I admitted that  I didn’t know you could select a group of files in Windows and check their quantity as it is totaled to the left of the screen.  Yes, I was pressing the down arrow and counting. 

I’ve found myself thinking about these student while reading about Messing Around and listening to Sugata Mitra on TED Talks.  The ability and desire to self-teach is really incredible.   These tech club kids are the perfect example of what can be accomplished while messing around.  I’ve taught them so little about technology, yet they are the experts.  They set out on new tech adventures every 2.5 minutes and are an amazing resource for their peers and our school at large.  With a bit of prodding and organizing I get them to write “tech tip” emails to the faculty, run new-student tech orientation meetings and take on individual tasks at the request of faculty members.   These tasks put their thinking and learning right at the top of the revised Bloom’s taxonomy.   Those kids don’t often need a tech expert, they just need to be provided with a bit of structure for their amazing abilities.  What they have learned while messing around over the years is impressive.  I learn from them every day.

When we do hit a tech wall we book an appointment with our tech coordinator and then we all learn together.  She always models “messing around” as a healthy growth strategy and continually probes the kids to discover knowledge for themselves.  I also really value those moments when they learn a new skill directly from her.  They want to be there.  They want to learn.  It’s good for them to realize that an adult can actually teach them something about a computer, and that we all don’t require the down arrow to count files.

I found it quite interesting to have a phrase that I’m so familiar with, “Hanging out”, redefined with such detail in Living and Learning with New Media.  It really seemed as though the researches did an incredible job of actually listening to the perspectives of teenagers.  I can’t image those kids found the same attention given to them inside of a classroom.  Much of what I read in this summary didn’t surprise me, but as a parent of a five year old, I found it interesting to contemplate the implications this will have in my family life in the years to come.  Should I be glad that my son and husband play video games together, or continue on with my self-imposed  “limit screen time” crusade? 

One concern I wonder about is the art of meaningful, face to face conversation.  When teens report finding comfort in the scripted nature of on-line social networking, are they in fact avoiding the skill development that is the foundation of lasting relationships.  Doesn’t your true love need to know that you can be a spontaneous idiot?  I too appreciate the fact that I can carefully craft these words  before posting, but this is not always a luxury we have.  Who knows, maybe the opportunity for real life writing on the web will outweigh these concerns.

I’ve seen some evidence of the “hanging out” culture  in my classroom.  Many students struggle with face to face share sessions when disappearing into a computer is an option.  I need to work hard to craft a task that is engaging enough that the students will actually remain on task, collaborate with their peers engaging in face to face conversation and resist the draw of tapping into the “always on” connections they have as a way of escape.  I don’t know if these face to face conversational struggles are directly related to decreased practice or other factors, but it is interesting to contemplate.  It seems what I value, on-task, face-to-face discussions, is in fact the opposite of the preferred, controlled “hang out” mode of operating.

I guess in theory I do believe that the internet is a mass of connections, that we as educators would be fools to ignore.  Our students are most probably better at navigating this tool then we are.  If we don’t start allowing our students to produce work that is reflective of their  preferred learning style we could be creating more unnecessary barriers to learning.  Yet the type A personality teacher in me feels the constant draw to control this massive tool, even though I know I don’t have a chance.  So there is the quandary…how can I open up my classroom and foster healthy connections, maintain a semblance of on-task behavior and actually move forward in the course I’m required to teach. 

How many more weeks do I have to figure this out?