Bring on the Learning Revolution

The first unit of COETAIL has changed me. My opinions about the use of technology in the classroom have dramatically shifted and the urgency and passion that I feel for the need to revolutionize and personalize education have been affirmed. For the first time I can articulate the need for technology in the classroom as a way to make learning authentic, collaborative, connected and personalized. This course has not just been about computers, it’s challenged the very purpose and nature of education and I have loved every minute of it.

 

As part of the assessment for Course 1 of COETAIL I had the opportunity to collaborate with Mr. Norris, Mr. Baker and Hosei Sensei. This really was a highlight of the course for me. It was fun to share ideas and watch them evolve into better ones as we worked together. Our final project will involve working together to provide students with the framework and skills to produce and publish digital media about their learning and their lives. The purpose of the website is to give students a voice and a connected learning community. We hope that the student driven site will provide faculty and our administration with an opportunity for professional development and growth and that overall, the profile of learning technologies will be raised.

I am looking forward to working on the project because it will give me an opportunity to apply some of the things that I have been learning about it in the course. I prefer working with other people to working in isolation so that is another exciting thing for me. The aspect of the project that I am most enthusiastic about is the potential it offers for professional development. I hope that the website can be used as a forum to display the types of things that teachers at our school are working on but also as a vehicle to drive discussion.

Social Studies and the NETS

My experience with curriculum standards in the past has left me with a slightly bitter taste in my mouth. They tended to be either overly prescriptive or too general to be meaningful. The iste NETS, in my opinion,  are different. They really resonate with me. I find myself nodding as I read them and my inner voice cheers ‘right on’. I like how they are practical, clear and applicable to every subject area. I appreciate the way that the standards start off with simple indicators but extend to really challenging and rigorous possibilities. I hope that one day I can be a teacher who can provide my students with such an authentic and challenging learning experience.

The NETs fit really well within my curriculum area and I am more than happy to use them as a framework to structure my units of work. The task of creating Prezis, PowerPoint presentations and imovies is a straightforward and rewarding way for students to apply their knowledge in Social Studies. I would like to learn more about software and programmes that can be used to identify trends, simulate and model.

Social Studies lends itself well to discussion and forming an opinion isan essential part of the learning. Keeping a blog is a useful way for students to reflect on their thoughts and opinions and develop them as they think them through. It is better than keeping a journal because other students can challenge their ideas and collaborate with them in real time. In this way, and in many others, the ‘Communication and Collaboration’ standard fits really well into Social Studies. Like with the previous standard however, this is only just scratching the surface of the depth that these standards reach.

Much of what we do in Social Studies is to gather, organize, evaluate and synthesize information. The ‘Research and Information Fluency’ standard is a key component to any Social Studies unit of work. I am pleased to see it so explicitly mentioned and am looking forward to the day when we can all purposefully and explicitly work together to improve these skills in our students.

Civics and Citizenship is a key element to any Social Studies curriculum. Digital citizenship is a crucial element to this. It is easy to rely on incidental learning but Social Studies allows for a thorough investigation and discussion into the human, cultural, and societal issues related to technology and practice legal and ethical behavior.

I don’t believe that every teacher should have to meet all of the standards all of the time but the school should have a vision and expectation that as a team, the teachers would work together to ensure that students are able to achieve all of the standards by the time that they graduate. I would love to see the whole school get behind them and use them to really drive the curriculum, language and debate at my school. I believe that it is everybody’s job to teach theses skills.

Changing the Learning Landscape

Over the past couple of months I have been challenging myself to develop my understanding of how technology can be used to further the learning of my students. The COETAIL course has taught me the importance of allowing students the opportunity and freedom to develop authentic and expert connections as well as the opportunity to collaborate via digital mediums.  I have very much enjoyed reading the blogs of the cohort and am reaping the rewards of my efforts in the fruits of Twitter, Diigo, Google Reader, Google Alerts and Blogging, none of which I used before this course. Improving the way that I receive and manage digital information has had a trickle down affect on the tasks and activities that I ask my students to perform.

With all of these new and interesting possibilities in mind, it has been with a spring in my step that I have traversed the hallways of late and great enthusiasm for learning technology has underpinned conversations with my colleagues. My brain is teeming with ideas and excitement at the potential for education in the future. That was until I assisted in the moderation of the PSATs last week. Being a Middle School teacher, I have little to do with these tests, in fact I had to ask what it meant and what it was for before I went over to supervise. Upon arriving in the stuffy room with single desks lined up in columns and rows, I took the time to page through the test. I was horrified and disappointed with what I found. There were grammar questions requiring students to circle the grammatical error in the sentence and lines to fill in the missing word from a list of vocabulary. The alternative sections were filled with questions relating to the distance of the side of a triangle and other Mathematical related questions. My mind struggled to reconcile the vision of collaborating, connecting, creating and inventing with fill in the blanks and calculate the sum.

I concluded that for education to properly change and for the landscape to look different, we as educators must evaluate how we assess students in the end. As long as students are required to complete a general standardized test, the temptation is to teach to it in an effort to prepare them. Once we have agreed on what we want 21st century learners to look like and what we are preparing them for we should allow the final assessment to evolve with the vision. Until it does, I’m afraid that not a lot of change will happen. That’s not to say that I won’t try.

Out with the Old and In with the New

As a student I had very little interest in computers. Watching my classmates play the most ridiculous computer games instead of doing their ‘work’ was really the closest I came to interacting with technology. I am a little ashamed to admit that throughout my entire Grade 10 compulsory semester of ICT I managed to totally avoid turning the computer on. It wasn’t until I somehow scraped my way into university that I was forced to set up an email account; I considered this the ultimate imposition. At university I dabbled with the Inspiration Software but concluded that a paper and pen worked just as well. My boyfriend at the time completed all other technology related assignments for me and I really didn’t feel like I was missing out on much. Needless to say, technology did not play a major role in my education or my life. On the odd occasion when it was offered I avoided it as much as possible and failed to see how it was relevant to my life.
In my first year of teaching, the Victorian government provided me with a laptop. For the first time I had my own computer and I actually started to find uses for it. At around the same time, I bought my first ipod and was forced to learn how to drop, drag, install and manage folders etc. I used my computer to format documents mostly and research content on the Internet. I discovered programs like Rubistar and started dabbling with Excel spread sheets. I would design lessons that required the Internet for research purposes and allow students the choice of how to present their work but it’s fair to say that on the whole I was doing old things in old ways.The Victorian government was good to me and provided me with many opportunities to learn about technology in the classroom. They had an agenda to make schools more technology friendly in the interests of progress and that suited me fine. Although I was still very suspicious, I had begun to see for myself some of the potential that technology had to offer. The more I learned, the more confident I became. I started to do old things in new ways. I designed a website for the students to access class documents and important dates and experimented with Prezi and electronic whiteboards as ways of communicating information to students.  I found that all of these strategies were resulting in less work for me, or more enjoyable work at the least, however the assessment and activities that the students were completing did not look all that different from when I was at school.
While technology had changed my classroom, it had not transformed it. My classroom had not been overly affected by the introduction of technology but my attitude towards it had. So what does a new thing done in a new way look like and how does one get there?  As I reflected on my own personal journey, I concluded two things. Firstly, for new things to be done in new ways, technology needs to be personal and omnipresent. It wasn’t until I had my own laptop and that I started to engage.  Secondly, for new things to exist they should be relevant to everyday life and extend outside of the classroom. I think that education worth having will involve students collaborating and connecting in ways that have never been able to be done before. I have started to focus my energy on planning for experiences that involve immediate feedback from peers in the form of comments left on blogs, collaborating on Google docs and social bookmarking sites. I believe that for this to work to its full potential, every student should have access to their own laptop all of the time. Technology should be implemented consistently and purposefully across the curriculum and students should be allowed to take a leading role in teaching the skills necessary to navigate technology. I am excited by the idea of teaching and learning in new ways and looking forward to the journey.