What now?

As the end of COETAIL is rapidly approaching, I have been mulling over what to do with my blog.  How can I continue this path of technology acceptance and learning without the structure of an online course?

My plan is simple.  Using Net News Wire, I will continue to follow a number of blogs to keep up with new tech ideas for the classroom.  Through my PLN, I will continue to ask for help, get new strategies, and keep up conversations.  My blog will become a place to keep links and try out new ideas, hopefully with feedback from my PLN.  COETAIl has taught me that I can do it, I will do it and my students will benefit from my learning.  I hope to continue increasing my tech options within my classes to make learning meaningful, even in a country where doing anything tech related is an uphill battle.

Final Project

I did it!  I made it to the end of course 5.  It was touch and go for a while there.  Being sick for the entire semester has made doing any work a major challenge, let alone an additional online course technology project.  But I managed to pull it off.

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The final course was the most challenging for me, even ignoring the aforementioned heath issues, as we were on our own.  Independence with technology was not something I had developed.  With my safety net gone, I was diving into a seemingly endless world filled with possibility, only I just couldn’t make up my mind which direction to head.  But I dove in anyway, and discovered that I didn’t drown.  I floated and even swam a few laps.

I choose to blog with my grade 12 English class to ensure they were able to understand the complexities of the novel 1984.  It’s a challenging book for the level of English I teach.  My hope was using online resources and reading each other’s responses might increase their understanding.  I had originally wanted to try flipping this unit, and I did provide my students with youtube links to lectures by other teachers, albeit mainly because I kept missing class, but the health gods would not allow me to muster the energy to do the flipped unit justice.  So blogging it was.

At first my students seem uninterested in their blogs, but I suspect that was simply their fight against all things academic as seniors.  Many of them choose to continue using their blogs in place of reading responses or journals when we started our next unit.  One student actually created his own personal blog to share his idea with the online community.  The feedback I received from students was overall positive, and I am pleased to introduce my students to 21st century learning as they head off to university in countries were the speed of the internet is no longer an excuse.

Making my video was a steep learning curve.  I watch a lot of youtube videos, looked up a lot of discussions online to trouble shoot my many headaches, and in the end I created a movie that I am proud of.  I am mostly proud of the fact that I was able to finish it.  Sadly the sound is a bit funny at the end as my neighbor’s generator was on when I was recording.  It was still on when I listened to the video for the last time before uploading it so I didn’t hear the background noise until later.  Life in Yangon.

Thank you COETAIL for helping me understand that technology is not the enemy!

Race against time

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The countdown has begun.  I have less than two days to complete my video and upload it to youtube.  Admittedly, my video creation skills leave a lot to be desired.  I have watched more youtube videos on various iMovie skills than I care to remember.  Armed with footage of my students and screen recordings of their blogs,  I have been attempting to put together a video worth watching.  My PLN has been drawn upon to aid my plight.  Endless emails have been sent, and as my race draws near the finish line, I get restless, search for the information myself, and send an additional email saying “never mind, sorted”. I am learning to be independent with my technology issues.

Time.  One thing I have learned from COETAIL is tech takes time.  Without the time to really put energy into your project, it will fall short.  Not just paper and pencil missing the mark, but full on off the charts wrong.  Movies don’t load, transitions lag, audio doesn’t match, or the whole project just grinds to a screeching halt.  Lucky, I have canceled my plans and refuse to let myself leave house until my project is done.

Now if only I could stop playing around online.  Who really needs to read about picture recipes?

PLN expanded

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Throughout my COETAIL experience I have steadily been building my PLN.  I began with Andre DeKoker and other people I had previous connections to.  It’s always easier to approach friends and former colleagues than strangers.  I was new to the idea of posting comments on blogs and other online forums (ok, I admit it, I had posted on Facebook), and I was nervous.  Despite my command of the English language,  I had the usual fear of posting and being judged by others for my content, grammar and presentation.  As time went on, I add additional COETAILers to my reader as well as other tech bloggers.  My PLN began to slowly take shape.

I moved into searching for information throughout the web and joining newsletters for teacher technology.  I sought out help from online contacts and teachers at my own school to help expand my tech knowledge and keep me moving forward.

My latest excitement in my own PLN development was two recent emails at school.  YIS is far from a tech savvy institution.  Rarely is technology mentioned and I find most teachers are frightened of anything tech related (a fair fear as anything requiring electricity is liking to fail for large portions of the year). Yet twice this week I received emails sent to the entire staff highlighting tech topics.  One was the article Flip Your Students’ Learning, which I was sent a scanned copy of, and the other related the use of iPads in the classroom.  7Ways to Use Your iPad In The Classroom got me excited as many of our students use iPads on a regular basis and have begun to consider how I can use them in my new role as the MS ESL teacher next year.  But really it was seeing my pen and pencil school helping to expand my PLN that gave me hope.

My PLN has helped me move in a positive direction, support me through my rough patches, and remind me that we are not alone in this vast digital world.

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Time well spent

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Looking back at my journey through the COETAIL experience, I have to ask myself,  was it all worth it?  The hours spent cursing the Myanmar internet, taking my forever broken MacBook to BKK for repairs, watching videos to supplement my lack of tech skills and reading online, did that time equate to learning?  Even as I write this post on a Pages document, I am watching the internet go in and out, fearing that I will have to wait until the middle of the night to actually post this.  I can only imagine how much easier this course would have been if I lived in Korea or even China.

My mental image of internet in Korea
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With greater challenge comes greater reward.  Many times I have had to rethink, get creative, scale down, or run crying to a tech expert to get my coursework completed.  Thus, my learning curve was steep.  Each course I had to brainstorm alternatives to make my progress possible in a technologically challenged environment.  Yet each time I found new ways to improve and help my students.  As I used online videos to help me understand iMovie, or read blogs dedicated to blogging, I shared my new knowledge with my students, and hopefully improved their tech knowledge along with mine.

Results

  1. I embrace technology rather than running from it.
  2. I can create blog posts, keeping up with my student communication, in limited time.
  3. I can advise others on different tech tools, both teachers and students.
  4. I actually read the post on Facebook and other forums about new technology.  I have signed up for newsletters that I read and consider how they can fit into my classroom.  Before they simply ended up in the trash, unread.
  5. Student projects are not limited to Powerpoint Presentations or speeches.
  6. I have connected with other educators around the globe.
  7. I have discovered just how flexible I can be. 
  8. I am no longer allowed to refer to myself as a tech idiot.

I will leave this program armed with the knowledge that I can do it.  I can make technology work for me in my classroom. My students will benefit from using these programs, and despite our location, we will be part of the 21st century learning community.

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* Note:  This post took hours to actually get online.  I had to take a lot of breaks, go for a walk, take my computer to my classroom in the hope that the cable would be faster, and breathe deeply.  Sadly, this the norm when trying to post in the hot season! 

Scaling back

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As I mentioned in my earlier post, I have had some major obstacles to completing my projects this semester.  On the upside, I had already planned several units that would incorporate technology.  But I was forced to scale back.  I had visions of my grade 12 unit on 1984 as my experiment with flipped classroom in a country where the internet works less than 50% of the time. I have a class of 8 students so I figured together we could come up with ideas of how to combat the natural issues that questionable internet creates.  Sadly, that didn’t happen.

I did end up asking my grade 12s to dive into the world of blogging.  I had attempted to blog with my grade 8s, which was a few steps from a disaster.  It was a great learning experience and certainly helped me with my second attempt.  (Click on the links in the second sentence to see a sample of the grade 8 blogs.)

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My Big Learning 

  1. Keep up with blog checks!  If you fall behind, you are in the big trouble.  Plus the students are then very aware that you are not keeping up.  
  2. Show more examples of the level of blog posts you are expecting them to produce.  I did some examples, but I think more would have helped.
  3. Provide more structure.  I let them blog about anything they wanted, but I think asking them to write specific posts would have been easier for many of them.  I was too loose in my desire to let them be creative.
  4. Bring the blogs back to the classroom.  With my 12s I started to put up their blogs on the project during class to bring their thoughts back into our discussions and highlight the interesting images they had included in their posts.  
  5. Some students will simply not blog, just like some students will simply never do their homework. 

Armed with this new knowledge, I started my 12s on their blogging experience.  I used my same teacher blog, where I posted information about how to complete part of their blogs like adding images.  The idea was to find a new way to create reading responses and attached images to highlight their understanding.  I was ready, they were ready.  Everyone was set up for some level of success.

What I didn’t anticipate was the rampant senoritis that would take hold of my class.

 

Back in the saddle, sort of

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My course 5 experience has been fraught with challenges and obstacles.  It’s been an uphill battle.  Funny thing, working on the actually tech project with my students has not been the challenge.  Sure, I had the usual issues with students and the Myanmar internet, but all in all the students were quite successful.  My giant challenge has been my health.  I was encouraged by fellow COETAIL and Yangon resident Kate to blog about my challenge.  So I am taking her advice and sharing with all of you.

I have been diagnosed with hypopituitarism.  I know you are all blinking, shaking your heads, wondering what on earth that is.  Clicking on the link may not help you much.  It’s complicated. The quick version is that my pituitary gland is not sending the right message to my other glands and my body is not producing enough of a few different hormones.  Turns out that makes you feel pretty terrible.  I won’t go into the details, but the biggest obstacle to my completing this course, or frankly anything this semester, is the exhaustion.  I get worn out walking to work everyday, and I live behind the school!

So, technology has been my savior this semester.  When I was having to miss school to be in BKK for doctor’s appointment, or to spend time in the hospital, my class blogs were my main source of communication with my students.  I had already planned several tech projects for this semester and my students were able to work on all of them.  I have begun to realize the primary reason why teachers avoid technology – it’s so time consuming!  With me having to sit a lot in class, working on technology projects was a gift.  I was able to give them the needed time to work on their projects. I had my grade 12 students create blogs dedicated to the book 1984. It was a great way to try to have discussions and write reading responses.  I was out of the country so I could keep up with the students’ work and comments along with their peers.

As my health improves and my doctors appointments in BKK begin to lessen, I am now taking on the challenge of finishing this school year and completing course 5.  Although I know I will not be able to do either at the level I would like to, I will be proud to look back in June and know I did the best I could.

What to do, what to do

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As I begin to divide into Course 5, I am taking to time adjust my current teaching load to incorporate more technology.  As always I am met with the usual restrictions of living in Myanmar.  My students have a wide variety of devices.  Most programs are not available here; at least not the real ones.  Our internet is spotty at best.  The most high tech device I am provided with as a teacher is a projector, and you can’t imagine what I had to promise to get one of those permanently in my room! After weighing my restrictions in the hardware department, I sat back to consider which of my four different classes would benefit the most from my COETAIL learning.  I teach grade 8 LA, grade 8 social studies, MUN and grade 12 English.  My grade 8s are already working on their blogs in their spare time (more reflection on that in 2013) and my MUN classes use the internet constantly for research, our Wiki, and communication with other schools.

Project Ideas

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1. MUN: For the last unit of the year, my students will be creating the documentation to continue the training for future MUN students, particularly the after school club.  Part of the unit would be making training videos after our conference in March.  Before the conference we will spend time working on the basics of video making, digital photography and script creation.  I can look at the benefit of iMovie with them and considering using programs like Animoto  and Xtranormal. Although the danger of anything web based is the potential lack of access on a daily basis. The video would allow me to flip parts of my MUN class in the future.  I would also like them to continue to build our Wiki.  I have no concerns about the concept of creating an online training program for my MUN course, but I have very real concerns about our internet access and equipment access.  We will just have to get creative.  Some of the information can be stored on the school serve for offline access, although only in the computer lab.  The biggest shift my students would need to make is in their thinking about independence.  Right now I am the sole expert in the room, driving the curriculum and discussion in the direction of my choice.  I need them to step into the driver’s seat and make the course their own.

2. Grade 8: A unit on digital storytelling would be welcomed by my current grade

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8 section. They love anything to do with technology.  Again our major restriction would be anything that requires consistent time online.  I found a few sites with lists of ideas to enhance the digital storytelling experience like iLearn Technology and 10 Tools for Digital Storytelling.  I would like them to make Choose Your Own Adventure stories and if I am feeling ultra creative, I can use one of my social studies themes to enhance the experience.  But this idea seems like the easy way out and something that will not demonstrate my true learning from the COETAIL experience.

3. Grade 12: Flipped Classroom – I admit I am intrigued yet terrified of the flipped classroom. I kept putting it out of my mind as a possibility and then I read an article on NPR about flipped classroom.  Somehow it struck a cord with me

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and I realize I owe it to my students to give it a go.  But I have some many questions.  How can I possible find the time?  Where will I get the needed materials to make videos?  How will my students and I share information?  I have a few answers.  Although the internet goes down frequently and we are not allowed to let students use a USB in our school computers, my students have bluetooth capabilities.  I can make all videos and other necessary flipped classroom materials on my personal Mac and bluetooth them to my students.  We have a unit on 1984 coming up around March.  I can use this book to teach them a variety of analysis skills and literary devices.  It’s a book I find my students require additional time to understand.  I can also provide them with videos to help them understand the historical context; something we tend to run out of time in class to focus on.

I appreciate any and all feedback.  I know I will definitely do the project listed for MUN this year whether or not it becomes my COETAIL project.  I am ready to take on the challenges of this major project in a country where people get excited by the landlines working!

 

Distraction

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Having taught at two schools now that require student laptop use, I have given much thought to the management of laptop usage.  In essence we have given our students a tool for endless distraction, a fun toy, and then we ask them to ignore all the games and other entertainment while they write an essay.  We are fighting an uphill battle in many ways.  Think about the average staff meeting where teachers have their laptops.  How many of them are really taking notes rather than playing on Facebook or chatting to someone across the room?  Perhaps I fear what my students are up to on their laptops during class as I am one of the biggest offenders.  I can blame my ADD all I want, but really it’s that I have limited self-control.  How can I ask my grade 8s to have more control than I do?

My grade 8s and their endless Mac products

But I do.  I walk around my room demanding Facebook and other chat sites be turned off.  In Yangon it’s all in the name of bandwidth, but let’s face it, I just want them to get to work.  The words “lids down” consistently comes out of my mouth and I spend time on my teacher Facebook account checking out who is online.  It’s a delicate dance.  Without the internet or computer access within my room, research would be impossible.  We simply lack the resources.  So the uphill distraction battle I will fight!

I find that a few classroom guidelines beyond the school’s limited AUP has helped.

1. Use of any chat program in class results in the loss of online privileges for the rest of the period.

2. Laptops are only used when necessary.  We have dictionaries.

3. A word processing program is essential.  Work handed in using Text editor is not accepted.

4.  Limit the number of screens that you have open.  Students do notice the extreme different when all of them are on at the same time and all have sites open that constantly refresh.

5. Playing games is never ok.  This behavior may result in being plugged into the projector for future online sessions.

In the end, like any educational tool, we must teach our students to use it

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appropriately and keep distractions to a minimum.  Staying focused is key to effective technology use.

Now, I should probably close all my open tabs and stop chatting with my four friends on Skype.

 

Connected?

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The online world has created a sense of global connectivity.  The use of computers and online social networking connects us all.  We are told that the future of learning and education is online social connection.  People continue to be lifelong learners as they now have access to others around the world and can connect to their educators from the privacy of their own home.

But are we truly connected? Technology is leading us down the road of independence.  Gone is the necessity for students to find their way to actual classrooms and interact with their peers face to face.  Concepts like MOOCs and  University of the People allow students to continue their education without ever setting foot in a learning institution.  Perhaps I am wrong, but I can’t seem to understand how this strengthens our connection.  COETAIL is a great example.  The people I regularly talk to from this course are people I knew before or meet in person since the start of the program.  How does a group of people sitting at computers around the world, typing, bring us together more than sharing classroom and discussion space?  I need to meet with people to feel truly connected and invested in our collaborative educational journey.      

The future of education is independence.  The future of education is self-motivated students who do not require teacher cheerleaders or incentives to learn.  The future of education scares me a little.

I don’t think the majority of social humans are ready for this independence.  Most of us enjoy our daily interactions with our peers, and something is lost when those interactions are moved to a computer screen.  

As a middle school teacher, I find a number of students every year who will struggle in this new independent educational world. They are not internally motivated.  Dan Pink explains in his video that humans are internally motivated when it comes to creative projects, but I wonder is that truly for middle schoolers?  I must prepare my students for this new reality.  My students don’t appear to be all that motivated by grades, or by consequences like detentions, or even the candy their math teacher gives them.  There is no one thing that motivates them.  In essence, the majority of my students seem to only work hard and well when they enjoy the project.  Ah, maybe they are more internally motivated than I give them credit for.  Maybe my middle schoolers have already moved toward the independent educational future where they will able to study what they like, when they like and from where they like.   As the embark on their journey into their educational future, I must let them go on their own to find their own motivation.  After all, independence is the future of education.

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