January 2010

During the last two weeks my EC&I 832 class has explored Second Life. I had some technical difficulties with computers, installation, mics and sound. I visited Second Life for an orientation then on my second trip for our tour I felt discouraged by the problems. I looked back to check what I had written on my first trip in 2008.

“March 13, 2008: Last night was my first foray in Second Life. My EC&I 831 class from the University of Regina toured Second Life last night with the help of tour guide Kirk Kezema from the University of Saskatchewan. The first challenge was to create an account and an identity in Second Life. I am Global Chesnokov. Now, if you don’t know how this works you are allowed to choose your first name then there are choices for your last name. I chose Global because at the time I had the tv on the Global television network and their logo/name was on the screen. Next I had to choose what I looked like. Unfortunately I made the same choice as two other people in my class so we had triplets wandering cyberland last night. I could only tell it was me when I read my name above my head. If I was going to do this again I would personalize my identity. I now had to install the Second Life program to my computer. Well, my school MacBook wasn’t letting me do much and the browsers weren’t recognizing the Second Life url for my tour. I tried on my PC at home. I installed the program then the flashing blox came up telling me that my video cards were too old to support the program. Finally, I used my husband’s brand new HP laptop with a 17″ screen. He said I could use it for the class and then he was uninstalling Second Life. He couldn’t imagine what sort of educational value playing a game could be.”

Hmmmmm…sounds like I had the same difficulties two years ago when I was trying to access Second Life. This time my school MacBook wouldn’t allow a Second Life upgrade so I couldn’t access the site. It was back to my husband’s HP laptop. Did I mention that I had no idea where his audio controls were when I finally got into Second Life?

” March, 2008: Okay, so now I’m in Second Life and I’m teleporting to our i place which is the EECM Meeting Hall. We meet in a virtual lecture hall and are asked to sit down. Sounds easy right? Guess again. We looked like a group of kindergarten students trying to form a circle. It was truly sad. Finally our leader was able to organize the virtual world neophytes and explain what would happen on our tour.”

“We lost people on the tour, we had to learn to walk straight and follow our guide and others kept sitting down at unexpected moments.”

This also sounds familiar. My new group was wandering around, we lost each other and had to get teleported back to the group. I ended up in a few strange places and then had to ask to be brought home again.

I see the potential for education and the way it could enrich student learning. Unfortunately, each time I’ve tried it I’ve experienced technical problems which frustrate me. The technical problems alone would stop me from using Second Life with my students because I think that if I’m frustrated I can’t imagine how a class of students would feel. I’m not shutting the door on virtual world learning but right now Second Life isn’t for me.

I just finished reading Ewan McIntosh’s blog “Personal projects are often worth more than professional ones. What’s stopping you?”.

The post describes how our personal projects outside of work can be the ones we value most.

It’s all too easy to relegate our personal projects to the bottom of the pile until “the day job” is complete. The result? We nearly always end up having to leave creative, fun, new projects behind in the interest of ticking someone else’s boxes, when those same personal projects could be the very innovation that make the difference.”

The post started me thinking about my personal projects and the satisfaction that I gain from them. For me the most satisfying projects are the ones I design that support the curriculum but also reflect who we are as people. The projects that I work on with my students are ones that have me interested and support my learning about the world. I like projects where there is a learning curve for myself and my students that challenges us to think in new ways.

Occasionally, these types of projects can be frustrating because the students’ learning curve isn’t as fast as mine or what seems obvious to me isn’t obvious to them. Sometimes I also forget that this year I’m teaching grade 5&6 and not 6&7. Believe me, there is a difference. My grade fives are not as independent as grade sevens and certainly aren’t as good problem solvers. I’m sure that by the time the school year is over there will be many changes in how they learn.

The projects I work on with my students are what makes my job interesting but the best part is when the students make the projects their own. Once the students take ownership of a project it takes on a new course and begins to reflect who each student is as a learner.

The blog post ends with a this great question “What’s your personal project, and what’s stopping you just getting on with it?”

So…what’s stopping you?

I’ve just finished reading the essay The Song Remains the Same: Looking Back to the Future of Educational Technology Punya Mishra, Matthew J Koehler, Kristen Kereluik. TechTrends. Washington: Sep/Oct 2009. Vol. 53, Iss. 5; p. 48. I’ve read  and reflect on the essay for my EC&I 832 class.

Mishra, Koehler and Kereluik (2009) suggest “the power and potential of educational technology must be acknowledged to reside within educators and not within objects” (p.52). They call for a focus “characterized by creativity and flexibility of thought and experimentation by educators with their own educational technology designed to meet specific, immediate needs.”(p.52)
What do you think needs to happen in your context that would allow educators to “forge a new path that does not merely retrace the past” (p.48).

Wow, I read then re-read the above quotes and thought about how they apply to me and my teaching practice. I also wonder how they apply to my co-workers then to my entire school division. Throughout my entire Master’s program I’ve taken opportunities to study the integration of technology through the lens of a particular class. I’ve researched how reading and reading assessment can be enhanced through the use of technology. I’ve studied how integrating technology into my reading program can benefit my students and increase their reading levels along with their comprehension. I’ve read and discussed articles looking at the integration of technology in early childhood education and the benefits to young children. I’ve searched, researched and wrote papers on the professional development necessary for teachers in order for them to successfully integrate technology into their teaching practice.

Throughout my reading, research and many discussions the biggest stumbling block seems to be fear. Many teachers are scared to try something new, especially technology, because what happens if the students know more than they do? In the article the authors describe the reactions throughout history to new innovations and those reactions were all fearful of change. How do you change the fear of change? There will always be people willing to jump into something new with both feet and not be afraid of failing. I think teachers need to stop being afraid of not being the experts. We don’t have to know everything about the technology we’re using but we do have to willing to try something new. Students don’t need us to be perfect but they do want us to expose them to new ideas and experiences. Students also don’t care if we make mistakes especially when we’re trying to use and incorporate new technology in our classrooms. The biggest challenge is to realize that some days it might not go well and it’s a good idea to have a plan B up your sleeve. To me what makes a good teacher is someone who’s willing to step out of their comfort zone, make mistakes and become life long learners with their students.

One of my challenges this week is to find out what my compass point is.

“Take a moment to think about your current coordinates. The resources below cannot define your coordinates in their full dimensions, but they can guide your thinking about where you are and where you might want to head.”

I was asked to look at The LoTi Framework and the NETS standards from ISTE. I have looked through these in the past and even had my students complete a NETS quiz for students. Last year our staff completed an exercise to rate our school use of technology using the LoTi Framework then rate ourselves.With my class this year I believe I’m at a level three:

“Level 3 – Infusion
At a Level 3 (Infusion), the instructional focus emphasizes student higher order thinking (i.e., application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation) and engaged learning. Though specific learning activities may or may not be perceived as authentic by the student, instructional emphasis is, nonetheless, placed on higher levels of cognitive processing and in-depth treatment of the content using a variety of thinking skill strategies (e.g., problem-solving, decision-making, reflective thinking, experimentation, scientific inquiry). Teacher-centered strategies including the concept attainment, inductive thinking, and scientific inquiry models of teaching are the norm and guide the types of products generated by students using the available digital assets.
Digital tools and resources are used by students to carry out teacher-directed tasks that emphasize higher levels of student cognitive processing relating to the content under investigation.” http://loticonnection.com/lotilevels.html

My students are a group of grade 5&6 students who were new to blogging and using internet tools at the beginning of the school year. The students still carry out tasks that I assign for them and are slowly beginning their own exploration. In the past I’ve had classes where the students were operating on a level 4-5 and use of technology a routine part of their day. My students have also just begun working on their first collaborative project that will allow them to communicate with other students around the world.

When I looked at the ISTE standards for teachers I looked at the individual categories and thought about how I am incorporating them. Do I give my students opportunities for creativity in the use of technology and project completion? Do I develop and design digital learning environments? Do I model the use of technology and learning through the use of technology to my students? Do I promote digital citizenship and show my students the responsible use of technology and computers? Do I continue to learn, upgrade and participate in professional learning opportunities for the integration of technology in the classroom? I know that I’m better at some parts than others especially the creation and participation in projects and project based learning. I know that I promote the use of technology throughout our subject areas and try not to be too prescriptive with the students on what tools they use.  I don’t do as much assessment on the use of computers tools or use technology for assessment as I could. The list of standards is a good reminder of how I want to teach in my classroom and want goals I should strive for in my teaching.

I’m still contemplating the results of the three quizzes I took and the results about my learning style. I started to think about the ways in which I tend to learn new computer applications or the use of web tools. I rarely read the instructions but tend to go head first into using it then watch a tutorial or ask questions after.

I think this describes how my learning curve has transpired. When I was introduced to my first class blog almost three years ago I was hooked. Thanks to Grant Urban’s presentation at a Middle Years mini-conference for Regina Public Schools I had finally found my niche within my school. I started slowly introducing myself and students to classblogmeister. I found that I liked to learn by finding my way through the blog as opposed to reading information or asking Marnie questions. It was the same when my students experienced difficulties using their blog, we all learned to trouble shoot together until one of us figured out what to do. Each time we tried a new online tool we did the same thing and kept trying until we knew what we were doing. My students and I grew together with none of us being “the” expert but instead everyone became an expert on some application, how to embed videos, post pictures, add widgets and the biggest thrill for us was creating headings for our pages using Rockyou.com. My learning curve was steep but so was the learning curve for my students because we all learned together and expanded our knowledge as we made our way through our blogging year.

The next year half of my class was new to blogging, using Web 2.0 tools and using the computer for anything other than word processing. My students were pumped to be the “experts” and were soon impressing the new students and becoming tech experts for other teachers. That year we added the use of wikispaces and our first collaborative projects including the Iditarod project.

Each year my new students are introduced to blogging within the first few days of school and I slowly add new tools for them to use. I introduce the idea of what we’re doing, show them how to log on then let them explore. I try not to show them everything and instead I want them to discover how to use the sites themselves. I want the students to follow their own learning curve but also want them to learn how to share ideas and learn together. Occasionally, I have students who want more direction because they have different learning styles and fortunately there is always another student willing to walk them through our new learning.

I look forward to learning, exploring and challenging myself to keep climbing my learning curve. I can’t wait to see what my students and I discover this year.

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