Monday, August 24, 2009

New tech and patience

Today I downloaded Skype on my home computer, and it gave me a snapshot of what I find both interesting and frustrating about new technology. The good news is that the program downloaded easily and I was able to make a video call. The bad news is that my voice keeps dropping out. I tried the obvious solution of lowering the volume of my microphone, but with no improvement. I've decided to try a different microphone...after a bit of doing something else to get used to the idea.

New technology clearly takes a lot of old-fashioned patience and willingness to tinker :-)

In the meantime, I've submitted my request to take portions of my class wiki public to my school's administration. The initial response was quite positive, but this would be a new step for our school, so the decision needs to be run through some other folks. I'm hopeful.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Step 2A - the NECC Conference

The 2009 NECC Conference, a big gathering of those interested in education technology issues, convened in Washington this past June. I heard about it relatively late in the year, so I went for a day on my own nickel. To be honest, I spent most of my time there in a state of overwhelmed be-gogglement. I did take in an excellent session by Steve Dembo on his Top 10 Free Web 2.0 sites for teachers. I also enjoyed the Global Connections in the Primary Classroom presentation. I'm thinking of this wiki as a possible model for what I would like to do this coming year. I also wandered among the student presentation and the venders hall. I know that I didn't get as much out of it as I could, but one has to start somewhere, and I feel that it was very useful to me.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Step 2 - What I did last year

To pick up the story from Part 1, after I heard Meg Steele's presentation at AIMS and during the time I was taking the 23Things course, I created a classroom wiki through Wikispaces. I have to say that the Wikispaces support staff was very helpful to me while getting this wiki set up. Being a naturally cautious person, I kept access to the wiki limited to members, that is myself and my students. I also built on the experience of one of my colleagues, Laurel Seid, who set up a similar wiki for her course.

My first project involved posting short papers on a historical personality on the wiki, which worked well both for my correcting the papers electronically but also so the students could get to know how the wiki worked.

After that, I expanded the wiki by using it for a project called "U Teach Em", where students summarize an event covered by a chapter or two in our history textbook, write it up, and present it to the rest of the class. I had my students outline the important parts of each chapter and post them on the wiki. After the students gave their presentations, they chose questions, which I used for a quiz. The outlines worked as a backup study guide for the quiz.

At the end of the year, working off an idea I got from a blog (sorry, I don't remember which one), I asked the students to write book reviews and post them on a separate section of the wiki. Since it was the end of the year, I didn't get a lot of reviews, but I'm hopeful that I can carry over that section of the wiki over several years.

My aim for this year is to take the wiki public, that is, allow anyone to see it, but restrict editing it to members only. This seems to be the normal setup for classroom wikis. Having the wiki visible will not only help parents see what is going on in our class, but it will also be useful in my efforts to reach out to classrooms around the world. We'll see what happens.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Reaching out

One of the resolutions I made for this coming school year was to reach out and establish contacts with classrooms outside the US. A few weeks back, I went onto ePals and registered, and this week I found profiles of classes in Belarus and France who were looking for partners. I emailed them, and today I got emails back! I'm excited! I'd like to set up something like an email exchange with each class, and it appears that ePals can do that. More later.

From Vicki Davis's blog, Cool Cat Teacher, I found the Flat Classroom Project, which is another project dedicated to forming international links between classes. I didn't find the site particularly easy to understand, but part of it is a forum of classes looking for partners. I sent an email to a school in Qatar, and got a response, and I'm hopeful that I can nurse that along as well.

Btw, I find Vicki's blog very useful, if a bit overwhelming. If you get a chance, check out her "Most Valuable Posts" (scroll down the right side of her page until you get to it).

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

How I Got Here, Step 1

Last fall, I went to a talk at our local AIMS conference by Meg Steele about Web 2.0 technologies. She told us about an on-line course for teachers called 23 Things and run by Shelly Paul. I worked through the course last spring and learned a lot. Now, I'm trying to apply some of it.

Also last fall, I set up a class wiki through Wikispaces and tried some things with my students on it. See my later blog, "Step 2" for more details. My project this fall is to expand it and get permission from my school to allow people to view it on-line.

One of the things I've learned is to start gradually and start small. I find the amount of information available a bit overwhelming.


Know that chill that goes through your body as you dip your toe in a chilly pool? I’m so there at this point, as I dip my toe in the world of Web 2.0 and blog about it. Right now the pool is chilly because I don’t know a lot about it; I’m hopeful that, as I learn more, I’ll get used to the water.

Today my thought is less on web 2.o than on teaching in general. I read Sarah Fine’s article yesterday in the Washington Post about why she was leaving teaching. Sarah left the Washington DC school system after five years of teaching. One comment she made was, “When people ask me about teaching, however, what they really seem to mean is that it’s unfathomable that anyone with real talent would want to stay in the classroom for long.”

So why have I stayed for over 14 years? Simply put, I teach because I enjoy being with kids, learning new things, and doing something worthwhile. I think I do have some talent or gift for teaching, and I work consciously to get better at it. I’m not a hero; I don’t teach lots of students in an inner-city school beset with budget problems and intractable bureaucracy. But I did choose teaching over the ‘more prestigeous’ field of government worker, even though it took me 12 years in education to make as much as I made when I left government.

Part of my commitment to ‘lifelong learning’ is learning about web 2.0 tools. I’ve had help, and maybe I’ll write about that help tomorrow. Learning new things is not easy for me, but I’m doing this because I’ve become convinced by people a lot smarter than I am that web 2.o represents the future of education.