Saturday, October 22, 2011

Reflection upon Combining Learning Techniques with Technologies

My Initial Learning Theory
            Instructional strategies are not a new concept to most teachers, and are definitely not new to me. The traditional strategies used are a part of teaching and teacher tools. Good teachers vary their instructional techniques in their classroom, intending to reach all their students by one or more of the various methods. Strategies such as non-linguistic representations, feedback, cooperative learning, similarities and differences, and many other techniques may be effective; however, the previous seven weeks has shown methods and tools to take these strategies to new heights by the incorporation of technology. The integration of this technology must be done correctly, or it simply becomes another repetitious, expensive worksheet, detracting from the learning process instead of enriching the students' experiences. The learning strategies and technology, when blended correctly, have a true synergistic relationship that can bring all students to a higher level of engagement, leading to better and stronger long term retention of practical knowledge.
            At the start of this class, I was pleased to discover some true science that validated much of the actual learning process from our brains. The vital part of our brain, called the synapse, acts as a connection between memories and experiences (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011a). My personal theories of how a brain works, specifically that these connections can be strengthened with repetition, seemed to validate some learning methods, like practice and repetition. The more a connection is used, the stronger it becomes. Another concept was the power of the initial knowledge connection. If this initial connection is weak, then building its strength may be a monumental task; conversely, it can also be so strong that it remains strong despite the passage of time. The challenge of creating the powerful initial connection is just as vital as building existing connections.  
            Technology can be used in numerous ways, and it was proposed that there are two categories of its use, that of an instructional tool, and that of a learning tool (Laureate Education, 2011b). This delineation  is illustrated well by using an interactive whiteboard as an example. The use of the interactive whiteboard as a fancy chalkboard is an example of the instructional tool. There is no added value, or educational benefit from this use. If the interactive whiteboard is used to bring experiences to the classroom that would never have been possible, such as a virtual field trip, then it becomes a learning tool. When technology is a learning tool, as opposed to an instructional tool, the real benefits and values are realized. Student engagement, questioning, and application are used, all of which increase the connections in the brain, allowing for the long term retention of the knowledge. Another example, from an earlier time, is the use of calculators. If a calculator is used in a manner to allow the students to concentrate learning on the higher level concepts instead of addition, then a higher value of the calculator is realized. For example, students may be in a high school class in business, and they may be looking for financial trends. Without a calculator to do the math, the students' time is spent concentrating on the arithmetic, and their higher level analyses may never take place. The calculator frees up their brains to higher levels.
Classroom Adjustments
            Another instructional practice that was discussed was cooperative learning. I always recognized the power of putting heads together in order to get solutions, but this does not always apply itself well to a middle school classroom. Middle school students can be a challenge, easily distracted to the social goings-on of the school rather than keeping within the lessons of the day. Although I have attempted to group students on numerous occasions, there are times when this simply does not work. During this course, cooperative learning was a highlight of a week's work. I was struck by the recommendations from the textbook for group work. A powerful tool I had not used was that or positive interdependence (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007, p.140). The group must have the attitude of sinking or swimming together, each contributing to the success or failure of the group. This is an area I immediately revisited in my classroom. Once some additional requirements were implemented, the students responded well. I had previously used random and varied selection techniques to group students, which are part of the recommendations from the text, I was not holding the students, as a group, responsible. This seemingly minor adjustment has made a major impact on the cooperative learning in my classroom. We do not work in groups every day, because the students will still be required to assess their knowledge individually on tests and standardized tests; however, the initial connections made in a group setting can be more appropriate, and therefore stronger, than those made by the individuals.

Implementation of Technology
            I hope to implement quite a few technology tools into my classroom this school year. I have gotten a set of responders, which work in conjunction with my Smartboard. Similar to the Smartboard, the challenge of the responders is to use them as a learning tool as opposed to just an instructional tool. The responders provide several forms of feedback to the students. There is a summary of the students' responses that can be shared at the end of the lesson, which can help give a student direction to their required studying. The responders provide almost instantaneous feedback to the students, which provides a greater impact than the feedback at the end of the lesson (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007, p.42). I have used this quite recently in my classroom, and the improved test scores from prior years was remarkable. The level of engagement was much higher, and the specific feedback worked on several levels. Overtly, the feedback showed each student their strengths and weaknesses so they each knew what to study for on the upcoming test. Covertly, each student went away with a feeling like their effort in the class that day meant something, and gave them a direction that would provide additional positive results. Instead of the instructor , speaking generally to all the students, requesting that they review for the test, now each student was shown how they could pinpoint the specific areas that would best help them. For a first attempt, it was very powerful. I hope to continue to refine and improve upon the use of the responders.
            Another technology tool I am planning to implement is VoiceThread. An area that is difficult for  middle school students is public speaking, specifically presenting a project in front of their classmates. Each year, my classes have a long term project where they use a spreadsheet to spend a pretend million dollars. In the past, I have required the students to present their project to the entire class using the Smartboard. This use of my Smartboard falls under the instructional category, adding no value other than to project larger images. Some students seem accepting to the public speaking portion, and others are terrified. For this year, I will be asking them to use VoiceThread for their presentation portion of the project. They will be required to present their purchases, one per slide, using either the audio or video portions of VoiceThread. Once their presentations are completed, an additional step will be to comment on presentations from their fellow students, only with a twist. The students from section one will only comment on section two's presentations, and vice versa. Since all the students are part of the AVID program at my school, this crossover between the sections will allow for an interaction between them that has not previously been possible. The comments will also be part of the project grade. The use of VoiceThread will allow the students to script and practice their presentation, perhaps in a setting to alleviate their nervousness and anxiety, leading to a higher level of presentation. I believe this is an appropriate level of expectation for middle school students. The collaboration between the students is expanded to all their fellow AVID students rather than just their classmates.

Improvements and Moving Forward
            Technology can be a wonderful tool in our classrooms, and can be much more powerful if used to elevate learning. It is important to differentiate when technology adds value compared to technology being used simply for the sake of its own use. For example, in my previous career in product marketing, I was responsible for presenting profitability to our upper management. This was traditionally done using numbers on an overhead projector. In a particularly bad year, we switched to using a computer-generated, color graphic that was produced by a spreadsheet program. The colors and the presentation of the numbers overshadowed the importance of the numbers, masking a bad financial year. Eventually, the negative results became the message. We need to prevent this type of use of technology in our classrooms. Technology should be used to elevate the learning, not simply to fascinate the students.
            I believe the most important statement made throughout this course was made by Michael Orey when he spoke of the importance of “students are actively engaged in learning” (Laureate, 2011b). Technology can be an asset to ensure that students are engaged, and should be used that way. I have immediately started incorporating images into all my Smartboard screens. When the images are used in conjunction with the linguistics, allow the students to use both types of representations, thus having a better way to retain and recall their knowledge (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007, p.86). I believe that I am utilizing a wider range of learning techniques, providing additional connection paths for my students' brains to connect and retain knowledge in the manner best suited for them rather than my way.
            I believe I have already begun two of my long terms goals, and that this class has been responsible for providing me the means and justification for both. The first is the use of cooperative learning, and the second is the implementation of the responders. As I previously stated, the cooperative learning is powerful, and I have gained additional knowledge about the proper  implementation of the groups. I would like to have the students work in groups on a daily basis. At the present time, they work in groups about two days per week, and there needs to be a rationale for grouping, such as a project or an activity. With middle school students, the challenge has been a classroom management issue. If the students did not have group roles, then they would relapse into socialization. With groups, specifically with role defined and individuals held accountable for group success, the socialization has decreased. I intend to use this grouping and the successful grouping strategies earlier on in the middle school cycle. I loop with seventh grade students up to eighth grade. Traditionally, the group work in seventh grade is difficult because of the maturity level. I intend to start with groups as early as possible, and I believe that the succeeding is more likely with the additional grouping techniques.
            The second long term goal of using responders on a more regular basis is one of practice and refinement. The responders raise the level of engagement and participation, and the students need to be continually aware of the benefits gained from participation rather than simply clicking in an answer (Duncan, 2009). In addition to raising the engagement level, the lessons and use of the clickers need to provide the student with a tangible, real result. If the lessons are not kept fresh, then after repeated use, the excitement level will drop. I will be building a knowledge base of responder files, gathered from various places in order to maintain the effectiveness of the responders. Websites, fellow teachers, previous courses, manufacturer's samples, and self-developed files will provide me with effective and continually engaging lessons that utilize responders.
            The past seven weeks has been a well-organized and implemented, yet most challenging time. The background of how our minds work provided a logic basis for emphasizing certain expansions of traditional techniques. Coupling traditional learning techniques with technology showed how learning and engagement can elevate the brain synapses, thus creating and strengthening learning connections. More has been added to my teaching pedagogy. I have seen not only how to implement technology, but how to avoid pitfalls after the implementation period. Throughout the course Michael Orey's message that students must be actively engaged in learning, has been a focal point for me. Regardless of the means, if students are not engaged in the lesson, they will not retain the knowledge. Technology can assist the teacher in getting the students engaged, but it alone cannot lift the students or keep them engaged. The teacher, using a variety of techniques and resources, has the best chance of elevating student engagement, which leads to the best opportunity for student learning.

           
             
References
Duncan, Douglas. (2009). Tips for successful clicker use. Retrieved from The University of Colorado website: http://casa.colorado.edu/~dduncan/clickers/Tips.pdf.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011a). Program one: Understanding the brain [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from http://laureate.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5700267&CPURL=laureate.ecollege.com&Survey=1&47=2594577&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=0&bhcp=1

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011b). Program thirteen: Technology: Instructional tool vs. learning tool [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from http://laureate.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5700267&CPURL=laureate.ecollege.com&Survey=1&47=2594577&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=0&bhcp=1

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom
            instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Connectivism and Social Learning in Practice

Confusion Over Times and Rotations
Once of our assignments this week was to utilize an online collaboration tool called VoiceThread. We were free to choose any need, problem, or situation we are confronted with in our school or classroom. Our school changed its starting time to an hour earlier, and then implemented a rotating block schedule. These two changes far outweigh other issues, and cause me confusion and drive me to inconsistency in my classroom. If you have been in a rotating schedule, please take a look at my VoiceThread, and make comments, suggestions, or just add a sympathetic note. Every little bit helps!
The link to the VoiceThread is:  http://voicethread.com/share/2293544/

Connectivism and Social Learning in Practice
Cooperative learning has always been a powerful tool. In our school, we all have posters hanging up that speak of the WICR learning methods. W is for Writing, I is for Inquiry, R is for Reading, and C is for Collaboration. We know how powerful students helping students can be, whether it is learning in an academic classroom, or on the blacktop at recess. Although we all feel like we a good teachers, a peer perspective can be an important breakthrough teaching method.
Connectivism as a learning theory, explained and broken down by George Seimens, has three key roles. These roles are explaining how learning occurs, allowing creation of future models of learning, and helping to make sense of the present world (Laureate, 2011b). Together with Michael Orey’s definition of constructivism as social interaction while constructing (Laureate, 2011a), the practice of learning in a social environment can be powerful if done correctly. This is the challenge we face as educators in the implementation of a social classroom.
Orey also goes on to address the needs of the social classroom environment, breaking the material into three groups. The teacher needs to be sensitive and aware of what the child already knows, what they are able to learn at this moment, and what the student in unable to learn at this moment. Orey refers to these are the Zones of Proximal Development (ZPD). In order to achieve learning, he suggests that the highest layer can only be achieved by having a More Knowledgeable Other, or MKO, in the setting. This MKO can be the teacher, a peer, a parent, or even a resource like a computer. This MKO can assist the student to reach the higher levels.
In order for social classrooms to be effective, there are four recommendations from the text Using Technology with Classroom Instruction That Works (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007). It is recommended to use a variety of criteria to group students, using informal, formal, and base groups, keeping the groups to a manageable size, and combining cooperative learning with other classroom structures. While the text makes these generalized recommendations, it does not go into specifics of the criteria; for instance, what is considered a manageable size of each group? Will two students be sufficient, or are more required in order to have an MKO within the group? While I can appreciate that the text implies the teacher, who knows the classroom best, should be the one responsible for the groupings, having a theoretical example would have been helpful. There are two old sayings, first that there is strength in numbers, and the second of too many cooks spoiling the soup. Finding strength, while not spoiling the soup, is the challenge.
An additional challenge is finding the correct mix to optimize the collaboration or social learning. The mix of students, their abilities, group sizes, and numerous other variables into appropriate groups is the most daunting challenge of this social constructivism. I personally believe that middle school students should be challenged to interact with each other, breaking the elementary school “boys and girls” groupings that occur if the students are allowed to choose their own groups. In my class I use “buddy sticks”, which are nothing more than tongue depressors with a color, a college name, a number, and a shape on each one. The students can either choose or are given a buddy stick, and then I choose how the pairings occur, either by color, by college, or by shape. This way the students are not able to discreetly swap sticks so they get the same color as their friend. The students, knowing that the selection is random, do not complain about their pairings. I can also double up the pairs into groups of four, which is the largest grouping I use.

Figure 1 - Buddy Sticks.  Notice that the pairings change so that the students cannot swap sticks to be with their friends. The choice for colors, colleges, numbers, or symbol pairs makes the possible combinations numerous compared to just colors.

Once the groupings are completed and the students have relocated into their groups, cooperative learning can occur. Some instructional strategies work well in groups, particularly those activities that cannot be done by individuals. These include jigsaw and pair share. What I have seen is the power of groups when applied to those activities that we traditionally think of as individual, like homework, know-want-learn, and taking notes. In these cases, the MKO can act like a mentor or a director, keeping the group focused by assisting and facilitating the activity. Not only is this powerful from a resources standpoint, because we are only one person with 24 hours in our day, but it can also be powerful from a teaching standpoint. The MKO may re-teach the material from a unique perspective, allowing the learner to grasp the knowledge in a slightly different form than what the teacher originally intended. When this occurs, the brave teacher (and I consider myself brave) will allow the MKO to show their new perspective to the entire class. Each time this has happened, and it happens often in my class, there are additional students who now understand the material. A teacher who may be insecure will not allow control to be relinquished; however, those who cede their control momentarily are rewarded with a true learning moment.
Integrating technology and social learning simultaneously is a synergistic relationship. The diversity of the students’ technology knowledge is a wide range.  When paired or grouped appropriately, the result of students assisting others becomes very powerful. The MKO student feels empowered, and the learning student does not feel belittled. Both take on a positive role, and both benefit from the grouping. The text also recommends that a project be implemented in order to best use technology in a social constructivist classroom. The projects include webquests, movies, creating websites, and reaching out beyond the classrooms. Within webquests, for example, the students bring on their wishes to see different locations, views, and what is important to them. When they share these ideas and directions, their views of the knowledge are expanded, and the connections are made by the students. Although the connections made may seem illogical to a teacher, the students, and their peers, may find the connections absolutely rational.
All the groupings are their activities are in alignment with the ideas behind connectivism. Siemens states that education is like a weather system; complex but not complicated. There are so many factors, so much material with abundant information that the amount of knowledge is not the issue, but how the new knowledge gets connected, i.e. networked, to existing knowledge. If connectivism facilitates the networking of new knowledge, then groups, which add a new vision, technique, perspective, or other method to establish the connection, are vital.

Todd Deschaine

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011a). Program eight: Social learning theories [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from http://laureate.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5700267&CPURL=laureate.ecollege.com&Survey=1&47=2594577&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=0&bhcp=1

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011b). Program nine: Connectivism as a learning theory [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from http://laureate.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5700267&CPURL=laureate.ecollege.com&Survey=1&47=2594577&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=0&bhcp=1

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Constructivism and Constructionism - How do we build knowledge?

Constructivism and constructionism both have their places in our classrooms, and recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of each theory can assist in helping our students learn and retain knowledge. Technology, when incorporated with either approach, can facilitate the learning to higher levels that would otherwise be unobtainable.
Each person relates to new knowledge by actively constructing their own meaning based on prior experiences. Dr. Michael Orey uses the example of a chair (Laureate, 2011); specifically, how each of us has had different experiences with a chair. Since our experiences are different, therefore, our detailed definitions of that chair will be varied. Recognizing these differences in our students' prior learning can be used to our advantage if we can learn, recognize, and adapt our classrooms to the prior knowledge. For example, since I teach mathematics, my students have learned to multiply. However, they are split, about in thirds, to the method in which they learned to multiply. Some have used the traditional column method, some have used partial products, and others have used the lattice method. Each method has its own strengths and weaknesses, but if they are examined closely, each is really just putting the numerical place order in a different location. The students cling to their own methods, so I put them in groupings to teach their method to the other students who have a different method. By doing a compare and contrast exercise, they quickly discover the similarities between all three. Some students actually are angry that the methods are so similar, because they believed their way to be the best.
With constructionism, the students best learn when they build an external artifact or something they can share with others (Laureate, 2011). An example of this creation and expansion is given in Using Technology with Classroom Instruction That Works (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007); specifically an exercise that gathers and compares the pH of various water sources. The students gather data, which is eased and facilitated by using a pH probe hooked to a computer. The data is then entered, sorted, and graphed using a spreadsheet. The graphs allow an easy comparison of rain water, stream water, distilled water, and tap water. The students created the charts, so they had a real investment in the presentation and comparison of the data. The spreadsheet allowed the students to create the graphs in a reasonable time, so the effort and knowledge was spent on the analysis of the graph as opposed to the creation of the graph. The students are then judged on their analysis as opposed to the drawing. This comparison is the higher level knowledge skill, so the time is better spent.
I am lucky enough to incorporate several constructionist projects during my school year. One such project where my students can build something they can share with others is to spend a virtual million dollars creating their home of their future. The students use a spreadsheet to build a table which adds, subtotals, taxes, and then totals the prices of the items the students buy in their home. There are eight categories, including  a house, transportation, electronics, food, clothing, and miscellaneous items. The students must spend as close to one million dollars without going over. The spreadsheet facilitates the learning by eliminating the tedious repetition of multiplying, subtotals, and adding to get a total. The students add in hyperlinks to websites to prove the prices of their items, and at the conclusion of their project, must present their new house and its items to the class. When I am introducing the project, the students are more affected by the presentation portion. When they realize their work is going to be shared, the quality of their work improves. This gives the student a sense of accomplishment and pride, while showing the current beliefs and understandings to those around them. The students also construct a collage of their purchased items, along with their total. These collages, along with a printed copy of their spreadsheet, get displayed.
The use of the spreadsheet helps to overcome many challenges, both from the student and from the teacher. By using a spreadsheet, the need to check for correct arithmetic is eliminated. As long as the cell formulas are set up correctly, the totals will sum correctly. The students can then concentrate on finding items that meet the categories. The first pass through the items rarely comes within several hundred-thousand dollars of the million, so the students need to change items, prices, quantities, or a combination of them. Instead of being a boring addition exercise, the students concentrate on correct hyperlinks, ranging the prices to more closely meet the million. Within a few iterations, many students can even get within one dollar. After a little teamwork and brainstorming, a few students find a way to add a sticker, which costs a penny, to get the exact amount. Using the Internet for locating items expands their choices far beyond any newspaper or catalog. Besides allowing the students to find an item with the prices they are looking for, their choices allow me as a teacher an insight to their world, their wishes, and dreams. It is a project that is fun, assimilating the learning into the project.
I would like to take full credit for this project, but I cannot. One of my fellow teachers and I swapped a lesson idea, so I totally stole this from her. Because I stole it, I am duty-bound to share the rubric and a sample spreadsheet with anyone who wants it, as long as they keep paying it forward. The project I shared with the other teacher also uses presentation and collaboration. The students must construct a scale model of a famous landmark, such as the Eiffel Tower or the Space Needle in Seattle. The students do a web-quest to find pictures and dimensions of their building, and then they use scale factors to size their models. We use the Smartboard to project the image of the real landmark onto the scale model to judge the accuracy of the model. The comparison of the models is usually pretty close. The calculator and Internet allow the students to concentrate on the construction of the models rather than computing the dimensions.
Todd Deschaine

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program seven: Constructionist and constructivist learning theories [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from http://laureate.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5700267&CPURL=laureate.ecollege.com&Survey=1&47=2594577&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=0&bhcp=1
Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cognitive Learning and Adapting Instructional Strategies

There is a close relationship between cognitive learning and instructional strategies, specifically in areas that use technology. One of the aspects of cognitive learning is the inability to have more than seven thoughts in a person's short term memory. The more distractions, the less likely that knowledge will pass from short-term to long-term memory and be retained. Using technology can reduce or eliminate distractions, so it can be useful in areas that we may not fully appreciate. One example that is close to my heart is using Microsoft Excel to help with lower level mathematics skills so that the student can look higher and attain higher learning. Karen Casselman spoke of technology helping to facilitate learning by eliminating the tedious repetition (Laureate, 2011). Instead of concentrating on addition, the students allowed Excel to perform the addition, and then they could concentrate on the higher level knowledge of the lesson, in her case trending. It is important to note that Casselman's students did set up the spreadsheet formulas in Excel. Since the students are using their short-term memory to add, they cannot hope to achieve trend analysis. I did a similar exercise with my middle school students when we went through a unit on perimeter, and the results were much better with the use of a calculator, because the students needed to learn about perimeter rather than adding numbers.
Using rubrics is not new to most teachers and not new to the students. We use Excel for rubrics, which allows for the automatic calculation of the students' grades for a project. The rubric can be printed; however, the students get additional points if they use the electronic version. I read this suggestion in a section of Using Technology with Classroom Instruction That Works (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007) that deals with organizers. The base rubric has some consistencies, such as scores for grammar, citing sources, creativity, and organization. Each new rubric then gets specific entries; for instance, a biography on a mathematician would have a section for biographical completeness, whereas a mathematics dictionary would have a different section, for number of entries. The students, and the teacher, concentrate on the content of the rubric as opposed to the scoring.
Another section in Using Technology with Classroom Instruction That Works concentrated on note-taking. I was pleasantly surprised that they advocate teacher-created notes especially in this age of word-processing. It hit close to home for me, and brought back my college years. I initially struggled in calculus, and visited my professor to get help. He was sympathetic, and sought a solution. After a brief discussion, he suggested that I was paying more attention to taking notes than following the material. He told me to continue to attend his first period class to take notes, but then return to another section of the course he taught later in the day and do nothing but pay attention. My understanding went through the roof, and my grades returned. I attempted to implement the teacher notes with my classes two years ago, and it met with limited success. Several students felt as if they did not need to pay attention because the notes were already written. The students did not feel like they had input to their notes. As a bit of more information, I am part of a program called AVID, and we utilize Cornell Notes as our method of note-taking. So we reached a compromise. Some of the notes had the headings pre-entered so the students would enter their own notes. Other sections would be the opposite, where the notes were already there, forcing them to determine the main topic. When examples are shown, the students are still fully responsible for their entries.
Overall, cognitive learning, or the limitations of attentions may throttle the information retained. However, with some simple realignments and ideas, we can refocus the students to higher level thinking by eliminating the distractions. Technology can assist by eliminating the tedious tasks, allowing the students to attain higher levels of thought analysis. If we can get one of the slots of short-term memory of our students, hold onto it, and turn it into a conduit for knowledge to flow into long-term memory, then the use of technology, cognitive learning, and instructional strategies can work in a symbiotic way rather than be mutually exclusive.
Do you have any more ideas on how to focus the students to higher levels of learning? If they pertain to mathematics, I would enjoy your contribution to this blog.

References
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program six: Spotlight on technology: Virtual field trips [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from http://laureate.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5700267&CPURL=laureate.ecollege.com&Survey=1&47=2594577&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=0&bhcp=1
Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Combining Effort, Behaviorism, and Technology in Our Classrooms

Effort is typically a very difficult item to measure. Each person has a different self-measure of their amount of effort, and the corresponding result of that effort. A student may truly feel like they did all they possibly could to study for a test, but still score poorly. Another student, who scored higher, may not feel like their effort was enough. If it is possible to tangibly measure both efforts, it might just result that the student who believed they studied a lot had lower effort than the other student. Making the intangible effort measureable may be difficult; however, an example rubric of effort might be used to acclimate each student to the various levels of effort. Along with the use of a spreadsheet to record and track the efforts over a period of time brings the overt effort measurement along with a covert technology skill into the classroom. Students can track and then see the correlation between effort and test scores. Although the rubric only works if the students are honest and forthcoming in their self-analysis, some anonymous graphs would be a great starting point.
One section of the effort spreadsheet is homework. I assign homework from Monday through Thursday, and it should take an average of about 20 minutes to complete. Some nights will take longer, other nights might be quicker. The effort rubric breaks down the homework into four categories, the highest described as "I attempt all problems on every homework assignment, even if I think some of my answers might be incorrect. I refer to my class notes while doing homework". The lowest category, which by no means reflects the lowest possible effort, reads "I miss many homework assignments and skip many answers, particularly those problems that appear long or difficult. I almost never refer to my class notes when doing homework" (Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K.,2007). These guidelines add some actual examples of what to do and what not to do in order for the students to accurately judge themselves. The response from a student that they really tried can then be challenged, and corrections made to increase and improve the effort.
Effort should not be wasted on repetitive activity. The classroom of our past may have been one of endless worksheets and drills. It may have been tedious and boring, but most adults remember their multiplication tables because of the system of rewards that was in place. Accurate memorization resulted in high tests scores, which led to a better education. Failure to memorize led down a more serious and negative path. Educators in the past knew, and practiced behaviorism. They rewarded the good - good behavior, good grades, good citizenship; and punished the bad. In today's classrooms behaviorism still exists, although the teachers and students may not realize it is actually happening. Teachers use the approach of positive punishment to address uncooperative students, even when using contracts, listing rules, and stating consequences. This enables the students to act, and the teacher to react in the appropriate manner to the student behavior. Ironically, it seems like the students are providing the stimulus and the teachers follow with the result. A student calls out or gets out of their seat, so the teacher addresses them. It is the tail wagging the dog. Contrary to this practice, unwanted behavior that goes unrewarded will eventually be extinguished (Orey, 2001). The students receive no attention, so they may eventually stop the unwanted acts.
Technology, according to Orey, is used too often to remediate rather than to discover (Laureate, 2011). Computer tutorials may be fine to learn a program, but many educational programs do not develop knowledge, they simply reinforce. I have watched students use computer programs which repeat questions until they are answered correctly. The students might acquire the knowledge, but repetition occurs and the students learn to correctly answer the question from remembering the correct answer when they got it wrong on a previous attempt. There are software programs that require non-repetitive skills to reach a goal, which may be more of a challenge by requiring application of the knowledge for success. Other technology tools can be useful to vary the way knowledge is received. The use of videos, responders, laptops, and Smartboards all serve to keep the level of student engagement at a high level, which obviously enhances the learning process. However, a Smartboard that is used to show multiple problems quickly becomes a high priced white board.
Returning to repetition, homework and its place in the modern classroom, I think that repetition is sometimes necessary, especially when the introduction of the knowledge is weak. Although the drilling approach to learning may have a place, it ceases to be effective when overused. The repetition must also be creative and in varied contexts to necessitate the learning (Smith, 1999). Some knowledge is difficult to engrain, and students do need to develop and memorize, when it is in an appropriate context and on a limited basis. This may be why our parents had multiplication tables drilled into their minds until the knowledge became second nature. Varying the approach to teaching, with discovery, engagement, and appropriate repetition to secure the knowledge is an effective manner of transferring knowledge.
I hope you get a slight amount of insight into my classroom. Thanks for reading!


Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program four: Behaviorist learning theory [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from http://laureate.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5700267&CPURL=laureate.ecollege.com&Survey=1&47=2594577&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=0&bhcp=1

Orey, M. (Ed.). (2001). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/index.php?title=Main_Page
Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Smith, K. (1999). The behaviourist orientation to learning. In The encyclopedia of informal education. Retrieved from http://www.infed.org/biblio/learning-behavourist.htm

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Understanding the Brain Function for Better Retention of Knowledge

Introduction
            Students are models of diversity, their cultural backgrounds, religions, families, and economic stature all contribute to the individuality of each student. The learning styles of students can be just as diverse, with the style diversity distributed amongst intrapersonal skills, interpersonal skills, tactile, musical, visual, and auditory learners. The brain, research has discovered, is constructed of a unique biological series of components. These components allow the brain to develop, strengthen, and change, thus creating a learning and retention tool.
Personal Theory and Practice
            Research, specifically that presented by Wolfe in her video Understanding The Brain, show that the brain uses connectors, called synapses, to connect memories and experiences. These synapses can be strengthened by repetition, and can also weaken with non-use. The initial connection seems to be a key to learning and the retention of memories. We all have vivid memories, easily recalled, that puzzle us as to why we retain such a memory. On the other extreme, some knowledge is elusive, and seems impossible to recall even after using all types of memory retention strategies.
            My personal theory is that the strength of the initial connection, or memory, is crucial to long-term retention. If the initial connection is powerful and deep, we cannot help but retain this knowledge. However, if the connection is so vague or does not exist, then the memory has little chance of connection through the synapse. Once the connection is made, I fully agree with Wolfe that the synapse must be used in order to strengthen the connection. I do not believe that unused connections will sever; however, they do become so weak and irrelevant that their path is not used.
            Discovery makes the initial connection powerful. If a person, in our case a student, finds the knowledge on their own, the initial connection is comparatively deep compared to a the knowledge that is forced or presented. These are the light bulb moments that are often followed by the sounds of students realizing that they just "got it". Imagine a time when we find a short-cut on the road or computer, and wind up having a revelation; specifically, this revelation is a powerful connection. If a student discovers the material with some facilitation, as opposed to lecture, the knowledge is more likely to be retained over a longer period of time. Both strong initial connections, as well as those developed with use, move knowledge into an understood position of knowledge. An example of this is multiplication tables. Some students can see the groups of sizes, while others need repetition. The end result of both, however, is that most high school graduates can easily recall a multiplication product without having to work it out in their heads. People simply know that two times five equals ten; they do not need to use mnemonics, picture recollections, or paper to recall a simple fact.
            I also believe that the mind can be made to retain knowledge by repetition, which can be used to develop the synapses, retaining the knowledge. If an initial connection is weak, it can be strengthened to a point where the knowledge is retained. This method would require some work that would be more likely found in a classroom of a previous century, with worksheets, tables, and endless drilling of facts.
            My classroom is a combination of discovery and development. Since I believe discovery is powerful, I attempt to have students discover knowledge. There does come a time where knowledge is so crucial that it needs to have moved into the second nature portion of memory. I do not believe that this should be done with all facts, but used sparingly to assure that it can remain a powerful tool. Using a previous example, multiplication tables are so important that they must be second nature. Their use throughout life, applying to many other fields or study, merit the effort and time to assure that the person can recall the answers without conscious thought.
Conclusion
            Each student learns in their own manner, and targeting the most efficient manner for the group may be a self-eliminating process. If a teaching method is directed specifically to one student, other students may be at a disadvantage. If our students are diverse, so should the learning methods we employ in our classrooms, developing the brain's connections in a variety of ways. Research, along with common sense, shows the brain changes, develops, heals, and adapts based on sensory inputs. Varying those inputs, i.e. our teaching methods, may provide the best overall method for the obtaining and retaining knowledge to our students.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Reflecting On Technology in My Classroom

Changes and Improvements
            The previous seven weeks have brought many new experience to me, both personally and professionally. The work required to complete this class at a level acceptable to me stretched my technology skills. New software, new web pages, and fresh ideas for incorporating all of these into a learning environment for my students have all been a rewarding challenge that will benefit me in the long run.
            Creating and maintaining a weblog was a new venture. I had always thought that weblogs were for those people who felt the need to continue to have their voices heard, and that using the Internet was another forum. My perception was that weblogs were way too personal, leaving doors open to ridicule, repercussions from administrators, and that the weblog was simply a boring way to communicate. However, once I found the tools to help the reader, specifically a weblog reader which altered me to updates only, the weblog became a community forum, allowing communication between people. The weblog also had the ability to do more than just text, allowing me to post pictures, files of class notes, and even videos. The weblog of my initial perception had changed into a fully functional web page.
            Wikis were another tool that I had only used in a very simple manner, typically reading a wiki to find a hint on a game or to get some quick information. Creating and contributing to a wiki was new. Although I was within the class requirements, I felt way behind my fellow students, almost to the point where I felt as if I had no input to the creation, style, and use of the wiki. I soon found the benefit of the wiki, that being it is truly self-managed. While I was used to the old adage of too many cooks spoiling the soup, within a wiki, the more really is the merrier. Changes were made, items added, then the entire wiki got adapted again, and the final product was very functional. I wound up using and visiting many of the web sites that my fellow students had contributed.
            The last new item introduced to me was podcasting, which also allowed me to expand my knowledge of movie creating and editing software. I actually believe that the textbook's image of a podcast has already been outdated, because the book talks about podcasts from an audio-only perspective. I found that using video and audio was just as simple as audio only. In addition, with the powerful weblogs and hosting, as long as the video does not exceed a certain file size it can be hosted right on the weblog page without storing the file on an external file hosting service. I learned how to edit the movies, which was a very enjoyable experience. My two daughters helped me get started, and they thought it was exciting to be part of my project.
            All of these experiences have opened doors or possibilities for incorporation into my classroom. Introducing all the items into my classroom at once would lead to a failure; however they would be a huge asset and benefit to my students. For instance, I am planning to post the notes from each class, which I create using a Smartboard, to my school's teacher page website. Now when a student is absent, instead of coming to me and asking what they missed, they will take the initiative to get their own set of notes when it is convenient to them. Essentially my website will become a weblog of the class.
            Using a wiki as part of student projects is a great way for collaboration among the students, and a covert way to teach them about the creation, contribution, and responsibility of using a wiki. I assign four major projects each school year, one per marking period, in order to allow the students to work and learn different skill sets. Tests and quizzes are a traditional was of assessing knowledge, but the projects help the students to develop time management and planning skills, and give them the opportunity to use different skill sets not typically found in a mathematics class. Within each project I expect to create a use a wiki. IN the past, when a student required some direction on their project, they would come to me and ask for help. I obliged them by reviewing their work and giving suggestions. Because many students came to me for simple items, this step never really reached the higher levels on the project. By having a wiki, I can initially refer the student to check out ideas from their peers before coming to me. The intent is that the students will learn collaboration, and also will become creators, shifting from the projects being teacher-centered to the student, who then transitions into the learner.

Long Term Goals
            I will be using my previous business contacts to assist my classroom, specifically to obtain used computer equipment so that my room has a computer for each student. These computers will be a technology generation behind the state of the art equipment that can be bought in a store, but still functional and a benefit to the students. My school district, like many districts, is under a powerful mandate to decrease costs, and technology is seen as a luxury rather than an essential part of learning. If there are no expenditures for computers, then the obstacle disappears and the students benefit. Although these computers are considered outdated by the companies using them, the processing speed and hardware will function acceptably for the introductory work of a middle school classroom.
            Once these computers are in place, I intend to reestablish a computer skills and technology class within the curriculum of my school. The budget cuts forced the elimination of a dedicated computer class three years ago, which shifted the responsibility of teaching computers to the subject teachers. While I absolutely agree that the subject teachers should be incorporating technology, the students still need an introduction course to computers. Many students can use Facebook, Twitter, and run circles around me with a cell phone, but do not know even rudimentary computer functions, such as cutting, pasting, drop menus, and toolbars. Once the students learn these skills, the level of computer use within their subject classes will rise to a much higher level. I have already discussed this new class with several administrators, who fully support the class once the hardware is obtained.
            I also hope to keep abreast of the latest and greatest technologies that appear. I might not be able to afford to run out and purchase every new gadget, but browsing stores is still free, and being on the secondary wave of implementation is not always a bad thing. The first adopters tend to get the introduction issues and bugs worked out so that the secondary wave gets the streamlined products.

Constant Learning and Improvement
              The past eight weeks have given a tangible benefit to a great deal of talk regarding technology. Many sources speak of the benefits of technology, and the introduction of weblogs, wikis, podcasts, and the ancillary tools I used in order to produce these items have been real, usable, and beneficial. Instead of reading about an idea and attempting to imagine how it might benefit me, I now know how to create a wiki, or a weblog, and more importantly, how to use it within my classroom in order for my students to learn and improve. I hope to continue to keep moving forward, trying new software, playing with the latest gadgets, watching what comes up over the technology horizon, and allowing my students to teach me the newest greatest thing ever.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Video Podcast for Classroom Demographics

I really enjoyed making this video. The students represent the demographics of the technology skills in my classroom; there are some very high knowledge students and others who do not have computers. With such a large range of diversity, it is challenging to incorporate technology on larger projects.




video


I also want to thank my own kids for helping me to learn about Microsoft Movie Maker. Once they got me started, I found it pretty easy, but I would have been lost without their help!

Technology Natives and Technology Immigrants

I found the discussion between David Thornburg and Hall Davidson enlightening from a variety of perspectives. The first item I found fascinating was since the video was made in 2001, their discussions are more than ten years old, which is three to four generations of technology behind 2011. They discuss television as a comparison, and discuss Apple II computers as if they were state of the art items for today's teachers. I watched the video several times, and they did not even refer to the Internet, Facebook, blogging, wikis, MySpace, YouTube, and all the other technology tools available today that were not in 2001. Thornburg does not even mention Smartboards, referring to them as "interactive white boards".
                As their discussion developed, I felt that Davidson was more in alignment with my teaching style, especially when he mentions that teachers must adapt their teaching strategies to the students, regardless of the stage of technology. Davidson actually defines a digital native at one point by asking Thornburg if he watched television as a child, so Thornburg was considered a digital native. To be more specific about Thornburg, Davidson could actually more accurately define Thornburg as a television native as opposed to a television immigrant.
                I looked back at my childhood, and the great revelation in educational television was Sesame Street. Sesame Street showed us a diverse neighborhood where old and young, rich and poor, and people of many colors and beliefs all got along and lived pretty well. It taught us the alphabet and how to count up to twenty. According to a study done in 1989 by Richard T. Murphy entitled "Educational Effectiveness of Sesame Street, A Review of the First Twenty Years of Research", Sesame Street had "a significant positive impact on the pre-reading and school-readiness skills of children in the United States, and of children in at least four other countries - Australia, Canada, Israel, and Mexico." (Murphy, 1991). Perhaps children of my age could be classified as Sesame Street natives and Sesame Street immigrants. Teachers would were faced with a room full of Sesame Street natives may be able to accelerate their lessons because the students walked in knowing their numbers  and alphabet. A kindergarten teacher who had a classroom of Sesame Street immigrants would be several weeks behind, and ironically, might wind up using Sesame Street as part of their classroom pedagogy.
                I would venture that there are numerous definition points for our students when it comes to the native versus immigrant classification. Migrating from the 1970's with Sesame Street, there might be lines of definition by calculators versus sliderules, wired telephones versus cell phones, VCR versus DVD versus DVR, dial-up access versus wireless broadband, Facebook versus MySpace versus Tumblr. On a personal note, when I began college, the color television versus no television would have been an appropriate classification. There were no fewer than three of my classmates who wound up dropping out of college. These three did not have television at home, and literally watched so much television they would up failing all their classes.
                I believe that these classifications have existed for years, decades, and generations. Is there an analogy between each student having a computer now to each student getting their own textbook decades ago? Teachers would have changed their teaching styles and classrooms based on each student having their own book. Teachers now need to change their classrooms based on each student having their own computer. Perhaps education has not been as quick to develop as the rest of the world, but it has adapted. It needs to continue to adapt or else education will be the limiting factor in our students' development and success in their world to come.
                The discussion between Thornburg and Davidson once again validated the requirement that effective teachers get to know their students. The students' levels of technological prowess is simply another category of student diversity, much the same as their religious beliefs, economic status, or family situation. The more we know our students, adjusting our pedagogy to reach their levels of understanding, the more effective our classrooms will be. The biggest challenge is whether or not the individual teachers move forward with the development of technologies. Those teachers who choose to continue learning about the tools available will be the ones who reach their students more effectively than those teachers who choose not to evolve.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2010). Digital Natives vs. Digital Immigrants. Baltimore, MD: Author.
Murphy, Richard T. 1991 86 pp. (ED385553).  Educational Effectiveness of Sesame Street: A Review of the First Twenty Years of Research, 1969-1989. Educational Testing Service, Princeton, NJ.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Evaluating Skills for the 21st Century in a 19th Century Learning Environment

Partnership for 21st Century Skills
I had the opportunity to visit the Partnership for 21st Century Skills website (http://www.p21.org/), which is a national organization, sponsored by many of today's cutting-edge companies, to promote skills not being adequately addressed in our classrooms. In additional to the traditional curriculum subjects, the website seeks to promote three additional areas that are recognized for improvement in today's technology-driven world. These are life and career skills, learning and intervention skills, and information, media, and technology skills. I spent a good deal of time visiting the various areas of the website, and I had various reactions to the different areas.
The site is very well organized, with a good organization and direction to the various parts of the site. Being from New Jersey, I also spent some time at the break-out site for the New Jersey state initiative. I was a bit disappointed that there are only 16 states with initiatives. The New Jersey site basically repeated the initiatives from the main site, and there was nothing specific to the state of New Jersey. It had not been updated since 2007.
The main Partnership for 21st Century Skills website was restricted to the resources it offered, and it required a registration to access much of the content. However, there was another site, which was called Route 21, found at http://www.p21.org which had many links to websites. These sites, contributed by the registered users, varied greatly. Some linked to excellent resources, like the PBS TeacherLine. Many others did not link to active sites. None of the contributed websites I saw were newer than September of 2010. This was very disappointing as this initial views of the main website led me to believe this was a cutting edge resource. I sincerely believe that the time I would spend refining and eliminating the inactive links would be frustrating enough to limit the value of the resource pages.
I agree wholeheartedly with the message of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and I have strived to incorporate it into my classroom. We may be learning mathematics, but with every lesson comes the question of "How can we use this in the real world", or "Why do we have to learn this?". Sometimes the answer to those questions is a revelation to my students, and they are disappointed to find out that unless you are going to be a chemist, there may not be a reason to learn about Platonic Solids other than the state test. But they do respect that answer. I try to use appropriate examples of mathematics to show the rationale behind the learning. An example of this change is when the textbook has a problem about taxicabs. My students do not know about taxicabs because they do not live in a setting where there are taxis, so I adapt the problem to cell phone usage, which they all have. The students now have a connection to the problem, so they know the value in the solution. They also see a real-world application. We change many other lessons as well, like using recipes to teach fractions.
While the message of Partnership for 21st Century Skills was great, implementation of these skills is a challenge. In New Jersey, and more specifically my district, the pressure to pass the state standardized tests is immense. Teachers are constantly pressured to get the students to pass, and there have been no less than three new programs in three years specifically aimed at passing the test. There have not been any programs or initiatives in our district to these 21st Century Skills. In fact, computer classes have been eliminated, computer resources downsized, and computer labs are in a state of disarray. I was envious when I read the case study of Henrico County, Virginia purchasing a laptop for each student, but did not address the issues related to student use. As a result, Henrico county wound up selling the laptops to the public for $50, creating what was called an "iRiot" because of the public stampede to buys the laptops (Stager, 2005). Many states used Henrico county as justification not to move forward spending valuable tax dollars on technology. A district more close to my home, Lower Merion, is a very affluent district. They provided state of art Apple laptops to their students, but did not address the brave new world of regulating the technology. As a result, they are embroiled in a lawsuit over the improper use of a webcam, which was part each and every laptop. One would think that administrators and lawyers would get in front of this curve before they get destroyed. However, it seems like these anecdotes will prohibit many districts from progressing forward with technology.
Therein lies the challenge. In 2001 when Henrico County bought the 20,000 laptops, the economy was very different than today. Our district is strapped for every penny it spends, and under immense pressure to pass state tests that do not address 21st Century Learning. In an article about the importance of the new skills, there was an example of two students, one who memorized the date of the defeat of the Spanish Armada but did not understand the significance and effect. The second student did not know the exact date, but understood the effects of colonization of the New World because of Spain's defeat. So the student who obviously understood the overall history of the time would have scored worse on a standardized test, and therefore, continued the vicious circle of standardized testing. I absolutely agree that we need to be teaching additional, worldly skill to our students, but with an environment of administrators and politicians that cannot see the forest due to their focus on the tree immediately in front of them, it is a daunting task.
Another challenge is the inconsistency of our students due to the wide range of economic backgrounds, from very well financed to extremely needy. While most of my students, and students in the district, have access to the Internet at home, about 10% do not. These students will need access to the Internet, whether it is at a local library, or time at school. Since my school just decreased the number of computers in each classroom to one-third of the prior number, access will be more difficult. However, with some advance planning, perhaps some creative recycling efforts, and up-front discussions with parents, the projects that are planned this year will happen. I have cleared space in the decade-old curriculum to allow for two major projects that use Microsoft Excel and Power Point. I plan on getting a wiki started for my classes to share ideas and issues, and of course, keep teaching in ways that provide my students with problem solving skills and life lessons.  With all of this in place, I believe my students can achieve success on the antiquated standardized testing that we are forced to comply to, and they will achieve future success by developing their skills as 21st century learners.
Todd

References
Stager, Gary. Laptop Woes - Bungling the World's Easiest Sale (October, 2005) http://www.districtadministration.com/viewarticle.aspx?articleid=306
This entry is simply to add some different items to see how the links and files work. We will get back to the regular blog in the next entry!

Here's a picture of our class trip to Washington DC - our traditional picture on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  If you click on the picture you get a higher resolution view.  That's me in the bottom right!


To post notes from a class's notes for the day, we can use a pdf file and post the link.  Finding a site to file host might be the difficult part, but it works!
April 19 2010 class notes.pdf

And here is a movie about one of my hobbies - older Hot Wheels cars!

video

Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Using Weblogs as a Resource in My Classroom

In the movie, The Hunt For Red October, the captain of the Soviet submarine, making sure of his defection, recalled a story of when Cortez reached the new world, he burned his ships, and as a result his men were well motived to suceed. I am not ready to start burning ships, or bridges, but moving forward is the only direction.
I was pleasantly surprised to see how versatile and adaptable that weblogs can really be, and took time to reflect on how to utilize them in my classroom. While I appreciate the comments and critiques that can be a big part of blogging, I think that the most productive and largest potential for a class weblog is that of an information repository, growing into an interactive resource.
My intent is to set up and use a weblog in two phases. The first phase is for students to be able to retrieve daily notes, practice assessments, and other information about their mathematics class, grade team, and AVID program. If a student is absent or cannot participate, they can pull up notes and agendas in order to keep up with the class while they were out. This keeps the students as observers and users, similar to the Web 1.0.
Secondly, there will need to be rules and expectations set up, understood, and committed to by the students, fellow teachers, parents, and other users. I want to avoid chaos in the weblog, and absolutely will not accept any form of cyber-bullying as part of the weblog. Students can use this to ask questions, collaborate to get answers and procedures to get answers, and share ideas among all the participants.
There are several potential downsides to the weblog. First and most obvious is making sure that all students have access to the weblog. Given that many students and their families do not have a computer or internet access, there needs to be a venue for these students to gain access and therefore, benefit from the weblog.
Second, there have been incidents where teacher founded weblogs have been used to discuss people in a negative manner, and there have been severe repercussions to these teachers. In some instances, the consequences, in my opinion, were just, and in others there was an over-reaction. The blog will not be used to discuss individuals at any time, thus avoiding these situations.
Lastly, the weblog needs to be able to incorporate fun, which will prompt all kinds of visitors to the site. A problem of the week (or day), common questions about the work in class, quotes from famous people, this day in the history of mathematics, homework solutions, and test help should all be incorporated as well. The weblog needs to be promoted and talked about frequently, so that the users will see it as a real resource and a benefit for their learning.

Stay tuned - this should be fun!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Introduction Post - Dealing with the Frustration Associated with Educational Mandates

Today's Introduction
        The best part of teaching is actually being in my classroom, connecting to my students and helping them along their educational journey. I am always on the lookout and searching for new teaching practices to help with my teaching pedagogy; however, I get frustrated when an unconnected entity comes into my environment and insists I implement a strategy. Without the required background and research, most of these mandates are simply not applicable to the best teaching practices in my classroom. The implementation of the mandates leads to poor acceptance, resentment, and above all, the frustration of not providing the best learning environment to my students.
Background of Mandates
        During my research, I discovered that mandates are a perfectly acceptable part of our culture, and if they reasonable, they are implemented. The mandate for stopping at a red traffic light is a perfectly sane. All society needs to do is comply to reasonable mandates and life seems fine. I also found that the source of the mandate affects the level of reason; therefore, the more credible and connected the source of the mandate, the more credible the mandate itself. A policeman seems very credible to enforce the traffic laws, but would be looked at as a coercive influence if they entered my kitchen and told me how to cook macaroni and cheese.
        When mandates are perceived as unreasonable, they are dealt with suspicion. Teachers question the validity of implementation to the point where the mandate is subverted. I was surprised to find that unreasonable mandates led to cases of corruption and cheating. I was not surprised to find that mandates led to teacher frustration and stress.
My Course of Action
        It seemed to me that mandates are a cyclic beast. Good mandates lead to enthusiastic implementation, leading to better results, which in turn leads back to positive mandates. Unfortunately, the opposite is true as well. Bad results led to more unreasonable mandates, causing subverted implementation, which results is worse results. Some educational mandates have gotten so unrealistic that they are simply ignored. In some districts, teachers are given input at smaller levels of risk. An Alabama school gave their teachers input to the content of a single in-service day (Daane, 2001). The results were outstanding, most notably the reduction of "math anxiety" in the school. When I have input to a program, I will be more vested in the result. Since I am more connected to the program, logic would say that those details of the mandate are more credible and attached to my students. A better way to think of this connection may be to think globally but act locally, adapting and adopting national ideas to our local district or even my classroom. I am not alone in my frustration, and I see a plan of action and adaptation that may allow me to implement the best intent of a mandate while keeping the content reasonable and the outcome successful.
Monitoring Success
            Implementing good teaching practices is an ongoing process.  I have noticed that some of my lessons and tactics are adopted my other teachers, which shows me I am doing good things and is really quite a complement.  I have borrowed many things from other teachers, and it feels rewarding to give back to others.
            It may be difficult to monitor my frustration levels, especially in a time period when mandates are driven from everyone from the federal government to my next door neighbor. Stopping mandates is impossible, much like stopping the world from turning. I can collaborate with respected fellow teachers, research implementation strategies, and most importantly, continue to provide my students with the best possible teaching practices I can find.