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.

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 (, 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 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.

Stager, Gary. Laptop Woes - Bungling the World's Easiest Sale (October, 2005)
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!


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!