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 I actually believe that the textbook's image of a podcast has already been outdated, because the book talks about podcasts from an audio-only perspective.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.