Aug 31

This summer educators from across the U.S. and Canada traveled to Bentley University in Waltham, MA for the Discovery Educator Network Summer Institute. As an attendee I can definitely say that it was an amazing learning and growing experience and that I now have SO MUCH to share with educators “back home.” While we were at Bentley, each DEN STAR created a project highlighting ways to integrate DE content into your classroom. These projects range from teaching students how to cite sources from DE to using DE content in conjunction with a large number of web 2.0 tools. So as my first act of sharing with my teachers “back home,” I wanted to let you all know that all of the projects have been uploaded (by the amazing Porter Palmer) onto the Discovery Education site and are freely searchable by ANYONE with access to DE content.

In order to access this content, simply use DENSI2010 as your search criteria in DE.

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Here’s one really fantastic (and funny) example of what you will find when you search for DENSI2010 content. This particular video was created by David Fisher (Florida) and Dennis Grice (California) and will help you teach your students how to cite their sources from Discovery Education.

Jul 23

The clawThis week I was privileged to attend the Discovery Educator Network Summer Institute at Bentley University in Waltham, MA. It was an incredible learning experience! I it just such an uplifting experience being among so many amazing educators who share a similar vision for education as I do. To be able to converse and share ideas, gain resources, learn new skills AND have fun all at the same time makes the learning so much more meaningful and impactful for me. We started with some networking (the picture is from the networking trip into Boston), spent a few days in learning sessions and completed a professional development project for something in Discovery Education. We even got to view each others’ projects before we left and I was again blown away by the talent of my fellow STAR educators. The best part about the projects is that Discovery Education is going to upload ALL of them into their Professional Development section so that all Discovery educators can utilize the resources. Thank you DE for such an wonderful and educational experience – it will most definitely have a positive impact on my teaching!

Mar 26

I was excited and flattered when an instructor emailed me to ask if she could interview me for a class she is teaching about being a technology integration specialist. Since it is a class early on in the program it mostly covers what it means to be an integration specialist – what skills are involved and such. So the questions were pretty much what I expected: What would you say are your major responsibilities? What is a typical day like as an integration specialist? (This was the hardest question to answer as no two days are alike.) What advice do you have for those looking to become technology integration specialists? It is this last question that was both the easiest and I feel most important question she could have asked. And these are the main points of my answer:

  • Expand your Professional Learning Network (PLN) – I learn SO MUCH when I take time to read my RSS feeds and just “listen” to the education talk that occurs on sites like Twitter
  • Be approachable, but not a door mat. – It is important that the educators and students you support know that you will help them when they need it, but don’t do the work for them. If needs support keep your hands off of their computer if at all possible. This may possibly be one of the hardest things I had to learn because “I can do it faster.” But, if you fix the problems for them, they will come back again expecting you to fix another problem and won’t ever learn the skills themselves.
  • Don’t let your work take over your life. – It is so easy to sit down “for just a few minutes” with your computer in the evening and then realize that two hours have passed. One of my favorite aspects of my job is that I get to explore the internet for new tools and exciting ways to use them in the classroom. But this can be very time consuming and can cause you to feel overwhelmed if you are not careful.

There were of course a number of other things I could have said, but I felt these were some of the biggest ideas that I wanted to convey.  And of course as soon as I publish this post there will be even more that I wished I had added.

Mar 26

Have you ever noticed the number of people that are apparently on serious power trips in the world of education? From the physics instructor who destroys a laptop in class to emphasize that laptops are not allowed in his class. (What is this guys scared of anyway? That students might learn additional information than he isn’t giving in his lecture??) Or administrators that create rules for students simply so they can play “Gotcha!” when a student breaks the rules. To districts blocking Youtube, photosharing sites and a vast number of other internet tools all in the name of internet safety. Or the classroom teacher that simply feels that if they were capable of learning without all these “new, fancy tools” their students should be able to do so as well. All of these are intended to make sure everyone around knows “who’s in charge” and that deviants will be punished. 

But why? Why must there be keepers of the knowledge or controllers of the access? If our goal as educators is to make sure our students are prepared for life after school, why then are we actually preparing them for life thirty to forty years ago? Billie McNamara in an article title “The Skill Gap” states “Today, basic soft skills dominate workplace needs: interpersonal and intrapersonal knowledge; skills and abilities such as ethics, personal organization and work habits; time management; teamwork and interpersonal communication; anger management; reasoning and problem solving; and managing one’s learning.” How are we preparing students for a work environment that requires them to manage their own time, work with others, manage their own learning and solve problems if we are controlling every move they make? It seems to me that we are moving students in the exact opposite direction of where we want them to be by NOT allowing them to think for themselves or have any say in the direction of their learning. 

Personally it is so rewarding to give students the power select which tools they will use in the learning process and to give them a say in how to reach the learning objectives. This not only allows students to learn those “soft skills” that so many employers are looking for in new employees, but it actually reduces stress on the teacher – it’s really quite liberating. So what do you say? Can you give it a try? Just let go…

Mar 26

Textbooks are a staple in most classrooms and can be a great resource for teachers. The problem I find (not that I am even close to the first person to realize this) is that a large number of teachers use their textbook and accompanying teacher’s guide as the ONLY resource for teaching. This is prominent from kindergarten all the way to post-secondary education. The problem with this is that teaching from the textbook shuts the door in the faces of students and locks them into their classrooms. Our world holds so many resources for educators – all we have to do is open our eyes and minds and look for them. 

Students today are collaborative, communicate with their peers on a highly frequent basis, create, explore, adapt, and design – except when they are in school. Often times when students enter school they are asked to “power down” their phones, computers, and themselves. On their own, students use technology to explore their world and communicate with others. But in their classrooms, many times the option to use those tools is not available to them. In a large portion of these classrooms, the reason isn’t a lack of access, but rather teachers simply aren’t allowing the students to use the tools available to them.  This lack of use is usually born out of one thing – fear. A fear that the technology may not work properly, a fear that things may not “go as planned,” a fear that the students might abuse the technology, and probably mostly a fear of not being the expert in front of students. While it is okay to be afraid, it is not acceptable to allow that fear to prevent you from creating a more appropriate learning environment for students. Even if nothing works they way you plan and the students end up having to show you how to use the tools, the learning that will occur in that time will be completely worth it. The experience may even allow you to see strengths in your students that you may have never before seen.

If you are reading this post you are probably not tied to your textbook, but I’m willing to bet that you know someone that is. So why not offer up a few ideas to that person that will help them expand a learning environment beyond their classroom walls, or at least beyond the covers of the textbook? Introduce someone to the power of the internet for not only creating more engaging learning environment, but also as a way to extend their own learning network. If you’re just starting to explore your options outside of your textbook, seek out another person to either explore with you or someone who could act as a mentor and guide in your journey. Trust me, whether you enter the partnership as a guide or “student” you will find yourself learning from the experience and eager to do more learning and exploring.

A couple of days ago someone on Twitter posted a link to David Warlick’s article If you can’t use technology get out of teaching! which inspired this post, so thanks to my PLN in Twitter (and David Warlick of course.)