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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Do You Walk the Walk?

What do you get when you mix ISTE and NASA resources, a select group of educators from across the globe, and a challenge to create educational artifacts for teachers and students to learn about the Magnetospheric MultiScale Mission (MMS)?
You get educators walking the walk- incorporating web 2.0 tools and networking skills to build an international learning community – starting with a base camp at the Iste-Nasa Cyber CafĂ© Wiki and branching out to use Edistorm , Skype, google docs, Voice Thread and other tools  just to begin.  What a great learning experience to explore and utilize the capacity of some of these tools.  It increased my skills, exposed me to some great new tools and ways to use some old ones.  It also taught me the power of online collaboration with like and unlike minded educators.
 The results?  A series of showcases waiting to be unveiled on March 27th at a synchronous celebration. 

Sneak Peak
I can share a little of ours now.  I had the pleasure of working with Jennifer Miller and her students in Dublin Texas and Tom Chambers a teacher of technology applications from Houston, Texas.   We put together the “Take the MMS Challenge” which features student research, application of the scientific method and culminating in students working as engineers, physicists, artists, or journalists to help others understand why the MMS mission is relevant in our everyday lives.
Our project can be found in this livebinder  with teacher guides, student activities, resources, web 2.0 tools and enrichment activities.  Feel free to get in there and “test pilot” the project or individual activities.  We would love your feedback!
Interested in introducing your kids to the mission, the Collaborize Classroom library has custom made questions in their library ready to go with links to some great videos and current events.  Great way to get kids reading informational text and writing for an audience!  Want to go further?  Try out the new SCAN lesson designed to get students to explore the relevance of the mission from different points of view.   “Space Exploration and You: SCAN The NASA MMS Mission” is a new free SCAN scenario designed to get kids thinking from different perspectives about the relevance of the mission. 

Now what?
Needless to say, it was a wonderful experience to walk the walk and integrate all of these tools to successfully make a professional learning community that spanned across the globe.  I am wondering how educators create these wonderful communities of learning for their students but do not create the same for their colleagues? 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Teachers Value Increases with Technology

I heard a story the other day about a man who slipped a disk when he was young and had extensive surgery resulting in a six inch scar and a six month recovery period (and a whole year out of PE!).  Ten or so years later, he slipped another disk.  This time the surgery was not as extensive, the scar not as long and the recovery period was shortened to a week or so.  Recently a friend of his had the same surgery.  This time it was out-patient, a half-inch incision and back to work two days later.  We all know that there have been great advances in medicine through the wonders of technology, but even more amazing was all three surgeries were by the same doctor.   Of course, we expect our doctors to keep up with all the latest techniques and technology – or be the target of malpractice suits.

The gentleman telling the story (and main character) was Jon Landis, a former educator and Development Executive with Apple Inc. at the recent NJAET conference.  Although I may not have gotten all the details of his story perfect, I did get the point.  His point was that technology has drastically changed the way that we all work and learn.  Teaching is no different.  Technology is not replacing us but making us more valuable.  We cannot stay in the classroom and ignore the communication revolution that is all around us.
Landis pointed out that "your value as a teacher is no longer your ability to deliver content, content is free, content is ubiquitous, content is good."  We may have been replaced as content providers,  however, our job is even more important now.  Students need to be able to digest content, not just spit it back out.  We need to help our students understand the context, take it apart, and reassemble it into relevant connections and original thought.  No easy task.

He is right, of course, content is ubiquitous.  One need only look at the various free offerings from Kahn Academy (over 3000 videos to “Watch. Practice. Learn almost anything for free.”) or through iTunes U (with a growing library of courses and the ability to create your own) to see the overwhelming amount of content our students hold in the palm of their hand.  Class time, then, needs to become the time that students “play” with the content, contextualize, collaborate, apply and synthesize.
This is where having a good grasp on strategies to get our students thinking critically and creatively comes in to play.  We need to become the problem person, not the answer person.  Our classes need to be creative, with hands-on activities and engaging discourse.  I have found that online discussion platforms strengthen engaging discourse by democratizing conversations, allowing every student an equal opportunity to contribute.  These discussions can engage students in powerful ways, providing rich introductions or extensions to course content.

There is great power in using TED talks and activities to get students thinking about further applications and connections to course content.  Integrating tools such as SCAN (with the built in critical thinking strategy and representing different perspectives) and Collaborize Classroom  (with a full library of higher level thinking activities and interactive discussions) gives our students the opportunity to take an active role in their learning and provides teachers with a simple to implement lesson upgrade.

The bottom line is that, we, as teachers need to embrace the technology (As Landis stated “the internet is not a fad”) and adjust accordingly.  Just like our students, we need the time to “play” with all of the great content we receive on good teaching, time to practice, collaborate, and upgrade our lessons.  Start with some simple tools, one lesson or unit, one homework assignment, but get started.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Keeping it Real

Terry was my mentor, my dept chair, my boss, my friend and my partner in crime (we did have a lot of fun!).  He was a master teacher.  He taught me everything I know about getting students engaged in learning.  I am not sure how he would have done up against today’s rubrics, with all the ubd’s, plc’s, and lmnop’s.  I do know that he made a difference in kid’s lives and they learned a lot from him.

Terry was all about keeping it real.  His classroom was outside.  He taught kids about all of the living things around them.  He had bee hives up on the roof of the school.  Children climbed a ladder, donned bee gear and tended those hives.  They laughed if someone got stung.  No one was sued; no one was hurt; kids were excited and amazed.  He had kids make museum collections out of the insects that died in light fixtures.  They mounted them on pins, classified them and displayed them.  He took the class fishing, “dissected” the fish, and cooked it over a fire for them.  He had students pick up rocks in the streams to find and identify the organisms that lived there.  He took them to the ocean with seining nets.   Every day was an adventure in his class.

So I have been thinking about my roots and wondering if technology had somehow led me away from my roots.  Is technology being used to replace real experiences?   Are we still rolling marbles down the ruler or are we watching simulations?  Is technology taking us away from “real science?”  I do believe some companies would love for that to happen.  I also believe that technology can be used to enrich and enhance these activities just as it does with “real” scientists.

Think of all the possibilities that technology can put in the palm of our student's hands (like the tablets now being used by the CSI on TV).    How cool is it that students can document their findings in the field with pictures?  Or record the work of the insects on video?  Or use the internet in the palm of their hands to identify species?  Even Terry Patterson would have liked to watch the blood flowing through the tail of a fish under the microscope up on the big screen!  And he probably would have been proud to have been blogged about!