The Worth of Educational Technology

I wanted to direct you to Digmo’s blog post titled “Is Educational Technology Worth It?” This is something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit and I appreciate his post.  I added a comment about the two things I think are crucial to effective technology integration: training on how to integrate tech into your content (beyond the on/off switch and fancy do-dads) and time for teachers to figure out how it will work best for them.  Also check out other posts on Digmo’s blog.  He has some good information.


Tweet Tweet! Twitter in the Classroom

“Twitter may either be the greatest prank ever played on the internet community or it may be the best thing since sliced bread.” -Phil Bauman, 140 Health Care Uses for Twitter

In the past day or so, I’ve been researching and experimenting on Twitter with a specific focus on its potential use in the classroom.  What exactly is Twitter, you ask?  It’s a social networking and micro-blogging site.  Ok, so what does that mean?  Basically, people continually post small snippets of information in 140 characters or less.  I’ve found that many of these “mini-blogs” are mostly either like Facebook Status updates (a statement of what the person is currently doing) or a link to another piece of information (like a news or journal article, online resource, picture, etc.).  Twitter “feeds” are posted by individual people, corporations, clubs, universities, NASA, presidential campaigns (Obama & Nadar), celebrities, and even governments.

Twitter has been put to some interesting uses including NASA updates on space shuttle missions and to break the news of the discovery of water on Mars, coordination of political campaign workers, live sporting event updates, public updates from the office of the British Prime Minister, a part of university emergency alert and other institutional systems, updates on evacuations, meeting points and other needed information during the 2007 California wildfires, and many used it during the Mumbai siege of November 2008 to gather information on the safety of friends and coordinate responses.  With the ability to update and read Twitter feeds from mobile phones, the uses can be even more intriguing.

How can it be useful to me as a teacher?  I’m still figuring this one out and I would love to have your input.  Since I work in a “high access” school (every student has a laptop) I realize I’ve been thinking about applications mostly in this context.  But what else can we do with it?  Here is a list of possible applications that I have considered so far:

  • Assignment Log for homework and make-up work
  • Entrance and/or Exit Slips
  • Class Polls
  • Reading Discussion – This has different possibilities.  Students can ask the teacher questions about reading hang-ups they have at home.  They could engage is a Cris Tovani style of reading dialog with their teacher and peers, teachers could have students respond to open-ended questions and to classmate’s responses.  Students could write summaries of reading in which Twitter would force them to be concise (140 character limit) and put it into their own words (students could divide up sections/jigsaw, have their own feed, etc..)
  • Resource Sharing – Teaching APUSH makes me think of this.  I always want students to share the resources they’ve found online to facilitate awareness of historical scholarship, broaden research skills, learn about individual interests, find study resources, and more.
  • Current Events – Many teachers do different activities with current events.  This could be used creatively in that area.
  • Homework Help “Hotline” that everyone in the class can benefit from.  Teachers can respond to students.  Students can respond to their peers’ questions and help each other out.
  • Clubs/Activities – Keep your members in touch with events and share ideas with students who are unable to make it to meetings.
  • Coordinate collaborative group work outside of the classroom
  • Post web resources for students to use
  • Develop a class’s sense of community and connection
  • Creative feedback (from teachers and students)
  • Writing – There seems to be a plethora of writing applications for teaching grammar, rules of writing, helping students to be concise (important in history), “continue the story” activities, etc.

I don’t have all of these worked out of course, but it is just a brainstorm list of ideas.  Just remember that purpose and content always come before choosing a technology to integrate into your classroom.

Twitter Resources

Web 2.0 Primer for Newbies

The Wired Campus


Tame the Web

Twitter Fan Wiki

5 Things to Get Your Twitter Network Off the Ground

I’ve started my own Twitter feed so I can learn the ins and outs in order to see what can be done with it.  If you are interested, you can find the feed here.  I invite you to create your own feed and experiment with me on what can be done with this technology.  If you already have a feed, please feel free to follow mine.  I’ve already learned some rather interesting things.

Possible Questions for Comment:

  • What do you want to know about Twitter?
  • Do you use Twitter?  Do you have any advice?
  • What are your concerns about Twitter?
  • How have you used or seen Twitter used in the classroom?  What ideas for possible applications do you have?
  • General comments?

Technology vs. Kinesthetic Learning

“A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.” -Mark Twain

Originally Posted January 10, 2009

As of this year, my current school has become a 1:1 or “High Access” school.  This means that every student was given a laptop and all kinds of technology is the fingertips of our students and staff.  It has been an interesting ride in my position of supporting teachers as they integrate new ideas into their classrooms.  I have seen some great implementation of creative ideas.  I strongly believe that technology is an important aspect of public education as long as we keep in mind that our content comes first and technology is a tool to teach that content.

However, a concern has begun cropping up among our staff.  We have all of these wonderful tools at our disposal, all you have to do is turn on the laptop.  But are we sacrificing kinesthetic/hands-on learning to the gods of technology?

Please understand that this concern in no way degrades the wonderful investment that has been made by my district.  I am ecstatic to have the opportunity to work in a high access environment.  I just want to make sure that we don’t abandon one of the greatest tools of learning.

One of my colleagues decided to do an informal experiment with his students.  He was curious about effect that computer notes vs. handwritten notes would have on test scores.  So he allowed students to take notes on their laptops for one test, and then required them to take handwritten notes for another test.  There was about a 20% increase in test scores for the handwritten notes.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to listen to a keynote speech by Neuroscience education consultant Kenneth Wesson and participate in a round table discussion afterwords.  I had the chance to discuss this idea of computer vs. handwritten notes with him.  He gave us the following information:

Computer Typed NotesStudents are concerned mostly with accuracy.  This is the “wrong tool for the job.”

Handwritten NotesStudents write the information in a way that works for them.  You make it your own and there is more of a personal connection (which increases understanding and recall).  He went on to state the printing is more effective than cursive.

Mr. Wesson also talked about virtual surgery computer programs vs. hands-on learning in the medical world.  He said that the hands-on learning was a much more effective way to train surgeons.

I also asked him about reading new information on a screen vs. having a tangible book in your hand.  Some of my colleagues are concerned that in the future they may be denied the funds to purchase actual books in favor of all electronic resources.  Since textbooks are such an expensive affair, some in the district believe this is a major plus of acquiring the laptops.  Mr. Wesson discussed the idea, but stated that there is not yet enough research in this area.

This is a very worthwhile discussion to be having in my building.  While we are technology focused, there is a strong element of brain based learning.  This involves movement and integrating a hands-on approach.  We are in the early stages of our large-scale computer integration and it will be interesting to see how it all unfolds.  All things in moderation?

Book Recommendations by Mr. Wesson:
The New Brain: How the Modern Age is Rewiring Your Mind
by Richard Restak

Teach Like Your Hair is on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56 by Rafe Esquith

Possible Questions for Comment:

  • Is there such a thing as too much technology, or can we never have enough?
  • Do you have any experiences of technology vs. hands-on learning?
  • Is there a way to integrate technology & the kinesthetic?
  • What thoughts do you have on these ideas?

What Makes Good Staff Development?

Originally Posted January 6, 2009

Today I did my first staff development presentation to my whole faculty. I’m ok talking in front of people, and I can talk in front of teenagers all day long. But there is something a little unsettling about talking in front of your peers to “educate” them. My task was to roll out the district’s new essential curriculum. I think there is always a weird element to staff development when you’re doing something that is “required.” However, we were given permission to tweak what we were doing in our building to make it better fit our needs. I think that part was great.

I tried hard to make the presentation interactive, modeling the teaching strategies we want our faculty to be using, integrating brain based activities, movement, discussion, and multimedia. I’m not quite sure how I really did, since it is harder for me to gauge an adult audience than it is an adolescent one. We tried to design a format that wasn’t “sit & git,” where you’d rather chew your own arm off to escape rather than listen for another minute. We then had our teachers break out into different groups who rotated through three presentations on how their colleagues were integrating the strategies we are asking them to do. They were short, about 10 minutes each, and they were hearing from their peers. I think that piece can be very powerful. Some great questions were asked in the sessions I was able to see.

I always thought there was a lot that went into these days, but I think I took it for granted until today. There are all kinds of crazy little details that need to be taken care of in order for things to run smoothly. I’m tired and I’m excited to sleep tonight. I learned a lot today and I’m hoping things will improve the next time around for me.

Interestingly, one of the hardest things about presenting to your peers is that they are very similar to students. But because they are your peers, you have to handle your audience differently. We are just like our students in SO many ways. 🙂

So what makes for good professional development? Having been on a staff development committee for a few years and now being an instructional facilitator, I’ve had a chance to be in the seat and up on the stage. I’ve seen some VERY bad and VERY good presentations. I believe that it needs to be interactive. It is a rare person who has the charisma to truly hold a large audience’s attention for a long period of time. And just as you do in your classroom, you need to try to accommodate different learning styles. I believe that teachers need to get something they can “walk away with.” Something they can immediately start to use. You, as a presenter, need to value the time of your audience. Have a purpose for everything you do and be sure that it is relevant. And if you have any control over the format, you need to have more than just the traditional lecture hall style presentation.

I have a lot to say on the issue of staff development. One of the things I love the most about my new position as an Instructional Facilitator is that is it essentially “personalized professional development.” These big staff presentations are rare for me. I spend most of my time working with teachers one-on-one. I feel that this is a much more effective method and I am glad I have the opportunity to do it. I may write more in the future on this topic, but it’s time for me to veg out now!

Possible Questions for Comment:

  • What is the best/worst staff development you’ve seen and why?
  • What would your dream staff development look like?
  • What are some good staff development ideas you’d like to share for the greater good?

This Blog’s Purpose

“Not all who wander are lost.”  J.R.R. Tolkien

One of my favorite quotes, this embodies some of my philosophy as an educator.  I find myself continually searching for new ways (new, at least to me) to improve the experiences of our students.  I changed the word “wander” to “wonder” for this blog because there are all kinds of things I am continually wondering about.  Things such as classroom management, content topics, effective teaching techniques, the teenage psyche, and how to get students to bring back my ransomed hall pass!

I have been pondering how to share my ideas and experiences on education with my friends/colleagues and how to get their ideas and experiences in return.  Even though we are scattered all over the map, there is no reason in this age of technology why we can’t continue where we left off or go to places we haven’t yet been.  I often learn a great deal through writing and discourse.  This is the vehicle I’ve come up with to do just that and to broaden my horizons.

I invite you to comment on any of the ideas in this blog.  If you agree/disagree with me or other contributors, have questions to ask, or your own ideas/opinions to share, please add them.  I value your thoughts.  All I ask is that you do it “respectfully” (isn’t that a word some of us have discussed with our students a lot?).  Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.