Wednesday, October 3, 2012

And we're back!

After a 2-month hiatus, it's time to pick up the pen and compose a new post! 

The summer ended in a blur followed by a break that was all to short, but now we are plowing along, full speed, through what has been an exciting—and exhausting—semester already!

As we continue to explore the ways in which technology can revolutionize teaching practices, I am amazed by the enthusiasm, ingenuity, and creativity of the those educators who are not only embracing that technology but diving head-first into expanding its utility in the classroom.  One fine example is former MACer, Jeff Scheur, who recently won the Citi Innovation Challenge for his web tool No Red Ink.  Plagued by the woes—and seemingly endless task—of grading papers rife with errors, Scheur sought a way to engage students in grammar practice without the overtone of punishment.  No Red Ink uses students’ real life interests and social preferences (media, friends, etc.) to construct learning opportunities and grammar lessons to strengthen literacy skills and scaffold students’ development as writers.  As a future science teacher, I see a wealth of advantages in this tool from it’s ability to provide the instructor with detailed output on student progress to enabling students to practice basic skills without taking away from critical class time.

When dealing with literacy practices, high school teachers are continually torn between two poles.  They want to develop students’ the higher-order skills—like finding and integrating evidence, writing succinctly, and reasoning through an argument—but must also foster the students’ local-level skills like grammar, word choice, and proof reading.  Though teachers may wish to assume the latter subjects have been taught in elementary and middle school, students’ often enter high school lacking much strength in the elements of writing.  When you combine this dichotomy with ever-increasing class sizes and high-stakes testing demands it’s no wonder many teachers are feeling overwhelmed by extensive grading and thus limit the use of a “writing to learn” curricular approach.  A tool like No Red Ink enables students to recall prior knowledge of basic writing skills and hone areas in which they struggle, allowing high school teachers to focus more on higher-order skills while continuing to support their students’ literacy foundation.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Coming to a close

Friday marked the end of our summer term!  Despite excitement for the weeks of vacation that are to follow, it was a bit difficult to feel truly “liberated,” given the plethora of papers and assignments we still have to complete over the next few days.  Little by little, though, the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter!

Reflecting on our final 504 session, I thought the panel of former MACers was a great way to round out the summer.  I really enjoyed hearing their perspectives.  Although listening to the insights of any in-practice teacher is interesting and relevant, I was able to connect with these presenters in a different way, since we are currently walking a path similar to that which they took.  Over the past 2 months, I’ve come to realize that the MAC program at U of M is a truly unique experience (all for the better, though at times very challenging!!).  Getting a first hand account of what other MAC students have gone on to do after their experience at U of M was enlightening and motivating!

Concluding thoughts on the tech course…

I very much appreciated and valued our class this summer.  Whether or not we choose to use each and every technological tool in the future that we were exposed to, the skills I learned will endure throughout my career.  What I have taken away from our class is a greater openness to the tools and resources that are out there and an awareness of the novel ways that technology can be used in the classroom, beyond what I ever would have thought.

Enjoy the rest of the summer, everyone!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Edublogger Reflection

In the past two weeks I have perused the posts of several edubloggers, and have found the task thoroughly engaging and enlightening.  The education community is teeming with creative, insightful, and motivating teachers and administrators!  I realize this last statement seems a bit obvious…we have spent the last 6 weeks surrounded by countless teachers/educators who exemplify the very definition of high leverage practice.  But to see the ubiquity of genuine teacher professionalism as evidence by the posts I have read from educators positioned all over the country has been truly encouraging and inspiring.  One author I have particularly enjoyed following is Chris Lehmann, Principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA. His blog is visually simple and contextually profound, interesting and thought provoking.  I have found many parallels between my own teaching philosophy and the content he proposes in his entries.  I also very much appreciate his well-composed, direct yet eloquent “tell it like it is” nature, which resonates through statements such as:

“To me, when you ensure your own child has an arts-enriched, small-class size, deeply humanistic education and you advocate that those families who have fewer economic resources than you have should sit straight in their chairs and do what they are told while doubling and tripling up on rote memorization and test prep, you are guilty of educational colonialism.”

In the above passage, Lehmann is referencing the disparity among what some “powerful folks” desire for their own children versus that which they advocate for others based on the political and policy decisions they make. 

As I continue to grown in my own knowledge of what it means to be a successful teacher and how to fully develop my role as a professional in this field, I find strength, inspiration, and even a sense of identify in the words of edubloggers with whom I can relate.

Friday, July 27, 2012

A deviation from education...

Last week, I posted a photo of one of my "babies" but failed to acknowledge the other three!  So, here they are.  Bean (the princess of the family), Caffrey (after a serious bout of digging in the flower bed), and Onyx (the token reptile of the household, our black rat snake)!

And then the world got bigger

Diigo—Evernote—Google Reader—I feel like my awareness of the electronic world just expanded exponentially in a matter of hours!

I was already an avid user of Skype and Dropbox, but I see myself very quickly assimilating either Diigo or Evernote (probably not both, though I am willing to give each an equal shot) into my repertoire of resources.  As each new “device” (for lack of a better term) was introduced, my mind began to spin with the wealth of possibilities that such an online organization tool can offer.  My previous endeavors in organizing noteworthy websites, online articles, and blogs came to a halt once the browser “bookmark” button was clicked.  At the time, this seemed to suffice, however, I now see how useless my past attempts have been with regard to actually making sense of—or putting to any real use—the information bound within these links.   

Diigo and Evernote offer the ability to store, share, edit, annotate, and organize a vast array of files, links, and documents.  This integrative, collaborative, and multi-functional method for storing electronically generated material is not only helpful but, in my opinion, imperative to any comprehensive attempt at optimizing the way in which one interacts with the electronic resources.  Oh how I wish I had known about these things sooner!!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The risks of high-stakes testing...article link

In reading posts from some Edubloggers, I came across this link.  Thought I'd share!

Friday, July 20, 2012

An Epic Experience

All right, last week I’m podcasting and now this week I not only created a webpage (albeit within a super user-friendly context) AND am considering joining the world of Twitter??  What is happening to me??  My only answer is an epic experience called ED 504.

Silliness aside, I am truly beyond impressed with the technological feats that have been tackled in the past few weeks.  Redundant as this comment will seem, progressing from a Facebook-only realm to one in which I am diving into an array of electronic resources is something I did not expect in such a short amount of time.  These tools will not only enhance my efforts at procuring employment following the MAC program but also allow me to be a much more effective teacher!  I’d say that’s all-around win.

What I enjoyed most about today’s class—from the professional portfolio site to the utility of Twitter—is that each topic/tool/idea discussed was extremely simple, unintimidating, and grounded in realistic application.  I found the Weebly site to be very intuitive and I look forward to “jazzing up” my page—when free time becomes a bit more abundant (is it August yet?).  I also really enjoyed our guest speaker, Tom’s demonstration of how to incorporate something as popular and seemingly non-academic as Angry Birds into a math lesson.  He raised the bar for taking a creative, engaging approach to teaching more difficult content, and made a strong case for being mindful of the sacrifices that are often necessary to keep our students from drifting off into the abyss.  Though the authors of the Core Curriculum Guides will call me crazy, I think sometimes quality needs to trump quantity.

Totally unrelated... In an effort to broaden my blog skills, I'm inserting a picture.  Though something the spirit of Angry Birds would be more appropriate, I decided to go with one of my dog, Mason :-) This is his "Mommy, please stop working and take me for a walk" look.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Games Gone Good

Gaming as a way to solve the world’s problems?  People getting smarter, building confidence, and enhancing critical life skills by engaging in virtual realities?  Prior to the articles and TED Talk (by Jane McGonigal) that I read/viewed for this week’s class I would never have thought those concepts made much sense.  However, that ill-informed, previously conceived notion has now completely drifted by the wayside!

As a former biologist, I very much appreciated—and related to—the science analogies James Gee provided in his piece on Good Video Games and Good Learning.  I loved his comparison of what is learned in video gaming and what is learned in biology:

“…Just as what you learn when you learn to play a good video game is how to play the game, so too, what you learn when you learn biology should be how to play that game.”

This made the real-life application of skills acquired through game playing so much clearer to me.  In any realm, whether game worlds, science, arts, literature, or the like, there are a set of rules that you must not only abide by but become an expert in.  I also found several very interesting similarities between the field of gaming and the field of education.  For instance, Gee references a player’s “regime of confidence” which correlates to level of play.  In order to keep gamers enthralled and committed, good games stay within, but at the outer edge of a player’s skill level.  This concept precisely parallels the “zone of proximal development” that we refer to in education.  From forming identities to forging interactive relationships to risk-taking for the sake of progression and success, the characteristics of the gaming world resonate strongly with our goals for high leverage practices in education!  The implications of taking a game-like approach to the way in which we create classrooms and curriculum seem endlessly optimistic.

Continuing on that sentiment, Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk truly blew me away.  I was completely captivated by her passion for creating a society that embraces good gaming as a catalyst for making our world a better place.  Perhaps its lofty, perhaps its unrealistic…but, if by jumping feet-first into the gaming domain we could actually promote a civilization of “super-empowered, hopeful individuals” who are committed to embarking on “epic adventures” to solve the greatest real-world problems of our time, then I say it’s worth one heck of a shot!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Friday the Thirteenth

The 504 double feature of a class today was absolutely fantastic!  Our science group had an excellent discussion with the Media Center Specialist, Pat, from Brighton Public Schools.  We began by sharing our ideas for classroom lessons based on the NYC Soda Ban Proposal.  As our objectives emerged, we expanded our perspectives on how best to assess student learning and what activities to include.  With each new topic, the information and resources that Pat shared with us were truly invaluable.  From the MEL (Michigan eLibrary) site to her own school’s library page filled with a wealth of resources for teachers and student alike, we learned an incredible array of techniques and tools for incorporating technology into a science classroom.  I came away from our session feeling inspired, excited, and eager to start designing lessons for my own future classes!  I also can’t help but cross my fingers and hope that wherever I end up, I will be in a school with fellow science teachers who are as receptive to and involved in collaboration as our STEM cohort!

After the break for lunch, we gathered with one of the other content-area groups to share our experiences from the morning session.  It was really neat to learn about their approach to the same prompt.  We had totally different objectives, widely different activities, and applied a host of different technological resources.  I was amazed at how many unique directions could be taken, all from a single media source/topic!

We wrapped up the day with our first—we, at least MY first—experience in podcasting.  The task itself was quite fun, but Kristin’s humor added to the lesson and made a Friday afternoon class seem less like work and more like play J  Definitely what I needed to end a rather long (but typical) MAC week!