Sunday, April 24, 2016

Educational Technology Blogs

"Always Learning" is a blog I recommend to teachers who are looking to deepen their understanding of teaching overseas.  The blog is authored by Kim Cofino, a woman with extensive experience teaching throughout the world.  International education is a topic that I am passionate about, because traveling and learning about new cultures is my favorite hobby, and because I have worked overseas.  Many of the topics on her blog were intriguing to me due to the fact that the stories resonated with my own teaching experiences abroad.  The author attest that her, “philosophy of education is to provide an inquiry-based, constructivist approach; helping students learn how to learn and instilling a process for life long learning through the use of project-based learning projects  developed using the Understanding by Design process.”  Understanding by Design encapsulates a well rounded, higher order approach to teaching that encourages a process of applied knowledge to inform an understanding of the world around us.  The first post on her site is entitled, “Creating a Breeding Ground for Motivation.”  The author highlights the importance of fostering “intrinsic motivation” among students as opposed to using any form of “external pressure” as a method to motivate and engage a class.  The author describes her frustration as a teacher when she can see potential in her students, but is unable to motivate students in a direction she feels they should pursue.  According to the author, a teacher should use the following motivational techniques when attempting to encourage students:

  1. “value them as learners and individuals.”
  2. “discover what they are passionate about.”
  3. “prioritize their voice - and listen.”
  4. “respect their experience and knowledge.”
  5. “help them find what’s next in their zone of proximal development.”
  6. “tailor the learning to their needs and developmental level.”

The author conducted action research in which she compared the results of students who were “forced” to complete tasks, as opposed to those who were encouraged to share their “passions.”  Using a chart Mrs. Cofino illustrated the differences in results from forced task completion when teachers encouraged students to pursue their passions.  When students were not given the choice about whether to complete a task, the work outcome demonstrated that students were just trying to “get through it.”  

Skipping ahead to the next topic on her blog, entitled, “Designing Learning Experiences,” Mrs. Cofino describes a 9-step process in which teachers, “design learning experiences.”  She illustrates this process with a visual presentation posted on the blog.  See below for a basic framework included in her model:

  1. “Share a teaser or inspirational item (in this case it was a video) to get participants thinking about the big ideas for the session.
  2. “Connect the big ideas from the teaser to personal experience.”
  3. “Model the process of connecting to personal experience for the participants.”
  4. “Provide opportunity to participants to document their thinking at this point in time, as an entry to the actual content to come next.”
  5. “Content.”
  6. “Connecting personal experience to content.”
  7. “Personalize the content so participants have ownership over their learning.”
  8. “Highlight practical connections to everyday work.”
  9. “Summarize the content and bridge to the next activity.”
The advice given at the end of the model was that, when designing a lesson plan, the teacher should always keep the end goal in mind.  The teacher at all times should be aware of the learning objective and how it can be achieved in a deliberate, motivational, goal oriented manner.  

The last blog that stood out to me was a site that I found on the site "Movingforward."  The blog was entitled "Love What You Teach," authored by Swiss elementary school teacher Abbie Fox.  The first blog post that appeared when I clicked on the page was titled, “A New Start to Learning: Learning an International Approach to Education.  The post was a quick introspective observation about Mrs. Fox’s teaching experiences abroad.  Mrs. Fox shares her unfolding life as a teacher living abroad in Switzerland with her husband.  She describes some of her goals as an IB teacher, as she attempts to synthesize class content.  The article is broken down into three components labelled: International-mindedness , Components of the PYP Curriculum, The Written Curriculum, A Constructively Theory, and Looking Forward.  In the first section, International-mindedness, Fox describes some of the similarities and differences in the values taught by IB programs internationally, in the United States, and some of the variance in those values among US states.  She goes on to describe the PYP model, in Components of the PYP Curriculum, specifically describing the pre and post summative and formative assessments used by the program.  Lastly, The Written Curriculum, is a discussion addressing the underlying themes within the IB program.  The article continues with an in-depth look at aspects of the IB program and the authors positive feelings about its efficacy.  Having worked at an IB school overseas, some of what she described was familiar to me and resonated with my own experiences using an IB format. In subsequent posts, Fox shares articles she finds inspiring as she seeks to improve her pedagogy.  Overall, her blog is a great resource for teachers with an appreciation for international education who are looking for more information about existing programs.

In conclusion, blogs can be a great way to learn from other individuals experiences in various aspects of teaching.  It has been my experience that with blogging, you have to sift through a great deal of unstructured literature before you find quality resources on the internet.  Like perusing a library, some books offer more pertinent resources than others.  Similarly, the self-published work on the web can be hit or miss.  The two blogs I shared serve as resources that can be used to enhance your personal understanding of teaching theory and teaching as a pedagogical practice.  Good luck with your blog search!

References:

Coffin, K.  (2016).  "Creating a Breeding Ground for Learning." Always Learning, Retrieved from: http://kimcofino.com/blog/

Coffin, K.  (2016).  Always Learning, "Designing Learning Experiences." Retrieved from: http://kimcofino.com/blog/

Creative Commons. (2016).  "Education Blogs by Discipline." Moving Forward, Retrieved from: http://movingforward.wikispaces.com/Education+Blogs+by+Discipline

Fox, A.  (2014). "A New Start to Learning: Learning an International Approach to Education."  Love What You Teach, Retrieved from: https://lovewhatyouteach.com

Saturday, April 23, 2016

EDMODO Lesson Plan Concept

For my class, I would ask my students to watch videos addressing the spirit of generosity.  Following these videos, I would lead a class discussion addressing the theme of the book, recording student responses on Edmodo.  I may also include a series of quizzes that test student knowledge of our SOL and recurring themes throughout the unit, including making predictions, sequencing text, and identifying main idea and supporting details from the story.  Using Edmodo, I would ask students to create their own digital book of narrated (recorded) images.  The book would be their personal version of The Giving Tree using vibrant images and representations from their own lives.  Students would have the option of using clip art, pictures brought from home on a USB drive or pictures found in the public domain.  After writing their own stories, students can research a book to recommend to a friend with a similar theme as The Giving Tree.

References:


The Source for Learning, Inc. (1998-2016). “The Giving Tree Lesson: A TeachersFirst holiday lesson based on Shel Silverstien’s book The Giving Tree.” Teachers First: Thinking Teachers Teaching Thinkers, http://www.teachersfirst.com/lessons/givingtree.cfm

Silverstein, S. (1964). The Giving Tree. New York, NY: Harper and Row

EDMODO Module: Internet Safety and Revealing Too Much

The internet is often referred to colloquially as the wild west of the information age.  With the advent of cybersecurity programs nationwide, which regulate everything from cyberbullying to identify theft online, new legislation is finally being introduced to create a safe, and secure place for children and families to interact on the internet.  That being said, educating children and parents about internet safety practices and so-called “netiquette” are important aspects of teaching responsible digital citizenship as we integrate these new technologies into our teaching curricula.  The ability to navigate information computer technologies is an invaluable skill that is quickly becoming a necessary part of socializing children into our rapidly expanding digital universe.  Understanding what constitutes responsible behavior, how to interact with peers online, how to prioritize information we share online are necessary parts of socializing children into acceptable and appropriate internet practices.  Some internet safety topics that are important for parents and teachers to discuss with their children and students include: cyberbullying, exposure to inappropriate material, online predators and revealing too much personal information.  Some basic safety tips recommended by netsmatz.org include:

1.  “Keep your computer in a high trafficked area of your home.”  

2.  “Establish limits for which online sites children may visit and for how long.”

3.  “Remember that Internet technology can be mobile, so make sure to monitor cell phones, gaming devices, and laptops.”

4.  “Surf the Internet with your children and let them show you what they like to do online.”

5.  “Know who is connecting with your children online and set rules for social networking, instant messaging, e-mailing, online gaming and using webcams.”

6.  “Continually dialogue with your children about online safety.”

The internet, although a wonderful platform to exchange ideas and connect with friends globally, is a social and largely unrestricted forum.  Much of what is posted online is permanent and subject to public scrutiny.  This is why discussions surrounding the importance of using discretion, and censorship online are necessary conversations for parents and teachers to facilitate.  Sharing personal information online exposes a child to unnecessary risk which leaves them vulnerable to predatory behavior on the web.  Revealing personal address information, phone numbers, social security numbers, bank account information, private thoughts, pictures and other pertinent information can compromise a child’s safety on the internet.  Revealing “too much” personal information is a common mistake by many on the internet, and teaching appropriate and responsible internet practices early on helps to minimize the risk faced by kids as they assimilate into the age of digital technology.

Two additional resources for safety tips and how to facilitate discussion about these difficult issues include:

Faux Paw, Retrieved from:  http://ikeepsafe.org/educators_old/fauxpaw/

and

The Carnegie Cybersafety Academy, Retrieved from: http://www.carnegiecyberacademy.com


References:

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. (2016). “Revealing too much,” Netsmartz Workshop, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. 

Keep Safe Coalition. (2016). “Faux Paw the Techno Cat.”  Ikeepsafe, Retrieved from:  http://ikeepsafe.org/educators_old/fauxpaw/

Carnegie Mellon University. (2016). “The Carnegie Cybersafety Academy,” Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved from: http://www.carnegiecyberacademy.com

Education Podcasts

In general, I do not spend much time listening to podcasts between reports, work and daily life.  I am a busy gal and I wish I had more time to invest in reviewing meaningful podcasts.  When I am looking for inspiration in my career or daily life, two podcast platforms I may refer to are those sponsored by NPR under the education section and podcasts provided by TED, which cover topics on a wide range of education related topics.  

NPR has a litany of topics that fall under the umbrella of education podcasts.  These education podcasts cover a range of topics which generally pertain to current events in the field of education, either in the political, economic or social arena.  There is a broad scope.  One podcast I listened to recently on NPR was entitled, “Why America’s Schools have a Money Problem.”  This was a brief report by Alyson Hurt and Katie Park.  The program discussed the funding distribution for public school systems.  Fiscally, schools in the United States receive financing from local taxes, which largely determine whether a school system is highly successful or not.  The broadcaster offered some insight into how to better allocate resources for low achieving schools, that do not benefit from high tax revenue due in part to communities low income population.  In this case, the podcast seemed to reiterate a recurring debate pertaining to the unequal distribution of educational resources in the United States, that is largely stratified by wealth.  This NPR podcast is a great place to stay informed about local news as it pertains to the field of education.

The second podcast platform I refer to on occasion are TED talks.  TED talks span a gamut of issues, not limited to education.  Some of the most profound motivational speeches I have seen online have been sponsored by TED talks.  Personally, I am a huge fan of storytelling, and I appreciate the storytelling format that these podcasts provide.  Hearing first hand from teachers their experiences working in education, is inspiring for me as I tackle my own set of challenges as a new teacher.  Some TED talks I would recommend include Taylor Mali’s, “What do teachers make?” and Rita Pierson’s, “Every kid needs a champion.” 

These are two basic podcasts that I may default to when I am looking to stay in the loop or find entertainment within my field.  There are many more informative podcast platforms out there that are great resources for those willing to look.  I briefly perused the website Edutopia.com and Gettingsmart.com for further podcast recommendations.  Both offered a variety of resources, to include the two podcasts I described above.  Others sounded interesting to me included EDtechtalk, The ARTS Roundtable, The Flipped Learning Network, Lit Tech and Grammar Girl.  If you have free time, and love staying abreast of new topics in education, I encourage you to check out these podcasts.  


Hurt, A., Park, K.  (2016).  “Why  America’s Schools have a Money Problem,” National Public Radio, Retrieved from: http://www.npr.org/sections/education/

Mali, T. (2011).  “What do teachers make?”  TED Talks, Retrieved from: https://www.ted.com/talks/taylor_mali_what_teachers_make


Pierson, R.  (2013).  “Every kid needs a champion.” TED Talks, Retrieved from: https://www.ted.com/about/programs-initiatives/ted-talks-education

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Technology Inequality

It is my long standing opinion that the way toward empowering disenfranchised communities is through grassroots education.  The internet, I was taught, is one avenue that helps to democratize information, making information accessible to groups that previously lacked this access. This access to information can be applied to various aspects of life to help catalyze constructive social change from the ground up.  Like a library, providing an individual with free access to books, you improve a community socioeconomically when you provide equal access to resources.  In developing countries, internet cafes became portals providing internet access to the public - these are quickly being replaced by inexpensive iPad and cell phone software that creates portable platforms into the information mainstream.  That being said, how do you provide equal access to online resources, or educational programs that teach people how to constructively use the world wide web, when the gap between rich and poor is so stark?  If children are limited by access to computers due to income limitations, how do you mitigate the educational culture rift that comes about from an unbalanced distribution of resources.  As the income gap widens, not just in the United States but globally, how do we address information inequality in a manner that is constructive?   The article, “Digital Divide is ‘Major Challenge’ In Teaching Low-Income Students,” by Betsey Isaacson quantified the information-inequality reality faced by children living in low-income American communities.  According to a survey cited by Isaacson, “on the digital divide…56% of teachers who work with low-income students say that their students’ lack of access to digital technology is a ‘major challenge’ to using quality online resources in their lessons.”  It is my experience that without early exposure to computers and the internet, it is exceedingly difficult for teachers to implement computer based programs and online resources, resources routinely used throughout the general curriculum, to introduce new and differentiated class content.  

As indicated by Alec MacGillis in his article, “Law, software fuel new ‘digital divide,’” another paradox faced by children from low income communities is that the computer applications used by their schools tend to be of inferior quality to those offered by wealthier school districts.  Teachers feel the need to compromise the quality of the programs they use to meet the remedial needs of low income students whose exposure to contemporary technologies is limited.  Therefore, not only aren’t these children receiving the same access to resources as their wealthier peers, but the access they do receive is a watered down version of their richer neighbors. This, in turn, perpetuates a cycle of poverty which is largely dictated by a lack of education.  

Kimberly Bryant in her talk entitled, “Black girls code: crashing the digital gender divide,” discussed the evolving “paradigm” known as the digital divide.  According to Bryant, currently over 90% of African American girls do not have access to broad band or computer equipment from home.  Taking into account this statistic, it comes as no surprise that income disparities continue to exist along gender and racial lines.  Access to resources largely determines whether an individual is successful in the classroom - the biggest predictor of socioeconomic success in life after preparatory school.  Hearing statistics like this, I am reminded of instances in my life where my computer crashes, and I am left to fend for myself until I can afford a new computer.  The repercussions of a broken computer sometimes extend beyond the scope of the school day, the next grade, and into the workplace, and daily life.  Technology has become such an integrated and ingrained part of daily life for many of us who exist in the mainstream, that life without out it seems almost unbearable.  I hear often from friends with broken cell phones, “I feel naked without my phone.”  Imagine going through life with limited access to technologies that are required for higher paying jobs.  As a child, as a black child, as a female black child who cannot tap into these resources enough  to master them, how should that child be expected to matriculate through a school system and into a society that largely depends on her understanding of those technologies?  If we, as a society, genuinely strive towards equality, finding a way to equitably distribute resources in a manner that is practical and efficient is a step in that right direction. There are real repercussions when we leave children behind. Those of us who are fortunate enough to live in the proverbial ‘sweet spot’ are never truly “unaffected” by the poverty of our neighbors.

References:

Ferenstein, G. (2013). Free Computers Don't close the Rich-Poor Education Gap, Tech Crunch, Retrieved from:
Free Computers Don't close the Rich-Poor Education Gap

Isaacson, B. (2013). Digital Divide is 'Major Challenge' in Teaching Low-Income Students, Survey Finds, The Huffington Post, Retrieved from:
Digital Divide is 'Major Challenge' in Teaching Low-Income Students, Survey Finds

MacGillis, A. (2004). Law, Software Fuel New Digital Divide, The Baltimore Sun, Retrieved from:
Law, Software Fuel New Digital Divide'"

Bryant, K. (2012). Black Girls Code: Crashing the Digital Gender Divide, Daily Motion, Retrieved from:
Black Girls Code: Crashing the Digital Gender Divide video

Commentary: Power Point is Evil by Genoveve Lang

The article, "PowerPoint is Evil," by Genoveve Lang, an opinion piece, shares some negative aspects of using Power Point in business and educational settings.  The authors premise was that Power Point is an obsolete tool, dumbing down students and the rest with vapid, indecipherable material.  By contrast, this NPR podcast was less sardonic in its assertion that Power Point is a great platform for, “communicating ideas in a cogent and impactful way.”  However, students, as an example, only glean insignificant bullet points of information from the Power Point format, and therefore, stand little to gain from its use in the classroom, according to the broadcaster.  Throughout the article, I was disappointed by the authors point of view.  I found myself thinking, “Most of us lead busy lives and have a limited amount of time to prep for class the next day.  As much as I may appreciate a more creative and interactive format, I am limited by time and resources when I prep for class.”  As indicated by the article, Power Point has become a “ubiquitous” tool.  It is and has been a helpful and convenient resource for me as a teacher, particularly when I was working overseas.  It has been my experience that some learning environments in the United States and overseas do not support newer softwares that have replaced Power Point in various educational settings. 

With respect to the assertion that Power Point presentations often lack meaningful or well-written content,  it is my belief that most individuals who organize a Power Point presentation are not attempting to write Shakespeare.  As a teacher, when I am writing a Power Point presentation, it is usually to accompany a lecture or some other interactive program.  Using Power Point, I am attempting to convey simple concepts that can be written down, that I can then expand upon, all to encourage light note-taking on key points. Additionally, it is my hope that these succinct ideas, presented in my Power Point presentation, become the building blocks for more complex ideas.  I am attempting to present information in a scaffolded, straightforward, linear format.  

Finally, I do not believe that students only extract superficial understanding of a topic from a Power Point presentation format.  Certainly, Power Point is not as riveting as a video game, or some of the more contemporary software on the market.  However, for those of us who have Microsoft Office and lead busy lives outside of the classroom, Power Point helps us meet our teaching objectives in a manner that is accessible. A common contemporary criticism of parents and teachers I hear often is that children are saturated with technology that interferes with their ability to function without it.  What message are we sending to children with hyperbole that alludes to the need for more stimulating technology in the classroom?  The classroom is not a digital playground, but a venue for meaningful dialog that facilitates an appreciation for learning.  

References:

Lang, G. (2003). Powerpoint is Evil, Edward Tufte Magazine, Retrieved from: http://www.wired.com/2003/09/ppt2/

Braider, J. (2003). Educators Question Powerpoint Usage, National Public Radio, Retrieved from:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1467589

Monday, April 18, 2016

Demographic information for my SOL


My school district: Fairfax County Public Schools

Population: 1, 111, 620

Community Demographics:
African American: 10.2%
American Indian: .3%
Asian American: 19.4%
Hispanic: 24.6%
Multiracial: 5.0%
White: 40.4%
"Approximately one of every six residents is a public school student."

Schools and Centers:
2015-16 total: 196
Elementary (preschool - 6): 139
Middle (6-8): 3
Middle (7-8): 20
Secondary (7-12): 3
High (9-12): 22
Alternative High Schools: 2
Special Education Centers: 7

Race/Ethnic Origin of public school students:
White: 63.2% 69.9% 81.3%
Black: 9.6% 8.6% 7.7%
Asian/Pacific Islander: 18.9% 13.1% 8.5%
American Indian/Alaska Native: 0.2% 0.3% 0.2%
Other Race or Multi-Racial: 8.0% 8.2% 2.3%
Hispanic (may be of any race) 16.4% 11.0% 6.3%

References:

Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood and Community Services. (2016). Fairfax County General Overview, Fairfax County Government, Retrieved from:
http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/demogrph/gendemo.htm

May, N. (2016). About FCPS, Fairfax County Public Schools, Retrieved from:
http://www.fcps.edu/about/