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Archive for February, 2010

School Technology Involvement

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to take part in a CRYSTAL meeting with Warren Wessel’s group at the University of Regina. The focus of this group is to create a resource based website that could be employed by all beginner and veteran teachers that is directly paralleled with our Saskatchewan Evergreen curriculum. The drive is to gather resources that are tried, tested and true from veteran teachers and post them on the site to ease the progression into the Science teaching world. Great idea but there also appears to be other groups working towards the same goal but independently from each other. Perhaps my role is to help bridge the gap to get everyone working towards the same end point but as a consorted effort. There isn’t any financial gain in these projects so the need to share our ideas is obviously important, not to mention, less time spent on “reinventing the wheel” by teachers.

I have also been asked to be a part of a new tech committee headed by Stu Harris. As far as the fine details are concerned, I am still unclear but the goal is to work with developing the NETS and LoTi in some capacity for Saskatchewan schools. I believe we will try to figure out the essential objectives which support our new structural innovation initiative. I hope to join the committee to further my investigation of how we can incorporate technology effectively into the classroom and to collaborate with “masters” of the domain.

Lately, I feel so disorganized as I have many different and uncharted projects underway with little experience in any of them. I am attempting to immerse myself in technology and trying to find committees that can quench my desire to help incorporate technology in my schools but I feel that I may be spreading myself a little too thin to be effective in any one of them. Perhaps, everything being a new course in my teaching career, I guess this style of engagement just takes a little getting use to and besides, with the colleagues that I have around me, I am sure this can work out for all parties involved. Cross your fingers and toes for me please 🙂

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Ning Blog Underway

Well I am officially up and running! I have created my ning site, my IB Chemistry kids are signed up and they are taking control of this chat zone. My initial purpose was to create this site to get students blogging on Chemistry issues that students face today. I mentioned it to my IB’s in period 5 (2:10pm) and by 7:30 pm almost all of my students had signed in and were using this space, mostly to chat but one student had already blogged on their first topic, “Blogging Etiquette”.

I have let go of the reins!

Uploaded on January 1, 2008 by Jim Linwood

I must admit that a feeling of worry came over when I saw that these kids were already immersed in this learning community. I am not sure why but perhaps the fact that I am now expected to moderate and keep an eye on appropriate content outside of the school walls is a bit different than I am used to. These kids probably know more about using these sites than I do and I am expected to be the master, heck, I haven’t even made up the formal blogging expectations or rubric yet and these kids are all over this project.

I have asked students to use this ning as their own Chemistry site to write blogs, to include forum discussions and to suggest topics of investigation. I guess only time will tell how valuable this space will become but even through my apprehensions I am excited to see how this is going to work. I wonder how much extra time this site is going to eat up to make it a rich learning environment for my students? I will keep you in touch!

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Project Proposal ECI832

Student Blogging on Current Issues in Chemistry.

1.) What is your question for inquiry/exploration?

“How can I create new opportunities for my learners to interact with other learners beyond our classroom?”

How can I begin to engage students in technology in my Chemistry.

2.) Briefly describe why you are interested in this inquiry or project development.

I want to get students blogging about current issues in Chemistry and to use each other to create a personal learning network. It gives students a chance to voice their ideas and concerns about issues embedded in the Chemistry world today as well as a chance to engage in discussions about the topics with each other. I want my students learning from each other and to open dialogues with others in the class and ultimately around the world.

Other than technology integration, the idea of blogging would meet several other goals I have.  First, I hope to get students reflecting on their work & learning.  So often students submit an assignment, it gets marked & then handed back, but then the student never really looks at it again.  By using traditional methods, such as journals/reports, students rarely ‘go back’ to reflect.  Online blogging (including commenting on other blogs and reacting to comments made to their own blogs) would force the idea of thinking, reflecting, and hopefully take their learning to a higher level.  Second, through the forum of blogging online, hopefully this will engage more learners than just those who regularly participate in classroom discussions.  Some students are uncomfortable in openly offering their ideas or need time to think things over before they are ready to discuss.  This blogging project would give those students the time & voice to participate without the pressure of the face to face classroom situation.

3. Identify either the LoTi level or NETS standard(s) that you think applies to your proposed project.

Not sure about the LoTi for this project though.

Level 2 – Exploration
At a Level 2 (Exploration) the instructional focus emphasizes content understanding and supports mastery learning and direct instruction. Teacher questioning and/or student learning focuses on lower levels of student cognitive processing (e.g., knowledge, comprehension) using the available digital assets.

Digital tools and resources are used by students for extension activities, enrichment exercises, or information gathering assignments that generally reinforce lower cognitive skill development relating to the content under investigation. There is a pervasive use of student multimedia products, allowing students to present their content understanding in a digital format that may or may not reach beyond the classroom.

Student NETS: Research and Information Fluency

Students apply digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information. Students:

a. plan strategies to guide inquiry.

b. locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information from a variety of sources and

media.

c. evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on the appropriateness to specific tasks.

d. process data and report results.

Teachers NETS

Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity

Teachers use their knowledge of subject matter, teaching and learning, and technology to facilitate experiences that advance student learning, creativity, and innovation in both face-to-face and virtual environments.

Teachers:

a. promote, support, and model creative and innovative thinking and inventiveness

b. engage students in exploring real-world issues and solving authentic problems using digital tools and resources

c. promote student reflection using collaborative tools to reveal and clarify students’ conceptual understanding and thinking, planning, and creative processes

d. model collaborative knowledge construction by engaging in learning with students, colleagues, and others in          face-to-face and virtual environments

Students use of digital tools and resources is inherent and motivated by the drive to answer student-generated questions that dictate the content, process, and products embedded in the learning experience.

Learning tools I will use:

I will try Ning to regulate blogs in a closed environment accessible only by students in the classroom and/or school community. Perhaps a Skype relay can involve other classrooms in the discussions about current topics if possible.

The formalities of the assignment expectations, implementation and assessments are still under construction.

My goal for a full semestered class would include having each student write five different blogs in response to various topics.  First, I would consider a general introductory blog about blogging itself to get the students exposed to the world of blogging, blog etiquette, etc.  Blogs number two-four would be choices from online articles, current events, or topics of interest relating to units of study.  Blog number five could be students selecting their own topic such as exploration & evaluation of an online learning tool that they have found.  I will set up a schedule of deadlines, how many comments would be required to other blogs, and the length of reflection.  I will create several rubrics for their general completion, effort and quality of blogs, etc.

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Learning Learning Theories

I must admit that I had to spend some time researching and familiarizing myself with the accepted theories in which I am suppose to be implementing everyday in my high school Math and Chemistry class. Considering that it has been about 7 years since I spent any time immersed in reading about learning theories, the following thoughts act as a revision of terms in hopes of summarizing the main ideas about each theory.

Cognitive Theories

1. Piaget – Constructivist – adolescents reason in more abstract and logical ways and where “knowledge is experience that is acquired through interaction with the world, people and things”[2].

2. Vygotsky – similar to Piaget in that adults construct their knowledge. Cognitive skills are embedded in socicultural relations and are mediated through language [1].

Behavioral and Social Cognitive Theories – adolescent development is understood by studying environmental experiences and observing behavior.

1. Skinner’s Behaviorism – rewards and punishments shapes behaviour and personality changes which are strongly influenced by environmental factors i.e. classical vs operant conditioning.

2. Social Cognitive Theory (Albert Bandura) – a balanced mix between behavior, environment and cognitive factors via observational learning are important in understanding adolescent development.

Ecological Theory

1. Urie Bronfenbrenner – consists of five environmental systems that strongly emphasize environmental contexts.

2. Life-course Theory (Glen Elder Jr) – “the human life span can be best understood by considering lives in their historical time and place, the timing of social roles and life events, the interdependence or connections among lives and the role of human agency and social constraints in decision making”[1].

Eclectic Theoretical Orientation

This theory selects the best ideas from other theories to suggest best learning practices as does the SCCS (social and cognitive connectedness) theory which focuses on the formation of social and cognitive schemata. It incorporates game like elements to foster motivation. Some schools, have based their entire curriculum throughout all disciplines through gaming.

Most constructivist models remain essentially science centered and logic oriented [2] whereas more modern theories such as Seymour Papert’s Constructivism Theory suggest that people develop meaning from their experiences with others. If we tap into those experiences while applying theory, then students will find meaning more influential and thus the experience becomes integrated with deeper meaning.  Holistically, Piaget, Vygotsky and Papert’s views are all being integrated in today’s Saskatchewan schools as our Math Makes Sense induction into Math 9 complements our new structural innovation initiative which is to allot time for students to play with hands on tools to form rich, student centered learning experiences.

Recently, George Siemens and Stephen Downes have suggest a Connectivism learning theory for the digital age suggesting people learn best by  networking and sharing knowledge with others via information, feeling and pictures to name a few.

In order to study how people learn in the 21st century we must not base our discussions solely on any one theory because each theory is without biases (directly or indirectly) from others, as none provide a complete description and explanation to best fit the needs our our 21 st century students. I like the feel of amalgamating the best of current learning theories. It provides educators with deeper understanding of adolescent development and the need to revise instructional habits to incorporate hands on, experiential learning in today’s classroom.

[1] Santrock, John. Adolescence. 8th Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill. 2001

[2] A Learning Theory for 21st Century Students (Maria Sontag)

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Where Are We and Where Are We Headed

After initially reading Lisa Thumann’s blog – What is Relevant?,  I stumbled across a link to which led me to a Front Line episode: Digital_Nation – Life on the Virtual Frontier aired February 2nd, 2010. This hour and a half documentary addressed the current state of children growing up online and the roles that societies play shaping today’s online participants and more relevant to my focus, how technology and society are affecting high school students. Douglas Rushkoff (author of Life Inc: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take it Back, media critic and correspondent) investigates the state of current, curricular demands and how schools around the world are looking at increasing the availability of the Internet into the classroom in hopes of creating education practices that parallel student realities.

In his video, Rushkoff paints a two sided view of what research is saying about our youth and the use of technology. After watching the video I sat back and tried to organize the facts into positive perspectives which I felt lacked during the time of viewing. I realize that there are extremes with anything in life but I was hoping to get a view that focussed on the positives more than the negatives but perhaps we have to hear about the cons to make the good stuff work for us.

I believe it is essential that we continue to monitor the use of technology and the impact that it is having on the minds of our next generation. One key issue is that we have not been down this road before with technology and with the speed at which paradigms are changing today, it can present many challenges for educators in the 21st century. I will attempt to provide some key findings that are relevant to my area of teaching that I found scattered throughout the video.

Uploaded on May 23, 2008
by Wesley Fryer

Digital_Nation – Life on the Virtual Frontier

–          kids are “distracted” by technology and multitasking is hindering progress. Multitaskers are slower at switching between different tasks than they are at continuing one task thoroughly. These distractions constantly disorganize the way their brains formulate knowledge and as a result we are unable to think well and clearly. Not a desired result if we are driving on the same roads as these kids.

–          Is Google making us smarter? Kids are spending on average, more than 50 hours a week  online and are using different parts of their brains than they have in the past when reading books. The prefrontal lobes of the brain comes into play here because multitasking requires constant decision making which exercises this part of the brain. This is interesting to note because according to the following article, the prefrontal lobes in teenagers are not functioning yet in a way that allows them to consider the long term effects of their decisions.

–          It is apparent that paradigms are shifting. The addiction of the Internet and gaming systems has created a public health crisis in S.Korea; one of first countries to address the fallout of the digital revolution. The inability to communicate and the time spent immersed in these worlds has caused the Korean Government to create free Internet rescue camps in which children are taught to play as kids again without the influence of technology.

–          In South Korean schools, hallways have signs preaching healthy Internet habits and songs are sung which highlight online etiquette. It was suggested in the video that this top down approach of conditioning of kids wouldn’t necessarily work well in North America. I am guessing it is because we have a more open, liberal society that involves a less authoritarian view on our residents.

Teaching with Technology

–          There is strong belief by some Principals that laptops are like oxygen for student and they question why we would deprive students of oxygen.

–          A Principal from the Bronx found by providing a laptop for every student in his school, it has lowered bullying within the school, it has increased attendance and it has increased grade scores considerably; however, he does feel that proper online etiquette must be taught. Conversely, some believe that online use is decreasing attention span and is providing an instant gratification type of education in which students can’t persue one linear thought to completion and the need for delayed gratification is becoming a skill of the past because students can find instant gratification whenever they want it via the Internet.

The underlying view is that education has not kept up with the realities of the world and as such we are misrepresenting our students for jobs that don’t even exist yet but will be implemented by the time they leave high school. With such conflicting views, it strengthens the belief that a teacher’s role is pivotal in ensuring that our students study how to learn and how to think for themselves; in addition, teaching students how to use technology efficiently as a tool for kids to represent their voices and vocational strengths. The detriment to technology though is that students are learning how to use it instead of learning how to create it and with this it creates what Rushkoff calls the “dumbest generation”.

The Dumbest Generation

–          Only 5% of students entering colleges are considered to be effective writers. MIT research found that constant disruption (multitasking) has a profound effect on writing capacities of our students. There doesn’t seem to be any connection between paragraphs within written essays and little or no focus of thought.

Most kids today write in lolspeak and ephemeral dialects which has caused a shift from an underused skill such as writing essays to a more direct form of speech as seen in facebook, twitter or text messages. The overuse of such types of writing has perhaps decreased the art of thought provoking, article entries by our students. Perhaps with the infusion of student blogs we can refocus the need and importance of creating more thought provoking ways of writing.

Uploaded on November 15, 2009 by alancleaver_2000

Where Are We Headed?

It is hard to dismiss the social capacity of the Internet and the impact that gaming systems have on our society. Countless millions of people are using Playstations, XBOX’s and social spaces such as SecondLife, facebook and myspace to reach out to others as a way of socializing in an online environment. In fact, video games such as World of Warcraft and Call of Duty are bringing people together from all ages and walks of life and have led some individuals to finding life partners via these gaming challenges.

Skills that are learned while playing video games are constantly being scrutinized. Excessive gaming may be linked to obesity, may be lowering academic ability, may cause sleep and memory problems and violent games have been suggested to increase violent behaviour. On the other hand, gaming provides kids with self esteem, social interaction, improves hand eye coordination, increases the ability to problem solve and can be used as a means of exercise as seen with some of the new Wii games on the market today. Perhaps mixing education and exercise into video games can pave the way to a more productive and healthier generation.

The fact is that video games are fun and that kids learn from playing engaging games. It allows kids to succeed at what they do and some schools have recognized the excitment of gaming and have assimilated curriculum with video games in which all objectives in all disciplines are met through playing games. I am an advocate for playing online and video games but I strongly believe that everything in moderation is key. The need to be “tapped into the matrix” is an addiction that has to be carefully monitored and reflected upon to ensure that common practices are in place to prevent the overuse and abuse of video games.

The US Army has increased interest in video games and artificial intelligence practices as they can be used to train soldiers in real life simulations and can act as remedial purposes to help soldiers recover from traumatic experiences encountered during aggressive battles overseas. There are gaming centers in the States that cater to kids playing “combative” video games in hopes of refining military skills and to open channel ways for recruitment when kids become of age to join the army. Of course this is met with much discourse by concerned parents but with added pressures of countries around the world to advance military skills the need to stay competitive is crucial to ensure terrorism is kept at bay in today’s volatile world.

“It’s vital that we identify best practices and productive relationships with new media tools and processes and that we model these through the classroom. This is not about introducing computers for tech’s sake or doing so because we don’t think we can hold their attention otherwise. It is about recognizing that a significant body of research is finding ways that learning is enhanced as young people deal with the resources and opportunities represented by digital media”. Quote by Henry Jenkins

I encourage everyone to watch the video and to read through the various profound reflections about the video. It has widened my realm of understanding about how technology is being used today but yet I feel apprehensive and confused as how to proceed with incorporating technology in my teaching practices.

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