Friday, May 30, 2008

My Life as a Shadow - Part II

The next day after shadowing in Long Island, I went to Queens at shadowed at P.S. 206 in Rego Park - also an elementary school but for Grades K-5. At this school, I spent a lot more time running around to different classrooms. The way technology is taught at this school is that Grades K-2 go to a Computer Lab for one period. Grades 3-5 get technology brought into the classroom or go to a different room with laptops(e.g. Social Studies).

I knew two teachers at this school. Lori is a big advocate of integrating technology in the classroom. She teaches 5th grade and she actually had an intern from Columbia University assist in the classroom all year on Wednesdays. So, naturally, I went on a Wednesday. She had lined up several different observations for me throughout the day. However, periods 0-2 were open. For period 0, I actually tried to help her setup the Mac with an InFocus projector so the students could do their presentations later in the day. The big problems here - well for one thing I am not a Mac person (though I expect I will become one soon!) but more importantly they didn't have the right adapter. So, we skipped that step for now and focused on reading. Some of the kids come in early for extra reading help which is period 0. In the 1st period, they worked as a group on math word problems and I was asked to help with this activity as well. For 2nd period, they had ballroom dancing and I found myself in a circle doing these dances (only some of which I actually knew!). There are 19 boys and 9 girls in the class so they were happy to have another female!

For 3rd period, I sat in on a 4th grade class who were working on their social studies laptops. They are so called this because that it was they are used for. The teacher, Laura, in this class uses PortaPortal to organize the lesson plans for each grade and class. This site lets you organize bookmarks, create folders, etc... So, in this class, we were talking about the American Revolution and also NYS History. You can see some of the collateral that was used. The 4th graders knew exactly how to log into the PS 206 Portal to see the materials. Laura displayed the website on the page and reviewed with them some details about the American Revolution that they were obviously supposed to already know. Then she showed a short video about the Revolution. Then the students were able to use Mac laptops to find answers to questions on a worksheet about the American Revolution. When she wants the students attention, she has her own method of getting it. She calls out "Pacman" and the students know to close the Laptop to form a Pacman shape (not all the way closed, but just enough so they can't see the screen). Laura also told me she uses Google Earth and WikiSpaces in the classroom.

Then I joined Lori again for 4th & 5th period because the intern from Columbia was there at this time. We did several activities include 2-3 student presentations of a project they had been working on. They used PowerPoint to create slides to talk about their Country reports. The presentations were supposed to include graphics that they either got from the internet or clip art and font styles. Some were better than others. The second part of the lesson was on creating newsletters. They were going to write a newsletter so the intern taught all the students (who each had a laptop) how to create columns in Word.

For 6th period, I visited the Computer Lab which had a 1st grade class. They were having a group timeout when I got there. The teacher didn't say or do anything for 10 minutes. Then she let them go to the Macs in the room and told them they could do StarFall, Millie's Math House or Clifford. I think KidPix was another option. This is what they did for the rest of the period. I was underwhelmed. I asked the teacher about this and she said that they are playing educational games and while some did have educational components I felt there was so much more they could be learning. Maybe that's what they just happened to be doing today but it seemed like this was pretty much the routine.

For the last few periods of the day, I floated around. I went to Maris's classroom because she is a friend of mine and they were doing a lesson on butterflys. I also spent some time back in the Computer Lab because I wanted to see if it was different with 2nd graders. It started out the same. They were in a timeout but eventually she let most of the kids go to the computers. Some of them still had work to finish their "All Abouts". They were supposed to pick something that they like, put a picture of it on a page and then write a few sentences about it. One girl was having a lot of trouble. She was writing about the beach but she had all sorts of spelling and grammatical errors, and her fonts were different. The teacher told her to fix the fonts but she needed hand-holding from me to do it. I told her "highlight the text, change the font size, change the font color, etc..." She couldn't process the whole thing at once but knew how to do it one at a time. The teacher didn't even care about the spelling & grammar but I walked her through it anyway. She was happy when she finished. The other students were all supposed to be working on "Interactive Skills Online" from Internet4Classrooms - aka Second Grade Skills.

I finished the day back in the Social Studies class with a group of Special Ed kids who were working on creating Presidential Baseball Cards. They were doing research on laptops about 5 presidents and they were going to have to create cards of the facts. Laura showed me a project they had just finished where they wrote about the Iroquois Indians and had to create a Word Find with various related terms. She told me they use PuzzleMaker to do this.

That's about it. Like I said, a very different experience. But both were very valuable from a learning and growing perspective.

My Life as a Shadow - Part I

You know how life gets ahead of you? Well, I meant to write this entry weeks ago when it was fresh in my mind but that didn't happen. So, a cruise to Bermuda and several events later, I'm finally getting to it. I hope I remember all the details...

So, on May 13th, I shadowed Jenna, a Technology Education Teacher at Drexel Avenue Elementary (grades 3-5) in Westbury, NY. This was my first experience in a classroom setting. Jenna's role is largely the role of Computer Teacher although she does work with other teacher's to integrate technology into their curricula which is then executed through Jenna's classes. Each grade and class goes to Jenna's room once per week. The day that I visited we had 2 5th grade classes, a 3rd and 4th grade Special Ed class, a 4th & 5th grade Special Ed and a 3rd grade class.
Jenna explained to me that she tried to use the same lesson plan with all the grades but differentiates the lesson as needed. She makes a lot of use of the SmartBoard and the Mac's in the room (which is set up in a lab formation, all Mac's in rows facing the front of the room. This is important so she can walk to the back and see what the students are doing. In order to get the students attention, she calls out "Granny Hands". She explained to me that she uses this phrase because her grandmother used to hold her hands together and rock in her chair. When Jenna uses this phrase in the classroom, the students all put their hands together above their head. In other words, don't touch the computers.

For the 1st 2 periods, we had both 5th grade classes. I learned that just because both classes are the same grade doesn't mean they will behave the same. One class was much more focused and participatory than the other. The lesson for today was a Virtual Field Trip to Pea Island, North Carolina to learn about Sea Turtles. She had the links to this site from her class portal and most of the kids knew just where to go to find it, although she was doing it along with them on the SmartBoard. They had to fill in a form with their first name, school and city/state to enter the site. When they were filling out this form, she reminded them about "First Name Only. Online Safety." Most of them remembered but some needed to be reminded. I noticed that Jenna had a lot of posters up in the room that talk about Online Safety. After a few minutes, Jenna let the kids work through the field trip on their own. They had to answer some questions on a worksheet using the tour. In the first class, the kids needed a lot of guidance but the second class did most of it on their own. Jenna reviewed the answers collectively at the end of the period and then they were off to their next class: Library.

The next period were the 3rd and 4th grade Special Ed kids. Jenna explained that most of these kids just have attention or behavioral issues. We did the same lesson for these kids, but Jenna asked the last 5th grade class to leave the tour up on the screen (so we could skip the login process) instead of the normal "Apple-Q". These students only got through a few questions so many of them took it home as homework or to the afterschool program that they attend. The next 3 periods were teacher prep, training and lunch. I had a quick lunch and then sat in on Julie's 5th grade class.

Julie is one of the teachers who uses a lot of technology in her regular classroom. I noticed a distinct difference in the classroom style. In Julie's class, the students were all working on separate projects - some math, some science, some history, etc... Julie kept her eye on all of the students and projects all at once. She also has a SmartBoard in the classroom so this helps. They also have several other computers at the back of the room and one printer. There is also a laptop cart that moves between classrooms. Some of the girls working on history were creating a poster report about the Holocaust. I told the girls about my experience visiting Auschwitz and I think they liked have the personal touch to add to their project. They were writing parts of the report on the Mac which displays to the SmartBoard and then printing and cutting the parts to attach to the poster. Julie was correcting spelling, formatting, etc while helping a boy in the class work out a math problem. Some of the kids opted to stay in during recess to keep working on their projects.

Back with Jenna and still on a break, she showed me the digital photography unit they did on "Close-ups". In teams, each group had to take pictures of common things at close ranges and write up clues describing the item. The results were posted in the hallway and there was a contest to see who got the most right. The team (or class?) who won got a Pizza Party.

We then had the 4th and 5th Grade Special Ed class but most of them were having testing so we only had 2 boys in the class. Instead of trying to teach the lesson, Jenna let them have "free time" on the computer which they love. She says that if she lets them have free time on occasion they appreciate the class more - it seems like fun instead of work. Meanwhile, Jenna spent some time with describing some of the tools she uses in the course of preparing lessons and projects. I will list some of these below.

Finally, we had the 3rd grade class and we went back to the Virtual Field Trip project on Sea Turtles. It was interesting to me because I think the 3rd graders were even more into it than the 5th graders although they needed more help starting it up and answering some of the questions. But, their focus and interest was higher.

On some days, Jenna has an afterschool program where they do special tech projects but today wasn't one of them. I would like to go back for a visit on one of these days. The students who are in the program had to "apply" and Jenna selected the participants based on their essay and other factors.

Wow, I didn't realize how long this was. If you are still here reading with me, here is the payoff! Here is the top 10 list of tools that Jenna uses to make her job easier...

1. Voki - She uses this to record her voice for various projects, etc...
2. Animoto - Creates animations and transitions for you.
3. School Leadership Ning - A community of school leaders on Long Island.
4. iMovie on Leopard - Used to create movies.
5. iWeb - Used to create web sites, blogs, etc...
6. United Streaming - Various short segment content streams. In particular, she likes Power Media Plus. Note that UStream (interactive broadcasting) is different that United Streaming.
7. WebQuests - These are the internet driven lesson plans (listed above) and
8. Music - Jenna utilizes music clips from places like Creative Commons and FreePlayMusic.
9. Comic Life - Jenna used this as part of a class on graphical design.
10. CyberDuck - Open source tool used as an ftp client for Mac.

Look for Part II in a few days - Shadowing in a NYC city.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

PodCamp NYC 2008 Continued

PodCamp NYC - The afternoon sessions...

The Second Life: Shifted Learners session was quite amazing. A middle school teacher is using Teen Second Life in extraordinary ways to teach students about immigration, bring literature to life and learn about body image, among other things. The thing that struck me most was the speaker's summation of why we need to integrate new & bold ways of learning and it was this simple phrase from a student perspective: "ENGAGE ME or ENRAGE ME". The image that captured this was a student wearing a T-shirt that read "I'm not ADD, I'm just not listening". This really hit home for me in an age where students process information simultaneously and are often bored with traditional learning environments. The speakers' referenced Mark Prensky's term of Digital Natives but prefers to call them "Shifted Learners" because not all youth of this generation are technology saavy and not all prior generations are digitally illiterate. They did reference two books worthy of reading. The World is Flat by Thomas L Friedman and Don't Bother Me Mom, I'm Learning by Marc Prensky. I agree with the speakers that as technology evolves, so must literacy. This includes technological literacy. And to acquire necessary 21st century skills, technological fluency is even more important. Teachers need to strive for engagement and edutainment.

One of the speakers, AJ Kelton, commented that we need to "get a MUVE on". MUVE=MultiUser Virtual Environment. He went on to cite specific locations in Second Life that have interest for education. These include 1) Linden Hills (the inverse of Dante's Inferno), Genome Island (Sciences), The Second Louvre (art all created in Second Life), NOAA, Spaceport Alpha & Delta, Renaissance Island, the Sistine Chapel (with approval from the RL Sistine Chapel) on Vassar Island and many businesses. These are all on the main grid but can still be relevant for students. Additionally, The Ivy Tower of Primatives teaches you everything you need to know about building in SL. It uses notecards and you can upload pics but no CAD yet. (Make sure firefox is closed before you do this.) There is also the ISTE Island with a speaker series every Tuesday night and a dosent on duty.

Some participants noted that IBM has said they will not spend any money on travel, opting to do meetings in SL and that they have some islands that are behind a firewall. I contributed that Sun is doing very similar things: meetings, press conferences, training, etc... in SL. Some companies are doing 1st level interviews via SL and Dell is merging SL & RL but allowing customers to build a computer in SL and then buy it & get it in RL.

The second speaker spoke about Ramapo Islands, a private set of islands in Teen Second Life (13-17 Grid) that she uses to teach her middle-schoolers. This was when the prospect of virtual worlds for education really grabbed me. Peggy Sheehy's daughter works for Linden Labs and got her hooked on SL. She believes that reintroducing play into education is so important. They have 3 islands in the district with 6 SIMS and 1200 students. She wrote a proposal to the district on why they should spend the money on this and it was accepted. They had 175 volunteers help build the Islands on the main gride and then moved it over to the Teen grid. No adults are allowed on the Teen grid (though you can buy an island and a 2nd avatar that is locked on the island to supervise and it is monitored by a 3rd party who does FBI checks on these adults). She trained 45 teachers on the use of Second Life as an educational tool and also runs a tech club. The main projects that were most interesting to me was the Immigration unit and the Literature unit. The students recreated Ellis Island and Liberty Island to learn about immigration. When asked how they would do it differently the next time, the students responded that they would have liked to role play the immigration process as an immigrant avatar. One student took it further by saying that they should have researched actual immigrants using data from the Ellis Island website and then portrayed that immigrant in SL. Wow! For Literature, they did a mock trial in Second Life based on the book "Of Mice and Men". Students took it seriously by dressing the part in RL, while recreating the case in SL. In this case, a picture is worth a thousand words. This isn't the exact presentation used at PodCamp but it does show some screenshots of Ramapo Islands. These are just some of the possibilities that SL brings to the classroom.

The next session was on Social Media & Parenting and dealt with issues around safety and privacy. The big message here was transparency and to remember that you are the same person online vs. offline. We discussed what it means to be "famous" and that this needs to be accompanied by lessons on morals and values. The topic of etiquetter was very much at the forefront. e.g. Inside voices = lowercase letters; Set rules for the dinner table (no texting, etc...) We also discussed that it is good to engage children early with a sense of responsibility on the Internet. One woman said her 8 year old daughter has created a Hannah Montana podcast with hundreds of listeners. Another mentioned that creating a Yahoo! group and managing it is a good activity for 7th and 8th graders. Have them create age appropriate groups and let them facilitate wiki's, group discussions, etc... This will be a foundation for building employable skills for the future.

The session on Education 2.0 spoke of ways to use 2.0 technologies in the classroom and in every day life. One women spoke about how she creates a wiki page for her holiday gift list and how she recruited (dragged?) her family into using it. Another spoke about iTunesU and MIT OpenCoursework which are some typical podcasts in use at the college and university level. Others spoke about video connection tools like ooVoo and Seesmic. The speaker discussed ways that she is using technology in her classroom. This included:

  • Posting assignments to a wiki or as email attachments to the parents. This takes away the excuse "I forgot my homework at school".
  • Lets kids sit in on a class through videoconferencing or podcast while they are home sick. [Ed. Note. Not sure how I feel about this one. If they are truly sick, shouldn't they be resting? Interested in your comments on this...]
  • Class notes posted on wiki for reference.
  • Provide virtual homework help via Skype, Ubuware?
  • Provide a chat room for questions.
  • Study groups online (Ryerson U example).

We also talked about individualizing education and discussed that mentoring and community relationships are key. Make parents part of the picture. Universal design of curriculum is good for everyone. So, how do you get started. The challenge begins with each of us. Here are some suggestions the speaker offered:

  • Call a parent and report on good progress or behavior!
  • Parents -> Email a thank you to teachers or bring a cup of coffee for no reason at all -> not on teachers week!
  • Don't be afraid to care and encourage even the kids who are struggling.

Overall, PodCamp NYC turned out to be a worthwhile event, even though I missed day 2 and even though it took me 3 hours to get home! Maybe next time I'll do the whole event in Second Life! hehehe...

PodCamp NYC 2008

This was my first unconference. If you don't know what an unconference is, it's basically a (usually) free conference with no formal organization as far as speakers are concerned. There is no call for papers, you just sign up as a speaker and then people can attend your session (or not.) PodCamp NYC was so overwhelmingly popular that by the time I signed up they had closed the speaker slots, but I was still able to attend as a participant. That's what attendees are called at an unconference because everyone participates.

PodCamp NYC was an unconference all about podcasting, although many sessions spoke about Social Media in general. What I particularly liked was that there was an Education 2.0 track at the unconference.

My role at the conference was two-fold. I was asked to attend to represent my company (Sun Microsystems) as part of our Web 2.0 Task Force and as such I spent some time manning our table and talking to people about what Sun is doing in the Web 2.0 and Education space. [For details on how the conference related to Sun, see my Sun blog entry.] However, it quickly became clear that my other role should be to attend sessions, meet people and discover relevant nuggets of information.

I will share with you some of the more interesting nuggets that I took from this event. The first session I attended was called Teachers Teaching Teachers and it discussed a weekly podcast (Wednesday nights at 9pm EST) used to show teachers how to use technology in the classrooms. The host used for these podcasts is called EdTechTalk. Besides seeing the different podcasts that EdTechTalk hosts, the speakers discussed their ideas about "Youth Twitter", a site that was able to be administered and monitored so that teachers would be more comfortable with students on Twitter. This apparently led some to think it was too "schooly". This then prompted a podcast episode called Learning to be "Unschooly" which was actually taught by students. I was inspired by this interactive learning. The other thing I found most useful in this session, was that we all introduced ourselves and spoke briefly about our backgrounds, why we are attending PodCamp and this particular session. Below, I will list some interesting insights that I got as people spoke about their own backgrounds and experiences:

  • Learning about Online Safety. One teacher asks students to Google their friends (in groups of two) in class to see what they can find. This exercise is a real eye opener for students who are amazed at how much information is available about them.
  • One teacher proposed that using WiiFIT may be a way to more easily incorporate Teen Second Life or other virtual worlds into the classroom.
  • iWeb is being used to teach students to create podcasts.
  • In higher ed, iTunesU is being used to share course content.
  • Webcast Academy
  • Teachers are connecting with each other through VoiceThread

The biggest message that I heard was that things like Facebook, Tumblr, Flicker, etc... aren't as evil as schools think, as long as they are utilized in appropriate ways.

The next session was on using technology for differentiated instruction. It was interesting because it talked about ways that technology can reach underserved populations. In particular, the discussion around how podcasting can be used effectively for students with ADHD really came to life for me. This particular teacher uses the technology in two ways. One, he records his lessons so that the students can go back and relisten to it as necessary. This is particularly helpful for ADHD students. He also uses it to have students record themselves. He finds that students are often better able to correct their own spelling & grammatically mistakes if they hear them spoke. This is especially useful for ELL students. Another story was told about an autistic woman who uses her PECS system to communicate with people via her popular blog in ways that she otherwise couldn't. Other useful ideas that were shared in this session include:

  • Using Google Docs to get feedback from parents. Students can post their homework and the parents can easily review it from wherever they are.
  • Using as another literacy method. Students who are not as eager to read can listen to books online. There is also a new kids section on Audible.
  • One parent in the room spoke about how he homeschools his children and then he uses alot of podcasts to assit with grammar, history, vocubulary expansion, etc... In particular, he called attention to Grammar Girl and Podio Books.

I'm going to end this entry here since it's already quite long and pick up the afternoon sessions in another post. Enjoy!