Friday, May 30, 2008

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.

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