Thursday, December 27, 2012

Writer, Edit Thyself: What I Learned from #AcWriMo

Last month I made the decision to (loosely) take part in #acwrimo, which stands for academic writing month, a month long commitment to academic writing. I had projects that had fallen by the wayside that I wanted to complete before the end of the year and I figured this would help me complete them. My main goal for the month was to devote an hour to my writing first thing in the morning when my mind was fresh and I wasn't preoccupied with the emails piling up in my inbox. Everyday I woke up at 5:30 am and started writing. Each day "writing" took a different form but I basically committed that hour every morning to working on one of my abandoned projects.

I've heard many times that a great way to improve your writing was by reading and I didn't believe it until I began #acwrimo. At first the main purpose of my reading was to find sources to support my claims but as I continued to read, I learned how to write for my field. Not only did I acquire new vocabulary that was content-specific but I gained a better understanding of the style of writing that was being published in my field. My writing began to reflect the work of someone who was becoming familiar with scholarly writing.

Starting #acwrimo, I thought that I was going to fall in love with writing, the act of taking my words out of my head and putting them on paper, which I did. The more I wrote, the easier it became to write and even if an idea wasn't fully formed, I knew that I could add on to it later. But what I wasn't expecting was how much I enjoyed the editing process. Before entering the world of education, I was an English major in college so writing was a regular habit for me. Despite all my writing I hardly ever edited my work because I believed that it was good; I found it be an unnecessary practice. Now, once I started editing the pieces I had written, I was hooked. What I found fascinating about editing was taking an average piece of work and watching it change and evolve over time until it was something that I was proud of and eager to share. Removing a word, moving a sentence, rewording a phrase opened up a new level of meaning, one that was closer to the ideas in my head.

In the beginning of November, I thought this writing challenge was going to be make me a better writer and it did by making me a stronger editor.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Importance of Instructional Goals

Image by Ryan Thackray

This week my class and I have been discussing instructional goals and whether it is necessary for teachers to have them. I think that they should. Having clear goals gives a teacher a destination to reach; they have a specific result that they are trying to achieve. With that goal in mind, teachers are better able to select activities, assessments and materials that support that goal. Without, it is easy to lose track or focus on content that, although it’s interesting, does not support their ultimate outcome. It is from that goal that teachers can create assessments (formal or informal) that measure if the goal has been achieved. Creating assessments will also be easier because the teacher would know what skills they want the student to acquire by the end of the lesson or unit. Having goals in the classroom does not mean they are rigid guidelines that are strictly adhered to but they can give teachers a clearer idea of the direction the class is heading.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Rethinking Curriculum

This week my class was asked to consider whether we believe that curriculum is inflexible and unsupportive of optimal learning. I believe that older models of curriculum were created in societies where children’s family lives and backgrounds were more homogenous. Despite a few variations, parents raised their children the same way, certain family dynamics and roles were in place, and children belonged as much to the community as their own family. However, many can agree that that doesn’t appear to be the case anymore. If all students were typically developing and they all came from similar home lives, they might be served well under older models of curriculum (even this is not a certainty). With the diverse backgrounds that students bring to the background, curriculum needs to reflect those changes; it must be culturally responsive.

We were also asked to consider the benefits and drawbacks of focusing more on the weaknesses and strengths of curriculum than students. A benefit to this approach is that focusing on the curriculum is an opportunity for a teacher to remodel it to optimize student learning. Universally designed curriculum is of no use to students if the curriculum is unsatisfactory or outdated. The teacher has the chance to draw on their years of experience in the classroom, including successes and failures, and construct a curriculum that fosters innovation, creative thinking, optimal information processing, and other 21st century skills. On the other hand, a drawback to this approach could be that a teacher becomes so focused on the curriculum that they do not take time to get to know their students individually. In the end, they could continue to be curriculum-driven and curriculum-focused, a model which has not served education well to date.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Learning with Mr. Tully

One of the most valuable additions to my PLN over the last year has been Christopher Tully. Christopher Tully is a multimedia technology instructor at Middle Bucks Institute of Technology, adjunct professor, and trainer. By following his blog, Twitter feed, and seeing his presentations, I have learned so much about what it means to be an educator. I have learned strategies that have served me well in the classroom that I have been able to share with other educators.

These are a few of the gems I've gotten from him in the past year:

"Let students learn by failing." This is something that I am still processing and working through but I am learning that students can learn just as much from failure as they can from success.

Responsibility, time management and collaboration are important when using technology in the classroom. Using technology is about more than the tool itself. Teachers need to communicate clear expectations for appropriate use, set guidelines, and allow for collaboration with others to ensure that activities and projects run smoothly.

Career and technical education is so much more than most realize. Christopher Tully is a vocal advocate for career and technical education. Students in career and technical education are not academically challenged. They learn the same standards-required content as those in traditional educational settings but they are allowed to do it in a hands-on and project-based way. 

"Empower students to use technology. You'll never know what they do." Within every student, there is tons of creativity waiting to be unleashed. Giving them a tool plus the freedom to create with it can release that creativity and talents they may not have known they had.

"Teacher behavior impacts student achievement." Every student can remember a teacher that believed in them and helped them to achieve more than they imagined. It is those teachers that sincerely have the ability to change lives. A teacher's attitude, as well as their words, can have great impact on their students and shape how they view themselves as learners. 

Set higher expectations to maximize student potential. It is believed that demanding more from students is setting them up for failure. I disagree. I believe that when students are challenged, they rise to meet those expectation. Students are capable of more than they realize and with opportunities to prove themselves, they often will. 

Success for students should be doing their best work. In a day and age when we are driven by grades and test scores, the intrinsic motivation of learning can easily be lost. Instead, students need to be encouraged to put their best effort into everything they do.

One of my favorite talks he did was on creating engaged and motivated classrooms. I applied a lot of this when I was student teaching and it changed the way my students worked, the classroom environment, and my interaction with my students.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

My Learning, My Style

Last week I took a learning style inventory to assess what my top learning styles were. Here were my results:

I have taken a few learning style assessments before so I wasn't surprised to see that my highest was intrapersonal because I am one who likes to reflect on experiences, set goals, and connect my prior learning to new situations. My second highest, linguistic, also made sense because I was an English major in college and I always had a love for how words communicate ideas, give things meaning, creates connections, and tell stories. The one high scoring that surprised me was the interpersonal. This was surprising to me because I tend to lean more toward being introverted. I was unsure how it had risen so much since the last time I had taken an assessment like this. But then I realized that over the course of building my PLN, that I had started to become a connected educator. Over the last two years, I have seen the value of learning with, learning from, and connecting to other educators instead of learning on my own. Through my collaborations with other educators, my need to learn in the context of community grew.

While discussing the outcomes of our learning styles as a class, one of my classmates mentioned that she noticed that she taught her students the most from her learning style. This reminded me of a conversation that I had with a professor in which she told me that many educators teach from their learning style because that is how they feel the most comfortable but it could alienate other students that are not strong in that learning style. As I reflected on my own learning, I realized that a lot of my teaching centers around reflection and writing, which serves my linguistic and intrapersonal students well but there is little instruction that targets naturalistic, musical, and visual-spatial students, which I scored low in. So what does all of this meaning for my teaching? That I need to step out of my comfort zone and remember that within a classroom, there are students that come with a variety of learning styles and I need to make sure that their learning styles are represented in my instruction.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Physician's Oath for Teachers

Image by James Vaughn

The other day I was watching one of those fictional doctor shows and they talked about the physician’s oath that doctors take before entering the medical community. It is an oath that commits all those that take it to a common code of appropriate behavior. This got me thinking: what if beyond uniform standards and teaching credentials there was an oath for teachers entering the education field, code of conduct that binds us all by our common desire to serve children and our communities above all else?

This is what my oath would look like:
  • I solemnly pledge myself to consecrate my life to the service of my school community;
  • I will give to fellow teachers, administration and parents the respect and gratitude which is their due;
  • I will practice my profession with conscience and dignity; the well-being of the whole student will be my first consideration;
  • I will maintain by all the means in my power, the honor and the noble traditions of the education profession; my colleagues will be my brothers and I will learn from and collaborate with them;
  • I will not permit considerations of religion, nationality, race, party politics, financial or social standing to intervene between my duty and my students;
  • I will maintain the utmost respect for the unique personalities, backgrounds and learning styles of my students, even under government intervention, I will not treat my students like a test score;
  • I make these promises solemnly, freely and upon my honor.

If you had to make an oath, what would it look like?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Week in the World of Google

This week Chris Penny and I had held a Google workshop for educators. We had students from education, accounting and even government. Despite the variety of fields, Google tools could be used to increase productivity, improve collaboration, and support student learning. What makes web 2.0 tools like Google apps so valuable? There is:
                         1. Nothing to install.
                         2. Nothing to buy.
                         3. Access from any connected device.

Students were introduced to Google Drive as a place to create and store documents in the cloud and collaborate effortlessly and paperlessly. They also learned the vast number of ways to refine their Google search to yield better results. The week ended with students using the tools they used throughout the week to create their own Google site for their classroom. Using a project-based approach, the students became the teachers demonstrating tools and their application in the classroom.

This week was also my introduction to the Nexus 7 tablet, the Android tablet created by Google. This small, lightweight tablet was excellent for managing Google tools from anywhere with an Internet connection. This device has potential as a contender for mobile computing in education.

What amazed me most about this week is how quickly teachers can embrace and apply technology with the right support and encouragement. Many of our students had little experience using Google tools and by the end of the week, many of them integrated multiple tools to complete their final projects. This is encouraging for the future of technology integration if teachers are provided with, and take advantage of, training but more importantly, support from administration and fellow teachers. Creating supportive learning environments allows teachers to work collaboratively and see each other as resources.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Letting Students Fail

Photo by John Liu 
At the ISTE conference in June, Chris Tully presented on the motivated and engaged classroom. He said that as teachers we need to "let students learn by failing." The idea of allowing my students to fail made me very uncomfortable. I had always believed that the mission of education was to help students succeed and to me that meant preventing failure at all costs. As a teacher, it is hard for me to watch my students fail especially when my intervention could prevent that failure. Since that day I have been wrestling with how helpful is "too helpful." I began to wonder if my continual need to step in was helping my students or ultimately hurting them. As I wrestled with the idea of allowing students to fail, I reflected on my own experience as a learner. Many of the things that I struggled with the most were the ones that I worked the hardest at and learned the most from.

In his blog post on resisting being helpful, Dan Rockwell suggests that there are benefits to failure:
         1. Struggle strengthens.
         2. Failure humbles.
         3. Defeat opens hearts and minds.

What I had failed to realize is that failure can teach students just as much (if not more) as success. What brought me a moment of clarity is when Rockwell states: "The simple question is, 'Will pulling back [or stepping in] aid development?'" At the end of the day, what I want is to aid in my students' cognitive, academic, and social development. There will be times when stepping in will be the way to go and times when stepping back would be better. 

What are your thoughts on allowing students to fail?

Friday, June 22, 2012


Photo by Marcel Leitner
This year will be my second year attending the annual ISTE conference. I have noticed that there are not many graduate students/preservice teachers that attend . In fact, last year, I think there were only two of us and we were just lucky enough to meet each other and share how overwhelmed we were at being there. Like I said: we're pretty rare.

So why do I go when there are so few people that are at my professional level?

Because I like to learn from people more advanced than I am.

Meeting the amazing Shelly Terrell
At the ISTE conference, I am surrounded by people at all stages of their career. Some of the people I've met (and hope to meet) have been teaching and training for 5, 10, 15, 20+ years and they've still maintained their sense of inquiry, discovery, thirst for knowledge. What is even more amazing to me is that despite their experience, they don't care that I am a little "green;" they care about sharing ideas and learning with me. As with any conference or event, I get to meet the people in my learning network face-to-face and move relationships beyond 140 characters and Google+ hangouts. I get to have conversations with people that are doing things in their classrooms that I hope to throughout my career. With every conversation, I am challenged and inspired. Once I come home, I don't keep what I learn to myself; I bring it back to my classes and share them with my peers so they are learning with me. I am really looking forward to four days of learning and spending time with the people who have been such a huge part of my learning and development as a teacher.

See you all in San Diego! :-)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Week in Review

The impact of digital learning on achievement
Strategies for engaging parents
7 habits of tech-leading principals
Digital learning leads to deeper thinking
GlogsterEDU will be included in the Google Chromebook
Mirroring on a Mac without an iPad
50 k-12 edtech blogs to read
The value of digital writing
2012 K-12 Horizon report on emerging technology
New updates announced by Apple

Tools & Apps
Curate the web using eduClipper
Learn about apps for summer learning
New tools teachers can use in the classroom
Interactive science activities at Wonderville
Tools for creating sharing communities

Technology Integration
QR codes for school communication
Using technology to engage students over the summer
Using the Apple TV in the classroom e-book

Professional Development Opportunities
Professional Development and resources for teaching online from Edutopia
Apply for the next Google Teacher Academy in New York (October 3-4)
Digital Teacher series at The Center for Learning
ISTE Conference in San Diego, CA (June 24-27) or attend remotely
Engaging parents webinar (June 21)

Monday, June 11, 2012

iAm a Supporter of Student Branding

Last week, Steve Hargadon interviewed Apple Distinguished Educator Christine DiPaulo about her iAm Collection, a collection that originated from last year's ADE summer institute. The course involves students completing a series of exercises such as creating personal brand statements, designing logos, and concludes with a resuME which tells their story. Christine shared the collection and had some of her students share their personal projects and discuss their journey of creating them. I was amazed hearing the students share their stories of self-discovery as a result of creating their student brands. I applaud and support projects and courses like these because through them students are learning how to establish and control their digital identities. They are learning that everything they create, in the digital world as well as the real world, is a representation on themselves to the world. Instead of fearing student interaction with the Internet, students are being encouraged to showcase their work and tell their story. As digital media becomes more ingrained in students' lives, it is important that they are taught how to create a digital legacy they can be proud of in the years to come.

If you missed the interview with Christine and her class, you can watch a recording of it here

For information on the iAm Collection and personal branding, check out their student page and iTunes U collection

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Week in Review

An article about the need for teachers to have professional training in social media
Facebook's planning to allow children under 13 to use their service
Districts prepare to apply for the new Race to the Top grants
10 ways that teachers can be learners
Connecting to a network
The new conference model: edcamps
Mentoring for new teachers
Misconceptions about technology in education

Tools and Apps
Educational apps for student learning during the summer
Collaborative task management tool Any.DO
Free search tools for teachers
Teachers can find educational videos at YouTube EDU

Technology Integration
Tips for Twitter in the classroom
Teaching Internet safety to younger students
8 resources for iPads in education
The value of digital mind mapping

Professional Development Opportunities
Professional Development and resources for teaching online from Edutopia
Digital storytelling webinar (June 13)
Apply for the next Google Teacher Academy in New York (October 3-4)
Digital Teacher series at The Center for Learning
ISTE Conference in San Diego, CA (June 24-27) or attend remotely
Engaging parents webinar (June 21)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"Why" is More Important Than "What"

Image by o5com

I have had the opportunity to serve on a few committees centered on technology integration in the classroom. Many times, there has been a greater emphasis on tools and services, the "what" of technology, and not as much focus on the reasons behind it, the "why."

The "what" places focus on putting a specific tool in the classroom and making it work while the "why"focuses on the objective and which tools would be best for meeting that objective. "Why" creates a vision and "what" creates a to-do list. It is difficult to get people on board if they do not see a value to what they are being asked to do.

What can help teachers become invested in technology in the classroom? An understanding of why it is important. Teachers, administrators, students, and parents need to be able to see and understand the value of technology in the classroom or else it becomes another fad they have to "get through."The "why" includes why technology can add to their teaching; how it will benefit teachers and students as lifelong learners; why it empowers their students. Focusing on the "what" creates a mindset of always feeling behind because technology can be hard to keep up with. There will always be something newer and shinier and chasing tools can lead to dissatisfaction and missing the bigger picture.

Don't misunderstand me, in discussion of technology integration, there must be discussion about appropriate tools and services because  parents, teachers, students, and administrators need to know what resources are available. But, in my opinion, they need to support a larger vision or it will continue to be an uphill battle.

Author Seth Godin wrote an excellent blog post with excellent starter questions.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Google+ for Higher Ed

Last week Lisa Thumann and Chris Penny presented on Google+ in higher education in a Google hangout as part of Google Education On Air. Although I have a Google+ account, I failed to use it nearly as much as Facebook and Twitter. After listening to this session, my eyes have been opened to more innovative ways that Google+ serves education especially higher education. The new feature that I learned about that I'm really excited about is Google+ pages. Pages allow users to create pages that Google+ users can follow and appears in Google search. Beyond Google+ as a teaching and learning tool, the session also ventured into topics such as digital scholarship, collaboration, academic resources, personalized learning, online learning, accountability, and so much more.

Best practices for Google+ included:

  • Student collaboration through Circles
  • Opportunities for blended learning
  • Development and presentation of projects
  • Opportunities for student advisement
  • Using Google+ as a blog of sorts
  • Professional collaborations
  • Pages for groups, organizations, clubs, classes/courses etc.
  • Bringing in outside experts

Find more ways to use Google+ in higher education here

Here is the video of the session:

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Rethinking Research

Image by Unhindered by Talent

This week my students have been working on a research project. It didn't take long for me to realize that they were lacking research skills. The ability to conduct research has always been a necessary literacy skill in schools but emerging technology has reshaped the definition of what research entails.

These are some research skills that I believe today's students should have:

  1. Know how to engage text - Every website is designed differently and might not have the exact headings that is needed for a project. It is helpful for students to learn how to read text, and even pictures, to draw information from any page they read. 
  2. Knowing what resources to use - "Googling" a question brings up tons of results but students need to learn how to sort through all that information to reach credible sources that fit their project and they are able to read. This is a skill that teachers can model for their students who can continue to practice it in the future.
  3. How to apply the information to what they already know - Research is supposed to to build on a child's prior knowledge about a topic, no matter how minimal it might be. Students need to learn how to make connections between what they have learned and what they knew before.
  4. Reflect on their own learning - Reflection is an excellent opportunity for students to ask themselves if their questions were answered, if their research led to new questions, and what new resources they could use to answer those new questions.
  5. Putting information in their own words - It may be tempting for students to copy word-for-word what they see on a website or in a book; however, practicing to put information in their own words makes them masters of the information and better able to explain it or teach it to others. 
  6. Share what they learned - Information a child learns benefits them but information that they share has farther reaching benefits. Students should be encouraged to conduct their own research and use what they learned to teach and train others, even the teacher. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Little Bit of Separation Anxiety

Image by Domiriel

In her chapter on the use of discussion boards in student teaching Dr. Karen Johnson (2010) wrote that during student teaching placement "students often feel isolated from their peers and without a social and emotional group to connect with during this very stressful time in their lives" (p. 61). When I read that over the summer, I didn't really understand it. I figured that it was impossible to feel disconnected in a school building full of people. Unfortunately, a month into my student teaching experience, I find myself living it. In the past year I have built an amazing PLN, a community of people that I learn with and learn from on a daily basis. I loved reading what they were reading, going to them for guidance and celebrating their successes. I value the connections I have with every person in my PLN because they enrich my learning and help me to be a better preservice teacher and student. Now the sheer volume of work required for student teaching prevents me from connecting with my learning community in a meaningful way which has left me feeling unbelievably disconnected. Going through this experience, I believe in connected learning more than ever. Now every conversation, every e-mail and tweet means so much more to me because it stretches my understanding, inspires me and helps me to connect the dots. Student teaching has been a fantastic learning experience so far. I just wish I could do it and remain tightly connected with my learning community at the same time.

Johnson, K.J. (2010). Peer to Peer: Using the electronic discussion board during student teaching. In Yamamoto, J., Kush, J. C., Lombard, R., & Hertzog, C. J. (Eds.), Technology Implementation and Teacher Education: Reflective Models (pp. 60-71). Idea Group Inc

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Dig In & Get Your Hands Dirty: My First Day of Student Teaching

Today was my first day of student teaching in a third grade class. When I woke up this morning, I expected to feel really nervous but I felt really calm. When I pulled up to the front of the building, I felt that like I had always been there. I lucked out that two colleagues in my seminar are also student teaching at the same school so it was nice to see familiar faces when I walked into the building. The school staff was so welcoming and they were so excited to chat with me and give me advice. I didn't expect the students to be so excited to see me! I have never heard my name said so many times in one day. They were so eager to show me their drawings or the books they were reading. It was hard to feel nervous when the students were so welcoming. As I saw the kids off at the end of the day, the kids were so excited to have me come back tomorrow. Today was not about simply observing; I quickly dove in and got my hands dirty. I passed out papers, graded quizzes, decorated the classroom and conducted the student's time tests. I even attended a third grade staff meeting which opened my eyes to the realities of teachers trying to teach and serve their students in an age of high-stakes testing. I am amazed that I learned so much on just my first day and how natural it felt to jump in and get started.

Looking forward to new adventures tomorrow!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Countdown to the Classroom

Image by LizMarie_AK

Next week I will be entering a third grade classroom to begin my student teaching. While I'm a little nervous, I am excited to take everything that I have learned and put it into practice in the field. I have learned so theories, ideas and best practices in my classes and through my PLN, which I greatly value, but without testing it for myself I cannot evaluate the reality of implementing them in the classroom.

More importantly, I want my student teaching experience to be a connected one where other student teachers and I share our experiences with each other instead of feeling separated and isolated. I see student teaching as a learning experience about my own teaching but also to expand my classroom ideas from the succeses and failures of my peers. I would also love to hear suggestions from veteran teachers who have likely been where I've been or gave me ideas I might not thought of. I believe and practice connected learning and I believe that it should apply to teaching and classroom practices as well.

Over the next couple of weeks I will do my best to share my journey of learning here and welcome comments, ideas and feedback!

Monday, January 9, 2012

uTales - E-books for Kids

uTales is an online tool for kids to make and sell their own digital picture books. Students can add their own text and images as well as sound effects and animations to create the pages of their story. Completed e-books can be viewed on a laptop as well as viewed on an iPad or iPhone with the free uTales app. The finished interactive e-book looks and flips like a real book. After the book is completed, the creator sets the price of their book and they can keep their profit or donate it to Pencils for Promise, an organization that builds schools in developing countries. uTales includes an extensive library of books from authors all over the world. The stories in the library are approved before they are added so they are age-appropriate and the highest quality.

uTales in the classroom: uTales is a great tool to allow students to create their own digital stories. Picture books can be created on a variety of subjects and content areas. With the ability to add collaborators, children can work collaboratively on their stories. Students can share their stories with other students around the world. Extending the assignment beyond the classroom, a class can create stories to raise money to support education in developing countries.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Timekiwi - Timeline Creation Tool

Timekiwi is an online tool for creating timelines or kiwis. Timekiwi creates a timeline of the user's tweets, photos and blogs. Timekiwi currently supports Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare, Instagram and Flickr. Users can control how much they want to share by hiding the items they wish to keep private. Timekiwi allows a user to tell a story through their social media. Kiwis can serve as a narrative of one's learning and aids reflection in professional development. Timekiwi is similar to the new Facebook timeline but it extends beyond Facebook to include one's other interests as well as photography.

Timekiwi in the classroom: Timekiwi would serve well in a classroom to chart a class' activity over the course of a school year. Classes with Facebook pages, Flickr accounts and their own blog can create their own timeline. Timelines can be shared with parents so they get a clearer picture of what is happening in their child's classroom. Having students select what they will share on the timeline opens an opportunity to discuss responsibility in using social media and creating an online identity.

Here is the timeline I created using Timekiwi