Wednesday, April 21, 2010

EDUC6715 - A Final Reflection

Two years ago, I anxiously looked forward to the day when I would complete this Masters program. Now that we are in the final week of our final course, it seems to be a sad occasion, as well as a happy one. I have learned so much from the course material, our wonderful instructors, and my fellow classmates that I hate to see it end.

The economy is dramatically affecting public education. School funding in our state is reverting to the 1995 level for the coming year. Even that amount could decrease, as each day brings more bad news. As we continue to do our best to provide a first-class, 21st Century education for our students, financial support is waning. We have all heard the saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” I would like to change that slightly to “when the going gets tough, the dedicated get going.” After all, it takes true dedication and commitment to swim continuously against the tide. It is no secret that technology now plays a critical role in our present and future. It is also no secret that the newest technology can be costly. It is our responsibility to prepare our students to be productive, caring citizens of the 21st Century. They need technological skills that our parents never thought possible. More than ever, they need to communicate and collaborate with an increasingly diverse society. Every assignment we have completed through the Walden program has given us the knowledge and skills that we need to make that happen.

Not very long ago, I thought the answer to effective use of technology in the classroom required heavy funding. I suppose it is easier to think that way, since it allows us to blame the lack of progress on the lack of money. Now, I know that there are ways to give my students the access they need on a shoestring budget. Prior to beginning this program, I saw the benefit of using mobile devices in the classroom. Throughout the program, our resources have supported that position. However, I have learned so much more about how I can take full advantage of the mobile technology my students bring into the classroom each day.

More than once, my fellow teachers and I have made casual comments about our students’ fascination with video games: “If we could only put the content material into a video game, they would be more motivated to learn.” Prior to this final course, the “educational” video games I had seen were either drill and practice or merely entertainment. As I completed the application for Week 7, I realized that it is, indeed, possible to educate through video games. The role-playing game in my lesson covers all six math standard areas for middle school students. Given a choice between a digital game and a printed textbook, there is no doubt which one our students would choose. The only ones who will need convincing are other educational professionals and, perhaps, the parents. A major focus throughout this program has been on our ability and responsibility to encourage change in our schools. We must be the pioneers, the leaders, the ones who guide our students and our schools into the 21st Century.

I had taken a few online courses before enrolling at Walden. Most of those experiences were good, but there were also a few challenges. Walden’s instructors are dedicated professionals who are committed to helping us become the best educators and change agents that we can be. It is because of these instructors that I have decided to pursue my Ph.D. through Walden. Whether you call these classes distance, online, or virtual courses, they are rapidly becoming a major part of post-secondary education. Many middle and high schools also offer the opportunity to take courses electronically. This new education frontier holds many benefits and many challenges. I have been able to apply most of what I have learned, immediately, in my middle school classroom. That, alone, makes the Walden experience extremely valuable. I love teaching and I love technology. Walden has given me the opportunity to join the two in providing the best education possible for my students. Until recently, wikis, blogs, podcasts, videocasts, MUVEs, social networks, online communication and collaboration, mobile devices, GPS, and other digital applications were foreign terms in the traditional K-12 school classroom. Today, these technologies are becoming much more commonplace. The Walden program has given me the tools I need to influence and lead the adoption of new and emerging technologies in my school. With this knowledge and continued education, I will be able to better prepare my students for life in the 21st Century.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Reflection on Technology, UDL, and DI

As a teacher, I have experienced the frustration of sitting through yet another 'training' session on the latest educational philosophy. I know how it feels to focus so much energy on what else I could be doing that I really do not get anything out of the meeting. The courses in Walden's M.S.Ed. program have been exactly the opposite. By the end of each course, I have gained more than I expected. EDU6714 was no exception. At first glance, it may seem that learning to use educational technology to incorporate both Universal Design for Learning and Differentiated Instruction into our instructional methods may be a bit overwhelming. After all, how will I find the time to apply the three principles of UDL, meet the goals of DI, and incorporate technology into my lessons? It didn't take long, however, to realize that UDL and DI are designed to reach the same goals and complement each other nicely. In addition, new technology makes it easier to implement both UDL and DI.

Sharing ideas, suggestions, and feedback within our social networking group ( provided access to many new resources which I may not have found otherwise. As a group, we worked together to locate information, share our experiences with interactive tools, and collaborate on the Differentiation Station assignment. We created presentation materials to share with other teachers at our schools. The Ning site allowed us to gather feedback and suggestions from our group members on these presentations, as well as lesson plans and classroom activities. Although I was already familiar with social networking sites, this was my first experience using one to collaborate with other educational professionals. Throughout this program, I have found that the weekly discussions provide a wealth of knowledge and ideas. Now, I know that I can continue that same type of collaboration through a social networking site, such as Ning.

As a direct result of this course, I have added quite a few tools to my collection of educational resources. I administered my first true online test yesterday. My seventh grade students came to class expecting the typical weekly test. Instead, I had created their test using an online survey tool and reserved the laptop cart for this purpose. They were quite surprised when I explained it to them. One of the first things I noticed was that the students seemed much more focused as they took the test. They did not complain about the requirement to use complete sentences, since they could type their answers instead of writing them on paper. Once they finished their test and submitted it online, they completed a short feedback survey on the test. I was interested to know their opinions and they provided more feedback than I expected. I've tried adding the same type of feedback questions to a paper test without much response. Perhaps the anonymity encouraged them to be more expressive. They did not have to include their name and there was no handwriting that might be recognized by the teacher. I also believe, however, that they are just more comfortable - more at home - on a computer. All but one student expressed their desire to take more tests in this manner. It was an encouraging moment and, as one student put it, it seemed like we were "finally moving into the future." With the knowledge I've gained through this and other Walden courses, I believe that I can now make the changes necessary to use technology to differentiate and enhance presentation, expression, and engagement to meet the diverse needs of my students.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My GAME Plan - A Final Reflection

In my initial GAME plan, I had two main goals. The first was to do a much better job of engaging my students in researching and solving real-world issues and authentic problems. Our portfolio assignment for EDUC6713 is a unit plan based on a problem-based learning activity. In a series of three lessons, this unit integrates digital tools and resources, requires online collaboration among the students, and culminates in a digital story produced by the students. By using the GAME plan process in developing this unit, I believe I am making good progress in reaching the first goal. I also believe that there will not be a point where I can say that I have done everything required to achieve that goal. Since technology and the "real" world are constantly changing, the process of engaging students in these types of activities will be ongoing.

My second goal was to create a learning environment in which all students can use technology and their individual interests to become fully engaged in their own learning. The GAME plan process will allow students to set their own goals, determine the actions they should take to reach those goals, monitor and manage their own learning, and continuously evaluate and extend the progress they are making towards their chosen goals.

Of the two, the second goal will require much more planning and effort on my part in the early stages. Once my students become comfortable with using the GAME plan, they should be working harder than I am in the classroom! Middle school students do not like to think for themselves. Their preference is for the teacher to tell them the precise steps they should take to solve a problem. My preference (and goal) is for them to take the time to analyze a situation, determine the information needed to find a solution, and develop a strategy to solve the problem. The GAME plan provides a clear path for them to follow as they become independent thinkers and learners.

As a result of what I have learned in this course, I am now using more technology-based, real-world applications in my instruction. I am also providing more authentic assessment options. At the beginning of the second semester, I will introduce the students to the full GAME plan as a key component of the learning process. As with anything that requires more work for them, this change will probably be met with the usual resistance. My hope is that they will see it as a way to have more control over their own education, rather than just something that creates more work. It is important that they buy into the process for it to be successful. By providing a technology-enriched learning environment and more assessment options that allow them to pursue their own interests, the students should be willing to take more responsibility in the learning process. That, after all, is my primary goal as a teacher.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Using the GAME Plan Process with Students

In Week 7, we are to consider how we can use the GAME plan process with our students to help them develop proficiency in the NETS-S technology standards and indicators for students. The standards for teachers and students are very similar. Many of the actions that I have taken to make progress towards my goals are ones that my students can take to become more proficient. The GAME plan process provides an excellent road map for the path to proficiency.

Having worked on my GAME plan for several weeks now, I have learned to review and revise the plan as needed. The knowledge I have gained through these experiences is something I can share with my students as they work on their own GAME plans. The process of setting goals, determining actions to take, monitoring progress, and evaluating and extending the learning gives the students a simple, but thorough, method to achieve any goal.

My first step would be to review the NETS standards for students and choose two basic indicators that all of my students need to address. Since I teach middle school students, the first indicator they should focus on is Digital Citizenship (5.a) which states that students should use information and technology in a safe, legal, ethical, and responsible manner. Since they spend so much time on social networking sites and using online communication tools, this is a critical indicator for them. They must understand the rules for using and posting information on the Internet prior to developing their technology skills.

Our secondary focus would then be on the standard of Communication and Collaboration. Once they have learned the importance of digital citizenship, they are ready to increase their exposure to online communication and collaboration as a learning process, rather than just a social interaction.

As with any new method or idea we implement in the classroom, it is important that we are comfortable with the process before we introduce it to our students. This course has provided us with a GAME plan for continuing to improve our own and our students' proficiency in the technology standards.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Revising the GAME Plan

Week 6 brings us further along in the implementation of our GAME plans. This week, the questions to consider are:

· What have I learned so far that I can apply in my instructional practice?
· What goals am I still working toward?
· Based on the NETS-T, what new learning goals will I set for myself?
· If I am not ready to set new learning goals, how will I extend what I have learned so far?
· What learning approaches will I try next time to improve my learning?

I believe that I am doing a much better job of using technology to engage students in solving real-life problems. Just by working on our wiki lesson plan assignments, I am giving more thought to how I can use the technology in my classroom to make Math more real to my students. While this is not a new goal for me, the requirements for this course have certainly helped me focus on better ways to do this. Of course, achieving my goals will be an ongoing process.

Since I am making progress, I have decided to set two more goals for myself. By using my own experiences as an example, I want to model collaborative learning by engaging my students in virtual environments such as the one we have at Walden. This is another part of the NETS•T first standard for teachers. To be successful at that, I must also teach my students to be responsible digital citizens (NETS•T 4th standard).

To improve my learning, I will spend more time becoming familiar with the potential legal and ethical issues and challenges with using these technological tools. There is probably a great deal that may seem like "common sense" to me, but would never occur to my students. To get the best educational experience possible out of any technology, I must prepare for every situation. I can take nothing for granted. By being more aware of what my students may encounter, I can provide a much more rewarding experience for all of those involved.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Evaluating My Game Plan Progress

This week we are to reflect on our progress and evaluate how well we are meeting our goals. To do this, we are to consider the following questions:

· How effective were your actions in helping you meet your goals?
· What have you learned so far that you can apply in your instructional practice?
· What do you still have to learn? What new questions have arisen?
· How will you adjust your plan to fit your current needs?

I wish my GAME plan was progressing as quickly as this course! The weeks seem to be flying does the school year...but I am making slow progress on implementing my GAME plan. Changing the length of the projects is definitely helping me meet my goals. My Algebra class will begin working on improving the wiki that was started by last year's students. It was a project we began late in the year, just as we were preparing for the End of Course exam. This year, I am starting sooner, but not as soon as I had hoped.

It seems that we are constantly testing our students. With the administration of up to six standardized tests each school year, our computer lab is constantly reserved for testing. To remedy that, our middle school got a new laptop cart this year. However, we also added daily keyboarding classes. So when the lab is being used for testing (up to 3 weeks at a time), the laptop cart is reserved for the keyboarding classes. The result is that we still have virtually no computer access for at least 10 of the 36 weeks of school. The rest of the time must be divided among all of the teachers and classes who need access to technology.

We do as much as possible in the classroom using the Promethean board. I apply as many of the ideas that I have found to date in my instruction using this and other classroom technology. The students love using it, but it is hard to keep everyone engaged when only one person can use the board at a time. Once they've had their "turn", they tend to tune out while others are using it. The classroom response clickers are great for involving everyone, but you can't do everything on a clicker!

I still have to learn how to make the most of the technology I have access to on a daily basis. I know that I can be using it much more efficiently and effectively. That is definitely a work in progress that will take some time. One week later, I do not have any new questions, since I am still trying to answer the existing ones!

With each step taken towards my goals, I will continue to 'monitor and adjust' as necessary. It's hard to use that phrase without laughing since we hear it so often, but that doesn't mean it isn't true. Every thing we do in life requires constant modification, since every situation is different from the last. I take comfort in the fact that each of these class blogs, discussions, and assignments continue to provide much needed help along the way!