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!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Monitoring My GAME Plan Progress

The following questions help me monitor my GAME plan progress:
  • Am I finding the information and resources I need?
  • Do I need to modify my action plan?
  • What have I learned so far?
  • What new questions have arisen?
It seems that I am always finding new information and resources to help reach my goals. Some of the resources I mentioned earlier have produced a lot of material I can use in my Math lessons. In addition, as I talk about this plan with my fellow teachers, they have provided some great feedback and additional ideas. We often discuss how difficult it is to keep a class of middle school students interested and engaged for 90 minutes each day. Making the lessons more relevant by providing more real-life applications is crucial to student motivation, but it is hard work! While some applications seem so obvious to me, my students do not share the same set of background knowledge that I have, so it is not obvious to them. Although I was once a teenager...and I raised two of is not always easy to understand what is important to them. That's why I am asking them for much more feedback now. Their ideas and thoughts are definitely one of my best resources. I just wish I had tapped into that much sooner. As I mentioned in a previous post, when you first ask them for their opinions, they will give all kinds of off-the-wall answers. However, once they see that you are not only listening to, but actually implementing some of their ideas, they take it more seriously.

While my goals remain the same, I have made an important modification. To begin with, the projects will be of shorter duration. I believe nine weeks is the maximum amount of time to cover, rather than a semester. In the early stages, I am starting with Chapter projects. As I develop the units and learn from the experiences, I hope to eventually link several Chapters together into a single project.

To date, I have learned that implementing my goals will take much more time and preparation than if I just continue to do things the same way. I expected that, but I might have underestimated just a little! However, I remain focused on the idea that once the outside 'prep' work is done, the students will actually be doing more work in the classroom than I will.

Progress is usually accompanied by more questions. Some are not unexpected:

  • Will I be able to access the technology I need each time a new unit or project is started?
  • Will I be able to make adequate progress on these goals and still meet content requirements in the same time frame?

More difficult ones to answer are:
  • Will these changes produce measurable results?
  • Is the additional preparation time worth the potential benefit?

As I continue to work on these goals, I am sure that more surprises await me!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Reviewing the GAME Plan

In reviewing my GAME plan, I considered the following questions:

· What resources do I need to carry out my plan?
· What additional information do I need?
· What steps have I been able to take so far?

To carry out my plan, I need an abundance of resources. I will search the Internet, consult my fellow teachers and Walden colleagues, take full advantage of my professional memberships, and use my personal contacts outside of the education field.

From these resources, I need information on real-world applications, tested unit or project plans, pitfalls to avoid and, particularly, more efficient methods of searching. There is so much information available that I simply do not have time to sort through all of it. By talking to educators who have successfully implemented the same or similar goals, I hope to be able to find what I need more quickly than if I tried to do it on my own.

To date, I have already received new resources from our media specialist. Since she has already tested these technology options, she can tell me what to do, as well as what to NOT do. I have also learned about some outstanding resources through Week 2's discussion. I am constantly searching the Internet and various media sources for current and relevant applications for my content standards. In addition, I am asking my students more about what their ideas are for making the lessons more engaging and more relevant to their lives. Initially, they gave expected answers such as "let us listen to our Ipods during tests" or "less homework". The first request is out of my hands and the second is negotiable, depending on how much effort they put into their class work. However, as they have started to understand that I seriously need their input, they are taking more time to consider how to improve our class without making the entire period "free time".

Hopefully, with the help of all of these resources, I will begin to see some measurable progress towards achieving my goals.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Technology GAME Plan

Walden EDUC6713 Integrating Technology Across the Content Area (Week 2 Application)

As I reviewed the ISTE National Educational Technology Standards and Performance Indicators for Teachers, I could see where I need improvement in every indicator. For this GAME plan (Cennamo, Ross & Ertmer, 2009), I chose the following standards and indicators:

1. 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:

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

2. Design and Develop Digital-Age Learning Experiences and Assessments

Teachers design, develop, and evaluate authentic learning experiences and assessment incorporating contemporary tools and resources to maximize content learning in context and to develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes identified in the NETS•S. Teachers:

b. develop technology-enriched learning environments that enable all students to pursue their individual curiosities and become active participants in setting their own educational goals, managing their own learning, and assessing their own progress.

My plan is as follows:

G – Set Goals

1. In almost every Math class, someone will ask “when will I ever need this again?” It is not always easy to come up with a concrete, real-world application for every skill or concept. My goal is to do a better job of seeking out these applications and creating authentic learning experiences using the available technology.

2. By integrating more digital tools and resources into my lessons, I hope to provide a learning environment in which each student can explore the concept through their various interests and choose to complete an assessment based on their preferred learning style.

A – Actions to Achieve These Goals

1. For each unit, I will review resources from various sources to find relevant real-world applications and authentic assessments. These resources include, but are not limited to, fellow teachers, curriculum materials, internet research, professional organizations such as NCTM and PBS, current events, and the students themselves.

2. I will begin to reconstruct unit plans to place more emphasis on student-centered learning. By shifting to activities that focus on exploration and discovery rather than instruction and practice, the students will be more responsible for their own learning. A concept that I have been toying with is the idea of a semester-long project. Rather than teaching each lesson from the textbook, I believe it is possible to cover every Math standard within a single project if it is planned well. Possible projects might be starting and developing a small business or simply earning, budgeting, saving, and investing money. If the students are engaged in the project, they will learn the content without getting bogged down in doing pages of practice problems every week. That may be a difficult goal to accomplish, but I definitely think it is worth spending more time to research.

M – Monitoring Progress

1. It will be fairly easy to monitor my progress in reaching the first goal. With middle school students, it doesn’t take very long to know if a real-life application is actually “real” to them. It is the same with creating authentic assessments. If a student feels like an assessment is a waste of their time, then it is not authentic to them. While monitoring will be fairly easy, achieving the goal will be more difficult.

2. While I believe I have done a fairly good job of integrating technology, we have not yet reached an environment in which all students can pursue their individual interests in each unit. To monitor my progress in having the students set their own educational goals and manage their own learning, I believe the best indicator will be workload. When the students are doing more work in the classroom than I am, there will be progress!

E – Evaluating and Extending My Learning

1. While I am engaging the students and creating authentic assessments, I must be sure that they are learning the content and standards that are required by the state. To do this, I will ask my co-teachers to review my lesson plans and observe when possible. It always helps to have the opinions of others when doing a thorough evaluation. Having a completely-engaged class is not enough if they are not acquiring the knowledge they need to be successful in the next grade and in life.

2. To evaluate whether I have created a learning environment in which all students can pursue their individual interests, I need feedback from the students. I will let them know that I am interested in their opinions and open to any questions or suggestions they may have. To be sure they are setting appropriate goals and managing their own learning, I will hold individual conferences with them to review and evaluate their own progress. At the beginning, these conferences will need to be frequent. As they adapt to this method of learning, conferences may be held less often, along with weekly reviews of their documented work.

I am looking forward to reading your comments and suggestions on my proposed GAME plan.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Reflection on Information Literacy in the 21st Century

Probably the most striking revelation I had as a result of Walden's "Supporting Information Literacy and Online Inquiry in the Classroom" (EDUC6712) is that what I thought I knew about my student's internet searching skills was outdated. As digital natives, my students have more experience "Googling" than many teachers do. However, experience doesn't always lead to efficient online research. After all, most students simply put a few key words into the search bar and then view only the first few hits in the results list. As anyone who has ever used a search engine knows, there is more to finding relevant information than entering one or two words. Even domain names, such as '.org' or '.edu', can provide many clues to the accuracy of the online information. With the tremendous expansion of the Internet and the open accessibility, our students are exposed to much more misinformation and personal opinion than to accurate and beneficial content.

Through this course, I have learned that my students need to be taught the QUEST process of questioning, understanding resources, evaluating, synthesizing, and transforming (Eagerton & Dobler, 2007). By practicing the skills required for each step of the QUEST process, my students will learn to conduct efficient searches, find accurate information on dependable sites, assess and integrate information from various sources, and present their findings in a clear and concise manner.

As a result, one of my professional development goals will be to study the QUEST process further. Eventually, I hope to fully integrate this process into all of our problem-solving activities in the classroom. My goal is to immerse my students in the processes of asking essential questions, finding reliable resources, evaluating and combining information from different sources, and transforming it into a clear and concise presentation. With these skills, they will be better prepared to be productive citizens of the 21st Century.


Eagleton, M. B., & Dobler, E. (2007). Reading the web: Strategies for internet inquiry. New York: The Guilford Press.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Final Reflection

As I reviewed my “Personal Theory of Learning”, I realized that it has not really changed throughout this course. I still believe that a student’s personal experiences and environment influence how new concepts are interpreted and applied. I will continue to consider multiple intelligences and learning styles as I plan and implement lessons. Technology makes differentiation easier and also provides a greater variety of assessment methods than the traditional paper and pencil work. Each year of experience increases my understanding of how my students think and learn. As I become more adept at identifying the differences in my students, I will be able to modify the lessons so that each student has the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the content.

This course has also helped me understand the differences between using technology as an instructional tool and using technology as a learning tool. I try to avoid treating my Promethean board as a glorified overhead projector. However, I could do a much better job of creating interactive, student-centered lessons and activities that will utilize the full functionality of this tool. One of the new technology tools that I have used in this course is VoiceThread. Since one of my goals is to give my students more opportunities to experience the “outside” world, VoiceThread could be the right tool for the job. District guidelines on instant messaging and time zone differences make it almost impossible to provide live communication with students in distant places. VoiceThread would provide that audio/visual contact without requiring a live connection. To connect with students in another state or country, I have also set up a class profile on ePals. This site provides the ability to collaborate with students around the world. Together, these two tools will allow my students to connect, communicate, and collaborate with students they would otherwise never meet. These interactions will help them grow as citizens of a global community. These tools will also make implementing a collaborative online project much easier!

Finally, the two long-term goals I have set regarding technology integration in the classroom are as follows: 1) Increase my students' media literacy and 2) focus more on student-centered activities, so that I use technology for learning, instead of just instruction.

"Media literacy is the ability to sift through and analyze the messages that inform, entertain and sell to us every day. It's the ability to bring critical thinking skills to bear on all media— from music videos and Web environments to product placement in films and virtual displays on NHL hockey boards. It's about asking pertinent questions about what's there, and noticing what's not there. And it's the instinct to question what lies behind media productions— the motives, the money, the values and the ownership— and to be aware of how these factors influence content. Media education encourages a probing approach to the world of media: Who is this message intended for? Who wants to reach this audience, and why? From whose perspective is this story told? Whose voices are heard, and whose are absent? What strategies does this message use to get my attention and make me feel included? In our world of multi-tasking, commercialism, globalization and interactivity, media education isn't about having the right answers—it's about asking the right questions. The result is lifelong empowerment of the learner and citizen."

(Source: Jane Tallim, Education Specialist, The Provincial Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario)

Secondly, by creating more student-centered activities, technology becomes a learning tool, rather than just an instructional tool. As students take more responsibility for their own learning, they also develop a deeper sense of ownership of the educational process. When learning is real, relevant, and engaging, students find more worth in completing assignments and accomplishing goals. Without their "buy-in", we are just spinning our wheels in the classroom.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Voice Thread

Check out my first voice thread. This is a completely new technology for me, but I can definitely see the possibilities it offers.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Social Learning

Our school is in a small, rural community in South Carolina. Our student population is fairly homogeneous. With limited resources, many of our students rarely travel far from home. Opportunities to meet and learn from students in other states and other countries are virtually nonexistent. However, the Internet provides a way to create these opportunities...virtually. In my personal mission statement, I acknowledge my responsibility to help my students become responsible, ethical citizens of their school, their community, and their world. One way to accomplish that is to provide opportunities to participate in distance learning with students around the world.

Web resources are a wonderful addition to the instructional tools available to teachers today. Our text lists resources such as webquests, wikis, email pen pals, and collaborative organizing through calendar services (Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K, 2007). This week, I was notified that a cooperative learning project I proposed has been funded. In this project, my students will investigate issues related to the availability of clean, safe drinking water. As they research and test local water sources, I would like for them to collaborate on this project with students in a distant location. Our text mentioned email pen pal services as a way to make the necessary contacts. Another resource that is highly recommended is the Flat Classroom Project ( ).

Cooperative learning projects are an important part of our curriculum, yet the opportunities for exposure to new or different ideas are limited. My hope is that virtual collaborative projects such as this will make global issues more real and relevant to students who have little knowledge of the world outside of their county or state. Social learning will then be a much more powerful experience for these students.

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Constructivism in Practice

The more that I can integrate technology into my lessons, the more my students enjoy it. Of course, I also enjoy them more! Working with math concepts can become tedious at times. Imagine being given a set of data and told to calculate mean, median, and mode. Once those are done, you must create a graph that fits certain requirements. The majority of work involved is just There isn't much thought or analysis involved. The data sets involved tend to be smaller since the students would otherwise become frustrated. Now, imagine being given a slightly different set of data, for which you must do the same calculations and then analyze the differences between the two data sets. Put middle school students in this situation and it will result in moans and groans, along with whining and complaining.

Now imagine that you have an interactive online tool that lets you manipulate data at will. You can add or delete outliers, change the scale or intervals of a graph, or even switch to a different type of graphical representation at the click of a mouse. The tedious tasks are gone and you can immediately see the results of any change in the data. You can now concentrate on what happens when data is added, deleted, or modified. You can see the difference that changes in scale and interval make in the appearance, and perhaps interpretation, of the graph.

Which option is more appealing to you? The same one that is more appealing to our students. When students are allowed to use technology to investigate data and create an artifact depicting what they have learned, they are more engaged in the process. More engagement leads to a deeper understanding of the concept. Instead of spending all of their time on the individual calculations, the students can spend their time manipulating data and analyzing how that changes the result.

Today's students have grown up with technology. The tools that are available in the classroom have the potential to give students more time to explore higher-order thinking and analytical problem-solving. To deprive them of these skills is to fail to prepare them for a 21st century world.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cognitive Tools and Enhanced Learning

There is no doubt that educational technology can enhance learning for students. Cognitive tools serve several purposes in the instructional process. Information seeking tools such as Internet search engines and online databases allow students to access more information in a shorter amount of time. As they find the answers to their original questions, many times they also find extended information that deepens their understanding of the material. Presentation tools such as Word and PowerPoint allow the students to display their creative ideas through unique multimedia projects. Technologies such as spreadsheets and notebook tools aid the students in organizing information and defining relationships. Knowledge integration is enhanced using mapping tools and simulations. These technologies allow students to connect their prior knowledge with the newly acquired information (Orey, 2001).

Study skills such as summarizing and note taking can be demonstrated using some of these cognitive tools. Simply using the mark-up feature in Word is a very effective way for the teacher to model summarizing. Students’ note-taking skills improve when they are taught to use graphic organizers. For class discussions or small group projects, these notes can be shared online through the use of wikis and blogs (Pitler, 2007).

Concept mapping and virtual field trips are cognitive tools that are new to me, but I can definitely see the value of these tools. Class trips across the country or around the world are not feasible. With virtual field trips, any student can visit our nation’s capitol, go on a safari, or explore the rainforests. As school budgets tighten even more, these virtual field trips may be all that we can afford. Concept mapping tools can be used to enhance the student’s ability to organize information and define relationships. Even so, we must be sure that our students “work with computer technology, instead of being controlled by it” (Orey, 2001).

Orey, M. (Ed.). (2001). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from
Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Reward and Punishment

There is no doubt that operant conditioning is still widely used in our schools. There are many professionals who will debate the value of intrinsic motivation over extrinisic motivation. In theory, students should find satisfaction in a job well done or in a goal achieved. In reality, these same students may not have their basic needs met. There is a consensus among our middle school teachers that punishments such as lunch and after-school detention, or in-school and out-of-school suspension do not have the desired effect. This is based on the observation that the same students receive these consequences time after time. If a negative reinforcement does not deter the undesirable behavior, then it has no value.

On the other hand, middle school students respond readily to rewards. I often tease my students that I am going to give them t-shirts printed with the phrase, "Will work for food". At their ages, they are very self-absorbed. If success is rewarded by fulfilling a personal desire, then they will give their best effort. The reward could be something edible, or it might be a chance to have class outside. The reward might be an opportunity to play computer games or just put together a jigsaw puzzle. As long as the reward is something that they value, they will stay focused until the assignment is completed.

Although many modern professionals may not label themselves as behaviorists, the idea of reward and punishment is still a major part of classroom procedure. The extent to which strategies such as reinforcing effort or homework and practice actually increase students' understanding of the course material depends on how the strategies are applied. Regardless of the instructional strategy or educational theory used in the classroom, the content must be real and relevant to the student. Without a student's "buy-in", even the best laid plans will fail.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Test Time!

It's that time of year again. The 'official' state testing of our students begins this week. One test...on one day...for each subject...will be used to determine how well we have taught our students the grade-level standards this year. Of course, we don't get the results until late summer, which does absolutely nothing to help this year's students. Money and jobs are dependent on good test scores. It's a system that makes absolutely no sense to me. My personal feeling is that if I have helped my students develop a love for learning and a desire to make a positive impact on the world around them, then I don't care what they score on a standardized multiple-choice test. Life does not present its problems with potential answers labelled A, B, C, or D. Life presents problems which require independent thinking, creative problem-solving techniques, and no single right answer. If one of my students becomes an auto mechanic and someone brings in a car that is not operating properly, there will be no printout which states: A) the PCV valve is defective, B) the fuel filter may be clogged, C) possible vacuum leak, or D) faulty sensor.

I have not heard or read a single reason that supports the heavy emphasis that is placed on mandated testing. Imagine what would happen if any of the highly-compensated professional athletes had their future contracts determined by a single performance at the end of the season. What if they were told that it doesn't matter what they did all year...that because they failed to excel during a single game, they would not have a job the following season. What an uproar that would cause! It would be the leading story for every news venue. Yet, that is what we are telling our students and our teachers. This one test...on this one an accurate measure of the success of the entire school year. How can anyone continue to support this type of testing?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Course Reflection

My current graduate course – Understanding the Impact of Technology on Education, Work, and Society – is coming to a close. The past eight weeks have been exciting and challenging. This post is a reflection of what I have learned about the impact of technology in education and how I will apply that knowledge in my classroom.

In what ways has this course helped you to develop your own technology skills as a professional teacher?

When I first received the textbook for this class, I couldn’t wait to get started. I was already familiar with the concepts of blogs, wikis, and podcasts. Prior to this course, I had started a couple of blogs on my school website. I had also created a wiki in a session I attended at an educational technology conference. However, I was not using these tools to their full advantage. My use of blogs and wikis was similar to my first few weeks using a Promethean board. I was only using the most basic features. In other words, I used these tools to do some things differently, rather than using them to do different things. I learn best by doing, so I was thrilled that the course assignments focused on creating, developing, and modifying resources using Web 2.0 tools. Rather than read about each tool’s features and capabilities, we were actively discovering and experimenting with them. Working collaboratively with my fellow group members also enhanced the learning process, as the sum of our group’s accomplishments was greater than anything we could have done individually. As a result, I feel very comfortable integrating blogs and wikis into my instruction. Perhaps the most challenging technology assignment was creating my first podcast. Actually, recording the interviews was easy. Editing and splicing together clips from different recordings required a good deal of effort and numerous tries before I got a product that I felt was adequate. My students enjoyed being part of that assignment and I can definitely see the educational possibilities of creating podcasts on a regular basis.

In what ways have you deepened your knowledge of the teaching and learning process?

This course provided a wealth of information and ideas through its many resources. The concepts of digital natives and digital immigrants were new to me. Through the course resources, I have learned a lot about the ways in which digital natives learn. I can remember watching my son play video games and wondering how he could carry on a phone conservation while making split-second decisions on his next “move” in the game. Now that I understand how digital natives learn, I realize that he definitely fits that description. I also can identify some of those same characteristics in my students. There is no doubt that they can multitask. They also expect immediate feedback on what they do in class, just as the images on video games react instantly to every move made on the controller. To reach and truly engage these students requires interesting, relevant, and interactive lessons.

In what ways have you changed your perspective from being teacher-centered to learner-centered?

This is my third year of teaching. From the beginning, I have tried to make the learning process in my classes more student-centered. I know that they lose focus if they are not actively involved in the lesson. I try to avoid “drill and kill” activities. Rather than focus on rote memorization and regurgitation, I want my students to think critically, to analyze the situation and determine the best way to arrive at a solution. This course has reinforced the idea that I am a guide and coach, but the students must also take responsibility for their own learning. Once students know that their opinions and ideas are needed and valued, they have a bigger stake in the educational process. I also depend on them for feedback on what works and doesn’t work in the classroom. If a particular technique or method does not help, then I need to change it. Instead of waiting until tests are graded to find out whether or not they understand, continuous feedback from the students will help me make appropriate adjustments before the assessment is given.

In what ways can you continue to expand your knowledge of learning, teaching, and leading with technology with the aim of increasing student achievement?

I am constantly looking for opportunities to improve the quality of instruction in my classroom. The required course work for my Master’s Degree is one of the ways that I will continue to gain more knowledge about learning, teaching, and leading with technology. In addition, I attend workshops, conferences, and in-service training sessions with the goal of improving and enhancing my students’ educational experiences. Through this course, I have learned the value of following blogs as another source of information and ideas. Just as I learn best by doing, my students will achieve more by becoming active participants in their own education.

Set two long-term goals (within two years) for transforming your classroom environment by which you may have to overcome institutional or systemic obstacles in order to achieve them. How do you plan to accomplish these goals?

My Algebra I Honors students are beginning a wiki project to develop their own study guide for the End of Course exam. This will be the ‘maiden voyage’ and I am sure we will learn a great deal about what works and what doesn’t. We are starting late in the school year, so the end product may not be as comprehensive as we would prefer. The long-term goal is to develop a complete online study, practice, and review resource for each course. Each new class of students will continue to refine and expand the course wiki. By actively editing the material, students will increase retention, understanding, and application of the course content. One of the biggest obstacles is limited student access to computers, which leads to the next goal.

My second long-term goal is to expand my students’ access to technology resources. Currently, we have one computer lab with 30 desktop computers. At any one time, three or four of those may be out of service. For 90 of the 180 school days, the lab is unavailable to core subject teachers due to keyboarding classes. Approximately, 30 days are reserved for computerized testing. I am lucky to be able to take my classes to the computer lab 4 days each school year. That simply is not adequate to prepare them for the 21st century. Possibilities include expanding computer lab hours, so that it is open to students before and after school. I have even considered asking for permission to open it several Saturday mornings during the year. Of course, the ideal solution would be to simply increase the number of computers. That requires money. There is nothing in the budget for that, so I am investigating various grants that may give us the funds to purchase additional computers.

As this course comes to an end, I believe that I have the knowledge and resources to design educational activities that will encourage collaboration and communication. I have learned new ways that students may present and share information with their peers. These activities will also encourage students to take responsibility for their own education by providing the tools they need to succeed in the 21st century.

The course resources have also provided critical information that could help me “sell” our administration on the importance of technology in education. I can now provide specific information on the benefits of allowing cell phones and MP3 players in the classroom. My plan is to develop several lessons or units that incorporate personal technology devices and still address the state standards. In addition, I have strong evidence of and personal experience with the instructional benefits of allowing access to blog and wiki sites on school computers. I am now better prepared to lead my students into the 21st century.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Technology on a Budget

Like many teachers and schools across the country, we do not have enough money in our budget for adequate technology resources. I am actively pursuing other options for funding. However, I know that my students bring the latest technology to school every day. Most of their cell phones have greater computing power than the personal computers we owned 10 - 15 years ago. While I can understand the concern that students may use cell phones for personal texting during class or cheating during a test, I believe that it is possible to take advantage of this "free" technology for instructional purposes. It wasn't until this past Christmas that I "caught up" with my students in terms of cell phone technology. They often laughed at my previous phone and its limited capabilities. I am still discovering new features on my phone and it has been exciting!

Imagine what you could do in a classroom where everyone had their own computer, every day. Currently, I am lucky to get my classes into the computer lab four days each school year! Yet, every day, my 8th grade students walk into each of their classrooms with the technological power to send voice and text messages; record still pictures, audio, and video; surf the Internet; employ GPS; solve mathematical calculations; send and receive electronic files through BlueTooth connections; check weather conditions around the world; communicate globally using tools such as Skype; follow breaking news stories; get up-to-the-minute statistics on sports, the stock market, gas prices, or any other data that is gathered electronically. Imagine the possibilities for using this technology in every subject: Math, Science, Social Studies, ELA, Music, Art, etc. Doesn't it make you wonder why schools go to great lengths to ban these devices?

As teachers, it is our job to prepare our students for 21st century careers. We cannot do that if we do not embrace 21st century technology in our schools and in the classroom.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Learning to Podcast

As an assignment for one of my graduate courses, I had to create a podcast. This was truly a challenging learning experience! I interviewed four of my 8th grade students about their knowledge and use of technology in both their social lives and their academic lives. Interviewing and recording was fun. Editing, splicing, and creating the final podcast took quite awhile. The most difficult part was trying to upload the podcast to a site where it can be accessed publicly. I certainly hope this works!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Thoughts on the Partnership for 21st Century Skills

Our assignment this week was to review the website: Partnership for 21st Century Skills. It was an eye-opening experience. In a course on web technology, it is easy to get caught up in the need...or desire...for our students to have access to Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, wikis, and podcasts. In particular, it was the explanation of the framework for learning in the 21st century that turned on the light bulb! It suddenly dawned on me that the skills that our students need to succeed in the 21st century have nothing to do with blogging, texting, podcasting, networking, or creating electronic presentations. They are the same skills that I address in my personal mission statement:

It is my responsibility to help my students become independent thinkers and responsible, ethical citizens of their school, community, and world. I will provide them the opportunity to develop the skills they need to be successful in school and in life. I will model a love of learning, respect for differing opinions, compassion for others, and a desire to make the world a better place for those who come after me.

If I gained nothing else from the website, that would have been enough. I did find it interesting, but not surprising, that South Carolina is not listed under State Initiatives. However, I was surprised when I saw the list of Board members. Fortune 100 companies are members of this partnership and, until this assignment, I had never heard of it. The surprise was a pleasant one, though, as I am grateful for their participation in advocating the importance of ensuring our students become "effective citizens, workers, and leaders in the 21st century" (FAQ: What is the Partnership?).

Tomorrow, I will be accompanying my eighth grade students on a field trip to two local colleges: a two-year technical college and a four-year university. In preparation for this trip, we watched some videos on "21st century careers" that I found through a school resource. So many of the 'typical' careers in which my students are interested have changed drastically in recent years. As a Math teacher, I was happy that the importance of a good background in mathematics was stressed for jobs such as automotive mechanics. Most of my students who are not planning to attend college think that they can just walk into a decent job because they know how to work on cars. The videos addressed the competition that exists for such jobs and the fact that formally-trained candidates are more likely to be hired. I don't know if the students were happy to hear this, but they certainly needed to hear it!

After this trip, we will discuss their questions and observations about the schools we visited. As part of the discussion, I will show them this website and guide their conversations towards what they really need to accomplish their goals. By making them more aware of how the world has changed since their parents were in high school, I hope they see the importance of "preparing for the game". As the saying goes: The only constant is change!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Watching History in the Making

Recently, I was lamenting the fact that our school district does not have the money or administrative support to create technology-rich classrooms. I am fortunate, however, that I was able to acquire a Promethean board through a grant. Since I also have Internet access in my room, another teacher and I have been planning to combine our two classes Tuesday so that we could watch the historical Inauguration of our 44th President, Barack Obama. Our first thought was that it would be easier to ask forgiveness, than to ask permission! Without going into a detailed description of the local community, suffice it to say that Obama was not a popular candidate in the 2008 election. However, we followed procedure and received permission to proceed with our plans. Another concern was that so many people would try to access live streaming of the event that it might not work at all.

I was extremely pleased to receive an email late Friday from our Director of Technology. Our district office has worked with ETV to install a satellite dish that will allow all schools to view live programming on four different channels directly from any computer on the network. If all goes well, we will watch ETV's live coverage of Barack Obama's inauguration without the potential problems of Internet streaming. As I consider the significance of my students watching such an important event, I recall how different things were when I was in school. I can remember our entire school population gathering in the gym to watch the launch of Apollo missions on a regular TV set. Unless you were in the very front, you couldn't see very much. On Tuesday, our students will watch the Presidential Inauguration in the comfort of the classroom on the large Promethean board display. They will join millions of people around the world watching this historical moment. I hope they will appreciate the technology that provides the opportunity to watch history in the making as much I do!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Blogging in the Middle School Math Classroom

My previous experiences with blogging have simply been a way to "keep up" with people. The vast majority of my students have MySpace pages where they do just that. However, some also use those pages to insult, denigrate, and sometimes threaten other students. In my personal mission statement, I accept my responsibility to help my students become independent thinkers and ethical citizens of their school, their community, and their world. The feeling of anonymity in cyberspace means that some students feel "safe" saying things on their MySpace page that they would never dare to say in a classroom or in front of their parents. However, that anonymity is a myth and we are seeing more instances of school discipline (and even criminal charges) as a result of cyberspace bullying. For this reason, I believe I must teach my students the proper use of blogging.

Study hall, as I knew it, no longer exists. However, a class blog can be a virtual study hall. In particular, my 8th grade students who are taking Algebra I Honors have a greater need to discuss the lessons and assignments in groups. We certainly do a lot of this at school, but the requirements of the course demand more of their time. Therefore, I will create a class blog for these students to ask questions, get help, or just confirm an assignment. Although I may not always be available to answer the questions, they will be able to contact at least one classmate for clarification or validation. As we work out the details, I hope to create a class blog for each group of students that I teach. Our goal is to give them every opportunity to succeed during the school day. Today's society demands that they have such opportunities outside of the classroom, as well.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Cooperative Learning with a Global Twist

Our eighth grade students (and their teachers) will soon immerse themselves in the global community by conducting a research project with students in another country. This is completely uncharted territory for us. If you have done something similar, we would love to hear about your experiences, roadblocks, and tips for success! The Science and Math Departments will be conducting a cross-curricular study on one of our most important natural resources...water. We are particularly interested in how you handled issues such as coordinating times for "live" interaction and any legal or administrative hoops through which you had to jump! We are truly excited about our first major step into virtual cooperative learning and the possibilities that lie ahead. All comments, ideas, and suggestions are welcome!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

To Blog or Not to Blog

For those of us who are amateur bloggers and hesitate to publish our thoughts for the entire world to see, is encouraging and reassuring. Check it out!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Welcome to my World!

The first major decision I had to make to create this blog was to choose an appropriate title. Since I am working on my Master's in Integrating Technology in the Classroom through Walden University, I thought that "No Boundaries" would be a great title. When you compare the world as it was when I was in middle school to the world that my students experience today, there are no boundaries as to what they can learn, share, research, analyze, communicate, debate, or create in the virtual world of technology. It is imperative that educators introduce, use, employ, develop, enhance, and encourage the application of every technological resource available to prepare students for the world in which they live.

I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on technology in the classroom!