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!