Making Decisions

October 7, 2007

So I was all geared up for the school year. I had roughly outlined my lessons for the semester, pretty happy about this since I have two new classes this year. I had outlined several blog article topics. I had also help several new teachers set-up ClassBlogmeister accounts. My summer of planning new ideas and learning new methods was ready to unfold. Then I logged-in to my school computer.

Blocked. Website Problems

In reviewing many of the sites I used last year and some of the new sites proposed for this year this is what I saw. I do not mean to add to the growing list of educational blog articles complaining of filtering; however, I must express my frustration and plan for this school year. I spread to many people at NECC this new blog site because I was frustrated with not being able to update my EduBlogs site; a problem since corrected by the addition of a new server. I choose WordPress because it is what my wife uses and I previously could read her blog at my school. This is no longer the case.

My dilemma is two fold: blogging and wikis

What to do about my blog:
I like the use of both sites, especially since EduBlogs has upgraded with the addition of a new server. However, I shared with many people my WordPress site. I also transferred my postings from EduBlogs to WordPress. Unfortunately the WordPress site looks horrible at school. I am trying to demonstrate the advantages of such applications, but the site looks bad. But if I transfer back, then what about those readers outside of my school? Will I loose readers, all twelve of them, if I just back to EduBlogs?

After weeks of debate I have decided to post on both sites. I realize the time I will waste, but until a proper solution can be determined this is what I have resolved at the best action.

Wikis:
I have grown to find several applications of wikis in the classroom. Since this type of site is often new to my students I must demonstrate its use. I also had a grand idea of using wikis to share lesson plans between teachers at not only my school, but other schools. Unfortunately Wikispaces and PB Wiki are blocked. I found it interesting that while I began debating my options I stumbled upon an article in Today’s Catholic Teacher an article specifically siting these sites as preferred wiki sites. Nothing against Susan Brooks-Young, the article is great and she is clearly educated in this topic, but I found it interesting that a site devoted to Catholic teachers, I teach at a Catholic school, notes for use the sites I have been told are not appropriate for education.

I have looked into creating a new wiki on a different website; although I feel that Wikispaces and PBWiki are great sites and hate to leave. Then in browsing various wiki sites I noticed that in over thirty wiki sites the only ones blocked are those I made popular at my school. I wonder if our filtering service would even know they exist had it not been for my students. I know they do not know the power within these sites. At least Susan knows and I trust that someone is able to enjoy the sites.

I am working without webmaster to integrate wiki technology within the schools web server. He tried MediaWiki and the requirements exceed our current system. However, Miguel Guhlin recommended to me PMWiki. You will know if this works because I will be ecstatic.

This is where I am. Now back to sharing the ideas from my class.

Preview of posts to come:

iPod magic–students actually reviewing vocabulary
SMARTBoards–I get to play with some fun new products and so do my students
NECC 2008–proposal is in, now we wait

Enjoy your day,

Kyle

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iPod as an education tool: year one reflections

June 13, 2007

Our school has recently finished the first year of our iPod initiative. This program issues iPods to students for use in classrooms and for educational purposes. I had my perceptions and observations of the program, but felt that it is important to get the perceptions and observations from the students. As the first year of the program we only issued the iPods to Freshman students and during their English classes the Freshman completed a survey I created with the recommendations from others in our technology department. The survey has multiple goals; primary of which is to assess the students ease of use and type of use. This is because the success of the program is for the benefit of the students. The second main goal was to understand the level of use by the various disciplines. After all, the success of the program is dependent on teacher incorporation. In general the results were positive, reassuring, and helpful in planning for next year.

Student previous technology experience and growth of knowledge:

In breaking down the program the first item of my concern is student technology knowledge. Prior to the start of this program my assumption and perception of student technology knowledge is that students already know how to use such technologies and can figure out programs through repeated use. I based part of my assumption on my perceptions of the students in my classroom. I began using podcasting and blogging as a tool for education two years ago. I consider myself a digital native, I grew-up with Apple IIe, Oregon Trail, and the original Nintendo. I taught myself how to use the websites and software commonly included in Web 2.0 applications. When I introduced these applications to my class, it never occurred to me to teach the students how to use the websites. It took a short time for my students to became proficient in these application and shortly after that other teachers became curious about how I my students used such tools. I noticed that with many teachers the first question was how long it took me to teach my students how to use the sites and applications. It was only then I reflected on my assumption and actions, or lack of.

Based on these experience I held the same assumption with the iPods: students know how to use such technology and with time they will figure out more practical uses through experience. The results of the student survey supported my theory. The average student response was in agreement or strong agreement that they previously have used an iPod or MP3 player. While not as high statistically, student response was also between agree and strongly agree for comfortable using various technologies and instant messaging. Students also supported my belief that repeated use allows for comfort in applications. It is no surprise that the viewing and downloading of video and audio files received a high comfort rating. What is encouraging is the increase in comfort in using the flash drive component of the iPod. Previous technology experience identifies flash drive use with a 3.81 rating our of 5. In the growth of technical knowledge category using the iPods as a portable flash drive earned a 4.18 rating out of 5. While this is not a statically substantial increase, it shows that positive growth occurs. As a school that prides itself on the student technology use, the growth of student technical knowledge in the Freshman year is a step in the right direction.

Types of use in the classroom:

More important to me was how students use iPods and in what classes. The top five uses, according to the ratings, are 1) viewing presentations and/or images, 2) portable hard drive, 3) view text or written documents, 4) listen to audio for foreign language classes, and 5) as an audio recording device. All of these scored above 2.75 out of a 5 point scale demonstrating regular use over the course of the grading period. The use of the iPod as a portable hard drive and to view presentations, such as Power Points, scored on a regular monthly use. These results mirror those aspects the students feel are most beneficial. An overwhelming majority felt the using the iPod to view presentations and as a portable hard drive is a benefit. A majority of students also felt listening to educational audio and viewing text is a benefit. Surprising to me, recording audio did not meet a majority level as a benefit, but I feel that is because of the lack of awareness by teachers on how to use this tool rather than anything else.

Year two:

Our school has already taken the steps to prepare for the program next year. While the students demonstrated how they feel an iPod is best used in education and that they are comfortable with the technology, they also relayed to us that not all of the teachers are comfortable. To educate the teachers and increase a comfort level for them our school is offering two training session this summer. I will present the first workshop next week, before NECC, and one after the conference in the middle in July. I feel that summer training sessions are great for several reasons. The first is that excuses are more difficult to form when the stress of lesson planning and grading are absent. Another is that optional, summer sessions allow those willing to take the time to prepare for the success of such programs to demonstrate this desire. I hesitate to require such sessions, because then you often get people who do not care about the program. We will be following up on these summer sessions during our in-service week prior to the start of school and with sessions through out the school year as well.

I have created a wiki, password is education, to aid these workshop and I will keep you updated as to the results of these workshop. I would love to hear your comments on using iPods as an educational tool and invited you to contribute your ideas to the wiki.


Utopia High and the power of blogging

February 28, 2007

Recently our Freshman Pre-AP class finished reading selections from Plato’s Republic and applied our new knowledge. To apply our knowledge we outlined the guidelines for a new high school, Utopia High. Following our discussion of the selected book, the student outlined their ideas in groups, supported their ideas in a class discussion and finally wrote about the new school. The areas cover include the following:

Categories of people at your high school (e.g. Students, teachers, etc.)
School schedule
Curriculum
Extracurricular activities
Facilities (e.g. Libraries, labs, etc.)
Admission requirements
Causes for expulsion

Coincidentally, Edutopia published and article outlining futurist Alvin Toffler’s idea on the future of schools. I noticed this article in reading my wife’s blog, Musings From the Academy. After conducting a Technorati search on Toffler I found another blog posting on the article at CreativeClass.org. I pointed out the other blog posting to my class and they proceeded to extend the conversation outside of the walls of our class by leaving comments on the Musings blog. Angla noted to the CreativeClass audience of the discussion and expanded our audience again. When I explain to the class how many people were now involved in the discussion they were amazed. Just another example of the power of blogging. And yes, I realized following my posting of my comments of the typo.

Enjoy your day,


Iliad Project: The study of characters and heroes

October 10, 2006

Our English I Pre-AP recently finished presenting on various books from The Iliad.  The focus of our presentations has two ideas:  1) the major characters from the book and their affect on the plot of the individual book 2) the view of heroes.  In analyzing the characters we research the purpose and meaning of the names of the various characters and their role in the plot.  In understanding the meaning of heroes the groups expressed their view of a here and compared this to their interpretation of the ancient Greek’s view of a hero, based on the groups selected book within The Iliad.

 

To view the presentations go to our class page on Wikispaces:

 

If you would like to listen to the presentation subscribe to our class station on iTunes.  Search for “KStevens English I”.

 


My first Skypecast

September 4, 2006

I recently participated in the Skypecast organized by Miguel Guhlin on best practices using blogs. This was a great experience as I was able to talk to some of the educators whose blogs that I have spent time reading. In the conversation we shared some of our favorite and best practices. Along with those practices we also discussed internet safty where I was able to introduce some people to a safety clip introduced to me by our technology director, Paul Wood. I feel that the Skypecast was a positive experience and anyone who gets the opportunity to participate or organize such a meeting in the future should do so. If you are organizing a meeting, let me know and I will do my best to join.

Enjoy your day,

Kyle


Student Narratives–This I Believe

August 27, 2006

This past week our English I Pre-AP class wrote narrative autobiographical essays. Within class we read and analyzed a selection from Arthur Ashe’s autobiography Days of Grace. We also listened to three selections from the NPR series This I Believe. I provided the students with the link to the NPR series to listen on their own. I elected to listen to the essays by Tony Hawk, professional skateboarder, Josh Rittenberg, a junior at Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School in Manhattan, and Sen. John McCain. I wrote my essay back in April and the link to my essay is still viewable under teacher entries on our Class Blogmeister page.

Besides working on our understanding of narrative essays, my goal for our class is to work on the editing process. This class is also taking AP Human Geography and will be taking the AP exam in May. As we work on our writing, my first goal is to get students comfortable with the revision process. I am publishing the originally submitted drafts; however, I am requiring students to submit a revised copy before we record these essays for publications. We will be revising and podcasting these essays later this week. Check back for the student podcast.


Classblogmeister

July 11, 2006

Mark Ahlness has written a great posting on Classblogmeister, the blogging website designed specifically for classroom use. I have used Blogmeister in my sophomore English and sophomore History classes through out the past six months. Personally I found Blogmeister as great way to engage my students while focusing on the writing process. It allowed them an opportunity to not only focus on writing, but also allowed them the opportunity to view the writings of fellow classmates. It also provided them a venue to a larger audience, the world, as supported by the Clustrmap displayed on our website.

While the website did have some technical issues, the listserve is a great way for quick responses from teachers using the program. Often tech support comes in the form of a computer specialist; however the listserve is support from fellow teachers. It is also a great way to share ideas. David Warlick has worked hard to make corrections to the program; most of which were the result of a feverish increase in popularity. He continues to improve the service while still not charging its users.

Feel free to check out my previous posting on classroom blogging for other ideas.