Diary of a Tech Teacher

This lunchtime learning session focused on using Twitter for professional development. Twitter is a great tool for connecting with other educators, finding and sharing resources and engaging in conversations with like-minded teachers.

For MoreInformation:

The Ultimate Guide to Twitter
A Complete List of Hashtags for Education
100 Ways to Use Twitter in Education
The Ultimate Twitter Guidebook for Educators

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CAIS Commission on Professional Development

I am ever astounded at the fast pace of the changes in the world of technology.  The role of technology in education is moving out of the computer lab in the classroom, leading to a greater importance to prepare all educators for technology integration. 

New technology is a lightning rod and polarizing force because it not only begins to influence what we see and how we see it, but, over time, who we are.” (Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.)

In a recent discussion concerning further technology adoption in my school, the point was made that we must consider some key points.

  • What pedagogical practices are being impacted with the inclusion of technology and does it make sense to bring about that change?
  • What do teachers feel comfortable with related to technology, and how do we provide them professional development to…

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Searching for an Alternative to Horrible Slideshows

Recently my colleague over at awritablelifeposted about a project her students were doing. While describing the project she mentioned a specific type of presentation called PechaKucha and said that any sort of blog post about it was mine to do since I introduced it to her.  So, this is going to be that post.

A couple of years ago I came to a realization: Student presentations made me want to gouge out my eyes…or at least cry. They were all the same. When it came time for students to stand up in front of the class, the presentations seemed to boil down to putting as much information as possible on a set of slides and then reading those slides to the class. No matter how I phrased the instructions for presentation assignments, they never changed.

Such began my desire to find…

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5th Grade Plant Unit

The fifth grade is currently working on the Plant Unit.  The fifth grade teachers began the unit by teaching the concept of “germination.”  Germination is the process by which a seed absorbs water, swells and breaks open allowing a tiny plant embryo inside to start growing.  However, this process happens in soil and is not visible.  To spark curiousity, the fifth grade teachers did an activity whereby the girls took a lima bean seed, wrapped it in a wet paper towel, placed it in a clear plastic sandwich bag and then taped the bag to the classroom window.  This activity sparked the girls curiosity about plant growth and development.  Each day the girls came to class, they observed the process of germination as described above. This simple activity got the students excited about the next activity which was to start growing produce in the classroom.  Eventually the produce will be transferred to our school garden.

“Revisiting Cell Phone Bans in Schools”

ASCD 2012 | Conference Coverage

Revisiting Cell Phone Bans in Schools

Twenty-four percent of K-12 schools ban cell phones altogether, and 62 percent allow phones on school grounds but ban them in the classroom, according to the most recent national data available. But it’s about time for those schools to rethink those bans, said Kevin M. Thomas, assistant professor of education at Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY, who spoke at the 67th ASCD Annual Conference & Exhibit in Philadelphia this weekend.

“We are at a crossroads,” Thomas said to an overflow crowd at his Sunday afternoon session, “Using Cellphones in the Kindergarten Through Grade 12 Classroom.” “We have to decide if we are going to continue to ban cell phones, and we have to weigh the balance between pros and cons.”

On the pro side, Thomas said, mobile phones can be used as a cheaper alternative to “clicker” devices, he said. He described one example of a teacher using Poll Everywhere in a social studies classroom. As students enter the classroom, the teacher has posted a question on the whiteboard asking students what they believe to be the most important cause of the Civil War. The students text their answer as soon as they enter the class and are able to watch the changing results displayed in a bar graph on the whiteboard.

Educational content developers are targeting mobile devices as well. PBS and the International Society for Technology in Education, he noted, have a number of content-related cell phone apps, and companies such as the Princeton Review and Kaplan offer texting-based test-preparation questions for the Scholastic Achievement Test.

Thomas said not enough research has been done on teachers’ perceptions of using mobile phones in the classroom but added that research has demonstrated that using texting to provide students and parents with regular information about classwork leads to higher assignment completion rates.

QR codes are also making mobile phones more attractive as educational tools.

In a separate session, a team from Catholic High School in New Iberia, LA, described how students combined historical research and a writing project with a QR code project involving the class of 2012. Their students designed a walking tour of their hometown, converted information into QR codes, and displayed the codes at points of interest so that any smartphone user could scan them for information about local history and building sites. Students left the classroom to research building records and newspaper articles and to interview local citizens.

“To create the Web pages for each site of interest, we used the WordPress blogging tool,” said Erin Henry, technology director at CHS . ‘We wanted the design to be simple, clean, and plain when users open it on a phone.”

The next CHS project is to have students design a school tour with QR codes. The sticking point, however, is that normally students aren’t allowed to use cell phones in school, so exceptions have had to be put in place for testing the QR-coded material.

The cell phone bans are in place, Bellarmine’s Thomas said, because of legitimate concerns about cheating, texting, sexting, and cyberbullying. Thomas argued that the mobile phones themselves are not causing these problems. They are moral and ethical in nature, not technical. “These are new forms of old behaviors. Banning will not be the solution,” he said. “We have to educate students about proper way to use the tools.”

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About the Author

David Raths is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer focused on information technology. He writes regularly for several IT publications, including Healthcare Informatics and Government Technology.

“Flattening The School Walls”

Flattening the School Walls, an article from “Education Week”

Kennedy School of Sustainability Principal Tom Horn, center, directs students as they care for a tank of tilapia that they are raising at the school as a food source. Achievement and attendance at the school have both increased since Horn reorganized the curriculum around environmental project-based learning.
—Chris Pietsch for Education Week

Principal Tom Horn, a self-described “hippie kid from Eugene,” has transformed a troubled alternative high school in Oregon—not to mention his teachers’ job descriptions—by introducing a radical project-based learning model.

Tom Horn, rugged and composed in a fleece jacket, hiking boots, and a baseball cap, points down at the several rows of winter vegetables in planter boxes. “We already harvested three and a half tons of food for the community from this garden,” says the principal of Al Kennedy, an alternative public high school in Cottage Grove, Ore. He gestures to the neglected soccer field beyond. “But pretty soon the garden will extend all the way out there.” Standing nearby, Maggie Matoba, the school’s garden coordinator and founder of a local nonprofit that provides horticultural therapy, shrugs and smiles. This sort of lofty planning from Horn is nothing new to her.

In a sense, the garden project can be seen as a metaphor for the way Horn operates in every aspect of his job as a school leader. The 42-year-old principal is equal parts quixotic and practical. He thinks big—dashing off seemingly far-fetched ideas with tangled webs of text and arrows in his ever-present sketchbook. He then gets others excited about a project, convinces some experts to get involved, procures the resources—and watches the project bloom.

By many measures, Horn’s leadership style—and his emphasis on beyond-the-classroom learning—appears to be working. The attendance rate at the 100-student high school, formerly called Al Kennedy Alternative School but now referred to by students and staff as the Kennedy School of Sustainability, has jumped from 23 percent in the fall of 2006, when Horn took over, to a current rate of about 90 percent. The dropout rate is now at 12.5 percent, down from 20 percent in 2004-05. Test scores, though still below par, are on the rise. The once-stigmatized alternative school now has a 180-student waiting list. And for the first time ever, students from Kennedy are going to college.

The Kennedy school’s garden coordinator, Maggie Matoba, center, supervises students Cassidy Pace, 17, left, and Tina Woody, 20, as they plant potatoes in the school garden.
—Chris Pietsch for Education Week

A self-described “hippie kid from Eugene,” Ore., Horn claims that he never actually wanted to be a principal. In his mid-20’s, he gave up a nomadic existence of surfing and rock-climbing to head back to school. He then opted for a master’s degree simply to move himself up the teacher pay scale, and at age 30, became a special education teacher—a position he was happy to stay in. But several years later, persistent urging from Krista Parent, superintendent of Oregon’s 2,900-student South Lane School District, who’d heard of Horn’s reputation as an innovator, convinced him to apply for the principalship and, eventually, to take on the task of turning the ailing Kennedy around.

Parent, the 2007 National Superintendent of the Year, says she envisioned transforming Kennedy from an alternative school for students who had “blown out of the regular system” to an option for “kids who need more real-world relevant kinds of opportunities.” Under Horn and the teacher team he’s assembled, she notes, the school has “far exceeded our expectations and our vision—and more quickly than I thought it could be done.”

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