Saturday, May 20, 2006

Computer Skills- "Ice Skating Over a Pond"

In reading this morning, I came across a blog entry over on Haulin' 'Net 2006
The Technology and Learning BlogView of Joseph Richard Poletti, updated: Fri, Jun 2 2006 7:15 PM, entitled "Ice Skating Over the Pond". The post discusses 21st Century Skills as they were topic of one of their recent technology meetings. Joe linked to a site that Larry V., a K-3 media coordinator, shared with the participants:
Mankato Technology and Information Benchmarks. These benchmarks are age appropriate and best of all relevant and clearly stated. Joe says they are "do-able".

I know one thing from working with our students this past year- lots of things are "do-able". They must first of all be relevant. That is a powerful and critical concept. If one wants to teach students from low-wealth homes how to use a digital camera, one need not ask the student to photograph the life cycle of a caterpillar. Instead, have them photograph their friends at school. My students found this activity very engaging.

Lisa R., Joe's middle school tech facilitator, shared that "ice skate over the pond of true education", and it appears we have the same kids. At least we have the same view of
Of course, technology has changed even if the basic skills we want to see in students have not. I find that students pick up the skills of technology rather quickly; itÂ’s the critical thinking required to know when and how to use the technology that is lacking.
I could not find Lisa's email address on her blog so, I hope she does not mind me quoting her insight on this issue. My students do not want to use critial thinking. Is it an issue of age appropriateness, relevance, or what? I do not have answers, but I have lots of questions.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Webcast Academy

This morning, I woke up and set up my laptop to run Skype. I then logged into Webcast Academy to participate in their webcast. The Academy is a hands on, collaborative training center for people interested in learning how to produce and host live, interactive webcasts. Jeff Flynn hosted the 6 am to 9 am part of the weekend's massive three day Webcastathon to celebrate their 1 year anniversary! It was my first experience using Skype. I was fairly frustrated with the numerous dropped signals that we experienced using Skype. Jeff quickly reconnected our conference call. I found out during our chat that we have shared experiences. Jeff has served as a special educator and while in college during the 70's, we also took a class that used computer punch-cards. Our conversation touched on a some additional points- Moodle, Joomla, and 2nd Life.

Moodle is something that my students have experienced this year. My students that are reading below grade level struggle with just following the simplest directions in Moodle. Many lack computer skills on the level needed to find files, upload files, and are challenged to even use the keyboard. The sad part is my students are in high school. Moodle works well with average students and above, however, without spending hours and hours of prep time creating visual content for the students that do not have the pre-requisite skill set, I am not recommending it. Sure, call me lazy, but teachers have to use technology that is appropriate for the learning style of the learner. If they are verbal student, they are frustrated and shut down real fast. My students enjoy using Hot Potato to create their own quizzes. Moodle does not fix student's lack of computer skills and does not provide them with the self-motivation. I can create all the Flash animations and podcasts, but if they are high on drugs when they come to class, or stayed out all night with their fellow gang members, not that my students are in gangs (yeah right) they have given up on themselves long ago. I like what Jeff Flynn said this morning when he told me that he did not miss working with this aged students. Maybe I should think about going back to take some classes in elementary education. My wife is an elementary school media specialist. She tells me all the time about how 4th graders seem to quit reading and appear to be suffering from the same problems that high school senior have. I am concerned that greater emphase on testing will only make the problem more challenging.

Joomla, is something that I am learning how to use. Jeff asked what I liked about Joomla, and I could not think that fast in that early in the morning. However, the feature that I like in Joomla is the template feature. Sure, I can change the template on our Moodle site, but the deign community for Joomla seems to have some neat designs. Also, Joomla looks more like a commerical site. I am not sure why, but it just has this look.

2nd Life-- my thoughts on using Second Life in the classroom are still washing around in my head. I can see the attraction, but I am not sure how to sell this to my fellow teacher. I am in an interesting position that my school's principal actually came to me with the idea to check out how games could be used to address the learning issues of alternative school students. She has listened to Marc Prensky and asked me to check into how we might tap the critical thinking potential of the gaming environment. I am not a gamer, but hey, if I can interest my students in learning about the environmental issues, or energy transfer through the biosphere, I am all for it. My problem is not that I am too lazy to explore it, I just have issues with devoting hours of my personal time at home, outside the work day to learn about something that may be out of style or old school before I can find out how to use it without my wife leaving me because I am "playing with my laptop" all the time. Bottom line, my 1st life is more important to me than my 2nd Life-- In this morning's webcast, one of the participants, I think it was Jo McLeay questioned if we really need another "addiction"? Addiction is a good word for what I witness with my students that are avid gamers. Not that there is any thing wrong with them, lots of folks function in life with all sorts of issues. I just do not want to miss a chance to help my students learn in an interesting and engaging way. So, I plan to try to keep my eyes on sites like 2nd Life and the sort to see what happens.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

What might we do to introduce a virus into MySpac"z"?

David Warlick posted an article about teachers reading student's MySpac"z". Well, yesterday, while walking around my classroom, I paused to monitor the conversation of a cooperative learning group. Student were preparing their storyboard for my science class. They had not managed their time well, and I was concerned that they had not submitted their script. They realized, the time needed face-to-face and pulled out their cellphones and made themselves memos of what time they would be online that evening so they could work through their script before coming to class today. They actually are using instant messanger, cellphone, and posting the rough draft and making corrections on the movie script on MySpacz. How do I know they are, because they are back on schedule with their project. They told me they worked on the project until 1 am this morning. No telling hour fast they could have gotten the same task done in class, but that is not the point. Students have their own reality or lack-of and are learning to manage their time. I can see this group of students doing the same things that my daughter that works for SAS Institute-- they work, and go home and work. They are doing what it takes to accomplish the task, to reach their goal. That is what I think I teach that is the most important skill. They will not remember the chemical forumla for caffeine or the difference between the law of superposition and law of faunal succession, but this is why I teach. It is what makes me tie my shoe laces and put up with all the bad behavior and kids that think school is boring. I just smile and remember that we have to focus on the positives.

I know "MySpacz" is blocked in my school district, but students understand why and use their face-to-face class time for brainstorming, and asking questions. I do not know the url for my student's MySpacz site, and it is not cool for teachers to ask... Some of students in Whiteville, NC are IMHO-- digital natives.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Scientists Discover a Massive Blue Whale Colony

"What we are seeing is one of the biggest feeding and breeding sources, at least in the southern hemisphere"

This is a neat story to share with our students. When we teach conservation and rant about saving the whales, it is interesting when facts like this are discovered. Our students need to know that science is not just a bunch of facts that are all true and never change. While reading this article on the Blue Whales and Humpbacks, the writer reports scientists did not know about this colony, because it does not migrate away from the waters in the southern hemisphere. The big question is will world whale hunters, now locate this colony and harvest them? Maybe they already have? Lots of questions to make my students think.

read more | digg story

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Estuary Live - Activity

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

While students viewed this week's EstuaryLIVE streaming broadcast online, students were asked to sketch the animals they liked.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Estuary Live - Activity

This past week, we have been participating in a great virtual field trip - EstuaryLive (EL). My students have been very polite and watched the streaming videos. Well, some watched, and some actually slept. I hate that our culture of students that have been raised by years of VCR babysitters. Their brains are programmed so that when their "caretaker" put them on the floor in front of a TV with a wrestling, horror movie, Soap-opera, or what ever movie they rented from the video store is playing and go to sleep or sit passively. Their dendrites switch to the "dead" position when a video or movie is on.

Tomorrow, we are going to have them work with screen grabs we took while the streaming video from EstuaryLive's broadcast and use them to create digital stories or PowerPoint presentations to tell about the topics covered during the numerous sessions on EL.

We live less than 50 minutes from the beach here in North Carolina, yet my students do not know about any of the topics. So, as a follow-up activity, we are planning to take a real field trip to the beach. More later.