Integrated technology in my classroom

Presentation for School District #91 Professional Development Day, May 2012

For the purposes of this presentation, I decided to pick technology tools that have become seemlessly integrated into my daily/weekly routine. A few of these tools do involve how students access or produce work, but they are also just the new the tools of my trade.

I began teaching in 1992, so a lot has changed for me. My world used to be limited to the book rooms, the library, a chalkboard, and later an overhead projector. I shopped on occasional trips to Vancouver, ordered videos from NFB and so on. Now, if I want a movie, an audio book, a music video, a documentary, a news story, I can have them on that same day, perhaps within minutes. The world is now my students’s digital textbook. It is also my professional reading list/textbook/professional learning network.

1. LCD Projector and Surround Sound

My daughter, who joined the school as a Grade 8 this year, tells me her fellow classmates look forward to being in my class because “all you do is watch movies”. Well, okay. (Note to parents and other community members: not everything students say is, shall we say, entirely true.) Let’s be clear. In my twenty year career, I can count on less than one hand the times I ‘showed a movie’ that was unconnected to my curriculum and also that did not have some kind of accountability for learning attached.

They are impressed by my awesome sound and video system. I inherited this classroom when our film/humanities teacher moved to a different site. I leapt on his classroom like the vulture I am and moved in.

However, I do show a lot of video that I find on YouTube, news channels, iTunes, NFB and so on. I also show movies that are connected to my curriculum.

Having a big screen and surround sound provides the appropriate drama for the life we are investigating.

Also, it gets their attention.

2. YouTube, iTunes, and more

I have a YouTube account, where I can store videos sorted by topic.

I use iTunes for TV shows like Deadliest Warrior and King Arthur. I can also access lectures on psychology and history from iTunes University. I download songs, and print out the lyrics. I have downloaded podcasts and music videos. You can get iTunes loaded on to your computer, and use it even if you don’t have an iPod. By the way, you can have your account associated with 5 different computers.

3. Double monitors

This is a quality of life issue. When I have something on my class screen, like a timer, I can still do work on my computer, take attendance, send an email and create assignments on the fly. It makes working on my website easier. It makes watching a program I might like to use in my classroom, while I do my work after school easier. It makes digital marking easier. It makes everything easier.

4. Speaking of digital marking

I have started doing as much digital marking of writing as I can manage. I currently teach a DL course, so most of that work is sent to me digitally already. I have also started asking for essays to be sent to me digitally as well. I like having a copy of the draft. In some cases, I want to make the same point more than once and I can copy and paste a comment. We can both access the documents at home, which is nice.

In Word, you can click a button and a record of all edits is created. This way students can see if I changed something. While I have yet to do this, I am going to get students to do that with their own edits. I can then see what they did as well. For example, if I asked students to include more thoughts and feelings, or develop the setting more, I can see what they did.

5. Class Websites and Blogs

I maintain 4 separate websites for my courses. My main one is through Edublogs, and the others are WordPress.

Follow this link to my main space for communicating with students on what we are doing in class. The front page is a blog where I post videos or other links I like. If you look at the sidebar, you’ll see where my classes are listed. Here I keep a running commentary on what we are doing (in most cases), upload documents, give links to students for assignments they will do online and so on. I try to stay up-to-date, but I get behind sometimes. Like now.

This is also a handy tool for me – at the end of the semester I cut and paste the running record into a word document and save it for future reference. It’s a good reminder of how I did things, what resources I produced, what videos I located and so on. If I don’t teach a course for a few years it is especially helpful.

I also have some other pages that are in development all the time, like Help With Writing.

Other times, I create pages for students to blog on, as in this English 10 Dystopia Unit page for Unwind. Here the students have posted some of their comments, and I have commented back.

I have also started building a website for the Social Studies department at FSJSS.

I have separate websites for my Geography 12 and History 12 courses. I pay for Ms. Inden’s Website, Ms. Inden’s Geography 12, and Messy Professional. I do this so that I can upload tons of content, and also because the styles you can choose when you pay are snazzier. I like snazzy. However, free works too.

6. My Professional Life

Obviously, you are seeing my blog, Messy Professional. I decided to use the blog as a tool for learning this year, and it has been an amazing process. Tied to this is Twitter. I find incredible educators, bloggers and ideas via Twitter. Also, when I post a blog, it goes out to all my followers on Twitter, so Twitter is key to blogging.

One key way I use Twitter is through the use of hashtags. Sign in to twitter and try it. Here are some of my key ones: #bced, #bclearns #engchat #edchat #sschat #geniushour, and sadly, #bill22 (also, #bcedplan). What you do then is follow people tweeting about that topic. My Twitter feed is all education, politics and First Nations content.

If we got enough folks on Twitter, we could use the hashtag:

#teachsd91 or #sd91learns

That would be awesome!!

Here is a capture from #geniushour:

It used to be rocket science.

It is important to understand that I have developed these skills over years, and with help, and with a lot of asking (aka begging).

It used to feel like rocket science. Like all skills, I started with stumbling and fumbling. Slowly, I figured things out.

What this represents is my digital footprint as an educator.

It has become so natural to me that when a Teacher on Call commented on how she loved all the technology I was using I was actually confused. What was she talking about? I had to ask her. I had students listening to audio books on my ipod, students accessing my website, students watching a movie on iTunes, students sending me work digitally. That was in a singLe day. When I commented on this funny moment of confusion to my colleague, Andy, he pointed out that it must mean that the technology integration was working because I didn’t even notice it any more.

My next steps: A focus on helping students develop their own digital footprint.

Death of the textbook?

Last week, I decided that I should probably dust of the textbook for my Humanities 8 course and help the students develop some skills for handling that style of text.

I must confess I was feeling somewhat…guilty…for neglecting the book. Isn’t it supposed to be the backbone of the classroom? Was I just avoiding, like a coward, the groans of dismay and inevitable behaviour problems that would ensue when I said, “Open your textbooks to Chapter 1”? Was I not creating a rigorous enough environment? Students were learning the content, but….

I am working with a group of students that is very reticent to read. I want them to LOVE history. I want them to get it. However, they do need to learn how to read a textbook, don’t they?

These days, in all my classes, I find myself turning to the wealth of digital resources avialable from iTunes, Discovery Streaming, YouTube and the internet in general. I would also be making use of CBC, but I am having some problems streaming it into the building. I also enjoy using general interest books that have shorter blurbs of information and a lot of visuals.I also create my own ‘texts’ because often the language and vocabulary of most textbooks and websites are not accessible to my students.

Certainly, I have used small sections of the textbook for the Humanities course. However, it has only been used two or three times in the 6 months we have been tackling the Middle Ages.

These diverse texts, orchstrated by the ebb and flow of my classroom, become my real-time textbooks, never to be created in the same way again. Honestly, this is exactly as it should be, because next year, my students will be different, new content will be avialable, and different current events and issues will be intersecting with what we are doing as a class.

One main exception – BC First Nations Studies 12; there is a Provincial Exam for the course that is based on that text, so I do put the students through it, albeit with a lot of other supplementary material.

One idea I have yet to try is getting students creating their own digital textbook through wikispaces or some other host, in concert with other students. I love this concept and have seen some good examples.

Today, on Twitter, the #edchat was all about the textbook – do we need them, where is the digital textbook going, what are some alternatives?

Perfect….just what I needed to think and talk about. I do love Twitter! I got some great links and articles to read. Of course, my transformation as a teacher is not taking place in a vacuum, and I find many educators out there way ahead of me.

I have to confess that my main concern is that some very big companies are gearing up to cash in on some very lucrative contracts. Has it happened in BC already? This article, Apple and the Digital Textbook Counter-Revolution, from Hack Education (Audry Watters) says it all and contains several links to other articles. Here is an exerpt that sums up the concern:

I would dearly love to know if our students are being sold to the lowest bidder, or even the highest. This is money that could go to technology so that all students, (even those without iPads) and teachers can access, share, analyse and learn from the vast resources available from both commercial and OER (open educational resources) sources.

I am not against textbooks. Our students need exposure to a wide variety of texts. I just want us to stop sinking all our cash into one static document, even if it is flashy and ‘interactive’.

Here’s another link I ran into today, although I haven’t looked to carefully:

Resources to Replace Textbooks, blog called Educational Technology Guy, David Andrade.