Technological Peripherals in Gr. 1

•December 9, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I don’t use technological peripherals with my students mainly because they are mostly six years old and because I haven’t really put much thought towards it, to be honest.  A big part of what I do is to model for my students what I hope they will one day, do for themselves.  This is true not only in the curriculum areas, but also true in the way I use technology and the peripherals that go with them.

I am fortunate  to say that I have a Smartboard, document camera, USB microscope, digital camera and Flip video camera.  With the exception of the microscope and the Flip, I have all of these technologies at my disposal, in my own classroom, and do not need to sign them out at the library.  I strongly believe that if teachers are going to use technology, it needs to be right there in the classroom, ready to go.  I would love to use the Flip more, but it is a hot commodity and they are often checked out from the library.  Thankfully, our school is looking into buying more digital video cameras for us to use.

As an aside, the only setback to having all these wonderful tools is the jungle of cables that spread beneath my desk and climb to the top of it as they vie for one of the two USB slots on my  laptop.  I have succumbed to buying my own USB hub so that everything can be connected to my laptop and I don’t have to worry about plugging and unplugging cables in order to use certain peripherals.  It is a small price to pay to keep my sanity and my workspace manageable.

Going back to the idea of using peripherals with my students, I certainly would like to tip the scales and have my students using them more.  Access and time, being the gatekeepers here, I would like to teach my students how to record audio and video.  It think this is possible, it is just a matter of teaching them how.  I also think this has tremendous power.  Students could learn to record their own and each other’s reflections during their learning opportunities.  This will help me keep record of what has been shared and also help students who have difficulty writing (they are still learning how to write, let alone write reflections), record their ideas through the use of technology.  Then, these recordings can be shared with an audience like their parents or other partners in the school community.  I wonder if students’ responses will improve with the idea that there will be an audience listening or seeing what they think.  Of course, I worry that this may also hinder the process as some students may shy away from the opportunity to share their thoughts with an audience or get distracted from the bells and the whistles of using technological gadgets.  Nevertheless, it could be one way to help those who need it and gravitate towards it.


Laptops in Gr. 1? What?

•December 8, 2009 • Leave a Comment

It is true!!!

Our grade team has been given 2 laptop carts to use with our students.

The carts are equipped with some pretty old G4 Macbooks.  There are some challenges to these as many of them don’t hold a charge and processing speeds are slower than ideal.  Some of these challenges hinder their use.   Nevertheless, our team has found ways to integrate them into our units of study and they are used often.

Due to the condition our laptops are in, we have to be smart about how we use them and how we will expect each student to problem solve when challenges surface.

Each laptop has been numbered and each dock on the cart has been numbered too.

Students have been assigned a number that correlates with other routines set out for the classroom.  Students are responsible for using the laptop that correlates with their number and if that laptop is unavailable for whatever reason, they may use one of the extra laptops (that is not officially assigned to another student in the class).  Students have been trained to remove their laptop and return their laptop to the proper dock.  They have also been trained how to check its battery on retrieval and how to plug it in for charging on return.  Because students will sometimes need to trouble shoot, they have been given strategies to solve their problems before asking the teacher.  Students put up their hands if they need additional teacher support and are not permitted to walk to the teacher with their laptop in hand.

There are a number of other procedures I would like implement.  I’d like to use a trouble shooting poster clearly defined steps; use screenshots to create a trouble shooting video; create a GEEK Team with students who can help their fellow classmates solve problems together.

While I would like to use the laptops on a more regular basis, sometimes the demands outweigh the benefits. I look forward to the day when our laptops will be replaced with better ones.  In the meantime, we do the best we can with what we have.

How Relevant is NETs?

•December 8, 2009 • Leave a Comment

This blog post attempts to address the question:  How relevant are the NETs for Teachers and Administrators to being a “Good Educator” today?

I assume this question assumes that a “good educator” is one that works to prepare its students for the challenges and realities of the world and that that world is becoming more digitally integrated each day.  What I fear is that the question also suggests that one is not a “good educator” if digital tools are not part of his teacher toolkit.  It has been difficult to wade through these murky waters, but I have come to some ideas on the matter:

In NETs for teachers, teachers  are expected to:

1. Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity

2. Design and Develop Digital-Age Learning Experiences and Assessments

3. Model Digital-Age Work and Learning

4. Promote and Model Digital Citizenship and Responsibility

5. Engage in Professional Growth and Leadership

I will go so far as to say that these are good guidelines that can help teachers integrate technology into their teaching.  I see the importance of using technology to teach and to learn.  I think teaching through technology is extremely relevant.  I do not think, however, that documents like NETs can define what a good teacher is.

I concur with my friend and colleague, James, who writes that NETs serve as a guide to good pedagogy WITH DIGITAL TOOLS. I also like how he stresses that we should focus on guiding teachers “towards good pedagogy… PERIOD – NO QUALIFIERS.”  The tools with which an educator may use will always change.  Education reform and new understandings of the brain will always lead to new pedagogies and tools; and/or repackage and rename old ones.  Teaching has been around forever.  While certain methodologies, pedagogies and “meta-ologies” will come and go, good teaching will always include care, thought, a genuine respect for the learner and the learning; and the amazing thing called a passion for teaching and learning.  IT is the unwritten qualities of a teacher that make him “good”  and “great”.

I believe the NETs are good guidelines, but the important work of what a teacher does is so much more important than whether or not, and how,  digital tools are used.

Ensuring TAIL Education

•December 7, 2009 • Leave a Comment

If teachers and schools are going to ensure that students will learn and grow in these areas, they need a clear understanding of the tools that are out there, how to use them and when best to use them with their students.  A common understanding needs to develop and a clear initiative needs to take place.  More importantly, a paradigm shift needs to take place.  Educators need to see the value of using TAIL and how it can lead to achieving learning expectations.  Finding ways to transform teaching and learning through TAIL, needs to be recognized as an important goal for the school, its teachers and students.  Teachers who are pioneering new technologies and integrating information literacy to deepen thinking, develop citizenship and promote collaboration need to be celebrated for their work.  Teachers who are hesitant to follow in these footsteps need time to explore the technologies and be given opportunities to see what can be done differently with the use of technology.  These teachers need to see this as being something they could do, which is different from what they have done AND not in addition to what they are already doing. 

As an elementary teacher, I strongly believe in the Gradual Release of Responsibility model where teachers facilitate learning by gradually reducing teacher support as they guide their students towards independence.  Teachers start off with a demonstration phase where they model for their students the use of a particular strategy or process.  Then, students are supported through guided and independent practice, leading to application.  When you apply this model to TAIL education, students begin to see and use technology as they work towards curriculum goals.  But in order to for teachers to do this, they must first learn how to use the technology they wish to integrate into their learning opportunities.  As a colleague of mine points out, this will require schools to take a long term and dedicated approach to teacher education.

In order for schools to assess what learning is taking place and to which extent its programs are effective, they need a common language, clear expectations, and reasonable goals (school plan) that are all supported by a clear vision.  All of these need to be shared by the whole school:  teachers, parents and students.  Documents like ISTE’s NETS for students, for teachers, for adminsistrators, and AASL Standards can serve as a starting point that can help schools build a common language around TAIL education.  What the school decides to do with them is the all important next step. 

TAIL Standards

•December 2, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The question of who’s job it is to teach NETs and AASL standards brings up a mixed reaction in me.  On hand hand it seems to be a teachers job, but on the other hand, it seems like a task that needs more partners in making it a reality.

I see the importance of teaching students to think critically, to become citizens (globally and digitally), and to create and share in ways that can lead to improvements for themselves as individuals, society and the world.  I also see the importance of creating partnerships with administrators, parents and other members of the community in this endeavor. 

As our world continues to create tools faster than we can learn them; and then infuse these tools in our everyday life, we need to learn how to use these tools.  But it is so much more than learning how to use the tools isn’t it?
It’s what we do with them that is important. 

I agree with my colleague Andy Vaughan who stresses that technology offers us tools to learn and not (just) what is learned (content).  What I would add is that there needs to be an action plan that helps all educators see the importance, witness the benefits of using technology and believe in its application in an educational setting.  We need to empower teachers in a way that does not make them feel obsolete just because they have more traditional ways of teaching.  Professional development opportunities need to incorporate digital tools if we are to expect teachers to use them in our classrooms.
We also need to educate our parents and community members in order to help level the playing field for all students, regardless of class and economic background.  While private institutions may have the financial resources to equip their schools with computers and other information technologies, I can’t help but wonder what happens to students attending public schools, especially those in the inner-city, where funding and parental demand for technology is limited.

I think standards like NETs and those from the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), reflect an awareness that education needs to change in order to reflect our digitally changing world.  But these like any other standards need to be implemented in schools in a way that makes sense, otherwise they are little more than documents with little or no impact on student learning.

I know we are on a sort of continuum in terms of how much background knowledge and experience with technology we bring to our jobs as teachers.  I wonder what kinds of teachers will exist 20 years from now where the a generation of teachers will have grown up using digital tools and need not learn how to use them; instead their use is already integrated in everything they all ready do.  I wonder how educational research that has given us “metacognition,” will transcend what we know of it today.

Final Project Reflection

•October 31, 2009 • 2 Comments

My final project for Course 3 started off with a movie created using iMovie.  The final product was posted in my blog entry:  Digital Storytelling in Gr. 1.  After hours of work, I was able to put together slides taken from a handwriting program we use called Handwriting Without Tears.  Despite various strategies used to teach students proper letter formation, there are still some students who do not form their letters correctly.  We teach them to start their letters at the top because forming letters with a downward stroke is easier than pushing the pencil up.  Nevertheless, there are many students who find it hard to make this transition. 

I use the movie as a warm up each time we start our handwriting practice.  I play the movie on the Smartboard, as the students do their warm up exercises.  (They put their hands together and push their fingers against each other.  They also lock their fingers, one hand above the other and pull.)  While they are doing this, the workbooks are being handed out.  I knew they would start singing the song “Where do you start your letters?” but little did I expect them to break out into a cute dance routine.  They started to make movements that went with the song.  Each time they heard the word top, they would reach up.  When they sang “is this the bottom” they all touched the floor.  I can’t help but think that these gross movements are helping some students connect to the idea that letters start at the top and not at the bottom; and it is helping them transfer this to their fine motor manipulation of their pencils.  It is a fun way to energize the students and it really helps students enjoy a task that they may find challenging.

Since the movie was taken from screen shots of a Smartboard notebook that I had created using screenshots from the student workbooks that had been scanned, I have tried to create an interactive document that the kids could use in addition to their workbooks.  My idea is to use the Smartboard video application and record the correct letter formation.  I plan to make short video clips of each letter.  These will then be embedded into each slide so students can see a video of the correct letter formation and then try it themselves on the Smartboard.  These video clips can also be posted on our Grade blog for parents to see and use at home when the handwriting comes home for homework.

Unfortunately, I have stumbled on some challenges.  The notebook that I have created is projected onto the Smartboard.  This make the letters a lot larger and I am not use to printing with such a big text.  Sad to say, a lot of my penmanship, which was once very good, is now a thing of the past.  I simply don’t print or write that much any more.  As a result, I can’t seem to print as neatly as I would like to model how to form the letters correctly and have them sit on the lines.

In addition, the Smartboard in my classroom has lost some of its accuracy when I calibrate the pen with the board.  As a result, it is difficult to start at the top and on the line.  Forming the letters using the lines is a bit of a hit and miss.  As a result, making video clips is next to impossible. 

I have tried to problem solve by changing the resolution of the projection onto the Smartboard.  This reduces the size of the projection which helps when I use the Smartboard pen and have to write on the Smartboard.  Nevertheless, the calibration is still not as good as I would like it, especially if I am going to record this and post it on our blog.

I even tried using a tablet, but that proved difficult as the letter that I had to trace and the lines that I had to sit my letters on, were on the Smartboard and not the tablet.  I even tried printing the screenshots and reducing the size of them to fit the tablet.  I then taped the printouts onto the tablet and tried to record the letter formations.  This got me closer to my goal, but it was a lot of work!  As the tablet that I was using was not mine, I had to give it back.  There were others in the school that I could borrow, but the challenges in this case seemed to outweigh the benefits.

I don’t accept defeat easily.  As a result I plan to use other methods to make the recordings.  I could use the document camera that is in my classroom or try using a Flip camera.  All I need is time!  For now, my students and I will have to be satisfied with the movie I created.  There is still lots of room for improvement with the video, but as a first product, it ain’t half bad!  Despite all my set backs, I have learned quite a bit about a lot of different digital tools.  I just wish I had more time to learn how to use them and how to best make use of them in an effective and transformative way to improve my teaching and the learning that my students experience.

Web Based Video is (Potentially) Changing Education

•October 30, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Logitech webcam + FishEye by rafael_mizrahi.
Flickr:  rafael_mizrahi

This blog reflection attempts to answer the question:

How has the explosion of web based video changed the teaching and learning landscape?

With resources like youtube, teachertube,, iTunes U, and other websites that host videos uploaded by its members, there seems to be a wide spectrum of videos that are available for educational purposes.  Nevetheless, the ever-present questions important to educators are:

  1. .How educational are these videos?
  2. How reliable are these sources?
  3. How can I find the right video?

For ideas on using Youtube to teach, I found this blog written by Dr. Chareen Snelson, an assistant professor of educational technology at Boise State University.  In addition to her insightful blog posts, she also has also added a long list of links to valuable resources.

Another amazing site is This site is an online video converter which allows you to convert a certain video file into another format.  Couple this with an iPod and you have educational videos in your pocket.  This translates to learning anytime, anywhere.  I wish these tools were around when I was in school!

The challenges to the wide spread of web based video for teaching purposes are widespread.  There is an ever-growing wealth of tools out there, tools which many teachers have never heard of or seen before.  To compound this challenge, there is an exponential growth of material being produced and shared online.  And to exasperate the issue, a lot of the material being produced lacks educational quality.  Teachers, administartors and parents need time to learn how to use these tools and learn how to harness the power that is potentially out there.  Finding the right video can often be a simple search on youtube but often, it is more like finding a nanochip in a haystack.

On a more positive note, an idea that I do find promising is students creating videos for other students; or teachers creating videos for their students or other teachers.  In addition, mass collaboration can take place using a site like Voicethread, where a learning community of students, teachers and parents can collaborate on any given project using still visuals or video.

Of course once we learn how to access the resources out there, we need to learn how to analyze the content and evaluate its authenticity.  This leads into other important learning opportunties like visual literacy and media literacy.  We are bombarded with images everyday.  Students need to learn how to deconstruct the images, analyze them and be aware of how images can and do affect their daily lives.

But going back to the original question of how web based video is affecting the learning landscape, I think we are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg.  With a plethora of digital tools and new ones being developed, we are at once provided with an open door to one immense library.  Choosing to step in within these doors and choosing the right text is all up to YOU!

Course Readings:

Idea Lab: Becoming Screen Literate

Questioning Video, Film, Advertising & Propaganda: Deconstructing Media Messages