Thursday, October 20, 2011

New Tech Standards and Requirements

Since technology has become such an integral part of our lives today, I think it's essential that as educators we discuss both how we can use it in our classrooms and how we can teach it to our students. This where the Oregon Educational Technology Standards can play an important role. They give guidelines about how to teach "technological literacy" to our students. Just like reading and writing are essential forms of literacy, so also is the knowledge of how to use and interpret technology. Ignoring technology won't make it go away, so I think it's our duty as educators to educate our students about it.

Several of the standards stood out to me. One standard calls for "Creativity and Innovation." As the highest level of thinking on Bloom's Taxonomy, I think the ability to create is an incredibly important skill. In order to create, students need to be able to do all of the lower level thinking skills, including analyzing and evaluating data and applying it to their creation. Teaching students how to use technology for creative purposes is a great way to encourage out of the box thinking and possibly to scaffold that learning with technological tools.

I also liked the standard for "Research and Information Fluency." As someone who is interested in history, I have done a fair amount of research in my day. The explosion of websites has made this research both easier and harder. There is a plethora of data at my fingertips. Although it's much easier to explore topics from the comfort of my computer than by traveling to distant libraries, it's also difficult to sort through all the unnecessary and superfluous details. In addition, I have to constantly be aware of the reliability of my sources. And on top of that, I have to be conscientious about correctly attributing my sources and not plagiarizing. I need to teach my students all of these essential research skills, as they will probably turn more and more to technology instead of books for their information.

Finally, I think the standard about "Digital Citizenship" is extremely important. It's very easy to be anonymous on the web and say things we would never say in person, be that bullying another person or perpetuating prejudice about a particular group. It's important to teach our students what is acceptable behavior on the internet and in other technological realms. Also, there's always the possibility that other people are seeking to do harm to our children via the internet. Just as my parents taught me not to accept candy from strangers, so we need to teach our children about safe computing practices.

There are certain challenges to teaching about these technology standards in our classrooms. The technology might not be available due to budgeting issues. Also, even if technology is available, it may be outdated. The speed of invention is another hurdle; technology becomes obsolete so quickly that, even if we teach our students how to use it, they might not need that skill by the time they graduate. I think the best thing we can do as teachers is to be flexible. Also, I think it's better not to focus exclusively on teaching specific technological skills, but also to teach thinking skills that are needed to work with technology. If we teach students how to think about and figure out uses for technology on their own, then they will be able to adapt to whatever new inventions arrive in the future.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Analyzing Student Data in a Spreadsheet

I haven't spent a lot of time working with Excel or other spreadsheets. I think I studied them briefly in a 9th grade computer class. The operative word in that sentence is think, and reveals just how much I remember about how to use spreadsheets. The good news is, when I started this project for Ed Tech class working with Google spreadsheets, I learned just how easy they are to use. The program is great for collecting, organizing, calculating and displaying data (as any spreadsheet aficianado could tell you.) Once you enter the data in columns, you can set up equations to calculate everything from total to averages to a lot of fancy math terms I didn't recognize. In the end, you can display your data in a variety of easy to read graphs.

Check out my chart and graph here, displaying the below average test scores of students in an imaginary class.

Or you can just look at my product embedded below.

As you can see from the data, even though these students scored below average on their tests, they still showed an overall improvement from test 6 to test 10. Their average test scores are displayed as an olive green bar on the graph, and show continued improvement. A few students still fall way below the average, including Walter Scott, Queen Isabella, Renee Zellweger and Katherine Hepburn. I would need to have some sort of intervention for these lowest students, although even their test scores are improving over time. For the majority of the students, I am glad to see that they are improving and, barring the possibility that the tests are getting easier or they're figuring out better ways to cheat, whatever the teacher is doing is working because almost everyone has been getting better over time.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Multi-Media Project

Screenr is a simple to use, web-based presentation tool that allows you to capture computer screenshots and audio together to create short videos.

I can see many uses for screenr in the classroom. A teacher could put together a screenr video about how to do just about anything on the computer, from correct internet research techniques to working in Excel. Then, the teacher could publish those videos and give the links to his/her students. That way, students could view the video as many times as they needed to in order to understand the material being presented. The teacher could even create a collection of tutorial videos for different software that students could access only when they needed help using the program; therefore, the teacher wouldn't have to waste valuable class time giving lessons about programs that some students already knew how to use and others weren't planning to use at all.

Students could also be expected to use screenr. For example, the teacher could assign groups of students to make each of the tutorial videos described above. Or, if students were expected to make a presentation about a topic, they could create a screenr instead of doing a live presentation in front of the class. The teacher could also use it as an assessment tool, asking the students to demonstrate their mastery of a certain tech skill by creating a screenr rather than having to spend class time watching every student show that they understand.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Google Docs Group Project

We've been exploring the Google Docs suite in class, and I was part of a group that looked into Picasa and Web Albums. Check out our group's great info here.

I've been using Picasa in my personal life for a while. It's a wonderful free photo organizer and editor. I take a lot of atrocious pictures because, no matter how many times I read articles about photography, I can never keep aperture and film speed and shutter speed and all those other details straight. I thought that buying an expensive camera would help, but all that does is give me more mega pixels of my bad pictures. Therefore, I really love Picasa. It has all sorts of handy buttons to try to make your photos better, and the all-important "undo" button for when you actually make them worse. It helps me organize all the photos on my computer so they're in one place, and even has a face recognition tool so that if I want to find shots of a particular person I don't have to do any sorting. In short, there's lots of great tools that Picasa offers, and I learned how to use them pretty quickly, so the learning curve isn't very steep at all.

As a future teacher, I look forward to including a lot of visual stimulation in my lessons. That includes pictures that I can import, organize and then turn into a slide show on Picasa. Also, using Web Albums I can store those pictures on the internet so that I can access them from any computer. And because the program is so easy to use, I can have my students do their own photo editing projects using it.

On the group project, I helped contribute reflections about how to use Picasa in the classroom, donated pictures to our incredible Web Album, laid out the very aesthetically pleasing Google Doc, and turned the address for our Web Album into a Tiny URL.

Friday, October 7, 2011

My Favorite Web2.0 Tools

Web2.0 is also known as cloud computing, and I think that's a pretty apt image of what it is. In my head, I picture a giant cloud of information hovering above me, and that cloud contains all of the applications and information that I'm accessing on my computer. Of course, the information isn't actually floating over me, it's stored on a remote server, but the idea is the same: I can't see where my data is being stored. It used to be that my data was stored on the hard drive of my computer, but now it's stored on the web and I access it through the internet.

All of the Google Docs suite is Web2.0. So are Facebook and Twitter. Skype is Web2.0, letting you send both audio and video via the internet.

A great Web2.0 tool I just learned about is called Delicious. Delicious is a place for you to save links to various websites, much as we use the "bookmarks" tab in Firefox or "favorites" in Internet Explorer. However, because Delicious is Web2.0, those links are saved on the internet, not on your computer, so you have access to them on any computer that you use.

Also, you have the opportunity to create stacks, which are collections of different links all dealing with the same theme. You can organize these stacks, add descriptions of the links and images to represent them, and then publish them so that other people can browse the collection you've put together.

Here's an example of a stack about legos.

And another about comedy shows in Japan.

Although the advantages to saving your bookmarks remotely so that you can access them from anywhere are obvious, I think the stack feature could be especially useful for education. If students are working on a research project together, they could share links to useful websites they found about their topic. You could also have them create a stack about any theme you wished and publish it on the internet. If you're teaching them how to conduct successful Google searches (kind of like a scavenger hunt on the internet), the students could collect their findings in their Delicious account. Also, Delicious has a great feature where you can tag your links with key words, so it's easier to find all of the useful sites for a particular topic.

OTEN Conference

On Sept. 24, I went to the Oregon Technology in Education Network (OTEN) Conference. Here are some reflections from the event.

There are so many ways to use technology in the classroom. The exciting thing is, if used correctly, it can help improve students' knowledge, as well as test scores, as the Joe Morelock proved with data from Canby School District. It's important, though, to realize that technology is not the answer to all of life's problems, nor will it automatically make our children learn more. But it can help, because it builds a bridge between the students' life outside of the classroom, which is filled with technology, and the world of learning inside the classroom.

Since technology is changing so quickly, I appreciated what Morelock had to say about planning ahead: you can't. You have to live in today and work with what you have, and worry about tomorrow's changing world tomorrow.

When we work with technology, it is just as important to teach our students how to learn about technology as it is to teach them how to work with technology. That's where critical thinking and communicative skills come in that Jennifer Roberts talked about at her session. If we teach our students how to think, they'll be better prepared to deal with innovations in the future than if we just teach them discrete facts.

Many computer programs today are very flexible in their application to the classroom. For one such example, from the session given by Al Weiss, check out the following podcast.