Welcome to my Blog!

Hello and welcome to my blog. It is here that I will be working through various discussion topics related to technology, learning, and most importantly the creation of meaningful and relevant student instruction. I openly welcome your comments, and hope that my insights and presented information works to inspire and assist fellow educators in the effective integration of technology.

In Barcelona with my Girls!

In Barcelona with my Girls!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Champion of 21st Century Technology or Marketing Tool?

The Partnership for 21st Century Learning cites itself as being the leading advocacy organization focused on infusing 21st-century skills into education which may very well be the case, but at first glance I could not help but think it was a very well disguised marketing tool for some of the biggest names in the technology industry.  The founding partners of the Partnership reads like a veritable who’s who list of technology giants: Microsoft, Dell Computer Corporation, Apple Computer Inc. , AOL Time Warner, Cisco Systems, Inc., and SAP.  Given this fact one just cannot help but wonder if there is some element of a bottom line influence tucked away somewhere in the goals of the Partnership. 

Now placing my conspiracy theory to the side the website does offer a wealth of information related to the development of effective 21st century instruction, and it more than eloquently highlights the need for all elements of education, government and society in general to pull their heads out of the sand and take a more active stance in the promotion of relevant student learning.  Despite the fact some of the information contained in the article bares resemblance to the words of other researchers’ articles, the information it does present should most definitely serves as a warning bell for education systems everywhere simply because if they do not heed many of the points addressed they do very well stand the chance of becoming, like they note, irrelevant to students’ lives and how they learn. 

Now in terms of content and information value the Partnership’s P21 website, http://www.p21.org/index.php, does an excellent job in providing a relatively straight forward plan for what it believes to be a fully functioning framework for socially relevant 21st century instruction, whereby 21st century teaching and student learning combine to achieve 21st century student learning outcomes through the development of specifically needed skill sets and newly emerging literacies.  Additionally there is a well developed plan for the inclusive planning of relevant instruction using what they term “21st Century Standards”, that being instruction which: focuses on 21st century skills, content knowledge and expertise; builds understanding across and among core subjects as well as 21st century interdisciplinary themes; emphasizes deep understanding rather than shallow knowledge; engages students with the real world data, tools, and experts they will encounter in college, on the job, and in life--students learn best when actively engaged in solving meaningful problems; and allows for multiple measures of mastery. (as cited from Partnership for 21st Century Learning, 2011, 21st Century Standards).   

In conclusion the Partnership organization does indeed do a good job in bringing together the key players in education development, and is, I believe, successful in promoting a powerful vision of 21st-century education and ultimately highlighting the need for every child to experience success as citizens and future workers in the 21st century.  Now in terms of the Partnership’s influence on my teaching and the educational outlook for the future, in a small way I would like to believe they are a slightly larger voice than mine and may be more apt to ‘grease the wheels of change’ thus leading to the subsequent loosen of educational purse strings through their advocacy – insert singing choir here – but in all honesty it will likely take more than a well crafted website to engineer dramatic and meaningful change in an education system in definite need of repair!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Oh so Wonderful Wikis!

Don't you just love those days when everything just seems to fall into place, and the world has become your proverbial oyster?  Well that's the kind of day I experiencing right now, and I am going to love every second of it because who knows when it may happen again. 

I have always believed that experience is the best teacher if you're willing to take a risk and try something different, last week it was blogging and in this case that something different was a little wonder called a wiki.  Over the last few days I have been studying the topic of wikis, and how they can be used to increase productivity and/or creativity amongst colleagues in a work setting.  In reading about wikis what intrigued most about these tools was there inherent ability to really ramp up the degree of collaboration amongst wiki members.  Up until last week I had had limited experience with wikis and had only once been a 'member' of one other wiki ever - and in hind sight knowing what I know now it really wasn't that great a wiki and could have been so much more.  In my desire to figure this whole wiki thing out I set about establishing a wiki for use with a masters course I am enrolled in.  Low and behold it was a fantastic experience and one which definitely worked to spark my interest in seeing how 'big' the impact of wikis could be.  The idea of people being able to share resources and thoughts collaboratively and then effectively edit them until they may resemble something completely different is a very cool concept and one that definitely suits the comfortable confines of the education profession.  Being able to collaborate with co-workers or associates beyond your school in the development and revision of teaching resources represents a giant step in how materials could be developed for use with students...but I digress.

Looking back at the motivation for this post, the pearl of the day was not a result of this wiki epiphany but rather the fact I was able to apply my new wiki knowledge almost immediately into a real world application.  Recently the professional development program contracted through a third-party company for all Emirate schools was terminated and all associated PD resources were to be effectively 'scraped'.  One of these resources scheduled to be scraped was an internet forum which numerous colleagues had worked tirelessly on uploading a multitude of resources designed to aid with the professional development and training of teachers and school reforms.  The forum had for the most part become a source of support for its users and once gone everyone would be left with no means of communicating or sharing information.  Signal the trumpet call...this is where I, and my newly acquired knowledge, saw an opportunity to take us all in a different direction and utilize what I believed to be a better tool.  Spending the better part of a day I designed a wikispace for use with my colleagues, all 190 of them - and from all indications the wiki is a rave hit and people are wondering why we didn't make the jump sooner.  Obviously there are some users who are new to world of wikis but they are being taken care of as a result of a tutorial section I included in the home page. 

In conclusion I absolutely love it when you learn something that turns out to be a useful skill...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

21st Century Thinking, Technology, and Perpetual Change…oh my!

In watching this video it really got me thinking about the disconnect between what's happening in classrooms in terms of student instruction and preparation, and what the true reality of society is and what it demands of its future citizens/employees in terms of knowledge, skills, and dispositions. 

There exists an old adage stating that the only things in life that are certain are death and taxes.  In examining technology’s influence on society, specifically on business and the manner in which it has altered the work environment, I would beg to differ; I would assert that what is fast becoming perpetual technological change can also be viewed as much a certainty as either death or taxes.  Given the increasing degree and certainty of technological change within society and business it is very clear that the employees of tomorrow are going to be utilizing skills vastly different than those of their parents, or even older siblings!   As Hof (2007) notes technological change goes “beyond simply making us more efficient at what we already do…[it will] change where we work, how we work, and even the nature of work itself” (n.p.). In recognizing the impact of technology and change in essential life skills it is clearly incumbent on those in education to work to effectively adapt and correct what is quickly becoming an ever widening disconnect between education and business.
In looking at technology’s dramatic influence on the world of business, Thornburg (Laureate Education, 2010a) notes how today’s employees require a different type of education, one that matches or even supersedes the technological expectations of their employer.  Gone is the era of the typical 9-5 work day, in its place a business world built on the central ideal of collaboration and 24/7 access to information.  Success in today’s business markets is very much dependant on a company’s willingness, and its employees’ ability, to embrace technological change and utilize the latest communication gadgetry to facilitate the creation of a global presence.  So what does this mean for teachers and the current education system?  It means it is time for a revolution.  Changes need to be made in the way in which students are instructed, the instructional strategies being utilized, and the very curriculum being delivered.  Dede (Laureate Education, 2010b) talks of 3 major trends in employment in his discussion on the role of technology in changing work environments.  In his research he asserts that the definition of information technology is changing and influencing peoples’ experiences and manner in which they express themselves, thereby dramatically changing the very nature of work and how people think.  Dede (Laureate Education, 2010b) notes how peoples’ thinking has become distributed allowing to people think and work in intellectual partnerships.  Collaboration amongst people has expanded and is now considered a necessity in what Thornburg (Laureate Education, 2010a) calls the anywhere, anytime work environment.
 So yet again what does all this mean to today’s classroom teacher?  It means that they, the classroom teachers, need to loosen the reins and encourage collaboration amongst their students – anytime and all the time.  Teachers need to teach students the skills needed to communicate, deliberate, evaluate, hypothesize, and negotiate; the essential skills needed to be functioning, and effective, citizens in what Dede (Laureate Education, 2010b) calls the knowledge economy.  Classroom instruction and the strategies utilized needs to shift from teacher centered to student centered, students need to be able to openly explore and discover meaning and knowledge on their own terms.  Teachers need to facilitate and guide, rather than lecture and show.  Students need to be active participants in their own learning and held accountable for their progress.  In tomorrow’s economy today’s students are going to need to be flexible and possess critical thinking skills needed to move beyond standard thinking to discover new solutions to new problems.  Lastly teachers need to actively integrate interactive technology into their instruction be it through the use of blogs, wikis, or the internet, as students need to be given the opportunity to utilize educational technology daily.   In having teachers take these steps to facilitate necessary change, it will eventually be the students’ ability to utilize the latest technological innovations to communicate and find answers that will facilitate the development of 21st century thinking – and ultimately shape the needed skills and dispositions determining their success in tomorrow’s global work force. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Application of Blogging…Simple Tool, Big Rewards

Thornburg (Laureate Education, 2010), in his research on technology and society, notes that with the ever increasing demand for technology integration in today’s classrooms teachers need to openly embrace technological innovations and utilize them to raise the effectiveness of their instruction and expand the learning potential of their students.  Teachers must actively endeavour to move beyond simply doing things differently and instead be innovative in the manner in which they engage their students and work to do different things. In this regard the application of student blogging is a great means of targeting numerous learning outcomes using interactive technology.  As November (2008) notes, “blogging represents one of many tools pioneering teachers are using to empower students to take greater responsibility of managing their own learning and adding value to the world” (p.81).  In working collaboratively with students in the development of blogging activities, class blogs can serve to fulfil a number of different roles and be utilized across the curriculum.  Personally I have used classroom blogging successfully to guide student learning in a few ways. 

Within my grade 3 class I have used blogging as an interactive means of assisting students in the development of writing skills in language arts class.  Through the provision of comments/feedback students are better able to identify areas of potential growth and work to correct any identified shortcomings.  Additionally my students have blogged to create digital portfolios of completed project assignments in science.  Being able to link images, photos, videos and text allows for a detailed running history of their learning journey, and one which can viewed and critiqued by persons beyond the students’ inner circle of close friends and teacher throughout the entire learning activity.  Lastly within the content area of social studies student blogs can be utilized to facilitate class discussion and the sharing of opinions for class debate.  This is an activity which I really enjoy utilizing with my students as it offers them the opportunity to engage higher order thinking skills and utilize the full collaborative nature of the application.  Using a central blogging theme as a prompt my students have been able to share their thoughts on specified topics through blogging discussion forums with the intended learning goal being the realization that everyone is entitled to their own point of view – whilst also learning that occasionally you may have to defend what you believe in.  The use of blogs in facilitating this ‘discussion forum’ has allowed students to make learning connections and, as noted by the National Council of Teachers of English, “build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally” (as cited by Richardson, 2010, p. 32).  Blogging activities have allowed my students the opportunity to develop ideas, gather and share feedback, reflect on material, synthesize information, and ultimately present new ideas to an audience beyond the simple confines of the classroom.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2010). Technology and Society [Webcast]. Understanding the Impact of Technology on Education, Work, and Society. Baltimore, MD: Author. Retrieved November 6, 2011 from: http://sylvan.live.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=6072032&Survey=1&47=8988338&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=1&bhcp=1

November, A. (2008). Expanding the Boundaries: Blogs, RSS, Podcasts, and Wikis. Web Literacy for Educators. p. 79-92. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. Retrieved October 30, 2011 from: http://sylvan.live.ecollege.com/ec/courses/74759/CRS-CW-6072032/Artifacts/November_Ch6.pdf.

Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Changing Face of Education

There is little doubt that the increased prevalence and use of technology by today's students has worked to influence the manner in which teachers develop and deliver their instruction.  Gone are the traditional paper textbooks and work sheets of former years, instead replaced with the latest in interactive technology and manipulative software...all designed to engage learners and build upon not only their personal interests but also changing societal demands.  Take a spin through YouTube and you can immediately see the impact technology has had on the way in which people communicate, evaluate, and share information.  Jump on your Facebook page and you immediately see the changing nature in how people interact and socialize - distance is no longer an obstacle in being able to 'see' what your family and friends are up to.  People are able to get real time 'status' updates and share whatever happens to be on their minds.  Up until now I never realized that Facebook was a blog; who knew I was such an avid blogger?! LOL   Technology has indeed changed the way in which people live their lives, and as such it is very much incumbent on us, as teachers, to assist our students in developing the skills and attitudes needed to be active and educated participants in what is now an increasingly digital era.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

So it has been a couple days since my last/first blog post, and I have now had a couple days to reflect on some course material I have been reading regarding the impact of technology on students' educational expectations and current classroom instruction. To say that there exists a level of disparity between current teaching practices and what students expect to be learning is a fair statement.  Despite teachers’ best efforts there will undoubtedly always be a shortfall in what teachers are able to do with technology and their students simply due to the fact the rate at which technology changes and reinvents itself far exceeds the rate at which educational funding is ‘dribbled’ into schools to acquire the latest and greatest learning gadgets.  Sure you will have some school boards who manage to stay near technology’s cutting edge as a result of creative budgeting and program reshuffling but for most schools the truer reality will remain that of simply finding new and innovative ways to use the technology on hand (which sometimes is unfortunately not much more than internet access).  As a professional educator I, as well as my colleagues and I am sure most teachers, recognize the inherent value in developing 21st century skills with students.  Having the ability to evaluate, create, and communicate information via digital media is going to be a valuable skill in what is fast becoming a technology driven society. As Thornburg (Laureate Education, 2010) highlights, teachers will need to do things differently in relation to classroom instruction and the strategies and methodology utilized with students; as such it is therefore incumbent on teachers to embrace technological change and develop the needed skills required to critically evaluate Web-based applications, create digital content, and reinforce student connections to real-world technologies and resources if their students are to reach their full learning potential through the instructed experiences in their classes. In reflecting upon my own teaching I can clearly see how through the use of activities involving the effective integration of some aspect of educational technology I have begun to develop and refine these needed skills, and consequently have been able to generate student-centered instruction that branches my students’ learning into virtually all curricular areas.

By working to utilize various forms of educational technology including blogging, internet research, video conferencing, power point development, and global mapping software like Google Earth I have not only motivate myself to be a better teacher but more importantly have created a technology rich learning environment in which my students are motivated to learn and actively participate – even those students who are hidden in the back row or see themselves as being ‘to cool for school’. 

 * Picture of myself and some of my current teaching colleagues