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!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Instruction, Assessment, and Technology Across Content Areas: A Reflective Look Back

In his writings on instructional strategies and resources Abrahms (n.d.) cites Sean Stewart in highlighting how “there are so many different ways lives work out, so many stories and every one of them is precious: full of joy and heartbreak”.  With these words in mind as a teacher it is often times having and refining the ability to address and adapt to these varied stories that can positively or negatively influence our instructional effectiveness, and ultimately the learning of our students.  In taking the time to reflect upon my personal learning and development throughout my latest stage of learning, it is having the innate ability to adapt and demonstrate instructional flexibility that seemed to be reinforced most strongly and rang the loudest personally in terms of further influencing my professional practice in the future.  Be it altering the instructional strategies used; effectively differentiating to meet the challenges of student diversity; utilizing a variety of assessment styles; or efficiently integrating appropriate learning technologies, possessing instructional flexibility and being able to adapt and change methodologies is crucial to presenting relevant and effective classroom instruction that engages students.
From the onset of my latest course we focused on the need for purposeful action by teachers, which as Prensky (2008) observed, involved turning on the lights of our students through the use of instructional strategies and innovative technologies which would allow our students to “use, build on, and strengthen [their] reservoirs of knowledge” (p.42).  As a means of taking action in this regard, my classmates and I established clear professional development plans and identified realistic and achievable goals; goals that would allow us to focus our attentions and direct our actions towards those instructional practices which would maximise the benefits for our students.  As I set out and worked to identify and establish a personal GAME plan for achieving my goals I soon realized that I would undoubtedly need to adapt elements of my instruction and be flexible when working through the initial growing pains associated with stepping outside of one’s comfort zone.  Now in taking the step outside it was not an overly large step, but it still required me to critically apply my new learning and think about what I was doing thereby causing me to re-evaluate the manner in which I planned activities; assess the type of resources I utilized; and review the instructional strategies I put into practice with my students.  It was during this time that course learning on instructional variety and differentiated planning and assessment provided valuable information which both validated my current practice as well as reinforced the need to stay cognizant of my development goals in the future so as to stay effective and ultimately achieve personal success in relation to my targeted goals. 
Fortunately I have been able to examine and benefit from reflection on each of my established goals and their component elements at some point throughout my course studies.  Now as the course draws to a close I look to my goals and evaluate whether there is a need to revise my plan based on my progress.  Undoubtedly my course learning has enhanced my ability to instruct with confidence due to the acquisition of even greater quantities of effective technology-based resources aimed at increasing student engagement and increasing learning effectiveness.  So is there a need to revise?  At this time no, the goals I have set for myself are continuing in nature and ones which I will continue to monitor and evaluate throughout the entire school year.  Personally developing a technology-based classroom is a goal which I look forward to achieving and one which I am not entirely sure can ever truly be achieved given the rapid rate of technological innovation – but that fact in and of itself makes for a great challenge and one which will serve my students well.  In the future I will continue using problem and performance based instruction, and work to incorporate even greater and more creative opportunities for social interaction amongst my students in the interest of generating even stronger connections with introduced concepts.  Additionally establishing a learning GAME plan proved to be a worthwhile activity for myself and is something which I will undoubtedly be addressing with my students as we work to establish learning targets and develop eLearning portfolios.  Be it online collaboration, digital storytelling, or the further use of social networking, my accumulating knowledge in regards to effective technology integration is allowing me to connect more readily with my students and have a greater impact in relation to the actions of my colleagues and their use of technology – which fortunately is another of my established goals.

In closing this course and the materials and topics addressed have afforded me the opportunity to reflect on my instructional effectiveness and the manner in which I instruct, assess, and integrate technology with my students.  In having established professional development goals during the course that will effectively drive me to adapt and demonstrate flexibility in how I teach I have been provided with the luxury of adapting my instructional thinking on-the-fly.  By continuing to monitor my progress and drawing on the expertise and experiences of the people around me - be it my colleagues, my students, or my classmates - my meaningful actions will remain targeted towards providing the best possible and most relevant classroom instruction. 

Abrams, A. (n.d.). Digital Storytelling Goes Social: Creating and sharing stories using Web 2.0 tools. Southern Oregon University. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_1374112_1%26url%3D
Prensky, M. (2008, March). Turning On the Lights. Educational Leadership. 65(6), p40-45. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database. ISSN: 00131784.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Monitoring the GAME Plan

      With each passing week I continue to make strides towards achieving personal goals by strengthening my confidence and proficiency in relation to the seamless integration of technology into my instruction.  In working through the personal goal setting process it is important to continually monitor myprogress towards established goals and make needed adjustments if required.  Failing to do so could result in problems arising or goals being missed because the needed actions were not taken, or were misaligned with my intended finish line.  In considering the actions I have taken thus far towards achieving my established professional development goals it important to reflect on whether I am finding the information and resources I need to reach my goals; whether I need to modify my planned action strategies to ensure success, and then identifying what have I learned thus far and whether any new questions have arisen.

Information and Resources

In examining my use of information and resources in relation to my personal goals I continue to build on the initiatives of my school and the strength of my colleagues in gaining insight into new resources that will benefit my integration of technology into my instruction.  This year my grade four colleagues and I are endeavouring to integrate the use of digital portfolios into our instruction, as such the element of teamwork and active collaboration is undoubtedly crucial to ensuring the resource’s success.  Additionally our school has begun to utilize the Accelerated Reader program which works to incorporate a high degree of technology in terms of active assessment in identifying students’ zones of proximal development.  In utilizing the resource the technological aspects of the program allow for well aligned assessment and the effective communication of learning goals to both students and their parents.

Needing Modification?

In examining my targeted NETS-T goals and the actions and progress I have made thus far I feel there is no reason to modify my current GAME plan.  I have been able to make measurable progress in relation to both goals and thus far I continue to experience success in relation to finding resources, information, and the incorporating of leadership opportunities into my daily practice.

Learning thus Far…any Questions?

In reflecting on my learning and influenced actions since developing and implementing my technology GAME plan, I believe the biggest thing I have learned thus far is the need to be purposefully selective.  There is what seems to be an infinite amount of resources available to teachers; by working to be selective I can ensure that the resources and information I am integrating into my program are well aligned with the instructional strategies and assessment resources I am currently employing.  In targeting my goals I do not want to completely reinvent the wheel but rather fine tune it to better reflect today’s technology-infused learning environment, thus far my actions have supported this plan of action and I have been able to find information and instructional resources that have worked facilitated technology integration and influenced effectiveness in all core subjects.
In terms of questions arising in relation to the GAME process and the support of colleagues, I do wonder about the goal monitoring process.  I have strategies in place but wonder about the frequency with which I reflect upon my progress.  Undoubtedly there will be weeks when I may not experience the same level of progress as it can take time to assess the effectiveness of newly implemented strategies and resources.  Given this fact what are other people’s thoughts in relation to the monitoring process?  How much is too much and how much is too little?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

1-2-3 Action!

With each passing week I gain further confidence in my ability to effectively incorporate instructional technology in meaningful ways.  As I continue to explore instructional strategies for seamlessly integrating technology into my content instruction I have taken the first steps towards developing an action GAME plan that will assist me in synthesizing my learning into my classroom practice.  In reviewing the components of my GAME plan, as per Cennamo, Ross, and Ertmer’s (2009) criteria, I have establish learning goals which will further develop my confidence and proficiency in relation to two indicators in the National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers (NETS-T).  I have identified purposeful actions that will aid me in achieving my goals, and additionally determined strategies for the monitoring of my progress.  Lastly I have highlighted the manner in which I will evaluate my learning.  In moving forward with the action and implementation process it is necessary to identify what resources will be needed to carry out the plan successfully, whether any additional information is needed, and if I have taken any steps towards completion.

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE, 2008) notes how effective teachers need to be able to “design, implement, and assess learning experiences…[which] engage students and improve learning; enrich professional practice; and provide positive models for students, colleagues, and the community”.  In targeting NETS-T standard two and the design and development of technology-based learning experiences and assessments, the successful realization of my professional development goal necessitates utilizing learning experiences which can effectively incorporate digital technologies and resources which promote self-directed learning and enhanced opportunities for student creativity.
In pursuing my goal of developing a technology-enriched learning environment the effective selection and use of appropriate technology resources will be paramount to me and my students achieving success.  With the integrated use of selected technologies and the principles of universal design for learning my technology-infused instruction will provide my students with multiple means of engaging with materials as a result of heightened access to innovative technology.  The instructional integration of multi-media resources including the integration of Voice Threads and podcasting; interactive technologies such as Smartboards and document cameras; video conferencing equipment and online collaboration forums; and bookmarked online resources for all subjects, will assist in identifying and targeting areas of student weakness, strength, and personal interest.  Clearly the effective integration of technology will provide assistance in facilitating straightforward differentiation in terms of my students’ diverse learning styles, instructional needs, and ability levels.  This purposeful differentiation and customized instruction will enable my students to, as noted in the ISTE (2008) NETS-T, “pursue their individual curiosities and become active participants in setting their own educational goals, managing their own learning, and assessing their own progress”.  Additionally personal learning and close collaboration with fellow teachers and administrators both in and outside our school will also provide a source of effective resource information as well as invaluable instructional experience that can aid in matching learning activities to students and their abilities.

In relation to my other identified goal relating to NETS-T standard five and the commitment to continuously improve my “professional practice, model lifelong learning, and exhibit leadership in [my] school and professional community by promoting and demonstrating the effective use of digital tools and resources” (ISTE, 2008) I have taken some initial steps to lay a framework for the achieving of my goal.  I have assumed the technology lead role amongst my staff and work to assist teachers with technology integration, learning resources, and technology support.  In being able to assist our teachers directly I am able to effectively model technology hands-on and demonstrate its effectiveness with students in the classroom.  For some of our teachers technology use is still an area of development, consequently being able to offer guided assistance goes a long way in reducing anxiety levels and encouraging integration.  Additionally I am a member of a couple professional learning communities which offer me a medium to gather technology resources and leadership information which can aid me in providing meaningful leadership to those around me during staff meetings and upcoming professional development sessions.

Additional Information
In working to ensure the efficiency of my actions and guarantee that my instruction is working to effectively maximize instructional time some additional information needs to be garnered.  In looking to address individual learning needs and customize instruction to the strengths and weaknesses of students, information can be gathered from a variety of different sources:
·  CUM files, Individual Program Plans (IPPs), and special education folders can assist teachers in offering a formal school-based snapshot of previous achievement as well as records of formal learning intervention and any diagnostic learning results. This testing information can assist teachers in readily identifying potential candidates for more active levels of curricular differentiation.
·  Conversations with previous year’s teachers can elicit professional observations and anecdotal comments about former students’ perceived areas of strength and weakness, and perhaps previously utilized instructional strategies which generated success with individual students when encountering possible learning barriers.  This information can assist in lesson planning and differentiation of instruction as teachers will be able to target those instructional strategies which provided the highest levels of student success.
·  An additional source of valuable information is students’ parents.  Through the use of “getting to know your child” surveys I have this year been able to talk to parents about their individual children and get a better understanding of how they tick, and what makes them unique from their parents’ perspective.  In reading the surveys parents’ responses have been able to highlight areas of personal interest and strength amongst students, as well as identifying areas which they feel there is room for improvement or areas where they’d like to see enrichment provided.
·  Lastly surveying the students themselves will give you possibly the best source of instructional information.  Through the use of student surveys students can work to identify subject areas which they personally perceive as being strong or weak; they can highlight instructional strategies which they find effective (and more importantly also those that fail to engage them); they can make note of their technological proficiency levels and resources they are familiar with (great means of staying abreast of the latest technologies and web resources); and they can single out areas of personal interest outside school which can be integrated into instruction as hooks upon which to heighten personal engagement.

Actions thus far…
September is always a busy month for teachers with planning and organizing student instruction being at the top of the instructional to-do-list.  In terms of personal professional development and my identified goals I have taken some noted steps towards achieving my goals. I have actively worked to incorporate elements of technology-based instruction into all subject areas and will continue to increase these levels as students gain proficiency.  I have also completed both student and parent surveys in the interest of identifying student learning preferences and areas of learning strength and/or weakness.  Additionally I have assumed a leadership position as technology lead within my school and actively work to facilitate technology integration amongst fellow colleagues.  I also continue to pursue my Masters degree in technology integration and consistently work to incorporate new information and resources into my practice in an effort to provide the best possible instruction. 

Cennamo, K., Ross, J. & Ertmer, P. (2009). Technology integration for meaningful classroom use: A standards-based approach. (Laureate Education, Inc., Custom ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
International Society for Technology Education. (2008) National Education Technology Standards for Teachers (NETS-T). Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/Libraries/PDFs/NETS_for_Teachers_2008_EN.sflb.ashx

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Technological GAME Plan for Success

In reflecting upon the topic of teaching and technology there can be little doubt that technological innovation has worked to revolutionize the world of teaching and the manner in which curricular content is introduced, instructed, and assessed.  From the introduction of the World Wide Web and computers through to interactive technologies and mobile devices technology integration has allowed for greater levels of creativity and flexibility in gaining understanding; which has consequentially raised the proverbial bar in relation to learner expectations.  Our world has evolved into a technology-driven society and placed greater demands upon teachers to instill in their students the skills and attributes to be self-directed, critical thinkers, capable of creatively solving problems, and efficiently adapting to challenges.  Now in looking at the acquisition of these skills in reference to these changing expectations the overall goal of instruction has remained the same.   Be it viewed as traditional and old school or cutting edge and tech savvy, the outcome of instruction has always been ensuring that students know and understand the content they are being taught.   Thus it is that in reflecting on the development and integration of authentic technology-based learning experiences, and the promoting of self-directed learning and creative thinking that it is also incumbent to reflect upon teachers’ skills and comfort levels in relation to technology integration as this will undoubtedly influence instructional effectiveness and levels of achieved student success.  A useful resource to aid in evaluating teachers’ technology skills and comfort levels is the National Education Technology Standards for Teachers or NETS-T.
The National Education Technology Standards for Teachers
Within the International Society for Technology Education’s (ISTE, 2008) National Education Technology Standards for teachers five performance indicators are identified.  Each of these indicators relates to a different component of effective technology integration and instruction, and contains overall performance goals and evaluative criteria to measure proficiency and understanding.  These NET standards (ISTE, 2008) feature performance indicator categories relating to teachers’ abilities 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
Through comparison and recognition of the NET standards teachers are better able to identify the qualities of effective instruction and then self-assess their own instructional proficiency and performance in the interest of identifying areas of personal strength and potential improvement. In reflecting on the NET standards in reference to my own teaching practice and the identifying of potential professional development goals, my energies this year will include purposeful action in relation to: Standard two, the design and development of digital learning experiences and assessments; and Standard five, engaging in professional growth and leadership.

Standard 2: Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assessments
Standard two is focused on teachers’ abilities to “design, develop, and evaluate authentic learning experiences and assessment incorporating contemporary tools and resources to maximize content learning in context and to develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes” (ISTE, 2008).  In working to develop a self-directed GAME plan in relation to addressing this learning standard, Cennamo (Laureate Education, Inc., 2012c) observes how it is necessary to establish a learning goal; institute purposeful action to achieve this goal; monitor the progress and success of our actions; and finally evaluate our efforts and determine if we were successfully in achieving our targeted outcome.  In following through this process I can ensure my efforts are effectively directed and consequently increase my chances of success.  In looking at the NETS criteria for effective instruction within standard two the listed criteria contains many of the goals I have already targeted for myself within my personal professional growth plan in reference to instruction development. 
In following Cennamo’s (Laureate Education, Inc., 2012b) GAME plan in establishing the personal goal of further developing and refining a technology-enriched environment, wherein there is consistent integration of digital resources into instruction, I have established a goal which will benefit my instruction and work to engage my students by providing opportunities for increased access and use of technology within lessons.  In relation to direct actions in support of this goal I will continue to integrate new and innovative technologies into lessons; I will draw on the experience and expertise of colleagues and professional learning community members in the interest of gaining further insight into technological best practices; I will engage in professional activities and professional development sessions within and outside my division in addition to information gathered through online tutorials and courses (i.e. Masters program); lastly I will draw on the experience and knowledge of my students to direct my instructional energies towards newly emerging technologies and those which work to the strengths of my students.  In terms of monitoring the success of my actions in relation to the establishing of a technology-enriched learning environment, the periodic review of planning; the collection of anecdotal observation of classroom activities, utilized assessments, and instructional settings; and the focused feedback of students and/or colleagues and parents will all provide information and aid in guiding the self-assessment and monitoring process.  In terms of evaluation my students’ achievement in class will provide the evaluative evidence of whether or not I was successful in making, as Prensky (2008) notes, “education relevant to [my] students' lives and truly prepar[ing them]for the future” (p.45).   Ultimately if, as Prensky (2008) further observes, my students are able to effectively demonstrate increased “computer and technology skills, critical thinking and problem solving, teamwork and collaboration, ethics and responsibility, and a sense of global awareness” (p.45) I will view my efforts in relation to NET standard two as having been successful.

Standard Five: Engage in Professional Growth and Leadership
In working to establish goals, initiate action, monitor learning, and then evaluate overall progress, Cennamo, Ross and Ertmer (2009) note how this self-directed learning process allows a person to “take control of [their]own learning” (p.7).  Thus it is that my next professional learning goal will again follow this process, and is in relation to NET standard five and one’s ability to engage in professional growth and leadership.  Standard five relates directly to a teacher’s commitment to continuously “improve their professional practice, model lifelong learning, and exhibit leadership in their school and professional community by promoting and demonstrating the effective use of digital tools and resources” (ISTE, 2008).  I have long been a proponent of technology in the classroom and as such have worked to support colleagues’ integration efforts, technology initiatives, and the development of classroom learning resources.  In establishing the goal of exhibiting greater technological leadership I will draw on my experiences, knowledge, and personal resources to “contribute to the effectiveness, vitality, and self renewal of the teaching profession and… [my] school and community” (ISTE, 2008).  In terms of directed actions as a member of our school’s technology committee I will be in a position where I will be able to utilize my beliefs and confidence with technology to assist in generating what Ertmer (Laureate Education, Inc., 2012a) calls a supportive technology environment by working to develop in-school technology initiatives; promoting technology learning amongst staff through monthly technology sessions during staff meetings; and participation in division technology programs and resource development.  In terms of monitoring this goal, the use of a professional journal would be most effective in terms of recording anecdotal information.  By setting a weekly time period in which to reflect upon my recent activities I can assess the effectiveness of my actions and make adjustments if required.  In addressing an overall evaluation of this goal a close comparison between my journal entries and the NET standards at the conclusion of the school year will highlight how closely (or not closely) my actions mirrored the expectations contained within the standard in effectively promoting the application of technology.
In conclusion the combined use of Net standards and GAME planning enables teachers, such as me, to reflect on their performance in relation to established standards and take meaningful action which allows teachers to, as Cennamo et al. (2009) highlights, “respond to…rapid and continuous technological changes…keep [their] skills up-to-date, and better meet the needs of [their]students today and in the future” (p.7).

Cennamo, K., Ross, J. & Ertmer, P. (2009). Technology integration for meaningful classroom use: A standards-based approach. (Laureate Education, Inc., Custom ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
International Society for Technology Education. (2008) National Education Technology Standards for Teachers (NETS-T). Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/Libraries/PDFs/NETS_for_Teachers_2008_EN.sflb.ashx
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2012a). Enriching Content Area Learning Experiences with Technology, Part 1 [Video webcast]. Integrating Technology Across Content Areas. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_1374112_1%26url%3D
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2012b). Promoting Creative Thinking with Technology[Video webcast]. Integrating Technology Across Content Areas. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_1374112_1%26url%3D
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2012c). Promoting Self-Directed Learning with Technology[Video webcast]. Integrating Technology Across Content Areas. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_1374112_1%26url%3D
Prensky, M. (2008, March). Turning On the Lights. Educational Leadership.65(6), p40-45. Retrieved September 10, 2012 from Academic Search Complete database. ISSN: 00131784.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Technology Ahead: A Reflective Look Back

So yet another 7 week block has seemingly zoomed by and I now find myself another course farther down the learning trail that is my graduate studies.  Over the course of the last several weeks I have read, reviewed, studied, and ‘crammed’ as much knowledge as time allowed on the topics of learning theories and instructional strategies, and ultimately how the linking of both in combination with meaningful technology integration works to form effective classroom instruction.  In reflecting upon how my new learning has altered my perspective on classroom instruction and goals for the future it is safe to say that my view on technology integration has indeed been further reinforced and my own planning skills as a professional teacher further developed.  If these last few weeks have done nothing else they have highlighted the effectiveness of multi-faceted instruction and how meaningfully integrated technology adds to enhance virtually every aspect of classroom instruction.

Now society is changing, and with it its views on education and student learning.  Societal expectations are that students develop 21st century skills and dispositions whilst sitting in today’s classrooms; consequently teachers need to be able to deliver instruction that addresses these expectations and develops not only technological proficiency but also students’ abilities to locate, evaluate, and communicate information.  In re-examining my own views on learning, expressed way back in week one of my studies, I always considered my instruction to be largely constructivist in nature.  In the past I consistently worked to embrace technological innovation and provide instruction which employed learning scenarios filled with opportunities for my students to effectively and actively create their own personal understanding of classroom concepts.  In now having worked through Orey’s numerous presentations on learning theories I would like to think my personal theory on learning has further evolved and been effectively fine-tuned, so to speak (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011d).   Clearly today’s teachers need to be able to simultaneously deliver instruction using a variety of research-based strategies and innovative technologies in order to effectively address the diverse learning needs of today’s students.  Classroom generated learning scenarios must offer students greater opportunities for effective learning and the recall of information through meaningful collaboration, technology use, and the communicating of information.  In now looking at my new theory of learning I can see that it efficiently works to incorporate a variety of learning theories in order to more accurately reflect relevant instruction and create an effective instructional environment.  In having learned more about how the brain processes information, and now fully identifying the specifics of different learning theories in generating learning connections, my new theory on learning could best be described as unclassified because I now recognize the value in fully stocking one’s instructional toolkit with as many “tools” as possible so as to increase the likelihood of student success in my classroom.  By effectively incorporating multiple learning theories my revised classroom instruction will continue to tap into students’ strengths more consistently by offering multiple instructional angles.

In actively working to generate these multiple instructional angles the importance of effectively integrating innovative technology into instruction cannot be reinforced enough.  As the staff of web-based resource Edutopia (2008) observe,  [t]echnology is ubiquitous, touching almost every part of our lives, our communities, our homes… [and when] properly used, technology will help students acquire the skills they need to survive in a complex, highly technological knowledge-based economy”.  From mind maps and virtual fieldtrips, to spreadsheets and web-based resources the effective integration of technology as both an instructional and learning tool is paramount to ensuring student success both now and in the future.  In reflecting upon my current views on educational technologies and integration everything which I believed before beginning the course was reaffirmed - and then sub-sequentially expanded upon as I progressed through my studies!  In long recognizing technology’s inherent ability to ratchet up instructional effectiveness and “hook” students by facilitating effective learning connections through active interaction with information, the new materials and resources presented throughout the course further expanded my (and my colleagues’) repertoire of instructional options and allowed for the creation of new technological pathways upon which to generate unique and meaningful learning experiences.  Two of these new technology resources which I feel will add excitement and allow for the creative displaying of student understanding are the use of Voice Threads and Xtranormal movies. 

In examining the use of Voice Threads and Xtranormal movies both resources offer teachers instructional flexibility; build on the inherent interest of today’s digital learners; and work to generate unique expressions of learning.  In utilizing these technologies students are encouraged to focus on higher order thinking skills, develop communication and collaboration abilities, and increase their depth of knowledge within authentic cooperative learning tasks capable of providing first-hand interaction with peers, information, and technology.  Both resources efficiently tie in elements of cooperative instruction; provide opportunities for student feedback and collaboration; and both afford students opportunities to interact with information and then effectively use it create a learning artefact which creatively displays their acquired learning/understanding.  In noting these points Orey confirms how active participation in cooperative activities involving technology works to reinforce students’ efforts through the provision of immediate feedback and the development of a learning artefact (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011a).  With these types of technologies students are able to personally adapt information, scaffold their learning upon pre-existing knowledge and the knowledge of others (i.e. the computer or peers), and then, as Siemens notes, consciously work towards attaining higher levels of understanding by establishing effective learning connections (Laureate Education, Inc, 2011b).  My first run through with the Voice Thread technology with students was a huge success, now I cannot wait to begin getting students experimenting with the Xtranormal movie making software next!

So now where do all these new technologies and skills leave me in reference to future long-term goals? Well in coming at the topic of long-term goals from a school leadership perspective obviously I want to actively share my skills and expertise with my staff and fellow colleagues so as to help further raise the effectiveness of the classroom instruction occurring within the school.  In actively working to establish a professional learning community amongst all staff members, both English speaking and Arab, a collaborative environment can be further reinforced through the meaningful sharing of instructional strategies, information, and resources. Obviously the set up of a professional learning community can take time as staff members get accustom to the idea and work through any challenges in reference to technology use.  Initially this community will be established through weekly e-mail updates and traded messages but over time it will evolve into a shared school wiki where staff collaboration can be fostered; instructional resources and strategies shared; current trends in education discussed; and ultimately best practice instruction formed.  In looking at a second goal our school’s on-site professional development program will be getting a 21st-century “make-over” whereby the instructional strategies and resources utilized to deliver professional development will be changed to incorporate more interactive media, effectively dual-coded instruction, and higher rates of social interaction to allow for more effective and efficient learning amongst staff members.  Technology and its motivational elements will play a larger role in the delivery and attainment of information and understanding – no more lecturing and reading of power point presentations instead professional development will actively work to alter the instructional mindsets of teachers towards the effective delivery of 21st century instruction!  Graphic organizers, interactive media, video and images, virtual fieldtrips and web-based resources are what are in store for the future with the end aim being for professional development to become as Orey notes, an immersive experience in which teachers leave feeling motivated, reaffirmed, and wanting to try some of the new things out with their students beyond the confines of their comfort zones (Laureate Education, Inc. 2011c)!    

The last seven weeks have been challenging, but well worth the time and effort.  With each successive week in my graduate studies I am feeling more and more “masterful” in terms of the manner in which I approach my career as a professional teacher and how I view technology’s role within it.  Through my active participation in my latest course my repertoire of techniques and strategies continues to expand and now my toolbox of resources is growing alongside as well. Undoubtedly the long-term goals which I have set for myself and the instructional shift needed will take time but by effectively communicating knowledge regarding emerging trends and innovative technologies my actions can as Prensky (2005) highlights, get teachers to “rais[ing] their heads from the grindstone and observ[ing] the new landscape that is emerging” (p.9) around them.  Through my actions and the information I now possess teachers will hopefully recognize the necessity for instructional change to assist them in the development of student-centered instruction which builds upon student interests and facilitates new age skills.  I have always enjoyed using technology with students.   In now having worked my way through this course I am able to apply technology more creatively…and ultimately more effectively!

Edutopia Staff. (2008, March).  Why Integrate Technology into the Curriculum?: The Reasons Are Many - There's a place for tech in every classroom. What Works in Education. The George Lucas Educational Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/technology-integration-introduction.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011a). Program eight: Social learning theories [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from http://laureate.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5700267&CPURL=laureate.ecollege.com&Survey=1&47=2594577&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=0&bhcp=1
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011b). Program nine: Connectivism as a learning theory [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from http://laureate.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5700267&CPURL=laureate.ecollege.com&Survey=1&47=2594577&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=0&bhcp=1
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011c). Program six: Spotlight on technology: Virtual field trips [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from http://laureate.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5700267&CPURL=laureate.ecollege.com&Survey=1&47=2594577&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=0&bhcp=1
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011d). Program three: Instructional theory vs. learning theory [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from http://laureate.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5700267&CPURL=laureate.ecollege.com&Survey=1&47=2594577&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=0&bhcp=1
Prensky, M. (2005, December). Listen to the Natives. Educational Leadership. 63(4). p.8-13. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Retrieved from: Academic Search Complete database. ISSN: 00131784.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Social Theory and Cooperative Learning

A key attribute of effective classroom instruction is that students work within what Vygotsky termed the zone of proximal development. Through the purposefully design and targeting of instruction to operate within this developmental range learners are given activities which are challenging but easily completed with the use of knowledgeable assistance.  It is in discussing this element of assistance and guidance from more knowledgeable individuals, or as Orey describes them more knowledgeable others, on topics, or within tasks or activities, that we can examine the role of social learning theory within cooperative learning based classrooms (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011a). Social learning theory focuses on the learning that occurs within a social context, and relates to peoples’ ability to learn through observing others’ behaviors, attitudes, and ultimately the outcomes of those behaviours.  In examining social learning theory and instructional strategies such as cooperative learning I believe there is indeed a strong correlation as the effective use of social learning theories supports the implementation of instructional strategies which facilitate student communication, collaboration, and meaningful cooperation with others.

Through teachers’ meaningful actions effective learning atmospheres within classrooms which utilize social learning strategies such as cooperative learning work to, as Johnson, Johnson, and Smith (1991) note, generate the associated student benefits of “positive interdependence, individual [and group] accountability, face-to-face interaction, appropriate use of collaborative skills, and group processing” (as cited by Tsay and Brady, 2010, p.79).  In using social learning activities which promote active engagement with information and other persons such as jigsaws, think-pair-share, round-table discussions, three step interviews, or pairs checking  greater retention of subject matter, improved attitudes towards learning, and enhanced relationships amongst group members are encouraged.  These types of cooperative activities can be further enhanced through the effective integration of social networking media such as Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Second Life, or multimedia web-based learning tools like Xtranormal, Glogster, blogging Webquests, or Voice Threads.  Through the use of innovative technology students are given further means to efficiently gather, evaluate, create, and most importantly display and share their acquired learning.  In having had the opportunity to personally work with Voice Thread technology my mind was immediately swamped with ideas on how this type of software could influence instruction - and more importantly benefit student learning.  Through my own playing around (see appendix 1 below) I was amazed at how easily one could visually and orally display information.  Through the software I was able to organize and manipulate materials and then give detailed information specific to individual components within my project.  This visually interactive nature and the ability to express thoughts is something which O”Bannon, Puckett, and Rakes (2006) cite as being essential to students being able to “discover, create, and communicate understanding in a format that is…[personally] logical” (p.129).  In having this ability to creatively design and present, students are able to effectively communicate their learning to others even if not face-to-face consequentially expanding the range of learning possibilities beyond the walls of the classroom and aiding in greater opportunities for collaborative learning and the sharing of information between classmates.  With the aid of technology shy or reluctant students would be given a medium or ‘voice’ through which to present their learning in a nonthreatening, user friendly environment; high achieving students would have their learning further opened to a world of possibilities through which to creatively express themselves; cooperative learners would be able to effectively collaborate and share; and most importantly teachers would be given a tool through which to gain a truer picture of their students’ levels of understanding through students’ physical creation and application of learned concepts.  In being able to produce movies, generate multimedia slideshows, collaborate in virtual worlds, and communicate digitally classroom learning becomes relevant to students’ lives and in the end is more reflective of today’s society.

In offering their perspective on cooperative learning Wong & Wong (1998) note how “cooperative learning is not so much learning how to cooperate as it is cooperating to learn” (as cited by Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007, p.143). Through the exchanging of information and material, the challenging of each other's reasoning, and the provision of feedback and encouragement, the use of cooperative learning works to aid students in assisting each other in overcoming challenges and completing whatever task has been assigned.  Social learning theory and the learning that occurs though the peer-to-peer exchanging of ideas within cooperative instruction are indeed correlated.  Through its effective integration social media can be an accelerant for this type of cooperative social learning by working to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of learning interactions both within and outside of school by, as Siemens notes, allowing for increased visualization opportunities and the generating of learning connections (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011b). In the end learning is complex and being afforded and having fluency with multiple teaching strategies such as those associated with social learning remains the key to effectively reaching students and promoting learner success within today’s classrooms.

Appendix 1
My Voice Thread URL: http://voicethread.com/share/2680654/

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011a). Program eight: Social learning theories [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from http://laureate.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5700267&CPURL=laureate.ecollege.com&Survey=1&47=2594577&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=0&bhcp=1
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011b). Program nine: Connectivism as a learning theory [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from http://laureate.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5700267&CPURL=laureate.ecollege.com&Survey=1&47=2594577&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=0&bhcp=1
O’Bannon, B., Puckett, K., Rakes, G. (2006). Using Technology to Support Visual Learning Strategies. Type II Uses of Technology in Education: Projects, Case Studies, and Software Applications.23(1/2).p.125-137. The Haworth Press, Inc. Retrieved from ERIC database. DOI: 10.1300/J025v23n01_11.
Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works. Alexandria, VI, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Tsay, M. and Brady, M. (2010, June). A Case Study on Cooperative Learning and Communication Pedagogy: Does Working in Teams Make a Difference? Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 10(2), 78-89. Retrieved from ERIC database.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Project-based Learning and Hypotheses: An Effective Thinking Adventure!

As society’s ever-expanding love affair with technology continues to blossom the growing influence of technological innovation and its role within student instruction in today’s classrooms continues to be a hot topic of discussion. Clearly the changing nature of business necessitates the purposeful use of technology-based activities in the classroom consequently teachers need to adjust the manner in which they approach the effective development and delivery of classroom instruction.  Through their actions to actively recognize the full instructional potential of educational technology teachers are now making the pedagogical shift necessary to positively affect student achievement.  Now in making these instructional changes teachers must remain cognizant of the need to use of a variety of instructional strategies with students up to and including constructionist theory based strategies involving project-based, problem-based, or inquiry-based approaches. In examining the features of classroom instruction involving project-based learning it is important to note that the foundation of this instructional strategy is, as Han & Bhattacharya (2001) note, built on Jean Piaget’s theory of constructivist learning which asserts that “knowledge is not simply transmitted from teacher to student, but actively constructed in the mind of the learner” within a meaningful context.  In working to link this theoretical definition with the effective creation of learning tasks involving the generating and testing of hypotheses opportunities do undoubtedly exist for teachers to actively engage students in prediction or ‘what if’ type tasks entailing the construction of personal knowledge. 

In examining the attributes of effective constructionist instruction some teachers may lack experience with project-based learning and are consequently left wondering why they should adopt this method of teaching.  The simple answer, according to online project-based website Edutopia (2011) is that “project-based learning is a dynamic approach to teaching in which students explore real-world problems and challenges. With this type of active and engaged learning, students are inspired to obtain a deeper knowledge of the subjects they're studying.  In building upon this description the use of project-based learning experiences encourages students and affords them the opportunity to be effectively guided through the investigation and learning process.  Within project-based instruction students are encouraged to ask high-quality questions, generate hypotheses and predictions, observe and evaluate information, and finally, as Orey notes, generate some form of external artefact which demonstrates understanding and is able to be effectively shared with others as a means of demonstrating growth in learning (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011).  Now given the ever increasing focus on effective technology integration and the use of real-world learning experiences, upon reviewing a selection of online project-based learning websites including Edutopia: Project Learning, Project-Based Learning: The Online Resource for PBL, and NASA Solar System Simulator it is apparent that technology can assist teachers in linking instruction with students’ innate curiosity about their surroundings and how things operate. 
Obviously the use of technology such as these web-based resources further enhances the refinement of 21st century skills and works to encourage students to learn with technology as opposed to from technology.  Now this desired learning shift, as Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, and Malenoski (2007) note, facilitates students incorporating personal knowledge into the technology-based decision-making process whereby they are able to see the possible outcomes of their personal hypotheses within virtual situations capable of providing “incredibly engaging learning environments, resulting in increased [student] motivation and retention in learning” (p.212).  Glazer (2001) echoes this research when noting how project-based resources offer students opportunities to purposefully generate and test hypotheses by allowing them to “examine evidence about a particular topic and then respond to an issue or make a decision from a particular point of view”.  Now generally when people hear the word hypothesis their minds may or may not automatically zoom off to the realm of scientific discovery, however Pitler et al. (2007) notes that this is not necessarily the case and that in fact the strategic development of hypotheses “is applicable to all content areas” (p.202).  In using hypotheses as an instructional strategy the generating process builds upon the foundation of constructionism within project-based learning by effectively enhancing students’ interactions with information and promoting, as Orey observes, the first-hand application of knowledge in the creation of learning artifacts (Laureate Education,, Inc., 2011).  In developing project-based scenarios involving hypotheses students are actively engaged in higher order thinking requiring them to make predictions, explain their learning, and then draw and express conclusions based upon their findings.  This meaningful interaction with information throughout the completion of the task assists students in linking pre-existing and newly introduced information.

Clearly when implemented efficiently project-based learning involving hypothesizing draws on the inherent motivation of student curiosity, offers an element of challenge, and provides the higher level ‘thinking’ experiences needed to empower students to become active consumers of information capable of tackling real-world problems through critical problem-solving and group collaboration.  In getting students actively thinking about the information they are examining, whether with or without the use of technology, teachers are able to encourage the development of meaningful learning connections and the proficient recall of information by their students.  In closing the use of hypotheses in conjunction with constructivist instruction challenges students with meaningful activities designed to, as Glazer (2001) concludes, “address broader learning goals that focus on preparing students for active and responsible citizenship” - which is ultimately what effective teaching, is all about.


Edutopia. (2012). What Works in Education.  The George Lucas Educational Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/project-based-learning.

Glazer, E. (2001). Problem Based Instruction. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/.

Han, S., and Bhattacharya, K. (2001). Constructionism, Learning by Design, and Project Based Learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program seven: Constructionist and constructivist learning theories [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from http://laureate.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5700267&CPURL=laureate.ecollege.com&Survey=1&47=2594577&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=0&bhcp=1.

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.