Digital Tools for the Digital Age

When asked to review and explore Web 2.0 tools that students can use to enhance a lesson, I never realized how many tools were actually out there! These tools allow for students to engage in a whole new form of creativity separate from their actual artistic talents. Cartoons are drawn for them, backgrounds are already created, all the student has to do is drag and drop pictures to create entertaining, yet educational projects! In addition, not only are these tools fun for the students to use, but they are easy, neat, and clear for a teacher to follow. Cacoo, a tool that allows users to create graphic organizers, time lines, flow charts, and more, enables students to make creative and clean organizers that can be shared digitally as well as printed out for use.

Cacoo creates interest in students as they are able to complete their work using an easy-to-use program that makes their work neat and readable while allowing them creativity that they may lack with a pencil and paper. Cartoon people, thought/speaking bubbles, and other graphics allow students who wouldn’t ordinarily include drawings, make their assignment more personal and artistic. While often artistic students who are able to design a creative project often take a lot of pride in their work, I believe programs that allow all students the ability to be creative and artistic that same ownership of their work. What is even better is that they are rehearsing what they have learned while they complete a fun assignment!

As an example lesson, if I wanted my students to follow up on the lesson “how a bill becomes a law”, I could have them create a flow chart that shows the process a bill goes through to become a law (click here to view an example, the screencast below shows an example of how to use Cacoo to make a flow chart). Using Cacoo enhances the “How A Bill Becomes A Law” by requiring the student to visualize the process in their own way. They can be creative about it by adding color and personality by including cartoons if they wish– or be simple by just using arrows and boxes. The purpose is to have the students engineer their own diagram of the process in a way that makes sense to them. When they revisit their own diagram, they will remember and understand it better.

This program, and others like it, fit right in with curriculum standards as they can enhance any lesson to make it fun, entertaining, and exciting. Feel free to check out my screencast on YouTube for a brief demonstration on how Cacoo can enhance your lesson!

(Objectives Coinciding with Maryland Political Science Requirements for Grade 8: 1.A3; Maryland Media State Curriculum: 3.c Record and Organize data in a variety of appropriate formats, 5.a Use a variety of formats to prepare
the findings/conclusions of the information need for sharing)

If the video below doesn’t work, click here to go to watch on YouTube.

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From Ideas to Inspiration

Eduteach for Teachers is a blog that answers a lot of questions that teachers may stumble upon when trying to adapt to the changing ways of technology. For example, in a blog entitled “Should I Post This Image” the author discusses precicely what we are discussing during this module—the authorized use of another person’s work. It explains that students and teachers alike are being pushed to use new and exciting technologies, but “students (and people in general) have the tendency to ignore the fact that media is regulated and requires compliance of copyright rules and fair use guidelines.” It posts an interesting picture that helps people determine what needs to be cited and given credit to. The infographic is posted below.

Image

 

Another interesting post in Eduteach explained how you can use Google Forms to support learning. I had never even heard of Google Forms until reading “81 Ways to Use Google Forms to Support Learning”.  Some of the neat things you can do is, create anonymous surveys, order forms for t-shirts or field trips, reserve equipment, allow peer feedback for presentations, create an exit ticket, keep track of discipline referrals, create tests/quizzes, and much more! It was a really interesting blog, especially for a new teacher!

The Eduteach for Teachers blog offers so many options for teachers to learn about new tools and how to effectively use them for their classrooms. This blog is especially good for new teachers who are unfamiliar with the tools that are out there. For older teachers, this site offers new ways to make their classroom more exciting! I’m sure I will be back to visit this blog over and over just so I know what new tools I can experiment with next!

Another blog I found really interesting directly talked about this course. Blogging About the Web 2.0 Connected Classroom attempts to look at the Web 2.0 classroom from a students perspective. Steven Anderson (the author) determines that what teenagers do online is a mystery and finds the online world a bit complicated—at least in the way of how we can best use it to suit our students. A commonly titled thread “Things That Have Me Thinking” (here is an link to an example of one of his posts) in which he ponders the complications of Web 2.0 classrooms. Each post is a different topic, but along the lines of what he considers “complicated”. How to use Facebook and Twitter to connect with his students, or use blogs to the accomplish something are along same line.

He discusses apps that teenagers are using and how he may best be able to adapt them to his lesson or just how to keep up with what teens are using so that you aren’t completely lost if you hear them talking about an app or program—and even better, you might know how to use them! It’s  a neat way to be able to keep up with “young life” without having that awkward experience of not knowing what a “tweet” is.

Kids With Ideas is a fun blog for teachers who sometimes need a break and to let go. For example, on April 1 the author posted some of his favorite April Fools jokes (available here). Not only is this blog light-hearted it provides videos for inspiration and feel-good content. The previous two blogs I looked at had lots of information about how to keep the students engaged and means to do it by, this took a step in another direction and made it possible to see that there are good things happening—fun things happening! While I may not learn how to use new technologies, this blog enables me to hear different ways of reaching my students. Inspiring ideas and videos on this page makes it one that I could frequent, if only to be inspired or to get a smile.

Teacher’s blogs provide their audiences with everything from inspiration, comic relief, shared ideas and experiences, to the latest tools for teaching. Blogs gives news the ability to travel lightyears faster than just a few years ago. They connect the teaching community globally versus just in their school community. They’re used to enhance a teachers job teaching, as well as a students experience learning.

Around the World in 80 Minutes

Adventures

The Adventures of Library Girl by Jennifer LaGarde sounded like a great place to start reading about library blogs. Anything with the word “adventure” catches my attention, so this is where I began.

LaGarde’s blog is dedicated to taking the reader with her on her journeys as a librarian. It is kind of ironic that I stumbled onto her blog because I wrote in my last blog about how the educational system was beginning to change for the worse. LaGarde believes quite the opposite. “Call [her] optimistic”, but she believes that the revolution that is happening in education is good! As opposed to a lot of feedback I’ve heard and read about, LaGarde believes each one of us (educators) has a say and hand in what every student is taught.

LaGarde also offers up valuable tips on how to make your library (or classroom) a better environment in her post “Moving From Decoration to Documentation”. Her creative graphics that you can find in that post make her blog a fun and easy read as well.

One of the best things about her blog was that she reported back to the community as a whole about what she learned and what she took from her experience. In “Reflections of the City of Oaks” she reports back to her readers about her time at the NCTIES (North Carolina Technology In Education Society) conference. She reported finding information on tools for formative assessment as well as other technologies that help teachers/librarians in the classroom.

The ability to report back to the community as a whole is one of the best advantages of reading and using blogs. In the past only if you attended the debriefing at the school could you find out about what a person who attended a conference had learned. Now everyone can read about what she learned on their own time and from anywhere. We are no longer limited to professional development time at the end of the school day to find out how the conference went, we may be able to find key aspects of the conference before the person even arrives back home!

The Connection From Blogs

The next blog I chose to read was by Julie Hembree called the Bulldog Reader’s Club. Her blog allows students to post “book trailers” and suggest good books to read for students K-3 (click here to view some book trailers). This is how I thought I’d see most librarian blogs used, as an avenue to promote reading. Her blog is actually quite interesting as it not only promotes reading, but details her adventures as a librarian. She was afforded the opportunity to go to attend the Microsoft in Education Global Forum held in Barcelona, Spain (read about her trip in, The Best of Barcelona). She posted pictures of her experience and wrote a little tidbit of information about each picture in order to give a little educational background of her experience. She also posted some international books that she suggested her students read.

While Mrs. Hembree’s blog is directed more toward students than the last few blogs I have read, we see again how news can spread to a blogger’s audience faster and is able to be read or revisited again and again. It is a really neat way to bring students into your life and have them connect with you as a person, not just as the teacher. I feel it could provide similar experiences to talk about and makes them feel that much more connected to you. Not only that, but it connects students as well. The book trailers were really neat because it allowed students to tell each other about the books they found good to read in a way to reach more than just their group of friends.

A Review of Literature

The last blog I read was called Library Mice. It was a blog that used a collaborative  work of authors and therefore didn’t have one solitary author. It was put together by a librarian in the South West of England and focused on children’s literature. Their audience seemed to be teachers that are looking for good books for their students to read.

The way the site is set up is really interactive. It floods the screen with large boxes, versus text, much like the new Microsoft touch operating systems are set up. Each has a picture of a book that when you hover your mouse over it the title lights up. Each post is a book review of a children’s book and the way you can use the book in a classroom. It is probably one of the most fun blogs I have looked at in the sense of how interactive it is.

Around the World in 80 Days

Librarian posts seem to be quite different from those that teachers write. Teachers seem to address other teachers as their main audiences. Though I am sure that there are blogs that teachers use to reach their students, I didn’t see those. As I stated before, the way blogs are able to bring educators closer to their students is an invaluable tool for the classroom. Being able to comment about the books, or whatever work is posted makes what a student is able to do at home an interactive educational environment—even from home.

Blogs allow the students to go on virtual field trips with their teachers without even leaving the comforts of their home. Like books once did, the internet has allowed students to step outside their hometown to explore the world with the guidance of their teacher.

Echoes

A Reoccurring Worry

Thinking I was about to read some classroom blogs because I clicked on the “classroom blogs” link, I accidentally stumbled over teacher’s blogs instead. I clicked on a link that said, “Most Inspirational” blogs and found myself looking for some inspiration, ironically I began reading about why teachers quit.

The first blog I read was by a writer named Valerie Strauss on the Washington Post Blogs. Entitled Teacher’s Resignation Letter: ‘My Profession No Longer Exists’, I grew oddly interested. Through education classes that I have taken and articles I have read for those classes, I felt I knew where this article might be headed: “teaching to the tests”. I wasn’t far off.

The letter Strauss highlighted in her blog was written by a 40-year teacher from Syracuse, New York, Gerald J. Conti. While it seems after 40 years his teaching career was probably not far from ending anyway, he chose to point out that he believed the teaching profession was fading into extinction—or at least the one he once got into. Like many teachers that I have talked to, Conti was disturbed by the fact that the school system was falling into a “data driven” system that he deemed “shallow” and “strangling creativity” from a teacher’s perspective. In the past teachers and classrooms a like shared a diversity of content, teaching styles, and educational experiences that possibly fell out of the “educational” realm; Conti described the new system as seeking “conformity, standardization, and zombie-like testing” in order to adhere to Common Core.

Without rewriting the whole letter, this was the basic gist of his letter. A system that was once owned by the educators changing students’ lives to a new system owned by private industries such as Pearson Education and the standardized test. This is not at all an isolated concern as I have listened to it from dozens of educational professionals. He concludes with a sad reality, “After writing all of this I realize that I am not leaving my profession, in truth, it has left me.”

 

Walking Away From A Dream

The next blog I read was by Justin Shortz entitled “And I Walk Away, or How I Decided to Quit”. While the theme wasn’t exactly like the last one, it was another story about a teacher who had to walk away from teaching. His reason was because of personal issues of suffering from depression, but his thoughts and concerns echoed that of the previous blog I read—the best interest of the students.

Teaching, like all public servant jobs, is a selfless career. Often your thoughts aren’t about your own personal success, rather the success of others—your students! As this writer reflects on the decision he’s made about the end of his career in teaching, you find that it isn’t about his own success, but about how his personal life may be effecting the life of his students.

There wasn’t a very educational piece to take from this blog, but it was something of an echoing idea of what type of person it takes to be a teacher.

Be Present

The final blog I read from a teacher’s blog was one written by John Spencer. He titled it as a memo to himself: “Be Present”. It was short, but like the previous two I read held the same sentiment, the idea of caring for his students and his profession. His reminder discussed how during movies at home, the drive to work, or reading a book, all he thought about was lessons he was about to teach, or units he was in the middle of planning. He was so busy multitasking that he almost forgot to take care of life as it was happening. He was having trouble “being present in the moment”.

He ended with this reminder: “So, my own personal mantra this school year is “be present.” Be present when I greet the students so that they know that I mean it when I say, ‘I’m glad to see you today.’ Be present when I conference one-on-one with kids so that they know that my ‘undivided attention’ really is undivided. Be present when I wander the room checking to see their progress.”

What I’ve Learned

No matter where teachers come from, they are torn from the same fabric. Their concerns surround their students, their worries are for their students, and they exist to serve others. While I eat lunch at school, while the some talk is about a teacher’s personal life, it always come full circle about how to better reach a student, or how a student is doing. Much like the blogs I read is the faculty lunchroom at my school. It is so interesting to find the same concerns in New Windsor that teachers are having in Syracuse, California, or even Alaska. It reiterates the same idea, serving students.