Saturday, October 27, 2012

Tech for Thought...

I was afforded the luxury of spending the last two days attending the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario Conference and learning about an incredible amount of education technology. I was able to attend a variety of workshops, share with a great number of fellow educators, and learn about some amazing things happening in education (in Ontario at least). Attending these kinds of events can be overwhelming, scary, enlightening, and incredible all at the same time. Educators are performing a wealth of activities that utilize technology very well, while at the same time still 'tinkering' to improve their practices so that technology becomes a great 'enabler' and not a 'distract-er'. Other than all of the useful resources, links, and connections, I found myself constantly typing ideas that popped into my head of where I think technology and education need to stroll. Therefore, rather than keep these in my head, although maybe that's what some may prefer (more on that later) I thought I'd write them down here and hopefully see what you have to say? So here we go:
  1. iPads are the Educators Choice of Device. I could not get over the number of iPads in each and every workshop! A Christmas wish item of mine (for those who have not yet bought me a gift?!), I do not yet have one, and found myself being the 'ugly duckling' at the conference. Teachers, administrators, resource teachers, leads, etc., etc.; all of these positions are utilizing them in their daily activities and routines. I love iPads and tablets in general, but am quickly realizing that iPads are the common language platform used by most educators. I'm not saying that any other tablet device can not do the same tasks, it's just that when you are sitting in a room with a number of other teachers and they are all talking in 'iPad language', you quickly realize there is an immense benefit to having an iPad yourself; and if you were to try translating these conversations into your own 'tablet language', it would only mean you become disconnected from these important conversations. As well, it seems like most school boards, and individual schools, are investing in iPads rather than other devices; and the workshops were not titled 'Playbook in the Classroom,' nor 'Google Nexus...'. So time will tell if iPads win the war, but the way it looks now, they are certainly winning the battle.
  2. Flipped Classroom is still in its Infancy (or Maybe it is Out of Focus?) I have converted my teaching method (some) into the 'flipped' model of instruction, and am quickly finding there are many advantages. Many educators in Ontario are realizing the same. However, I found that the conversations around this methodology are still focusing on (a) the general theory behind a flipped classroom and (b) what tech tools can you use to create videos & other materials to give as 'homework'? These are important conversations to have, but they are representative of where the 'flipped' model is in Ontario - its early stages. I would have liked to see more educators sharing their experiences, strategies, class activities, routine, and setup. I feel like these topics are overlooked when the 'flip' is discussed, and yet these may be the most important conversations to have? As teachers, "how to create a video?" is not employing my specialties; "how to run a flipped classroom?" definitely is. The wealth of people on Twitter, resources online, videos, and books you can now read, all provide the introductory information. I feel that when you have a chance to meet in person, the time could be better used.
  3. BYOD & Digital Citizenship. Every school and school board looks to be transitioning to a BYOD policy. This is fantastic news, and allows many educators to really get creative with their teaching. However, it seems like many boards are doing this more for budgetary purposes, or that it 'looks good'. I do believe there are many 'Board People' who are pushing for this for the right reasons, however, there doesn't seem to be the back-end support for it. Where I see this most evident is 'Digital Citizenship'. Students are online every chance they get, and I would say their identities are more 'digital' than they are 'real'. Yet, there doesn't seem to be enough education happening around how to present yourself online; aka Digital Citizenship. With technology and online access increasing in our schools, I think it's imperative that we educate students, remind them, and mentor them when it comes to their digital persona. I believe there is a need to work digital citizenship into the curriculum, think civics - a mandatory grade 10 course; or school-wide initiatives, just like we do with literacy and numeracy. However, there are some amazing resources available that we, individually, can really start using and conveying the important lessons to our students, and maybe its not about waiting for the board to do so, but to take it on ourselves in the classroom.
  4. A Commons for Discussion & Reflection. We all went through teacher's college preparing lengthy lesson plans that ask for too much detail and reflection. I still think that is an absurd task to do when you are prepping, teaching, coaching, extra-curricular'ing', mentoring, and doing just about everything else. However, because of these time constraints and not creating such lessons, I found myself reflecting very little on my practice. Therefore, I began this blog, and my reflection has become much more common. What I saw at ECOO is the idea that many teachers are doing the same thing. One of the great ideas I saw was presented by Lisa Neale & Jared Bennett on the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board's Commons Initiative. The idea put forth by a very 'tech-savvy' group at their board was to create a 'commons' for all teachers who are blogging to be able to blog, share, comment, and reflect. The whole board uses Wordpress and every teacher is able to see, well more like read, what their colleagues are doing. I think this is hugely important as we all find ourselves way to busy to share in person. Having an online resource/meeting space, where you can share and read about other practices, could be so valuable for everyone involved in the education system, not just teachers.
  5. The Need for Tech in Education. I think this is all too obvious, and was surprised by the amount of presentations on this topic. However, I soon realized through the comments of some who attended, that this is still an important conversation to have. Many still are resistant to the idea, and are hesitant or fearful of technology. I don't think it could be stressed any more than it already has, but technology is not going away, and students are pleading for it to be used in their classrooms, just like they use it at home. The results and examples clearly illustrate how many technology tools can really help teaching, benefit student learning, improve assessment, and create a much more enjoyable and real classroom. I guess it will always be a conversation to have, I just hope it becomes less of one, and more of the norm.

    Wednesday, October 10, 2012

    Pow What? Powtoon!

    Ok, I had to share this. One, because it has so much potential with the 'flipped' classroom, and two, because it's just cool! I don't mean to shamelessly advertise for company, but I find that every once in a while I come across a really useful website/app/tech. tool, that needs to be shared; and this one is definitely no exception. It really caught my attention when a coworker of mine created this video. It's simple, yet highly informative, entertaining, and effective. He did it using the website Powtoon - don't let the name confuse you!

    I think it's so useful because unlike the typical videos I use for my 'flipped' classroom, Powtoon allows you to fully animate concepts and illustrate events using simple, but effective graphics. As soon as I watched the intro video on their website, my mind instantly remembered this video from I remember showing the Girl Effect video to my geography class last year, and can remember how hooked they were. They wanted to watch it again, and again; they wanted to create one just like it for their project; but unfortunately at that time, I had no clue how they could create something like that.

    For students, when learning any new concept, the delivery can mean the difference between understanding, and scratching their heads. For teachers, understanding how to deliver new information, can also mean the difference between students being hooked, or students being asleep. I think the more tools we as educators have at our disposal, the more dynamic our classroom can be. So whether you're using a 'flipped' classroom approach, or the traditional model, a tool like Powtoon can really make the classroom a more enjoyable place.