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Integrated Curriculum

July 14, 2013 Leave a comment

My students have an alarming tendency to compartmentalize their classes.  They aren’t prepared to discuss science in English class or math in history class.  Some of them are quite uncomfortable when asked to do so.  I think this is partly because teachers don’t integrate curriculum so students are out of practice with it.  Also, they walk in to English with a set of expectations that do not include being graded for math.  So, educators do need to break down some barriers and stereotypes to get the students on board.  It doesn’Jigsaw Geographyt usually take me long to get them to understand how English and history are related.  But why is this important?  Because life is not compartmentalized.  If school is about teaching the skills students need for life, then they should expect to use those skills in ways they would in life.  This means that educators need to teach students how to recall prior knowledge regardless of discipline when the knowledge is needed.

Integrating curriculum seems so important and, yet, is so rarely done on purpose.  Why is that?  Maybe because I have Aug-May to teach skills that will master a set of standards, and I could easily take twice that time.  Also, I am unsure how math or physics is going to enhance the English curriculum to meet those standards.  So, I am a bit gun shy about turning over my time to another discipline.  That being said, I have always thought that integrating curriculum was a must.  I cannot teach English without engaging with history and language.  Perhaps some teachers can do this, but I feel that we need to have a solid idea of the time in which literature is set and when it was written.  Authors are a product of their environment like everyone else, so we should know what that environment was like.  It’s fairly easy to integrate English and history.  The harder part is to integrate other subjects that don’t seem as involved, science and math come to mind.  However, when I think about it, the scholars and writers of the past were also the philosophers and the scientists.  They knew how to write and speak multiple languages.  So perhaps the disciplines are more closely tied than I first thought.

I think the biggest challenge of integration is to get an entire group of teachers and administrators to see the benefits of interdisciplinary projects.  There is much at stake if the project fails and students can’t perform on standardized tests because the curriculum failed them.  I dislike using the standardized test as the benchmark of success, but that’s what’s done whether I see the value or not.  So, the challenge is to get the teachers to discuss and find value in an interdisciplinary project and then propose an integrated project to administration.  This means that much work has to be done before going to admin.  However, this is a crucial step to ensure that all the teachers are on board with a project and plan to contribute and work through it in their own classes.  If even one teacher drops the ball, the project could die.  I am currently working on an integrated curriculum project with the AP history teacher.  I see where I can and should do more, which means that I need to make some plans and add some activities to enhance the project.  It takes planning!  I think that’s the issue.  Teachers are all so busy that no one wants to add to the amount of planning we all do daily.  Using some success stories as inspiration should help everyone see that the planning is worth it.  The way to get the interdisciplinary project started at my school is to start it!

PBL Assessments

July 6, 2013 Leave a comment

I have to say that writing assessments is my least favorite part about teaching.  I like the process of learning, discovery, and discussion, although, I do find as an English teacher, that essays are a great way to check student understanding.  I am including a final essay for my PBL project, but there are many more steps along the way.  I h800px-Abacus_2adn’t considered how many steps I would need until I started breaking the project into pieces and considering the formative assessments.  For some reason, my mind tends to fixate more on the summative.  I really like the formative process of project-based learning because it informs the project from start to finish.  The formative assessments help the students to focus their efforts and guide them through the learning process.

I have decided upon 3 formative and 3 summative assessments.  In planning my assessments, I have learned that this project should take much longer than I had planned for it to be successful.  The assessment process is helping to see that I need to build in more stops and checks for understanding and student discovery.  I may need to add one more formative assessment to my plan, but so far, I think I am on the right track.  I like the mix of assessment that seems to go with PBL.  I have a rubric for a research journal, peer evaluations for essay content mapping, assessment by an outside expert, and the final essay that students turn in to me.  The assessment that I am considering adding is a self assessment of the student’s own performance as I think a little reflection might be a good thing.

Here is the link to my PBL assessment page.  I think it is coming along nicely!

EDTECH 541: Relative Advantage of Spreadsheets in the Classroom

October 8, 2012 1 comment

As an English teacher, I don’t use spreadsheets for their traditional purpose in my classroom.  We don’t normally perform calculations that require the formulas and graphs used in spreadsheets.  However, I have found that teaching spreadsheets is very important.  I find that one of the relative advantages of teaching and using spreadsheets is building the skill of working with spreadsheets.  Students will need this skill in college and beyond in their careers.  My time in the business world showed me that workers frequently encounter spreadsheets in the workplace.  Thus, developing the skill to work with spreadsheets is important for students of all ages.

For my classroom, the relative advantage of spreadsheets is their organizational power.  Roblyer and Doering (2013) note that “whenever students must keep track of data from classroom experiments or online surveys, spreadsheets help organize these data and allow students to perform required descriptive analyses on them” (p. 126).  For English, I find that using spreadsheets to create graphic organizers for writing is very useful.  The built-in organization of columns and rows allows for easy creation of graphic organizers and sorting information by topics and themes.  Also, my students use spreadsheets to collect, organize, and sort data related to English projects.  While the calculation tools aren’t always used, the organized layout and sort capabilities are wonderful.

I confess that I don’t use databases in the classroom.  From the reading that I have done, I see that databases are larger repositories for storing and organizing information than are spreadsheets (Joan 2010).  Since my classroom doesn’t use large amounts of data, spreadsheets suit our needs.  Although, I can see how using online databases that work with spelling, grammar, and ebooks could be very useful for students.  This is technology that I need to examine more closely for inclusion in my classroom.

I take for granted that my students know traditional computer software.  They grew up with computers so I assume that they are proficient with Word and Excel.  This notion couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Students can access these programs on their home computers; they may even be able to perform simple functions.  However, my last class essay has proven to me that students need guidance in the nuances involved in programs like Word and Excel.  Learning to aggregate and sort data is an important skill that will transfer to non-classroom situations.  Students have to know about the ideas behind data sorting before they start thinking about sorting on a larger scale.  This is one of the advantages of using spreadsheets.  Students begin to think about data sets, sorting, and configuring information in new ways.

Reference:

Joan. B. (2010, Dec. 25). Difference between spreadsheet and database. Retrieved from: http://www.differencebetween.net/technology/difference-between-spreadsheet-and-database/

Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. H. (2013). Integrating educational technology into teaching (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

EDTECH 541: Powerful Presentations

September 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Powerful presentations can have a powerful impact.  I once saw Ben Zander, the conductor for the Boston Philharmonic, give the presentation of a lifetime with only a piano on the stage.  He had no presentation tool.  Conversely, I saw Alisson Rossett, a professor of instructional design, use PowerPoint in ways I didn’t think it could be used.  The presenter makes the presentation.

That being said, I think that presentation tools can greatly enhance today’s classroom.  Personal experience has shown me that students love visual aids.  I can show a black and white video of the 1950’s McCarthy trials or a Disney cartoon.  Of course, students like the color of Disney better, but they would rather see a black and white video than hear me lecture at them for 50 minutes.  They engage with media!

I use presentations daily.  I mainly use PowerPoint, and I confess that I don’t spend hours on them.  However, I have used Prezi and Animoto with great success as well.  Students like to see something visual.  It engages them in the conversation, which I feel is the most important part of any lesson.  The relative advantage of using presentations is that they give the students a point in which to focus their attention.  Properly created presentations that aren’t loaded with text, can give students thoughtful information to consider while I present relevant content verbally.  This approach helps to enhance students’ ability to multitask by giving them information to view on the screen and having them take notes on the auditory part of the presentation.  Students engage with class content more deeply when it’s presented to them using a presentation tool.  Additionally, I become a more creative person with presentations as I strive to add images, graphics, and videos that will spark the interest of my students.  The bottom line for teachers is that presentations are a great way to engage students with the content.

My interactive presentation can be found here.  I hope you like Chaucer!

Elements of Educational Technology

September 9, 2011 Leave a comment

The ever-evolving definition of educational technology currently includes thirteen different elements that together comprise the scholarly definition applied to the field. Educational technology’s official definition discusses the relatively new idea of facilitating learning for learners rather than controlling learning.  As an element of the definition, facilitating is extremely important to the overall understanding of educational technology because it has implications for the learner, designer, and educator.  As defined by the AECT, “educational technology is the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources” (Januszewski & Molenda, 2008).

Facilitating recognizes the learner’s role as a part of the educational process.  Rather than a mere recipient of knowledge, the learner becomes a constructor of that knowledge along with the traditional resources comprised of the teacher, textbooks, and other content (Januszewski & Molenda, 2008).  The facilitating approach creates a more authentic learning environment as it allows learners to explore their learning environment rather than simply react to a series of predetermined stimulus or content.  The learner is able to make choices and impact their own learning as much as the curriculum designer and teacher.  More importantly, the learner is able to make their learning relevant to their own lives and experiences.  “Authentic learning involves exploring the world around us, asking questions, identifying information resources, discovering connections, examining multiple perspectives, discussing ideas, and making informed decisions that have a real impact” (Callison & Lamb, 2004).  Furthermore, Herrinton and Oliver note that “authentic context is valued by students as an element of a multimedia learning environment” (2000).

The AECT element of facilitating is so intimately related to the definition of educational technology that it cannot be separated without rewriting the definition entirely. Indeed, the definition actually states that educational technology is the study and practice of facilitating learning, so this element is critical to an accurate understanding of educational technology itself.  The definition of educational technology and the element both suggest that it is not enough to teach facts and figures.  The instructor must provide the map for the learner’s exploration of the content and facilitate the learner’s journey toward knowledge in a holistic and authentic manner that reinforces the relevance of content to the learner.

My experience as an online facilitator reinforces the idea that facilitation is a stronger instructional strategy than merely “say and spray” lecturing.  My students can work at their own pace, engage as much or as little as they want with the content, and find personal relevance.  Januszewski and Molenda state the importance of facilitating rather than controlling learning (2008). I agree with this idea provided that the facilitation still creates a framework and boundaries. An educational environment with no controls whatsoever seems to be a dangerous enterprise as experience has taught me that students need a controlled environment in order to open themselves to the learning process. That being said, I agree with the AECT’s decision to add facilitating as a key element. My goal is to be a stronger facilitator and leave the lecture at the door.

Callison, D., & Lamb, A. (2004). Authentic learning. School Library Monthly, 34-39.

Herrington, J., & Oliver, R. (2000). An instructional design framework for authentic learning environments. Educational technology, research and development, 48(3), 23-48.

Januszewski, A., & Molenda, M. (2008). Chapter 1: Definition. In Educational technology: A definition with commentary (pp. 1-14). NY: Lawrence Erlbaum, Inc.