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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!

My Thoughts on Project-Based Learning

June 16, 2013 Leave a comment

Ask me anytime before this class, and I would tell you that I am not a fan of projects.  They take too much class time, and they don’t support my learning objectives.  It seems that I have been doing it wrong.  I haven’t yet determined how projects can help my students in their AP Literature & Composition course, but I remain hopeful that I can learn and create a meaningful project for the AP students.

I guess it makes sense that a project should start with a leading research-type question.  This is what was lacking from my own experience with projects.  My former teachers handed out a packet and said get to work.  It was neither effective nor inspiring.  However, if we had started with a problem or a question to solve, that might have made my experience better.  What I have found so far is a list of resources that I want to keep in mind for project-based learning (PBL).

This article was the first I read that suggested the problem or question is important.

I also really like the following videos for examples of PBL:

bie.org:  PBL Explained 

and Edutopia’s PBL Introduction

I think I am still going to have a challenge with projects because I am a literature teacher.  I have always been focused on the literature itself.  I don’t want to change that focus, but I would like to create a project that helps students to discover the literature that is meaningful to them.  So, stay tuned…

EDTECH 541: Obstacles to Technology Integration in the Language Arts

November 19, 2012 1 comment

While technology has undeniably aided teaching, it has introduced a new set of obstacles to teaching language arts.  Digital and information literacies are new types of literacy that need to  be taught alongside traditional reading and writing.  Roblyer and Doering (2013) note that “like the definition of literacy itself, the definition of digital literacy has changed over the years and now means skills in using the information that technological devices carry, in addition to skills using the devices themselves” (p. 267).  English teachers now have the task of teaching students how to read and how to do it using modern technology.  The task of teaching technology is rarely acknowledged in language arts teaching.  We didn’t have to spend a lot of our time teaching students how to use a book; however, depending upon access to technology and parental teaching, students are at vastly different levels of experience when it comes to technology.  Now students are receEreaderiving information from technology sources like emails, instant messages, and blogs.  “Since teaching students to make meaning from texts is primarily seen as the responsibility of English and language arts teachers, these shifting definitions challenge teachers to constantly rethink the skills they teach in order to make their 21st century students truly literate”  (Roblyer and Doering, 2012, p. 268).

The other new literacy facing language arts teachers is known as information literacy, which is the skill that requires people to recognize when they need information and be able to find, evaluate, and use that information (Roblyer and Doering, 2012, p. 268).  Information literacy is primarily a research skill, which is generally seen as a task taught by English teachers.  So, the obstacle becomes teaching student how to know when they need outside research, where to locate reliable research, and how to write research papers.

The confrontation of new literacies is compounded by the usual obstacles to teaching with technology:  limited access to technology, restrictive administrations, and finances.  However, the new literacies themselves become great motivation and reasoning for incorporating more technology in the classroom.

English teachers can answer the problems of these new literacies by relying upon technology itself.  Using the very sources of information that students encounter will not only incorporate the technology but also teach students how to use the technology.  Blogs and wikis can easily be incorporated into learning activities that satisfy digital literacy.  Also, technology can be the best response to research-based assignments with the use of bookmarking sites like Diigo and Delicious.  Teaching students to use the internet to conduct research helps they cultivate information literacy and develop traditional research skills.

While technology has introduced a new set of challenges for teachers, technology also solves those challenges handily.  The main task is getting teachers to understand the new literacies and respond to them through integrating technology.

Resource:

Roblyer, M.D. & Doering, A.H. (2013). Integrating educational technology into teaching (6th ed.). Boston: Pearson.

EDTECH 541: Relative Advantage of Technology for Content Areas

November 12, 2012 1 comment

Technology is a part of life whether teachers choose to use in their classrooms or not. Teachers must start to learn that part of literacy in the modern day is digital literacy, which includes “skills in using the information that technological devices carry, in addition to skills in using the devices themselves” (Roblyer & Doering 2013, p. 267).  I know teachers who are admittedly ignorant of most technologies available.  Sadly, many of these people are tremendous teachers who would construct amazing lessons around simple technology.  Roblyer and Doering (2013) note that “to be able to teach the new literacies, teachers must become proficient in the new tools that both help define literacy in the 21st century and make possible the strategies to teach it” (p. 281).

The relative advantage of integrating technology into curriculum is chiefly one of motivation and access to materials.  Personally, I think all technology integration should be done at the content area level.  When we connect with technology for a specific content area, then we know that the technology supports that specific area’s objectives and goals.  I teach langauge arts, specifically literature.  My school doesn’t provide eBooks or e-readers, but students use them if they choose.  I use technology to conduct research, teach writing skills, and locate media sources to support books.  My students are far more engaged watching a university film regarding Chaucer’s motivation in writing The Canterbury Tales than they are listening to me lecture.  Many of the technology resources that I use are visual for students:  film, presentations, or artwork.

However, I find the most benefit for students comes when they get to be hands-on with technology.  Roblyer & Doering (2013) note that technology gives students a sense of ownership, which motivates them to learn; “Technology offers a natural setting in which students can be positioned as the experts, helping redefine the student–teacher relationship” (p. 260).  Getting students to engage with technology and literature through technology can be as simple as having them type and publish their poetry or original narratives online (using technology like Scribd, Mixbook, or blogs).  They see their writing on a website that they can share with family members, which makes their efforts seem lasting and important.  I find that writing becomes a fun process for students when they can engage with techology.  Concept mapping software can help students visually organize essays and plan out their argument.  They can use digital outlining tools to help organize writing.  Once writing ceases to be a chore, students engage with it more fully.

Additionally, technology offers access to materials that teachers can’t bring into the classroom.  This week, I wrote an assignment about integrating primary source documents into a social studies activity.  I was able to use PBS.org, Smithsonian online, and History Source Online to locate primary documents to use in my class lesson on colonization.  These documents are housed overseas where I would not otherwise be able to access them.  The only option other than technology would have been to purchase a textbook with versions or excerpts of the documents.  What I found using online resources were scans of the original documents  including the antiquated typesetting and hand-drawn images from the 1800s.  These small features contribute to the sense of history contained within the documents.  A textbook would not be able to create the same material feeling.  Technology was able to bring history to my fingertips making the history more authentic and meaningful.  It can do the same for my students.

My research shows me that technology is only getting more interactive.  Using simulations and mapping software, teachers are able to make content come alive for students.  Students are able to video chat and blog with people across the globe; “these interactions provide a tremendous multicultural benefit to our classrooms that has never existed before” (Roblyer & Doering 2013, p. 269).  The world becomes a smaller place when students can work closely with “friends” across the globe.  Teaching with techology not only creates engaged and motivated students, but also it can help them to become responsible and informed global citizens.

Resource:

Roblyer, M.D. & Doering, A.H. (2013). Integrating educational technology into teaching (6th ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Schools and Walled Gardens

October 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Please click the link below to access my Voicethread presentation.

Schools and Walled Gardens

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!