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Archive for February, 2010

I just finished this book by  Yong Zhao, and all I can say is: deep. Zhao really makes a person think about the education system in the United States at the moment and where it is all headed.

He spends a great deal of time comparing the education system of the U.S. to that in China. However, this is not done with the typical doom and gloom outlook that China is going to overtake the world because of their stellar education. Rather, he shows that the U.S. has some good things going. Much of his research shows that China is trying, more and more, to emulate the education system of the U.S. 

What Zhao does in this book is gives readers an interesting perspective on the way the world is changing due to globalization and shows that in order for education to work, the institution needs to reflect these changes. He feels that there are two areas that need a concentrated focus: teaching an awareness of a global community and teaching students how to use technology as a tool.

Global awareness is something that, up to this point, I have not thought a whole about. Sure, I watch the news, and I feel bad when something happens like the recent earthquake in Haiti. Until reading this book, I never thought about how events like that impact the entire world. This is definitely something that I am going to think more about. This will be the tricky one for me to infuse in my teaching.

As for the technology piece, I have been pretty much obsessed with this for the last several months. This is not to say that I haven’t learned anything from the book. I am now thinking of how I might use programs like Secondlife to teach in my classroom. I never realized exactly what was going on there. I even learned a new word: metaverse which is basically a fancy word for the space where virtual worlds are formed and lived in.

If anything, this book made me think of what I am doing personally in the classroom and gave me some ideas as to how I might change a few things to be more effective. If you want a good read that will make you think, pick up Catching up or leading the way.

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I threw this quick video together yesterday. Our principal is doing a presentation on technology. I have used Jumbli a few times now with students, and they seem to like it. After looking at it, some might tend to think it is quite simplistic. Though I wouldn’t use if for more than about 5 or 10 minutes at a time in class, it is a great way to motivate students. And talk about engagment. If you listen close and turn up the volume, you can hear one person talk, and it is about a word they posted. I am becoming convinced more and more of the value of using cell phones in the classroom. For one, the students pay attention when the phones are out.

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Over the past few weeks, I have had a class of seniors using Weebly.com to make websites. It has to be one of the easiest platforms I have ever had students use. It took about five minutes of instruction on my part, and then I just turned them loose.

One of the best things about the program is that it is all click and drag. This means very little in the way of code work. This allows students to put together a decent looking site without much hassle. Because of this, there are some limits to what can be done (at least from what I know about the program). Some of the more tech literate students might not like it, but for the most part, my students had a good time putting their sites together. For many of them, this was their first web-based creation outside of Myspace, so there was a real sense of accomplishment in publishing their own work for the world to see.

The nature of this project was that the students created a website that represented all of the research they have been doing for their 10 page research paper. The hope was that by having students make the sites, they might find a focus for their arguments. It seems to have worked well. My students who presented today had some great information, and it was organized well. I think making a visual representation of their thoughts has been a great help.

One last thing: Weebly caters well to educators. By getting five other teachers to sign up for Weebly accounts, a person can get a free pro account, which allows much more space and extra features for student use. Even if a teacher doesn’t do this, educators can still sign up for an account that allows them to moderate several student sites.

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Have you ever been sitting in a meeting wondering what in the world are we doing this for? Believe me, it is something I have been thinking alot about lately. It seems that, at times, we spend more time talking about what we need to be doing than actually working which, in my mind, is counterproductive. This is where Meet or Die comes in.

Meet or Die will tell you how much money is being wasted while sitting in all those meeting. Just plug in the various factors that directly relate to the meeting you are going to, and presto, you will have a dollar sign on your meeting. I will have to say that this site will probably not do much for your productivity, but it sure is fun. Caution: You might not want to sent this report to your administrator. I am not sure they will think it is as funny you do!

And speaking of wasting time in meetings, here is a good little video (the book looks pretty good too).

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Here is an interesting idea. I was just over at Classroom 2.0 reading a blog post by Chris Fritz titled Gamers Perspective: Why do students cheat? I liked much of what he had to say about the reason that students cheat. Basically, he boils cheating down to a challenge for students. According to him, students cheat purely for the buzz that they get from duping a teacher. While I think that this may be simplifying the problem, I do think it may be true in many cases.

As I was reading, I started thinking about students using cell phones in the classroom. I wonder, at times, if students also use phones for the same reason. I know that they want to communicate, but I wonder if they also get a “buzz” by doing something that they know they are not supposed to do. In my school, students lose their phone if they are caught. This does not deter students at all. I don’t think that it is a generalization to say that they all use their phones during class.

I have noticed something interesting during the last few class activities using phones. Students don’t seem to spend much time texting. I am not sure, but I am willing to bet that there were less texts sent during class when we were using the phones than when they were supposed to be turned off and placed snug in their backpacks.

I am not sure what to think, but I am starting to think, more and more, that maybe we are fighting the wrong battles. We worry about cheating and phones when a change in rules and teaching tactics might eliminate the majority of these problems all together.

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A few days ago, I finally got all my stuff together so I could use Wiffiti with the students. It was definitely worth the trouble. The students responded well to the program, and they handled themselves well, which is always a concern with a program like Wiffiti.

The lesson for the class was simple. I had to do this because I was not sure how the program was going to work. Right now in class, we are reading novels, so before we started, we had a mini-lesson on similes. I then had the students post similes that they found in their reading as they came across them.

Everyone was happy. Students were able to use their phones, and I was able to get some instant feedback on whether or not they understood similes.

I also learned what I need to do to better use the app in the future. I found out that one of our local service providers does not support 5 digit text numbers. This made several of the students angry because they could not participate with their phones. I also learned that I would really like all students to have their phones registered so I can see who is actually posting. This would allow me to help students with a misunderstanding, or at least see who does not understand the concept. I am going to have to work on this for the future. Overall though, I would have to say it a great success, and the students are already begging to do it again.

Click here to see my Wiffiti board.

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Over the last few days, I have spent several hours working with Prezi, an online presentation tool somewhat like Powerpoint, but 10 times cooler. I am going to use it for the first time with students on Thursday to have a discussion about fact vs. opinion. I am interested to see how students respond to the layout. If anything, I think the transitions will keep their attention.

What I like most about Prezi is that it is dead simple to use. You can literally throw together a presentation in less than an hour, and it is going to look cool, whereas with Powerpoint, it is going to take some time (at least for me).

Here’s a quick video giving a quick snapshot of what Prezi can do.

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