Archive for the ‘Why Tech?’ Category

I just finished up summer school classes today. As a part of the class for the last few days, students had to create a choose-your-own-adventure story using Google Forms. At first glance, the project seems pretty big. There are several steps in creating the story, and getting it all to work out in Google Forms takes some patience and attention to detail. However, after having worked on the project with several students, I found that it is a pretty simple project once they get their minds wrapped around how it works.

This is where the problem rears its ugly head!

A good bunch of students do not like to wrap their minds around anything if they think it has to do with learning. It is amazing how many students would rather sit and look at the wall instead of using their allotted learning time wisely. I think that some of this is human nature, but some of it also has to do with the fact that thinking is work, something teens try to avoid like a kiss from aunt Susan.

This is where technology projects come in handy. Notice that I said technology projects, not just technology. Technology by itself is not the key to engaging students. A computer is only good if the task at hand is meaningful or has a purpose. John McCarthy says in his Edutopia article, “Igniting Student Engagement,” that there are three components to successfully egaging students:

  1. Connect skills and  concepts to student interests.
  2. Engage students in professional dialogue with professionals in the field.
  3. Challengs students to solve a problem, design for a need, or explore their own questions.

This makes a lot of sense, and with technology, the possiblility of accomplishing these tasks is very real. Just think of how much easier all three of these suggestions are when using tech in the classroom.

Too many educators, and especially too many adminstrators, think that having a shiny bank of chromebooks in the front of the room take their rooms and schools to the cutting edge of technology. However, those shiny chromebooks are only good when the students use them to think and learn. Sure, wordprocessing and research are good, but put those skills to work in having a student creat a product that can be share with classmates and even the entire world.

The following links will give you a place to start when planning a technology project to use in the classroom:




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I shared this video with my classes this week. We were using it as a means of studying good argument technique. On top of this, I really just liked the message in the video.

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With a new school year starting, teachers naturally make goals in hopes of becoming a more effective educator. With all of the talk about using technology in the classroom, many of these goals probably revolve around implementing tech into instruction. There are numerous ways to do this. Rather than try and cover them all in one  blog post, I thought I would make a list of what not to do with the technology. Don’t get me wrong, the activities I am going to list here are not necessarily bad, but I am not sure they constitute using technology to enhance instruction. A few of them might be considered torture.

1. Showing movies with the projector is not using technology effectively.

2. Using the interactive whiteboard just like you used to use the chalk board is not using technology effectively.

3. Having students print pictures from Google images to paste onto a poster is not using technology effectively.

4. Using PowerPoint or the document camera as a means for students to copy notes is not using technology effectively.

5. Having students copy notes from an overhead projector should be considered a crime and is definitely not an effective use of technology.

This is just a start. Let me know in the comments how tech should not be used in the classroom.

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School was officially out as of last Friday, but for a few lucky students and myself, we have another three weeks of fun filled English class. Summer school has begun. Our summer school English class is four hours every afternoon for the next three weeks. One way that we are filling this time is writing on blogs.

For several years, I have read about students blogging. In the past, I have had a few smaller classes write their own blogs, but this is the first time I have ever had every student in a decent sized class write their own blog. So far, it seems to be working pretty well.

The students are using Blogger as a platform, mainly because each of them have a Google account that is accessed through the school’s domain. I have not used Blogger much, but the students have been writing for several day without any major technical issues.

To get content, each student has also set up a Google Reader. As a class, before any blogs are written, students spend about 20 minutes reading new posts via the Reader. This has worked quite well in giving the students something to write about.

Granted, the project is just getting under way, but for now, I am impressed with the work from students. They are reading original content that is fresh and updated daily. Just the fact that some of these students are reading is a huge milestone! In turn, they are adding their own perspective on a topic they are passionate about. We also spend time during class focusing on different reading and writing skills that are applied throughout the activity.

The only problem with doing something like this that works so good is figuring out how to run it successfully with a full schedule of classes in the fall. I’ll probably be thinking about it for the rest of the summer.

To check out what the students are writing, check out MVHS Summer English Blogs.


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As I write this blog post, I am watching a 6th grade class Skype with the author of a book that they have recently read. This has to be one of the most powerful experiences for students in terms of giving them insight into the writing process and also instilling in them a love for reading. They are talking to the brains behind the story that they all enjoyed reading who is now telling them how the characters came  to life in his own mind.

This is not just a lecture on reading and writing, which students get in school all the time.

What is so cool about a Skype session with an author is that it is real. Students (and teachers alike) look at authors of books as mythical creatures, beings who are name on the front of a book and are never seen. Right now, the students are talking to this mythical being.

Just now, he showed them his system for writing which is a cork board that covers his entire wall with all of the characters for his current book. Below the characters are all of the different things the characters are doing in the story. He also showed the students his current manuscript with all of the handwritten edits that he does on one page. The page is totally trashed with grammar marks, an eye opener for students who think the teacher is just out to get them.

Students no longer have to read about the author on the dust cover of the book. With a little planning and a teacher who is daring to take a risk, students can meet the author.

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This morning, I was watching CNN Student News with my 7th grade class. In the episode today, there was a story about the International Space Station. One of the students asked, “There’s a space station with people living in it?”

I looked at him kind of funny and thought,  “like what do you mean, there’s a space station up there with people in it. Of course there is!”

He wasn’t joking, and he wasn’t the only one who had never heard of the space station. I don’t think any of the students had any knowledge of the space station.

This presented a great opportunity to show how the internet can be used as a tool for learning, and not just to find book sense, standardized test knowledge. All too often this is what we force students to use the internet for; the task has to be tied to a standard and learning that can be measured. I am not saying that this is all bad. I’m not bashing the state standards here, but I do think that sometimes in the focus of what we “should be learning”, we forget about the wonderful world of knowledge that is at our fingertips. From my experiences, most students have no idea.

When a students asks a question in class, modeling the use of Google (or any other search engine) is an excellent way to teach students the powerful nature of the tool. It’s a little scary to do this in front of a class. Every once in a while, a page description or picture will pop up that makes the teacher a bit uncomfortable, but that is what is going to happen when students are working on their own. Honestly, not much can shock students, especially once they hit middle school, so don’t panic and show students how to find what you want. Ignore the junk. That is an important lesson all in itself.

Today, we Googled a few different search terms and ran across NASA’s site for the International Space Station. There were several short videos and a slew of pictures showing what happened there. For about fifteen minutes, we surfed through links and videos. We shared observations and feelings, what was cool and what would be weird or scary. All of us in the classroom learned.

This was learning in it’s purest form: Exploration of the world around us for the sake of expanding our minds.




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Humankind is innovative. Just think of how far we’ve come. Thousands of years ago, ancient man stared deep into the embers of the campfire and decided to change things up a bit. Now we are staring intently into the glow of a computer screen or portable device, and still, we want more. It seems that we are always wanting to change things up a bit.

This is a good thing, I think.

Yesterday morning, I went to Wiffiti to set up a board for a quiz game in one of my classes. I have used the app several times for this, and it works well, at least it had up until yesterday. They totally changed the layout of the app, and as far as I could tell, Wiffiti was not going to work the way I used to use it with my students. From the looks of it, the creators of Wiffiti wanted to change things up a bit.

I would have been a little more distraught if this didn’t happen on a regular basis. For those that work with technology much at all, change is a daily ritual (or maybe I should say rite?). Apps, sites, browsers, and interfaces are changing evolving on a daily basis. A new computer device comes out weekly that is more slim and sleek than last weeks model and has twice as much power and memory.

There are two choices here: 1. Get mad and frustrated and just quit altogether. 2. See change as progress and embrace it.

There is a camp of people out there who constantly complain about change. This is especially prevalent among users of Facebook. How many times have you heard someone complain about Facebook changing their layout or privacy settings in the last week. I bet it’s more than you can count on one hand. Complaining about these changes is not going make Facebook change their mind, and from the looks of it, they are not going to slow down any time in the near future as far as “changing things up” goes.

This is an important lesson for students (and for all of us) to learn. At times, though frustrating, having a site go down when students are in the middle of a project is good experience.

This happened to me in class today. My students were using to make infographics. For some reason, in the middle of class, the app stopped working. We couldn’t access the students work that was done last class period. The students got irritated and started mumbling under their breath about “dumb projects” or something along those lines. You can probably fill in the blanks there.

What did we do? I explained that we would see if the site was working next class, and we moved on.

There was no use getting all worked up about something that was totally out of our control. if the site never comes online again, we will do an alternative assignment or just scrap it and find another learning activity. The internet is growing exponentially, so much so that keeping up is like running a hundred mile race. Right now, the end is nowhere in sight.

All we can do is just keep running and drag the classroom full of students along with us.

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