Tuesday, September 7, 2010

This brings a little tear to my eye

Here is how students use and benefit from laptops in the classroom.
First week of school. Second year teaching this group of students. Third year they have used laptops in the classroom.
One of my students knew that she would be absent and knew that the day's class period was time for working on a paper with a partner. So, she made arrangements. First, she talked with her partner to coordinate getting the work done. Then, she emailed me to let me know that she would be absent and that she had communicated with her partner.
During 8th period that day, all students were working on separate Google Docs to write scripts. My absent student was also working on the Google Doc with her partner and using the chat function to clarify directions and plan together.
Here is a screen shot that I took from my computer. I could watch them talking to each other and interject my own pointers along the way.
Why was this so seamless? The students were familiar with the applications used. They had experience using Google Docs and understood how to use it for their own purposes. These were also highly independent students. They did not wait for me to remind them how to use this online tool to their advantage, but instead took charge of the learning situation for themselves.
It brings a little tear to my eye when I see that ultimately my students don't need me. They can function and excel in this brave new 21st Century world just fine on their own!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Senior Exhibits

One of my favorite aspects of my job as a teacher at Fredericksburg Academy is the opportunity to work with students as their Senior Exhibit mentor. Students begin a year long study in an area of their choosing the spring of their junior year then complete a learning activity, application, and formal presentation by the spring of their senior year. I have worked with some great students in the past on their individual projects, including learning to become a certified Red Cross instructor, working with the elderly, and setting up a new program at our school to benefit students in the future. This year two juniors have asked me to work with them and I am very excited about their initial ideas. You can follow their blogs about learning Russian culture and physiology. I can't guarantee that they will still be with those topics come next spring, but they are both off to a great start!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Book Versus Scroll

Over the years my English department has tried to incorporate tech in our classrooms, especially when it makes learning better and more economical for our students. This is all made easier as I teach in a one-to-one laptop school. I have used a program called Vital Source, but I have found that the texts are not always accurate or as complete as their printed counterparts; for example no line numbers on epic poem texts. I have also used some e-texts with my classes but haven't always gotten the best feedback from students when I use these resources. We can't annotate them as we can a book. They are not as easily referenced during class discussions, although when the Ctrl F search feature works finding the same place to discuss is quick and easy. Of course, managing distractions is always an issue when anyone, not just students, are working online. Learning to self discipline in this area is a life skill that I encourage my students to practice. Ignoring Facebook, chat pop ups, constant checking of email, and more are all real distractions which I find myself falling into often, so I certainly sympathize with my students struggles in this area as well. For example, I set aside some time to grade lovely satires written by my sophomores and here I am writing a blog post (for the first time in three months!). An advantage to the e-text, besides the free price, is also the ease of access-no book to forget at school.

This morning I found some recent research that describes my biggest struggle with using online texts. As someone who has always studied books, I find it difficult to find my place in online texts. Maybe I need to use resources like Diigo and its annotation feature more often. I have also thought that this is because I am a strongly visual learner and "see" where on the page I am looking for in order to locate a relevant quote or section when analyzing a text. But this research suggests that another factor is memory processing.
So my questions are:
  • Do students of this new generation have different memory functioning than I do? Am I just getting old and losing it!
  • Is the digital world that they are growing up in changing how their brains develop (I know that there is research on this out there)?
  • Should I use online texts in order to facilitate this development, continue using a combination of print and online sources, or go back to the "good old days" of tattered, well read paperbacks?
I hope that teachers who have used scrolling texts share what they do in order to use this resource effectively as a learning tool. And I hope that students also share their perspectives on these questions as well.

One more thought, more than anything I have found that variety is not only the spice of life but also the best way to teach. Whether for "keeping it fresh" and interesting or to reach students with multiple learning styles in the same 45 minutes. So I guess I'm leaning toward sticking to the combination (I have turned in my book list for next year), but what about the year after that (do teachers plan two years in advance?!) I'm also always open to change, which helps adapting to this whole new world of teaching a bit easier.