One enthusiastic educator's exciting journey to teaching mastery
One enthusiastic educator's exciting journey to teaching mastery
Information Computer Technologies (ICT) typically follow Moore’s Law, wherein technology becomes cheaper, better and faster every 18 months. The advent of the Internet, and the accompanying technologies that have been developed over the last few decades, has completely transformed every aspect of our daily lives. Technology is omnipresent, thanks to social media, smart technology, wearable technology, cloud computing, e-learning, artificial intelligence, data mining, the Internet of Things, and so on. The world is now so connected that physical boundaries are often inconsequential. Information is available at the press of a button, global communication and collaboration is a daily occurrence, and universal connectedness is the new normal.
Naturally, many thought this technological revolution would extend to education (Blin, 2008). Yet the realm of education moves at a slower pace. Despite numerous advantages, the world of education has largely been unaffected by the technological revolution. Not to say that schools have not integrated computers- they have- but the current use of educational technology has by and large only been used to support traditional methods of teaching.
For decades, researchers have explored the potential, and current function of computers in the classroom. Current discussion about educational technology attempts to identify and overcome barriers. The discord between the current use of educational technology and its optimal applications must be addressed in a concrete fashion. This paper seeks to examine the ways in which technology can be most transformative and effective in teaching and learning, identify the gaps as to how technology is currently used in classrooms, and propose a series researched-based professional development (PD) of workshops as a solution to merging those two paths into one.
Benefits of ICT
When properly implemented, educational technology offers a wide range of benefits affecting many parties. These benefits have long been documented by academics and teachers alike. By fully exploring the benefits allotted by technology, in terms of accessibility, benefits to students and teachers, and potential as change agent, it will be easy to see why so many schools seek to integrate educational technologies.
Years ago, concerned parties recognized how inaccessible technology was: the cost alone would surely widen an already large academic achievement gap between the rich and the poor. This oft-referenced ‘digital divide’ has changed meanings over the last twenty years (Dolan, 2016) as 100% of American public schools have access to instructional computers connected to the Internet. That is to say, accessibility to computers is essentially a non-issue nowadays. Even outside of the school setting, students commonly use technology: 92% of students between 12-17 years go online daily (Lenhart, 2015). With physical accessibility no longer a key issue, it is crucial that we consider the numerous advantages of educational technology as extending to all students and teachers.
Even for classrooms having access to only one technological device, accessibility remains high. The portable nature of many technological devices (such as touch-screen tablets or laptops) means greater flexibility in use by students, teachers and schools (Catholic Education-Diocese of Parramatta, 2010). More precisely, it offers potential for individual or group use and easy redistribution of resources within a class or school.
Educational technology is also accessible to learners of all levels. A textbook, for example, is only accessible to students who can read at a predetermined level, and only offers content on one topic, as presented by one author or group of authors. The information available is limited, and dated. With access to the Internet, any ICT offers unlimited, up to date content from a variety of sources. With facilitated access and distribution of information, educational technology efficiently simplifies the teaching process (Martin, Berland, Benton, & Smith, 2013). Learners of all levels can access the information they require.
Benefits to Teachers & Students
Teaching is also positively impacted by the use of educational technology. While traditional materials intrinsically dictate a certain teaching style, the flexible nature of technology empowers teachers to use a wider array of teaching strategies (Fernández-López, Rodríguez-Fórtiz, Rodríguez-Almendros & Martínez-Segura, 2013). Educational technology also simplifies inclusive teaching, as differentiation and student assessment are made easier (Isabwe, 2012; McClanahan, Williams, Kennedy, & Tate, 2012; McKechan & Ellis, 2014; Wasniewski, 2013). The option to quickly transition to different applications increases the accessibility of educational technology, as any teacher wishing to make a cross-curricular connection may easily do so (Murphy & Williams, 2011).
Using ICTs in an educational setting has been shown to benefit student learning in a plethora of ways. Educational technology has been commended for increasing student results in standardized testing, increasing student learning and motivation (Churchill, Fox & King, 2012; Hew & Brush, 2007; Kinash, Brand, & Mathew, 2012; Rossing, Miller, Cecil, & Stamper, 2012).
The benefits of educational technology also extend to students with special needs. Specifically, tablet use has been proven to be beneficial to students with learning difficulties, as was presented in the case study by McClanahan et al. (2012), wherein a student with ADHD displayed significant increase in reading ability due to working with a tablet computer. Both reading and writing are more accessible and easier to learn when taught with educational technology (Fernández-López et al., 2013; Murray & Olsece, 2011).
Educational technology also positively impacts the development of soft skills, such as communication, interpersonal skills and character traits. In a study by Matzen and Edmunds (2007), having and using technology in the classroom was shown to increase the frequency and quality of interactions among students. Similar studies have shown that teachers who use technology have seen an increase in the number of student-teacher interactions, thus boosting communication and collaboration not only between students, but also between student and their teachers (Beebe, 2011; Geist, 2011; Henderson & Yeow, 2012; Hutchison, Beschorner, & Schmidt-Crawford, 2012).
When using technology, students have demonstrated improved organisational skills, in both their tasks and the structure of assignments (Churchill et al., 2012). Killilea (2012) found that students’ computer literacy skills were positively impacted when teachers used educational technology as meaningful tools in their teaching. Use of technology in an educational setting has also been proven to increase students’ inventive thinking (Hew & Brush, 2007).
The most powerful benefit technology can offer the institution of education is its potential to transform our field. Educational technology naturally lends itself to student-centered learning environments. By empowering students to be independent lifelong learners, giving them access to information like never before seen in the history of the world, and connecting them to the world in ways that were never possible before the advent of the Internet, educational technology could revolutionize what happens inside our classrooms. As Matzen and Edmunds (2007) claimed, technology can act as a catalyst for change.
Well, it's been a minute.
For those out of the school loop, my departure from blogging exactly coincided with the fall term of university- no coincidence there. With my Master's of Education wrapping up (hooray!!), I've been completely submerged in readings.
My final project for university is a culminating capstone project. 6 credits in the fall, and 6 credits in the winter semesters, as I work on one mega inquiry project of my choosing.
I've focused on educational technology; I've looked at how it should be used in school settings, how it actually is being used in schools, and what we (or, I, in this case) can do to bridge these two realities.
What is implied in this research process? Simple. Coffee. Lots of coffee. Some pep talks. Lots of highlighting. Procrastinating. oh, and actual research. I think by the end of my research, I had read over 80 studies on my topic. That may not be a lot for an academic, but I've been teaching full-time too- so my attention span is not what it used to be!
As I did all this reading, I wondered about another missing bridge...the one needed to bring all this academia to actual working teachers. With that in mind, I'll be sharing what I've learned with you over the course of the next week, and later on, I'll also share my suggested plan of action.
I read somewhere that when you are choosing a career, you should find something you hate in the world and try to fix it. I think this reasoning is a big reason why I went into teaching. As a child, I was very smart but not very cool. Here I'll share a few of the most memorable scenarios of my elementary life:
As you may have guessed, the problem I've set out to try and fix is inclusion. I've had so many experiences (as I'm sure you have too) where I have felt left out or unimportant, that I would hate for more children to live through the same problem. I've also been on the other side, where I was included but someone else was not, and I felt so lucky like at least I'm safe this time.
With that in mind, here are things I do in my teaching practice to make everyone feel valued and included.
At the beginning of the year, I make all the teams. I explain my reasoning to my students like so:
Some students will then bring up that when we do the Daily 5 component Read to Self it's not a good idea to be beside a friend, because they would distract you from your work!
Oh, I love birthdays! It's such a great opportunity to celebrate every child in the classroom! Here are some of my traditions:
Snack & Lunch times
I have an important rule for snack and lunchtime: no one can sit alone.
It's everyone's responsibility to ensure everyone has someone. This means if you see someone sitting alone, you have to either go over to them and sit with them, or invite them over to your table. easy peasy.
Once I explain why this is important, that sharing meal times is good for your brain, and helps you feel better, the kids just get it. This is one rule I have never needed to enforce. In fact, a few kids even transfer this rule to the playground, and go ask kids who are alone to join in on their games (which brings tears to my eyes, but I can't let them see it!).
Setting up play dates
When I've taught younger grades (grade 1 & 2), I sometimes 'takeover' their play time by setting up play dates. I am constantly surprised by the amount of kids who don't have play dates on weekends or week nights! So many of my students are surrounded by adults and screens...they miss out on great opportunities! With that in mind, I make up teams of 2, and remind them that I put a lot of effort into making these teams, so no complaining please!
We begin with a whole group discussion about what makes a great play date and what makes a good friend. Here are some of the answers we always come up with:
And I then send them with their partner to begin their play dates. If they are going particularly well, I stop it immediately- and tell them to exchange numbers to continue at home!
After 15 minutes, we pause, and do a whole group reflection. What am I doing to be a good friend? How could I make this play date better? These play date practices are a great opportunity for students to get to know one another, and practice communication skills, work their imagination and sense of humour and patience...I love it and so do the kids! I've had kids ask for more play dates instead of free play time.
As I am teaching a grade 2 & a grade 3 this year, I want to step up my play date game to hands-on team-building challenges. More on this when I get started!
How do you make sure everyone is included?
These are just a few of the ways I try to make all my students feel welcome in class and at school. It's so important for me to make sure my students feel safe and important- I don't think learning can take place without taking care of the basics first. How do you make sure everyone feels welcome in your class? I can't wait to see how others do it!
My 2016-2017 Classroom
During the first few days of school before the kids come in, every teacher is desperately trying to piece their room together in time for the big day. My process is usually quick (2 days) because I know exactly what I like and what I don't.
It's not unusual that over the course of these first few days that a few colleagues will ask me to take a look at their rooms, and offer any advice I have to make their room feel cozier, lighter, and clearer. I love to oblige to such flattering requests, and I thought I would share some of the hard and fast design rules I've developed over the last few years.
Symmetry is attractive
When you can, embrace symmetry. I visited a colleague's classroom and I offered simple changes to her room. She had 3 bookcases lined up on her front wall: tall, tall and small. I suggested she arrange them tall, small, tall. It made a big difference, and became more pleasing to the eye!
Never block a window!
Would you ever put a bookcase in front of a window at home? I hope the answer is no! Not only are you missing out on that beautiful natural light, but you are also making it harder to access the mechanisms to open said window. It's also important to work with the natural elements of your classrooms whenever you can.
Don't wait, just do!
The caretaker at my school and I have a running joke that I never need help for anything. It's far from true, but it started when he noticed me hammering nails to hang some frames. He offered to help, but I was already doing it! A few days later, he saw me climbing on my window ledges to install my curtains. He offered to help, but I was already up there!
What I'm trying to get to is that if you want to do something in your classroom, truly want to, you don't wait for someone to give you permission, or do it for you- you just do it! It's with this attitude that I quickly gathered the elements in my classroom toolbox. There's nothing major in there, only some light bulbs, tie-wraps, double-sided tape, Allen keys, and a multi-tool (screwdriver with all the tips). For everything else, I know the caretaker has the tools I need- and he let's me borrow without asking whenever I want!
The simplest way is often the best way
Once upon a time, I had a broken support system for my SmartBoard projector. It was taking the school board months to fix it, and I was tired of waiting. I lent the projector to my brother-in-law and he quickly built me a beautiful support for it out of wood and long metal screws.
However, once I brought the whole thing back to my classroom, the projector would slide down. I had to find a way for it to hold...at first I tried a million and one tie-wraps but the mess was so ugly, I chopped them all off and found a prettier, easier solution. I velcro-ed it in place. Whenever I am designing or creating something, I always consider the final look and function. Would 30 messy tie wraps have been attractive? how about sturdy? probably not. The best solution is often the simplest one. The same goes for placing classroom furniture!
People often tells me my classroom looks like a little home, or cafe. We seem to forget so quickly that for many of us, the hours we spend in school with our kids and colleagues far outnumber the hours we spend awake at home. We have so much artistic freedom as teachers- of course our rooms should be beautiful and function, like reflections of our homes! Your students will enjoy it more, and so will you!
Just like your home, you have to make your classroom yours. I have my signature touches, such as framing pictures of my student's playing or reading and hanging them up in class, but that doesn't mean everyone needs to do that. What are your musts? What are your signature touches?
It all started on a cold, cold, day back in December of '14...
Google Certified Educator - Level 1
Since then, Google has streamlined the process to becoming a Google Certified Educator. There are two certification available (Level 1 is $10, and Level 2 is $25), but you only need to pay if you want to do the final test and get the certification. The online courses and tutorials are available for free, to all, right here. Level 1 represents a basic understanding of Google Apps, and Level 2 is for a more advanced grasp of the subject matter.
Yesterday I completed the Level 1 exam. While I obviously can't share any of the questions, here are some things you may want to know before getting started:
I'm planning on taking the Level 2 next weekend...wish me luck!
My name is