Sunday, January 31, 2010

Educational Technology Tools

While pondering this post, I was concerned with what classified an "educational technology tool." Perhaps it's the scientist in me that wants to make sure that my definitions are clear before I embark upon a response. Regardless, I decided that anything that was available for free use on the Internet and enhanced a learning experience for students constituted an educational technology tool. While this may not be a correct definition, it worked for me, and it allowed me the freedom to investigate some of the things that I've used in the past in a bit more detail.

Since I teach high school chemistry, I try to integrate things into my continued learning that can benefit my students as well, so I set out to find stuff that would be good for my day students. There are countless sites out there that I have used in the past to supplement particular lessons and to offer support for specific challenges. So, here are a few of them:
  • eChem has an application that allows you to create and manipulate molecular structures. This particular one is from another teacher's personal class site. Very often these (teacher sites) have some AMAZING tried and true resources.
  • Mr. Guch (another teacher in the classroom) has compiled an incredible amount of information, tutorials, and resources for chemistry students and teachers.
  • Science Spot has resources for all levels and areas of science for mostly teachers.
  • There are like 80 billion Periodic Tables online, and they all have a lot of the same information (how many ways can you describe Calcium, really?), but this one is pretty neat and interactive and all that stuff.
  • And, if you've got a couple minutes and want to hug your inner science nerd, this is always fun. Click it, you know you want to. Everyone loves it.
So, while my tools may be more specifically geared towards my nerd-tacular world, you may find that there are many tools out there that focus on your specific area(s) of expertise! And, since we should all be teaching all of the areas all of the time, perhaps you can use some of my sites to help you integrate science into your teaching :)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Equal Access

So, I feel like I'm kind of cheating on this one. While I was waiting for the link to follow Monday night's class on ustream, I was poking around profiles on Twitter. I stumbled upon a blog that our Fearless Leader (Dave) kept about a year ago. As I was perusing his writing, I read a post that he had written about equal access, and it really hit home for me. So, I feel like I'm kind of cheating because I really liked one of his phrases, and (although it's similar to one that I use in my classroom) I'm kind of sticking by that philosophy:

Equal access is about teaching them to drive, not buying them a car.

The reality of a classroom situation is that you see a student (along with 20-some others) for a fraction of their day. You can do everything in your power to make that fraction as productive, meaningful, engaging, valuable, and whatever-else-you'd-like-to-make-it as possible. But, when that child goes home, they are faced with a much stronger influence that you will not be able to control. And, equal access has to be about providing the same tools to all of your students, not providing the same goods, services, or situations.

It would be nice if every student had a functional laptop with Internet access and all that jazz, but it's not a reality. I'll hearken Maslow by saying that it'd be even better if every student had a warm bed to sleep in, hot water to shower with, breakfast each morning, and a hug on the way out the door, but that's not a reality either. So, equal access in education has to be about providing the same opportunities, and allowing and encouraging students to make the choices about what to do (if anything) with the opportunities that have been provided for them.

Friday, January 15, 2010

What can we gain through collaboration?

Short answer: everything!!

Collaboration is crucially important in education. From the time that you start any kind of teacher education program, you learn that reflection and collaboration are fabulously helpful in determining effecting lessons. Very often our peers are some of the best resources that are available. And, when those people are not immediately available (if you are the only 5th grade teacher in your building, for example) there are a wealth of resources available online. 

Personally, this is one aspect of my teaching experience that I wish were more elaborate. I became the veteran chemistry teacher in my district during my second year of teaching. I was faced with two brand new teachers straight from industry who needed as much help as I did. So, we all fumbled through and survived. These first years together, we worked very closely in order to coordinate the pace and content of our courses, and it was invaluable for all of us. Once we all became more self-sufficient, we all started to look to other resources to learn, and outside workshops became feasible. 
These workshops provided the opportunity to network with other teachers as well as the opportunity to bring ideas and materials back to our building. Now, with increasing budgetary issues in education all over the country, outside workshops are becoming more and more difficult to be a part of. However, the Internet provides countless ideas and resources, if you have the time to investigate and filter them. 
Basically, if you are able to look past your pride, ask for help, and work collaboratively with other teachers in your building, you will become a better teacher, and your students may have a better learning experience due to the change of pace or new ideas that you try with them.

K12 Online Conference: Web 2.0 Culture

As I revisit the K12 Online Conference this week, I do so slightly more optimistically. Although my school has serious budgetary issues, some that effect technology, I have become more hopeful that I can integrate some innovative features into my classroom that has one functional, albeit slow, computer and an LCD projector.

The topic that I chose to investigate this time is from the 2009 conference and was on Building a Web 2.0 Culture. Beginning points identified the democratization of information, the power of collaboration, and personal nature of the Web 2.0 environment as significant challenges to a traditional school and a traditional approach to education. It went on to identify that a Web 2.0 Culture is one that is rooted in a professional culture of trust, respect, and responsibility. The rest of the presentation provided examples of how these things can be fostered and integrated into classrooms to empower students to be successful in a Web 2.0 culture.

While I find most of these things energizing and encouraging, the reality of some classrooms (and students) is that these ideals are very difficult to attain. Difficult is not impossible, though, and one of the constant challenges of teaching is staying current and trying new things in order to reach students more appropriately and effectively. So, I'm game. I've even applied to a donor website to obtain some supplies for my classroom. We'll see if my application is approved and my materials are funded!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

K12Online Conference and EdTechTalk

While perusing the archives of the K12 Online Conference website and investigating the tracks from past conferences, I happened upon one 2006 video on Overcoming Obstacles. This PowerPoint presentation described one teacher's journey to a computer lab of 20 functioning computers.

This video was both encouraging and frustrating for me. While it explained familiar challenges, in terms of lack of functional equipment, it didn't explain why she wanted the computer lab, or what her plans were for the new setup. It was encouraging because it explained how she happened to create her own computer lab. She utilized a number of familiar resources and techniques, which made me feel like I could perhaps embark on a similar venture.

As I felt that I wanted more information on this topic, which is important to me, I turned to EdTechTalk. I found a Conversation, #57, that was held on December 19, 2009 about the "Haves and Have Nots of Education and Technology." After about 7 minutes of personal banter about their families, and another 7 minutes of moderately (but not completely) professional stories about technological experiences, the group FINALLY addressed the topic of their conversation. Once they got the the point, they had some moderately good things to say. They indicated that technology (like an iPod) is another tool that can be used in the classroom, like a sharpened pencil. They also identified the crucial nature of administrative support as it relates to the integration of particular aspects of technology in schools. It also seemed to imply that more technologically active administrators may be more supportive of teachers using more technology. After 20 minutes, one of the commentators indicated that in districts with limited technological resources, teachers need to find funding to procure computers for their classrooms. This discussion identified the lack of choice that many teachers and students have when considering integrating a computer into the learning experience.

This last chat is part of the reason that technology can sometimes be more of a hindrance than a benefit. It took this group nearly 15 minutes (1/4 of their broadcast) to get to the point! As is often the case with a information on the Internet, there is a lot of fluff that surrounds valid information. With this ETT conversation, I was so frustrated after listening to nearly 15 minutes of ridiculous banter that I wasn't as receptive to the viewpoints that were conveyed. This could easily be the case with a lot of efforts surrounding technology in learning, and careful attention must be paid so that time and resources are efficiently utilized.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Technology Reflections

What is the purpose of integrating technology into learning?
Why should we integrate technology into lessons?

When these two questions are considered, a couple of other questions come to mind: what is considered to be technology in a classroom, and what does it mean to integrate that technology? The answers to these questions can greatly effect responses to the essential questions that have been posed. For this response, I will consider "technology" to mean computers, although I do not think that is an appropriate representation of "technology" as it can be used in schools and learning. And, I will consider "integration" to be the use of that computer, although this can have a variety of meanings as well.

So, there are situations when computers are appropriate in lessons and learning and situations when they are not. Computers are a tool that can be used a number of ways, some of which are more effective than others. Because a majority of today's students have grown up with computers in their homes and have had access to the large amounts of information on demand, computers can be used to increase relevance for students in particular areas. Students have developed a respect (albeit periodically misplaced) for information gathered from the Internet, so a teacher who uses information gathered and presented on the Internet can be perceived to be more current or relevant. Additionally, because of the large amounts of information available online, the Internet can be a valuable resource for students to supplement and enhance their learning experiences in the classroom.

I guess that a greater purpose of integrating technology into learning is to use tools and resources that students are probably already familiar with to supplement experiences in class. Also, because of digital communication and technology, our worlds have become larger and more easily accessible, and teaching students how to effectively and appropriately integrate themselves into this community is important.

Generally, it seems to me that there are a number of opportunities where technology (in the form of a computer with Internet access) can be used in learning and lessons. However, practically, there are a number of limitations that can be encountered in the execution of this ideal. For example, in a public school setting, a computer lab that is stocked with enough fully functional computers with efficient Internet access is not often a reality due to budgetary constraints. Hopefully, we will learn how to work within these limitations so that we can effectively integrate appropriate technology to supplement and enhance student learning at all levels.

Monday, January 4, 2010


Hello. I'm Allison. I wear many hats.

Tonight I am wearing my student hat. When I wear my student hat, I'm a graduate student pursuing my Master's Degree in Education with a focus on curriculum and instruction. This is the second term that I've donned this cap, and I'm rather enjoying it. I hope to learn a lot that will help to supplement my teacher hat.

I've been wearing my teacher hat since 2001 and it's still one of my favorites to put on every day. I also wear safety goggles and a lab coat since I teach chemistry to high school students. I still like it and it makes me laugh every day. I love working with amazing people, and consider myself to be fabulously lucky to have landed a great job (that is not without challenges), and look forward to learning to do it better.

My other hats also help you understand me better: mom, wife, daughter, sister, and friend are the most worn and therefore the most predominant. I'm looking forward to embarking on this journey, and hopefully you enjoy coming along!

For Those Who Can

This is a new blog that I've been asked to establish for a grad class that I'm taking. I'm supposed to be posting things about my professional journey to becoming a better teacher. So, hold on to your hats! I even joined Twitter. I know. So, find my professional banter there, too. I'm kronesa. Let's Tweet.

I've also learned about some cool new tools.

This is a cute thing that could make a fun t-shirt. Click it. You know you want to.

And, I want to open a backchannel in my classroom and in our faculty meetings. I can take it, can you?