Friday, December 7, 2012

The Computer Almost Got Me!

So I took (and thank God, also passed) the FTCE: General Knowledge Test today, exam 1 of 4 towards obtaining my professional teacher certification. I had been preparing by using the Cliffs Test Prep book (pictured to the right) and followed the advice in the book that suggests we replicate test conditions while studying. I was fully aware that the entire exam was now going to be done on the computer but I was not prepared for how that fact would affect me. Being that I was using a physical book, somehow my mind had prepared me to still write something. When I did my practice essay, it was on paper. When I practiced the English Language Skills and the Reading subtests, also all on paper. I practiced the math section by literally turning the pages. I think you get my point. 

I was completely thrown off when I got to the testing site and that almost affected my performance. The format of the problems and the reading passages were not like the book. Even the very brightness of the screen in contrast to the tan-colored pages of the practice book really made a difference. I hesitated, even switched my essay topic midway and took a few minutes to get adjusted. They provided us with a tutorial before we began and it was much needed. For instance, passages being a split screen instead of the linear format in the book tripped me up a few times. Without the liberty of being able to turn the pages as an indicator that I was now reading a new passage, it would often take about a minute or two of disorientation to realize why the questions no longer made sense and the I needed to scroll up to read the next passage.I found myself a bit apprehensive that the readjustment may take some of my time. This affected the math and essay portions as well. These are the portions that require the most interaction, either looking at a reference sheet, working out problems or writing down thoughts. During my practice sessions, this is done horizontally by peering over the booklet or lined paper. Doing these tasks on a vertically standing screen did in fact lead to some forgetting of concepts I had studied not long before because much of the energy went to processing the change of having a computer in front of me. 

This makes me think about our students. All of this technology is great but we must be aware of the adjustment they must mentally make to translate their work from paper and reading from a book to doing learning activities online and vice versa as the influence of technology increases. Students who are "digital natives" may have a truly difficult time switching gears from almost exclusively digital screens to paper and physical books. This testing experience I had today forced me to consider another aspect of utilizing technology in the classroom. Now as I plan to implement different learning activities I will strategically think about how students need time and tools to readjust to new formats. Transitions will be a huge part of this strategy. I can imagine this issue gets swept under the rug but I think it is crucial to foster the most inclusive use of these new technological tools that take all learning modalities into account. Students without access to the technology at home may struggle when they are expected to complete computer-based activities, for instance. The same for students with disabilities. There is a lot to undertake to maintain a balance when introducing the use of technology along with traditional methods and assignments.

I'll Take That Technology With A Side of Fries Please...

This is the textbook we were assigned for our educational technology class. As some of you may or not be aware, I am doing Florida's post-bac "career changer" path to teacher certification called Educator Preparation Institute (or EPI). That was a mouthful! I plan to teach both secondary Social Studies and English. In Chapter 12 of this book, it zeroes in on specific ways that technology can be applied to Social Studies. Often, we are taught in these classes how to keep the students engaged and activities we can do for them but I was grateful that this book highlighted resources that us teachers can use to increase our knowledge of the content! I really think our program needs to add broad subject courses. The chapter talks about how the teacher shortages have forced many schools to ask teachers who specialize in one area of social studies to teach another area they may be less familiar with. I thought, how much more does this apply to me? Do I LOVE social studies? For sure, I spend much of my spare time reading across the discipline, participating in casual discussion and watching documentaries. However, I am on the "career changer" path, my undergrad degree is a a Bachelor of Arts in Advertising. I also had an outside concentration in African American studies, in which I took history classes like The Slave Narratives. Furthermore, due to the communicative nature of the Advertising field, we were required to take more courses than usual in social sciences but I am nowhere near the expert of someone who majored in the subject. 

When I completed my field experience requirement for the EPI program, I was paired with a mentor teacher in the classroom for a week. His name is Dr. Schmidt, he was a brilliant man who has his Ph.D. and has been teaching for 29 years. He teaches IB History of the Americas and AP World History. Dr. Schmidt had an amazing ability to retell history as if he had brunch with historical figures he taught about. He barely referenced notes and spoke seamlessly about everything he presented to the class. During my observation day, I taught the AP World History and was asked to cover the Chinese Han Dynasty and compare it to the Roman Empire.  

I was TERRIFIED! I knew a fair amount about the Roman Empire but absolutely nothing about the Han. I took to reading the class textbook and researching everything I could find to make this a meaningful experience and not be an interruption to the type of thorough learning they received daily from Dr. Schmidt. Thankfully, I did well after much grueling research but the experience led me to ponder what tools could I readily consult as I construct an entire curriculum in my own future classroom. Therefore, I was relieved to see that our book included a chart that focused on resources to enhance the Social Studies Content Knowledge of teachers. I will list them here below I think this is a great start:

Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK), Say What?!

 This innovative learning in this video makes a big case for why teachers need to be equipped with TPCK. But before I get ahead of myself, let me first explain what TPCK is and then I'll revisit this video at the end.

TPCK is sort of a salad of teacher effectiveness. All the yummy tools needed to make a good teacher. Apart of our educational technology class is to maintain a class wiki (a collective information platform, much like Wikipedia but specified to our class needs). We each had to contribute at least four times to it either by commenting on another classmate's post or starting our own. In one of my contributions, I commented on how intrigued I had become by the concept of Pedagogical Content Knowledge. I learned about this through one of our required readings by Hofer and Swan. 

All you scholars out there can click here to read the article, Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge in Action: A Case Study of a Middle School Digital Documentary Project. In a nutshell, the term Pedagogical Content Knowledge was coined by Schulman in the 1980s. It is based on the notion that teachers cannot learn teaching strategies separately from content but that these areas must be combined in order for teachers to be effective. Furthermore, the article makes a good point that the this knowledge goes beyond just knowing what and how to teach but how to effectively fit these into district and curriculum standards. What's more is that in their evaluation of the concept, Hofer and Swan provide an extension to the original idea, suggesting that teachers now have to be equipped with a technological knowledge as well. They do not suggest that the technological component trumps the other areas but instead is a necessary building on the pedagogical content foundation.

This makes sense. 

Hofer and Swan worked with both and English and Social Studies teacher who were well-versed in their subjects and also knowledgeable (and/or willing to learn) about the technology needed to complete the video project they assigned their students. Hofer and Swan noted how important it was for the teachers themselves to have an in-depth understanding of the technological platforms in which they assign to their students and how past projects with other teachers had failed due to this and other limitations. To put it simply, a teacher loses an important part of the lesson if they cannot assist students in the basic fundamentals of editing a video for a documentary project for example.

Photo courtesy of North Miami Beach Sr. High Quest newspaper
As I read this, I thought about my own high school. When I visited, I noticed they'd converted a room to an iPrep room. iPrep was an initiative first started at the Miami Dade County School Board. I was delighted to see an extension of this now implemented at my old high school. My alma mater, North Miami Beach Senior High is more or less an "urban" school. 

Demographics have changed greatly over the years and usually that makes for a grim outlook and leaves some longing for the yesteryears. Therefore, I was pleased to see these improvements and technological investments. However, these type of changes strongly support why teachers should be equipped with a Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge. With new innovations intended to enhance our students learning, teacher training programs must get more intensive with the technological aspect as a fused component in the mix of instructional strategies and content area knowledge.

Monday, November 26, 2012

It's Wonka Vision...for the Educator: My New Teacher Web Site!

Most of us are familiar with this scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory where Willy Wonka shows the guests a new invention in his factory, "Wonka Vision." I'm sure even Roald Dahl's big imagination could not fathom the true connectedness that the internet would give the world. Though the "wonka vision" technology is fictional, in a way the internet gives us that same accessibility. Think about it, as educators, we can take our life-sized classroom and shrink it into a digital one the size of a laptop, a tablet or smartphone. Recently, I was assigned such a task...

and now I have my very own web site! It was an assignment we had to do for our Educational Technology class. I must say, I am quite pleased with the outcome and am looking forward to customizing it even further in my own classroom and showing it to various principals when I start to apply for teaching positions next year. Check it out here: or by clicking on the screen shot above. Tell me what you think!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Is This Lady Really Texting While Teaching?

I subbed for a fifth grade class today at P.K. Yonge, University of Florida's Developmental Research K-12 school, and I almost had a cow! I was working with an awesome intern who basically had already learned the ropes and did most of everything the teacher left in the plans. But when we went to math, I noticed she suddenly became somewhat glued to her phone and I thought, "now that isn't very professional." Turns out, I spoke too soon! She was using a Kagan app on her phone! For those of you who aren't familiar, Kagan strategies are what's been in for more than just a few seasons in education. Dr. Spencer and his wife, Laurie Kagan are the "gurus," so to speak. Kagan strategies, in a nutshell, exist to keep students actively engaged in their learning.

This Name Selector works by randomly going through the names of the students in your class with a sound similar to the wheel turning in Wheel of Fortune. The intern, used it as she taught math to choose different students to answer. It is a great way to give everyone an equal chance to try, cancels out favoritism or oversight and gets the kids excited to be chosen to participate rather than dread being called on.

It is amazing to me that no matter how much I learn about technological advances in education and even though I live in a digitally-driven society, I still find awe in these new discoveries. It never once occurred to me that these phenomenal educators and researchers we have learned about in my education courses had put out anything other than books, classroom activity kits and instructional DVDs. I was completely unaware that these people, though cutting-edge in their pedagogical techniques, were developing apps! Seems silly, right? I guess I too, still need to expand my view of all the possibilities there are to incorporate technology in education (not to mention stop being a smartphone hold out and give up this dinosaur of a phone so I can equip myself to be on the forefront of the digital education revolution). 

Friday, November 16, 2012

"I See Said The Blind Man To His Deaf Dog Listening to the Radio."

The title of this post is an adage that always helps me to remember Mr. Babbitt, my high school AP Economics teacher. More than that, the fear that I have misquoted it and that Mr. Babbitt will probably comment on this blog entry with a slightly humiliating rebuke is a nod to the tight ship he ran and pays homage to his fool-proof classroom management.

A few weeks ago, I went home to Miami to support my friend's play that was debuting at a local theater. While I was there, I opted to shadow Mr. Babbitt. It had been 8 years since I sat in his classroom and there I was an unlikely student, learning new lessons. Since I am on the "career-changer" path to teacher certification, it is very important that I learn as much as I can from teachers that have had successful careers in teaching and are experts in the subjects I will be teaching, English and Social Studies. He now taught Government as well. Mr. Babbitt graciously welcomed me into his room and though he did not have to, would periodically interrupt his lesson to stop and give me pointers and words of encouragement on my new career path. I picked up many valuable things from my day with Mr. Babbitt. I will take these nuggets into the classroom with me for years to come and am eternally grateful. I realized that I never truly understood Mr. Babbitt's love for what he does and his students when I was his pupil; I totally missed that as an 18 year old senior in his class. While I do believe it is possible that Mr. Babbitt and I may not have the same teaching philosophy and perhaps I will utilize different methods, the fundamentals are the same. We want every student to learn, succeed and know that they are worth it. Mr. Babbitt retires soon and I appreciate his willingness to pass on the torch to us rookies.

Me and Mr. Babbitt
Mr. Babbitt was still up to his old tricks.  Making tardy students stand up next to him in front of the class for an awkward amount of time to learn a lesson in punctuality, drinking out of his two decade old Miami Metro Zoo water bottle, hurling insults in a loving way that only he could do and making jokes that most of his students would not appreciate until about 5 years later. But even so, things had changed.

TECHNOLOGY was upon us in ways that had not existed when I was his student just a few years ago. For one, when students asked to use the restroom, Mr. Babbitt took their cell phone as "collateral" to ensure that they would return and in a timely manner. These devices were not as pervasive when I was in high school. To fact check himself, Mr. Babbitt would pull out his iPhone and look up the info (YES, his iPhone-- now only if we could convince him to upgrade his water bottle)!  What?! I think my alma mater, North Miami Beach Senior High, dare I say it, has wi-fi? Of course the occurences detailed here hardly seem worth noting but indeed they are. As I was watching Mr. Babbitt in action, I realized that even the most seasoned teachers who we would expect to be resistant to change eventually have to move with the tide.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

No Teacher Left Behind: Welcoming Technological Trends In The Classroom

I remember in 1997, electronic learning toys were the buzz. Me and most of my classmates either posessed one of these toys or atleast desired to have one. I had several versions of some of the earliest Vtech learning computers. Even though our school had a no toy rule, most of us managed to sneak them on campus. Rather than see them as a distraction and penalize us, Mrs. Zemon encouraged all of us who had one to bring them to school during math. She gave us in-class time to play math games and we shared with our classmates who did not have one. Ms. Zemon always had a keen sense of tapping into cultural patterns and adapting them for the purposes of learning and mastery. She never criminalized us for our innate childhood interests but instead embraced them. In his article, Digital Natives, Native Immigrants, Marc Prensky remarks that "we need to invent Digital Native methodologies for all subjects, at all levels, using our students to guide us." It seems as though Ms. Zemon was ahead of her time and led the charge in her right. 

A version of the early v-tech learning toys.
As I read this article I began to think of where I fell on the spectrum between "digital native" and "digital immigrant." It seems as though I fall somewhere in the middle. Perhaps I am a first generation. In keeping with the analogy that Marc Prensky uses, I think my position would be comparable to a child who was born in the "old country" but migrated as a young child. I'm old enough that I recorded songs from the radio on cassette tapes and remember when the internet was a rarity in households. I am also old enough to recall the moment that I called my friend with wonder and amazement because I had just seen a commercial for a new phone that could actually snap a picture. Similarly, I had the same experience when my high school drama teacher had an ipod and I concluded two things: either she had a secret fortune or a connection to the CIA (or UFOs) in order to have the ability to put dozens of CDs on a cracker-sized contraption. I went through high school without the invent youtube and could not fathom video sharing. However, I'm young enough to have grown up on Nintendo video games, AOL Instant Messenger and early hand-held devices such as cell phones and compact disc players. Youtube was invented my freshman year of college. With that, I conclude that my generation were sort of at the brink of the digital age. So while immigrants in a sense, it is still easy for us to navigate between two worlds. We are the children who speak the majority language with our friends then go home and translate for our parents, showing them how to add an attachment to an e-mail.

Even so, I do see a widening gap between my familiarity with some of the newest technological innovations and frankly, this changing landscape is challening me to keep up. Marc Prensky highlights the sentiment of one high school student who says, "Every time I go to school I have to power down." I am sure this echoes the thoughts of teenagers in what can sometimes be an archaic education system. As a high school teacher it is vital that I keep this in mind. I will have failed if I do not notice that today's students do have thinking patterns that have evolved. We can't neglect to charge the battery of our learners, we must intervene so they won't feel they have to "power down."

I think I'll take some time this weekend to call Ms. Zemon and thank her.