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.