NEA Magazine: technology in every classroom?

The latest edition of NEA Today (September 2006) contains an interesting question in its debate section. It asks, Should technology be used in every classroom?

Supporting this concept is a history teacher from Tennessee, who notes that, “In almost every field of work, some type of technology is used. Students must be prepared.” The teacher goes on to note:

BY using technology in the classroom, we’re speaking their language and teaching them in a way that they might learn. Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Estrada once said, ‘If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn’.” — Keith Parker

On the opposing end of the argument, a math teacher from Virginia says that technology can become a crutch for students more than an active tool for learning. He refers to reliance on calculators for basic computations and that “Some of my colleagues in the English Department atttribute their students’ writing skills, or lack thereof, to the heavy use of instant messaging and spell check.” He argues that there is more need than ever for direct instruction by educators.

Our generation learned how to read,write, and do arithmetic by learning from our teachers’ example — with pencils, paper and our minds … Yes, technology is an integral part of this process (learning), but that does not mean it is a required component of every classroom setting.” — Timothy Kubinak

It is an interesting debate and both teachers bring up vital points. Perhaps there is a middle ground here, too, which is that not every classroom should be forced to use technology. Too many teachers feel the pressure to do so and lack either the interest or training or understanding to do a rich integration of technology tools, and the students are the ones to suffer. But for those teachers who can envision a change in the classroom for the better — either through more motivated students or critical thinking — we need to find ways to support those efforts.

On the last page of the NEA Today, there is another very interesting column from Glen Bledsoe, who worries that the data being collected through technology for administrators to created a sort of remote controlled classroom.

You will start your computer upon arrival at school each morning and find your instructions for the day waiting for you. Like a good soldier, your part is not to question but to obey. You will be measurable. Technology at last will make teachers accountable.” — Glen Bledsoe

Glen reminds us that students are individuals and not blips of data, and it is the classroom teacher who is most acutely aware of this fact. It is a fallacy to rely on software analysis to attend to our students with a wide variety of needs.


Songs about Blogging/Podcasting

I recently found two different songs about the integration of technology in our lives. I love that people are taking their interests and making them into music, and then sharing that music with the rest of us.
The first is a song (shown to me by Paul A. of New York at Tech Matters) called “Heard it On a Podcast” written by band, Cruisebox.

And then there is this great video going around the world by David Lee King called “Are You Blogging This?” — which is just very funny to watch. It’s a combination of humor and rock and roll.
Thanks for creating some cool anthems for us out here in digi-land. I hope it inspires others to do the same thing.

And so it begins …

I always start off the school year by sending home a letter to all of my incoming students (whom I have already met last year) that welcomes them to my classroom and provides a quick overview of what is ahead for the coming year (excitement! fun! adventure!).

I also give them access to our writing class weblog (The Electronic Pencil) and instructions on how to log in and post some writing. I start them off with the basic “what did you do this summer” query in the days before school starts and then closely monitor what happens.

In the first few days, four students have already posted some initial writing and begun commenting on each other’s writing (all good) and then today, I get a post in which a student describes in some detail their dating habits this summer and the ups and downs of being a sixth grader. It was a good piece of writing (as writing goes) but not within bounds of our Weblog. So I had to delete their writing and insert a comment from me about the parameters of acceptable expression. And that made me feel awkward and I realized how artificial a classroom weblog becomes when this happens, and yet, as a teacher, I really didn’t have much choice. The post was too specific on too many topics.

I know I will have to pull this student aside on the first day and have a discussion. That’s a good thing (the discussion) but I still feel a tingle of uneasiness between what I hope the site can be used for and how I have to act as gatekeeper.

This student promised to write again tomorrow, so I look forward to reading the next post … 🙂


Other Meandering Minds and Sofa Kings

So I guess I am not alone as a Meandering Mind. I just happened to be doing that self-centered activity of googling my site and found a few other Meandering Minds way ahead of me in the search engine. It’s not that I thought I was being so original with my Weblog title, but still … brain

Here are a few other Meandering Minds blogs:

This reminds me of an experience I had recently when designing the website for my rock band, The Sofa Kings, and realizing just how many sofa king bands there out there in the wide world. Here are a few:

sofa kings logo

Another bit of experimenting

I’ve been trying to find the right source for uploading and sharing audio files. OurMedia was OK until I made an error with a password and cannot seem to retrieve any of my new information from the site, which is very frustrating. They seem to have zero email support there.
So I am trying this new site to see if it works as a place to link audio files for school and personal use.

microphone Listen to the greetings for students at my classroom Weblog

And here is a PDF file of a short story I wrote for my students at the end of last year. I wrote the story as they were writing, and shared pieces of it (and the writing process I was going through) as they were doing the same thing:

Risking it all for the King


Change On the Horizon

I use Bloglines as my RSS feeder and I have become convinced how valuable such an aggregator can be (for some reason, I wasn’t always that convinced of its value and thought it more a nuisance that I would have to work hard at, but that is not the case — it works hard for me). The RSS aggregator really allows me to “pull” the things that I am interested in right to me, instead of barreling through the world of links left and right, aimlessly hoping for some semblance of substance. It also leads me to other interesting areas of the wired world, sometimes unexpectedly.
Recently, a feed from Will Richardson’s Weblogged site led to me to a posting by Joyce Valenza, who charts out what the world was like for a librarian in the 1970s, how the world is different now, and what the implications are for all that for the future of education. The chart — entitled How My Life Has Changed/How My Life Will Change — is very interesting and covers a lot of ground. Although it deals with library science, the topics are valuable for any educator.
Here is an interesting observation from Joyce about what students need as researchers and the dangers of access issues:

Need to introduce a fuller information toolkit. Need to promote lesser known or used tools—subscription databases, alternate search tools, ebooks. Potential for an information underclass! Need to help students determine where to start. Need for high quality federated searching to cut through the noise? May need to promote the value of books for some projects.

And this, about the reconfigured use of the library space by teachers and students, seems very insightful, too:

Increasing need for group, creative production space—iMovie, podcasting, blogging. Library as group planning/collaborating space. Library as performance, presentation space. Library as event-central, telecommunications, remote author/expert visit space. Library continues as study/reading/gathering/cultural space.


Technology as a Tool for Learning

School is just around the bend and those frantic dreams have already begun for me (and for others, I notice, as I read some other Weblogs of teachers). So this is a perfect time to reflect a bit on last year and think about projects that were successful and projects that need a bit more thinking time. 🙂

For my sixth graders, learning how to use Powerpoint was an eye-opener. I know that PP is so overused in so many different ways, but it still a valuable tool for research dissemination for students. However, I wanted to use PP in another way in the writing classroom — as a template for creating picture books.

So, my sixth graders spent about six weeks (much longer than anticipated) writing stories for a younger audience with a theme of mathematics, and then using Powerpoint to create picture books. No clip art was allowed!

When they were finished, we invited younger grades to tour our classroom and watch the Powerpoint Picture Book Shows and ask questions about the stories, technology and production. I then arranged to have print copies made of the shows for both my students and for our school library. Finally, I uploaded all of the picture books to our Weblog site so that family members could also view the shows.

The results were wonderful — students very engaged in writing, integrating math into writing instruction, and the use of technology in a meaningful way.

You can view the Math Picture Books yourself, if you would like.

If you are a teacher, good luck at the start of the year!


Mathematical Picture Books

Last year, my sixth graders used PowerPoint to create picture books with a mathematical theme. They shared their PP shows with younger grades and then we printed them out for both students to take home and to keep in our school library. We also published the books to our Weblog to share with family.
They did an amazing job!

Mr. H’s Class Mr. C’s Class Mrs. R’s Class Mr. M’s Class

Educational Blogging

I found this wonderful resource that focuses in on the educational aspects of blogging in the classroom and thought I would share it with you. The site is called SupportBlogging (of course) and it is a Wiki site. It provides many resources, best practices and information that seems both practical and thought-provoking.

This is a nice summary of how blogs can be integrated into the classroom:

In a broader and more educational system, blogs are about communicating. You observe your experience, reflect on it, and then write about it. Other people read your reflections, respond from their perspectives by commenting or writing their own blog article. You read their perspectives, often learn something through their eyes, and write some more.
— from Supportblogging



A good friend of mine, Paul O., from the National Writing Project has been thinking about the convergence of technology and writing for many years, in a variety of different perspectives — teacher,workshop developer, technology leader.

On his Weblog — called SchoolTube — Paul suggests that we try to find some new words to describe the emergence of technology in the classroom. He doesn’t mean dropping kids off in a computer lab and hoping for the best. What he means, and what I believe in, is the full integration of these new tools into the classroom for students to construct their meaning and understanding and critical thinking skills.

So Paul proposes using a new term to describe this shift: dComposition.

Here is his definition:

I’ve been trying to get a new term into the popular lexicon: dComposing. This in place of terms like digital literacy or media literacy. dComposing, as I see it, would incorporate the different forms that we now use to create compositions mediated by digital technology. I believe dComposing avoids the legacy definitions of digital literacy and media literacy, which have sometimes defined them narrowly. dComposing is not solely about the mechanics of the technology (digital literacy in its narrowly defined sense), nor solely about the understanding of the media through which it is emerging (media literacy in its narrowly defined sense), but rather focuses on the notion that writing and reading and how we create composition — literacy itself, in other words — is changing.
— from SchoolTube.