I’m a month into my second year of teaching at the International School Breda in The Netherlands and I already feel much more prepared for it. We’re still in start-up mode at ISB, with lots of protocols to be established and policies to draft and things to discuss, but it’s amazing what a difference a year makes. Not to mention we’ve doubled in students this year. Sure, we still only have a little over 40 students in the secondary, but coming from 18 last year that’s certainly an uptick.
One of the things I wanted to address this year (one of the many on my year-end reflection list) was how to teach little tech skills here and there. Sometimes skills just don’t fit into a unit or I realize in working with a new student that there’s a bit of a skills deficit I hadn’t anticipated. Our students all have laptops and use their machines every day, so they catch on pretty quickly by being thrown into the deep end. However, I still get numerous questions “Miss, if I download a game will it make my computer slow?” or “Miss, I want to start using Evernote, but how does it work?” or “Miss, I want to put a lion on my desktop background.”
Many of these questions come from our youngest students who are just getting to know their new computers. They really like changing the backgrounds and using PhotoBooth on their Macs to take wacky portraits of themselves. These may not fit into my unit plan objectives, but I think they’re important enough to find time somewhere in the day to address. Personalizing your computer can make the whole experience a lot more enjoyable and productive!
Here’s what I do:
Capture questions for later. All questions are saved for technology class unless they are urgent. I teach both English and tech, so I get these questions a lot from my students, especially in the first month when many are getting their new computers. I try to save them for technology class.
Just Google It! or Ask Your Neighbor. I encourage students to ask each other and to utilize YouTube tutorials. “Google is your friend,” I tell them. It might be faster for me just to show them myself, but that takes away from my time and doesn’t contribute to my overall goal in learning for my students. I want to foster independence and problem-solving. Learning how to find your own answers is a skill!
Plan a “Get to Know Your Laptop Day”. I ask students to make a list of the little things. What do you want to learn? What’s bugging you? What are those lingering questions you keep forgetting to ask? Periodically we address them in a technology lesson with demonstrations. While this may be a question unique to one student, I try to demonstrate for the class what I’m doing since it often helps the others. I encourage students to jump in at these points as well. Most recently a student wanted to learn keyboard shortcuts. I demonstrated how to find them in most app menus and introduced them to dashkards – a Mac dashboard app that serves as a cheat sheet for keyboard shortcuts. It’s pretty much the only reason I have for using my dashboard.
Tech Tip Fridays. I got this idea from my summer experience in Dublin with MAET. My professor Leigh Graves Wolf would start each day by asking the class for tech tips. We would each get a few minutes to share a tech tip if we had one. My youngest students really love Tech Tip Friday, because they take the helm and show the class something cool. There are often a lot of “oohs” and “ahhs” and “I want to do that!” It also makes the presenting student the expert and I can send students to him or her rather than having them come to me for everything.
Our school is small and we don’t have a dedicated technology integrator. In many ways, that is my job, but it has to be a small part since it’s not official and I have so many other roles that take precedent. But more and more I see ICT skills as something all teachers should be prepared to teach. We say in our school (and I imagine in many other international schools) that all teachers are language teachers. I think we’re also all ICT teachers.
I try also to use this workflow with colleagues. I’ve saved one afternoon a week to stay after for meetings and technology integration-related tasks, which makes me available to meet with teachers who have those “little questions.”
Going forward I’m planning to start a tech help team with the students. I’m hoping to make this club a useful part of the school and empower the students to help the teachers learn new things. I’m not sure how to execute it just yet, but in a small school we need all the help we can get!
Wearing many hats means you need to set boundaries. I found last year that I would dive right into helping a colleague or answering a question even when I should have been focusing on something else more pressing. I’m hoping these little changes help me do that this year.
An interesting article from ars technica popped up in my Twitter feed today (thanks to @LaughingSquid) about the Motion Picture Association of America’s position that embedding content (that is hosted elsewhere, but that violates copyright) can be deemed copyright infringement.
Now, think about that for a minute.
How often do you embed videos on your Facebook profile? On your blogs? On your Twitter feed? How often do your students do it?
“Numerous websites embed content from third parties they have not personally inspected. Under the theory articulated by Grady, and supported by the MPAA, these websites would be responsible for this content, exactly as if they had stored it on their own servers. This could create a serious disincentive for sites to allow users to post embedded content, hampering the convenience and user-friendliness of the Web.”
Something worth thinking about and talking about and worrying about. I rely heavily on video hosting tools like YouTube and Vimeo for my teaching and learning. The ease of sharing is what makes these tools great and so very useful. Despite SOPA being defeated, keeping the Internet free continues to be a battle against organizations that see this technology it as a threat to their relevance.
It is true that there are sites out there hosting content just so people can freely consume without having to pay for it nor download it (I’ve seen my students watching entire episodes of TV shows this way). However, a decision to view embedded content in this way could have far more reaching consequences than intended.
I’m a proud proponent of technology integration in schools and I’ll happily talk about it til the cows come home if you let me. I’ve got all sorts of ideas about the opportunities for deeper learning afforded by many social media like blogs, Twitter, Skype, and wikis, to name a few. I could go on and on. But there’s one area where I feel like a total fraud…
I’ve always talked about wanting to make movies and digital storytelling projects with my students, but never had the chance to given resources in the buildings where I’ve worked. I secretly let out sighs of relief after learning this fact. Shame on me.
Even in my personal life I’ve limited myself to snapping photos here and there and taking videos on my digital camera. The videos have just ended up on my Flickr in their entirety. The idea of editing and piecing together something more cohesive just seemed beyond me and difficult.
But I’m happy to say that I have never been more wrong about something.
I’m doing work again for Powerful Learning Practice in a Program Administrator role. This is a great job because it allows me to work while collaborating with teachers around the world and I get to attend webinars with thought leaders around the convergence of education and technology. I’m there to work, but I always walk away with a renewed sense of inspiration about my practice as a teacher.
Such was the case last week. I helped moderate a session with teachers from Texas. Dean Shareski was presenting on video techniques in the classroom. He asked participants to take a video of themselves using the built-in cameras on their computers or devices they had with them and to upload those videos, each around 10 seconds, to his Flickr. In less than 10 minutes a page in Dean’s Flickr was populated with videos of teachers around Texas trying their hand at video making. Dean then took all the videos and edited them into a short.
After seeing the ease with which me and the other teachers learning in this session were able to tell short stories about ourselves in video, I was ready to try it on my own. I was inspired.
Dean shared a video he made using the 5 x 5 format, which involves telling your day in five, five-second video increments. It’s fun and gives people a taste of life in your shoes. I decided to try something similar using a terribly old camera – a point-and-shoot Canon Powershot that is around six years old. The camera records video in a fuzzy fashion, but it’s what I had at the moment.
Throughout the day I recorded snippets of my life here and there. I’d get the camera running, set it down, and record. I captured much more than five second increments and I knew I would have to edit the video to create a more clear story. I sat down with my memory card and proceeded to upload the videos from my camera into iMovie on my Macbook (it took a while for my computer to load each video even though they were quite short).
Once I had all the video clips in iMovie, I set about playing with the program. I’ve never even opened this program before this project. I learned how to play each video, right clicked around to see a drop-down menu of options, hovered my mouse over different buttons to get informational text (maybe this should have been a screencast…another thing on my list to try). As Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach often tells educators participating in PLP, we learn through playing and we need to give students and ourselves time to do that. Rather than get frustrated with not knowing the program right away or seeking out tutorials online, I just let myself goof around for a while.
Eventually I figured out how to edit a part of each clip (click until a yellow box appears and drag each side of the yellow box to the part of the video you want to clip). I selected five-second portions from each video and dragged them into the project window. I played it over and over as I added and edited, making little adjustments here and there.
Once I was satisfied with the clips (there were about 12), I needed to add some transitions. This couldn’t be any easier. You just drag a transition of your choice in between the clips where you want a transition and that’s it. You can make the transitions longer or shorter if you want, but I stuck with the default of .4 seconds. The last thing I needed to do was add a frame at the beginning and end of the video to give some information. I dragged a title screen to the beginning and one at the end, choosing a black background and adding my text.
Export the video and it’s ready to upload wherever. Not including the time I spent recording here and there during the day before, this whole project took me an hour – and that was without any experience in iMovie.
My point in writing this post isn’t to paint myself as some sort of tech savant able to catch on quickly – I’m not. My point is to show teachers that you don’t need to wait for someone to show you how to do these things. You don’t need a long in-service with tutorials. Just give yourself a small chunk of time to play around with a new technology. These days user interfaces have never been easier and more intuitive – you practically have to try to screw some of these things up. Hey, but if you do screw it up, learn from that failure and try again. And you don’t need to be an expert to know how to use these tools with your students. You’re an expert in teaching. Make sure your students know what you expect from them and decide what tools might help them achieve that and then let them loose. Allow them time to play, don’t stand in front of the room making everyone try each and every tool together. Be there to help and let students that have figured it out help the ones a little farther behind. It will be messy. No doubt about that. But you and your students will come out on the other side with highly transferrable skills and techniques to demonstrate learning. Plus, it will be fun. I promise.
And without further ado, I give to you A Quiet Day filmed in my still-very-new home of Breda in The Netherlands…
I’ve heard and read of people lately lamenting our dependency on technology, complaining about how “social” networks seem to alientate us from real life social interaction, etc. While I hear these things, I try not to listen. No matter how over-stimulated I feel, no matter how out of control my RSS reader gets (sometimes you juts have to hit “mark all as read” and move on), I’m still pretty stoked about living in this time.
One of my favorite things about the web and connectedness is the availability of tons of free software. Developers and programmers blow my mind. I have Program or Be Programmed by Douglas Rushkoff marked as to-read because I am unabashedly being programmed. I don’t know much about how all of this stuff works – the stuff I sit down to use every day – but I would be lost without much of it. The authors of many of the free programs out there spend countless hours developing programs only to spend even more time answering questions in discussion threads, responding to tweets, making helpful screencasts, and addressing errors in the program with subsequent updates. They might request a donation here and there, but whether or not they get it they keep plugging on. I’ve started reading Seth Godin’sLinchpin on recommendation from my super-smart friend Amber Karnes. I realize that these software developers found problems or needs, figured out how to address them with a program, and set about spreading the answer freely. They weren’t waiting for someone to “pick them,” as Godin calls it. They went for it and boy am I thankful.
I’d just like to give a shout out to some of the rad software I’ve been using lately. All of this is available for free. A few of these have freemium options or additional things you can add on for a fee, but at their most basic they’re still great:
1. Calibre. I’d be lost without this program. With the many ebook devices, file formats, and files available, one can easily get overwhelmed. If someone wants to share a file from their e-reader device with you, but you only have a Kindle, you need to convert the ebook to a different format. How do I do that? Enter Calibre. With minimal input from you, the program will take a file and convert it to the format needed for your device. You can also download metadata like tags, book covers, author info, and organize your library. Another awesome feature is the news gathering option. Calibre will grab news from various sources and create a readable file from that online content you can send to your device. Oh, and did I mention it will grab all your Instapaper reads and send them to your device? Every time I turn around this program gets more awesome.
2. Anki. I had a little trouble figuring this one out, but thanks to active discussion boards with responses from the program’s developer and screencasts, I’m set. Anki is a spaced repetition system, which most people consider to be the best system for reviewing information in a flashcard setting. I won’t get into whether flashcards are helpful for truly learning info (there is a lot of debate about the “best” languge learning methods), but it’s something I’m experimenting with in my learning of the Dutch language. To oversimplify an SRS system, it uses algorithms to remember what cards you answered easily versus the ones you need help with and puts the ones that need review closer to the front of the deck. There’s an Anki desktop app, an online version (both free), and a iPhone app ($25) that will seamlessly sync cards and statistics. The program also supports non-Arabic characters and is popular among people learning Japanese. This is a reminder to myself that I need to be studying my Dutch more…
3. NeoOffice. Who needs Microsoft Office? Seriously. This program allows you to save documents, spreadsheets, presentations, in tons of different formats, including super old MS Office file formats. While I tend to use Google Docs for everything, and I recently found my Office for Mac disk, I still need something to open files that might be sent to me in formats my programs don’t currently support. Not totally necessary, but it’s nice to have if you want all the bells and whistles offered by the ubiquitous Microsoft Office suite of programs. NeoOffice is part of the OpenOffice.org project.
4. OmmWriter. This is a distraction-free writing zone program. Once you open it you’re given a clear space to write without pop-up notices or anything else happening on your desktop. Omm has an upgrade for which you can pay, but the basic is enough for me. I’ve gone a little analog with a traditional writer’s notebook for brainstorming ideas, but when I need a clear space to write a blog post or free-write and want to type, Omm is my go-to.
5. Evernote. Yeah, this is another one where you can pay for extra storage space and features, but I’m still below that threshold (most of my notes are text) and find its basic to be enough for my needs. Right now I’m using my new favorite screenshot Chrome extension to grab articles I’ve written online and save them to Evernote. My hope is to create an online portfolio outside of links, which can often go dead.
There are risks with using free, start-up, and open-source programs (the biggest being programmers can just stop updating them or companies can fold without notice leaving users floundering), but those risks are outweighed by the great things you can do with them. And there are lessons to be learned when companies fold – things we can teach students, such as “Don’t put all your digital content in one basket (program)” and the one I need to remind myself of often, “Backup your data early, often, and in multiple places.” We teach kids about time management and organizing their notebooks – here are those same lessons, digitized. Photo by vancouverfilmschool.
So don’t just sit back and accept the suite of products that comes standard on your computer (or on your school computer). There are people out there creating programs that can put the best productivity suites to shame. Schools should be considering these programs first before heading to vendors and spending astronomical fees on licenses.
While the preceding tools aren’t all deserving of the term open-source, I wanted to mention it since I believe the open-source movement to be one of the most amazing parts of the internet. People are creating software and content and telling others to “go, use it, copy it, do with it what you want and maybe in the end it will be even better.” There’s a community out there and a lot of learning and creating going on without any payback (Wikipedia comes to mind). This intrinsically-motivated community is happy to share with others and often asks for nothing more than a bit of hyperlinked credit. This community is an important thing to introduce to students and offers a lot of potential for educational institutions (hello, free software! goodbye licensing fees!). Isn’t this what we want from our students? To not even think about the grade or the points value or the damn rubric, but to create because it’s fun and can make a difference?
One of the first things on my list of things to do after moving to The Netherlands was to get a library membership. If I couldn’t work right away, I wanted to at least take advantage of the time through reading. I ran into a brick wall of sorts when I realized the selection of English language books at the library wasn’t to my taste (I’m sorry, James Patterson). I was also taken aback by the fees, which include an annual fee of around 25 euro and a fee for each item checked out. I wouldn’t mind the fees if the selection were more appealing, but it wasn’t so I walked out the door and started to think of other ways to feed my reading cravings.
Buying books, even used, was out of the question because my partner and I are trying to save money wherever we can. I began looking at e-readers as an option given the amount of books one can save to them, the portability (shipping books from the states is breathtakingly expensive), and the endless selection. For many reasons I won’t detail here, I went with a Kindle from Amazon and have been delighted from the moment I busted it from its packaging.
Sure, it’s great to have an endless selection of books at your fingertips. And with the use of great, open-source software like Calibre, you can get news on your Kindle and convert different e-book formats to fit your device in one click. But as an educator I’m much more interested in the highlighting feature.
As a teacher I always encourged, and often required, my students to engage in active reading. I would ask them to take Post-It notes and, while reading, add them to a passage and include one thing on the note: a reflection, a question, a prediction, etc. This was a great way to check if students had done the reading for homework, but it also forced them to engage with the text in a more meaningful way. And it prepared them for the day’s discussion. As an aside, students that didn’t do the reading couldn’t engage in the discussion and had to spend that time reading the passage and noting while we discussed in a circle. With the advent of web highlighting and annotating tools (Diigo is my preferred choice), we can get students working virtually and reading not just their own notes but the notes of other classmates and people around the world.
The Kindle comes a highlighting and note-taking feature. I wasn’t sure I’d be using it, but along with the built-in dictionary it’s become one of my favorite parts of reading on the device. For example, the first thing I downloaded to the device was a free copy of “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde from Project Gutenberg. It’s a short and hilarious play (you can read my Goodreads review of it here) and I found myself wanting to highlight certain one-liners to remember and reflect upon later. Enter the highlight feature. You can view all of your highlighted and noted bits at once with the click of a button and the notes contain links back to the location of the passage. Often times in college I would highlight a passage in a textbook, but forget where I even made the note. The fact that Kindle gathers them all in one place is a bonus and the note-taking feature, should you take advantage of it, can help you as a reader add context to the highlighting lest you forget why you highlighted it in the first place (something that happens to me all the time).
While I use the highlighter often, I wasn’t sure when I’d want to add a note until I started reading “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer. Even though I’m a vegan and already know a lot about the farming systems of the world, I’m learning a ton through this book and I’m being challenged by it. It’s in these moments that the active reader needs to take action or the moment will pass and the potential for deeper learning will be lost. I’ve highlighted quite a few passages that I’d like to revisit and plan on adding a few notes for context. Ultimately I want to blog and reflect on why I made the choice to become vegan and I think Foer’s personal reflections on his choice of vegetarianism parallel mine in many ways. The e-reader is making this a lot easier.
Oh, and I’m very easily distracted by all the Web has to offer, so the allure of the e-reader as a nearly single-use device was part of the reason I went for it. It’s also cheaper than an iPad and the screen is, for lack of better words, extremely readable.
I couldn’t think of a more exciting title for this post because, to tell you the truth, the first week of classes wasn’t very exciting. Trust me, I had a great time and I’m excited about getting to work with the students, but the first week was full of paper work, book distribution, locker combinations, student information sheets, course expectations, a fire drill, a pep rally and one epic two-hour blackout thanks to a record-breaking rainstorm on the first day of classes. I sat at the front of the class with a flashlight under my chin.
A few lessons I’ve learned so far:
1. I need to perfect strategic bathroom breaks – 90 minutes is a long time.
2. Most teachers don’t eat. I’m trying not to become one of them with healthy breakfasts and lunches each day.
3. Proximity and eye contact work wonders.
4. Err on the side of belaboring the point with students rather than run the risk of leaving some behind. I really need to work on this.
5. Study halls are quite boring on the first week of school.
I had a chance to lead a discussion about the themes of the course with two blocks of students – two very different blocks of students. The first group I worked with started a vibrant discussion among one another – they weren’t just talking to me, they were talking with one another. But the next group, which was the first block of the day, really struggled with explaining, discussing and understanding the themes.
That’s about the only teaching I’ve done, but next week I’ll be easing into more duties and hopefully by week three I’ll be making my own plans. I’m being observed for the first time by my university supervisor and I’m more than a little nervous.
I have all 9th graders for world literature. The high school where I’m teaching houses the school system’s global studies and foreign language academy and all of my students are a part of the academy. I have one class, Journalism I & II, of both academy and non-academy students.
And I had an exciting moment with two of my students – they remembered me from my practicum experience last year when they were 8th graders!
My favorite part of the week so far was standing outside the door welcoming students into the class – using their names when I remembered them. It felt very teacher-y. And we showed Obama’s speech on Tuesday during the journalism course which made for a fitting discussion of the media coverage surrounding the event.
My cooperating teacher and I are interested in developing online writing portfolios for the 9th grade and journalism students, but I’m not sure of the best way to go about it. Wikis? The school system uses Microsoft Sharepoint. Any recommendations would be great!
I start my student teaching experience officially on September 8th, but I’m spending some time next week getting to know my cooperating teacher and the school through staff meetings and orientations.
Needless to say I’m a ball of nerves right now, but I’m so excited to start.
I’m going to be reflecting on my experience here often. My goal is at least once a week, which will help me stay on track with the required journal portion of my portfolio.
As a writer and former newspaper reporter, I was thrilled to be paired with a veteran teacher that spent nearly 20 years in the newspaper business before embarking on a nearly 20-year (and counting) career in education.
I’ll be teaching 9th grade English and journalism (all grades). The journalism courses produce the school newspaper five times a year. They don’t have a Web portion up yet for the paper, but my cooperating teacher, I’ll call her Mrs. D, said I could make that one of my focuses during the internship – to help the students develop a Web site for the paper. She also expressed an interest in getting students’ portfolios online as opposed to on discs and asked for my help there.
I’m excited to be able to utilize my training as a reporter in the classroom and that I’ve been lucky enough to be placed with a teacher that is excited about what I am bringing to the table, such as my enthusiasm for technology.
On first impressions, I can tell Mrs. D has very high expectations for her students. She makes no bones about what she expects from them, which I greatly respect. Some of my best teachers were the ones that pushed me so I could finally see what I was capable of achieving.
This is going to be a difficult 14 weeks, but as they told us in the orientation, “you can do anything for 14 weeks.” I just have to keep telling myself that.
So, I’ve been using del.icio.us for quite a while now to track my bookmarks. If you’re unfamiliar with social bookmarking, here’s a good explanation by Common Craft. But basically it’s a Web-based way to track you bookmarks and share them with others if you want (you have the option to keep them private as well).
Del.icio.us has worked really well for me so far. You can tag each bookmark, make notes and search within the bookmarks. Most of mine deal with crafts, vegan cooking and education stuff. You can check out my bookmarks here.
But…something better came along.
Diigo is just like del.icio.us, but with some awesome extras, my favorite being the ability to highlight parts of a Web page and make annotations within it. This solves my need for an online notebooking service. Google is doing away with its Notebook, which I loved, and I’ve been searching for a good one ever since. I’ve been testing Zotero, but haven’t enjoyed it as much. With Diigo I can highlight the parts of the page I like or plan on using in a paper, for example, and make notes of where I want to use it.
And there’s a social part of all this, of course. You can add friends on Diigo, see their bookmarks and see the annotations of every other Diigo user that has made their bookmarks public. So, for example, if I make a note on a page, you can check out the same page and tell Diigo to show you my notes. And you can make your own notes – or even respond to mine!
Another feature I like is the ability to mark a page or article as “read later.” Often, with del.icio.us, I would tag an article and plan to go back later, but I’d never get around to it. Out of sight, out of mind. With the Diigo toolbar, I’m reminded of the articles I need to check out. It’s a small thing, but I like it.
The biggest thing that sold me on Diigo was that I didn’t have to leave del.icio.us. I uploaded my del.icio.us bookmarks to Diigo and can request Diigo to post my bookmarks and tags to del.icio.us concurrently using the “save elsewhere” feature. Seriously!
There has been a lot of discussion on Twitter and forums about moving to Diigo and I decided to go for it. I’m loving it so far and I’m sure there are great features I haven’t used yet. This article really sold me on the reasons to switch.
No sooner did I post about how much I want to utilize online networks, such as Twitter, to communicate with my future students did I make a huge, embarrassing mistake via tweet.
Imagine sending a personal e-mail, full of that dirty language you need to get in check before you start teaching, to everyone in your address book. I did that today, but with Twitter. It could have been a lot worse considering the friend to whom I was trying to send the text message, but still very embarrassing.
To explain, I have Twitter set up through my cell phone and can send text messages to it from wherever. I should have been more vigilant about checking my to: field when I responded to my friend’s message. Luckily I could delete the tweet from my page, but it doesn’t change the fact that I exposed (hopefully only) a few of my Twitter followers to my nasty sailor mouth! No offense to sailors with clean mouths out there.
I have to thank @msstewart for letting me know that if I plan to communicate via Twitter with my future students, I can’t send tweets out like that one. I would have never known had she not said anything. I definitely agree that swearing and sharing personal info with students is not a good idea, especially via Twitter, which is why I plan to have a separate Twitter account for students/parents if I decide to go through with it.
I hope everyone learns from my lesson here – even when a friend sends you a shocking text that gets you cursing, don’t respond via tweet. Check your to: field constantly!
And in an attempt to laugh about this, which I’m trying to do, check out the Twitter Hall of Shame. A few of these are NSFW – aren’t you glad I warned you this time?
I’ve always had plans of how I want to communicate with my students outside of class, should the need arise. I know I want to utilize blogging in some way, e-mail of course, instant messaging and Twitter. Maybe not all of them at the same time, but I’ve thought about being available via instant messaging for homework help and sending notices and reminders out to students and parents on Twitter.
But after reading about a Wisconsin school board’s decision to ban communications between teachers and students on social networking sites and instant messaging services, it looks like not all schools are ready or willing to take on such a “risk.”
This is a bummer, because I think the reward far outweighs the risks involved. In a middle school class today I heard students discussing chats they had the night before with classmates and comments they left on friends’ pages. The students are already there – I don’t see the problem in teachers meeting them where they are to remind of a test prep session after school or of a homework due date. If teachers know their own boundaries, and I believe most of them do, things will be safe.
Thanks to Dean Shareski for getting me riled up with his insightful post.