Monday, November 12, 2007

Best of the Web

Vicki Davis (aka Cool Cat Teacher) put up a blog on the Best of the Web on November 9, encouraging edubloggers to share with newcomers to Web 2.0 the tools we find most useful. Although I've blogged about a couple of these rather recently, here are my contributions to BestoftheWeb, the tag we've all been encouraged to use so folks can track down these tools.

Twitter: Aside from my week at Keystone Technology Institute this past summer, Twitter has done the most to expand my knowledge of Web2.0 technologies and led me to a number people who have given me ideas about how to effectively and meaningfully use these technologies in the classroom. On top of that, I've stayed in touch with a number of people from KTI, like minded individuals who have the same goals as I do: getting today's students ready to function effectively in tomorrow's world. My professional development will never be the same.

skrbl: An on-line interactive white board. I've used this a number of different ways in my classroom, but my favorite activity is an author study. (I need to blog about this, and will do so soon.) Any time you've got an activity you want the kids to collaborate on and want each kid making a contribution, this is the way to go. I find the site to be responsive (it shows new adds very quickly), and it has been able to support 22 participants at the same time so far. I keep trying to think of new ways to add this tool in my classroom.

Voice Threads: Post pictures and have either vocal or typed commentary added to the picture. My kids used this to document a trip Morpheus Fortuna took to Harrisburg, PA. Still looking for a way to consistently use this in the classroom. I know it's out there; it just hasn't come to me yet.

I'm sure there's more if I think about it, and I may blog more about some of the Best again soon. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Need for Human Contact

My building has definitely gone through an infusion of technology in the last eight months thanks to a grant provide by the state of Pennsylvania. With the grant came a series of on-line courses group under the header of the emBedded learning academy. The English and Math teachers in out building, recipients of round one of the Classrooms for the Future Grant, were required to take the first course last spring. The course is basically designed to get teachers thinking like 21st Century educators, and part of that is to get teachers out of their classrooms and interacting with the other members of their department for the advancement of teaching or the benefit of students.

With this thinking in mind, Julie, a member of my English department, proposed a professional development opportunity where teachers would get together to identify areas of student need. Once a need was identified, we would brainstorm possible approaches to the problem and all agree to try some of the approaches before our next meeting. The administration loved the idea, and with their blessing, a group was born. So, with that premise in mind, we got together a couple dozen teachers, Julie started a wikispace to be a record of our idea generating and results, and we got the teachers together. I thought our first meeting went incredibly well, and in the time we were together, we identified the first need we wanted to focus on and swapped some initial ideas for dealing with that need.

After the meeting, I was surprised to hear from one of the teachers that the gathering was a complete waste of time. "Why do we have to get together for a face-to-face meeting when we have the wiki?" Wow. I was completely blown away, and here I am two weeks later still grappling with this.

Why wouldn't teachers want to get out of their classroom and have collegial exchanges with other like minded individuals? Why wouldn't we want to have some human contact in a world where people sometimes allow technology to further isolate them? I mean, I look around my building and teachers have further withdrawn into their classrooms, feeling overwhelmed by everything new that has been thrown at them and the expectations that have come with it. When I do get a chance to talk with them, we get to talk about what we are doing and share some great ideas. Shouldn't this be the norm rather than the exception?

Since my ed-tech immersion started this past summer, I've acquired a number of online contacts; in fact, many of us who attended a conference together learned about Twitter there and stay in touch that way. That hasn't stopped us from trying to get together thought. A few of us met in a location central to all of us not too long ago and had a great get-together. We chatted not only about ed-tech issues but also about life, current events, and managing it all when feeling deluged. We got to see that we were all feeling the same way and able to share some ideas for getting along. On-line, the conversation might never have been that deep, and personally, I wouldn't trade those four hours for anything.

So, to close this blog-post out, I encourage all educators out there to maintain personal contacts with others in your community. The technology is great and can take us and our students to a plethora of new places, but get out and talk with people face-to-face. See and feel their struggle. Show your empathy. Share some ideas. Be a part of their support structure and find your own. We need human contact.