Week 1

Two of the main theories we are looking at this week are constructivism and connectivism. A third topic discussed was "cyborg" learning, dealing with the hybridization of man and machine. Here are three videos that briefly explain these theories (respectively):

Group website: http://sites.google.com/site/teachingwithtech2011/

One of the things that I thought was very interesting as I read through the articles assigned to us was that these were topics that I (inherently or otherwise) already believed and understood. Perhaps it had to do with my business undergrad degree or the fact that constructivism and connectivism are foundational to a successful 8th grade classroom in the year 2011, but I had no problem following along with the idea that students build or construct their learning on top of their prior experiences paired with the idea that their learning is interconnected with everything else in the world.

One of the things I teach (or, rather, one of the ways in which I conduct my classes) is that it isn't what you know, but do you know where to find it. I don't care if you the expert of a question as long as you're the expert of where to find the answer to that question. A great example of this was provided in Watson (the IBM super computer) soundly drumming two formidable opponents on Jeopardy! earlier this month. The great Ken Jennings may know the answers, but we are rapidly entering an age where rote memory doesn't really matter. As the cell phone becomes less about one-way communication or even phone calls and more about being our external brain (think: Evernote, Google, etc), we are going to see less emphasis on the memorization of knowledge and a clearly defined shift to the application of this knowledge. This, I believe, is a very good thing and is nicely facilitated by the implementation of constructivism and connectivism.

Week 2

This week we began looking at Universal Design for Learning (UDL) which is a fairly familiar topic for me. My mother is an Occupational Therapist at a kindergarten and has worked with me extensively to incorporate UDL principles into my classrooms. In fact, we had the pleasure of co-presenting together last summer at the Texas Assistive Technology Conference in San Antonio, where I represented how a general education teacher can incorporate UDL into their instruction and she demonstrated how special education services can support the instruction already taking place, providing specific services and technologies that specifically serve those students needing extra services. Also introduced this week was the basic concept behind how technology levels the playing field and allows for a number of students to participate within the general education classroom, regardless of ability or disability or even cognitive level.

In our group, we spent a lot of time this week discussing different ideas/topics and how we could best serve students, especially in the implementation of UDL. We are currently looking at a way to teach weather cycles since it could very easily involve cross-curricular discussions between math and geography in addition to modeling/simulation software. One of the things we need to think through regards how to best accommodate for students with visual and/or auditory impairments as they would naturally struggle with concepts that are so theoretical to begin with.

Video resources: http://lessonbuilder.cast.org/window.php?src=videos
Added to Google Site: eBooks/Resources, UDL Lessons

Week 3

This week had a very strong focus on the actual implementation of technology into the classroom. From learning about blogs and wikis and how they could be implemented to the impact of technology on students and student learning, this was a very "hands-on" week. Further, we spent some time reading through material provided at the CAST website learning about how to design instruction to meet very specific requirements of learners of all levels. It was very difficult to make it through the readings because I constantly found myself putting down the material to sketch out some ideas that it had given me. For example, in "Web 2.0: New Tools, New Schools" the authors discuss ways of teaching media literacy and gave multiple examples that I could take to my classroom immediately, such as asking the question, "What does a news blog do that a newspaper doesn't, and vice versa?" (Solomon & Schrum, 2007)

This week in our group discussions, it was clear that the ideas were flying fast and furious. My three teammates were all coming up with a number of great ideas on how we could develop a cross-curricular lesson that would effectively reach all of the students attending the class. At the end of the week, in light of the massive earthquake and tsunami(s) in the Far East, the group decided to relate a current event to the topics (weather patterns; tectonic plates) we were already working on. By bringing in such a fresh, relevant event into a frequently boring and difficult to understand topic, we hope to increase student engagement as well as be able to apply appropriate instructional practices. Some of the technology that could be implemented in addition to our other existing ideas include blogging about the current events as they take place, establishing a "research wiki" where students could collaborate to investigate topics of interest in a project-based scenario.
UDL Lesson created: In creating the UDL lesson, the greatest challenge was trying to think through how I would teach a topic I have only ancillary knowledge of: plate tectonics. Our group decided to all create UDL lessons that were related to the overall group project, so I chose to given an introduction to tectonic plates. Creating activities that would be accessible wasn't very difficult once I had decided how I wanted to present the topic, but it did require a fair amount of forethought and a thorough understanding of the topic. I needed to go through and brush up on my 8th grade science and then brainstorm some ways that would help convey the message of plate tectonics in a way that all students would be able to grasp. Then it was just a matter of compiling/aggregating the materials into an organized, thoughtful format. Introduction to Tectonic Plates eBookThe process of creating an eBook just sounds entirely too daunting and complicated. Books are for publishers and professional writers who spend days, weeks, even months editing and editing to make sure their creation is ready for copy. At the outset of this assignment, I was extremely intimidated, as I had never written a "book" before, let alone published one to a public library. However, that's exactly what I did with this assignment. The interface was simple and easy to use (through the CAST ebook builder website) and in no time at all, I was able to develop an eBook that came to life with text-to-speech, pictures, links, and even a helpful penguin named Pedro. I already knew there was huge potential for eBooks in education as they bring to life an otherwise boring or dull text. However, I didn't realize how easy it was. It really wouldn't take much for teachers to create eBooks for some of their content, especially since students could review the content as much as they needed to help them to master what was being presented. Further, with the proliferation of mobile devices, if these books could be viewed on phones and iPods in addition to laptop computers, I can only imagine the possibilities. Learning could truly move beyond the four walls of the classroom and into the pockets of our students, accessible anytime, any place.

Week 4

If you are an educator, I think you will find yourself hard-pressed to watch the following videos and NOT be inspired and motivated. One of the main things I picked up from these videos is that our kids deserve more than what many of us are offering them. We hunker down and try to stay in our own little worlds because it's our neck if they don't do well on that particular test, when in reality we are hindering their overall learning, not just their learning in one particular subject. What if all of school was one big collaborative project? What if there wasn't any one class or even grade level that was working on something? What if every student was empowered to find something that they could contribute? What if community members, businesses, and higher education institutions had a vested interest in seeing what our students could do, to the point they were partnered with them for everyone's mutual success? I'll admit that at least once in each video I had to click pause and scribble some notes about ideas that were inspired as direct result of what I was watching. In the last video, for example, I couldn't help but wonder what a "blood project" would look like at our school. At our campus, space science is (repeatedly) the most difficult science topic for our students to grasp (as determined by the state standardized test). What if we leveraged a truly cross-curricular, interdisciplinary, project-based environment so students could actually create something based around space science? If you think about it, in light of the video, what subject would be excluded from this type of project? Even band, choir, and orchestra would have a part!

"Fullan and Stiegelbauer (1991) summarized this by saying, 'Nothing has promised so much and has been so frustratingly wasteful as the thousands of workshops and conferences that led to no significatnt change in practice when the teachers returned to their classrooms.' (p. 315)" (Solomon & Schrum, 2007).

I'm willing to go out on a limb and say we're all guilty of this one. Can we really say that every single time we spent time and money (and in today's economy, what's the difference, right?) that it resulted in real, substantive change in the classroom? My guess is that at least once in our careers, we have gone to a conference or workshop, either gotten really excited or, perhaps, tuned it out while enjoying a "day off," and then didn't do anything with that information. When our students do this, it infuriates and frustrates us as educators, but then we find that we are guilty of the same crime. When Johnny comes to class but nothing changes and he doesn't learn NOR APPLY anything, we would call that for what it is: failure. When teachers do it though, that makes it ok, right?

We have to realize, both from an educator's perspective and an educational leader's perspective, that if our experiences don't shape and change us, they were wasted. This should be extended to all professional development, faculty meetings, conferences, trainings, and anything else that absorbs our "non-teaching" time. There is great potential in the wealth of resources and knowledge offered at conferences, trainings, et al but without transformative, substantive change, it is sadly a waste of precious time, money, and resources.

Week 5

"Recommendations-- 1. Explicitly teach students about the importance of effort. 2. Have students keep track of their effort and achievement. Technology makes it easier for students and teachers to track the effects of effort and facilitates more immediate feedback" (Pitler, 2007).I chose this quote because it flies directly in the face of what colleagues and administrators say to teachers. Sure, we all want to encourage students to give their best and give lip service to the "importance of effort," but when I mention that effort is built in to the structure of my course, I am usually given one of *those* looks. The look that wonders if you're serious. The look that clicks their tongue in disapproval. The look that thinks, "poor thing, I was like that once too." Yet, here it is, in (literally) black and white- students need to know and be taught that effort matters more than they think. This quote also reminds me of the greatest commencement speech ever given: "Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense" (n.p.).

TED talks. ISTE. FETC. TCEA. CUE. ASCD. Top Ten Most Influential lists. Magazines. Books. Consulting firms. College professors.
It seems everyone knows the solution to fixing education. There are a lot of big thinkers out there and the power of the inter webs have made their voices loud. We watch their videos, listen to their podcasts, attend their conference sessions, and we nod right along. "Yeah! Why isn't teaching sexy anymore? Why can't those teachers just use project-based learning? Why don't we go ahead and integrate technology into education?" We listen, we learn, and then we return. Back to our campuses, back to our 9-5 (9-5? who am I kidding? according to the news media, it's a 9-2 with summers off!) and back to reality.
Nothing changes.
There's something I've noticed as I delve further into the realms of education (particularly education technology): the folks with the big ideas expect other people to actually put them into action. The big ideas are just that: ideas. Sure, I get inspired just as much as the next person listening to Sir Ken Robinson talking about how schools kill creativity, but what is being done to change that? Maybe I just need to look around more, but hearing from people that don't "ship" what they're selling just isn't doing it for me. So I ask: where are all the practitioners? I wanna hear stories about Kathy Schrock and Jen Wagner and Ginger Lewman. Flowery speeches have their place, but only if we (collectively and individually) do something different in our classrooms.
To paraphrase an ancient text, what good is it to believe schools can change if you don't back up that belief with examples of your own?
So what did you learn in school today?

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development Final Reflections

These five weeks have probably been the most formative and powerful in the entire graduate program. Ultimately, as each person enrolled seeks to augment their skills and abilities regarding the implementation of technology into the curricula, we are essentially asking the same question, "How do we teach with technology?" While I actually believe this question will be completely irrelevant in the future (much in the same way if you asked someone today how they planned on incorporating each child having a pencil they would give you a funny look), it is something that, at least for now, must be addressed. The main ideas that I drew from this course, reinforcing ideas already living deep within, were as follows:

  1. Every child should have the same opportunities to learn and thus, the same access to the curriculum (CAST: udl questions, 2009)
  2. Students should be responsible for creating their own learning, which looks very different than the schooling their teachers had growing up.
  3. Students should be working both collaboratively and cooperatively in order to create their own learning.
  4. Educators must constantly look for ways to assess student learning that accurately reflects their knowledge of the content.
  5. Educators must become co-learners with their students, designing curricula collaboratively and in a way that meets the four criteria mentioned above.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) must be the way that all educators (certainly not just technology integrators) view their course design. All students must have access to the curriculum. We all inherently know this, but we don't always design or create their learning environments with this understanding at the forefront of our minds. Many times we only think of IEP's and making sure we have printed off the class notes for the children that need them. UDL, however, provides a larger framework that addresses the "what," "how," and "why" of learning, differentiating the learning experience so that it is relevant to all students, regardless of ability or disability (CAST: udl questions, 2009).

As students begin constructing their own learning, the teacher moves from the role of "purveyor of knowledge" to that of co-learner with the students. This, paired with the notion that information (that is, raw data) is ubiquitous, means teachers no longer have the corner market when it comes to the distribution of knowledge. This, I believe is rather empowering for the students. This means that instead of spending time with information acquisition, educators can instead focus on the application, synthesis, and analysis of information. (Sowash, 2009)

Naturally, this leads to the question that is quite the hot topic for political debate: how do you assess this kind of learning? I was fortunate enough to attend a training in the summer of 2010 with Dr. Kay Burke where she discussed ideas from her latest book, "Balanced Assessment: From Formative to Summative." In this book, Dr. Burke argues that we must use varying forms and types of assessment and that assessment (gathering information to make instructional decisions) differs from evaluation (collecting information and making a judgment about it). Assessment is more important than evaluation, since it inherently means an on-going cyclical process of assessing, teaching, and discovering (Burke, 2010). When assessment is taken hand-in-hand with the numerous technology tools available, the possibilities are truly limitless. As is pointed out in "Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works," "it should comprise not only teacher-designed tests and projects, but also students' self-assessments, peer assessments, and automated assessments generated by hardware and software" (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007, p. 39). Further, with the ability to put technology into the hands of students, "Perhaps the most obvious use of Web 2.0 tools for assessment would be for students to be able to show what they know in a wide variety of media" (Solomon & Schrum, 2007, loc. 2757).

Enter this course's group project. We were to work collaboratively in teams of three to five to develop a lesson, teacher professional development, assessment, intervention strategies, and more, all created with universal design principles in mind. It was a great experience working with my team (comprised of Tammy Bybee, Rachel Fickenscher, and Janette Hill) and a great learning experience on how curricula should be developed. We all spent hours reading, researching, and developing content (including, but not limited to: ebooks, videos, websites, and lesson plans) so that the students we were developing this for would be given equal access to the curriculum and a relevant, engaging lesson that could easily be applied to an existing classroom. Our lesson actually ended up being a school-wide curricular unit dealing with weather patterns, cultural studies, geologic events, and more (Bybee, Fickenscher, Garner, & Hill, 2011).

By implementing the very tools we were reading and learning about in a collaborative experience, I believe the project (and the skills required) became very "real" in that we now have experience seeing how the process should play out in our jobs. I am excited about taking the knowledge and skills acquired in this course and implementing them at the campus at which I work. I am confident that the potential exists for a sea change in student learning and assessment, but I know that it rests (at least partly) with me. Will I take the initiative to make it happen? Or will I sit and wait, thinking that someone else will take the big ideas (see previous reflection; Week 5) and implement them?

Cast: udl questions and answers. (2009). Retrieved from http://www.cast.org/udl/faq/index.html
Sowash, J. (2009, November 6). Google-proof questioning: a new use for bloom's taxonomy [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://electriceducator.blogspot.com/2009/11/google-proof-questioning-new-use-for.html

Burke, K. (2010). Balanced assessment. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 39.
Solomon, G., & Schrum, L. (2007). Web 2.0: New tolls, New schools, Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education

Bybee, T, Fickenscher, R, Garner, G, & Hill, J. (2011, March). Teaching with technology: team awesome. Retrieved from https://sites.google.com/site/teachingwithtech2011/