HELP!!! Personalized learning – how does this work??

Since being awarded a Race to the Top grant, our county has set personalized learning as one of their main priorities in the strategic plan.  All middle school students in our county will have tablets over the next couple of years which will be used as a tool to help personalize learning.  We as teachers have been trained on the use of the tablets and the students will be receiving them in just a few weeks.  Thrown in with the tablet training has been information on how we need to use the tablets to help us personalize learning.

Ok, so my concern is, if I am truly supposed to personalize learning, how the heck does it happen?  In all the training, I have heard very few ideas about how to make this happen in my classroom.  We’ve heard about what it is, how important it is and that this is a main focus and reason for us getting the tablets.  I have read some articles about how the ultimate goal is to create an environment where the learner is in charge of his/her learning and the teacher is a partner.  The learner is deciding what and how to learn, designing projects and the teacher is giving feedback.  It sounds wonderful but I don’t understand how to get there.  How do the twenty or so students I have in a middle school classroom teach themselves French (as complete beginners) and decide what they will learn?  I was not taught French this way.  I didn’t get to decide what vocabulary words I was going to learn or what grammar to work on.  It was taught to me in bits and pieces.  I practiced the concepts I was taught and somewhere along the way I learned how to communicate in another language.  This idea of allowing the students to decide what they’re going to learn is a totally foreign concept to me.

I can understand flipping the classroom.  I can understand giving the students choices for projects.  I can even understand how you could give students choices about how to learn something using a tablet (i.e. give them the choice to watch a video about how to conjugate verbs, read instructions, or sit in a small group with a teacher to explain and model).  What I don’t understand is how students would just pick and choose what they want to learn.  So, if a student is more interested in sports and another is interested in animals they would be studying different vocabulary words?  Another student wants to learn only how to write French but another student wants to learn only how to speak – how does that work?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this can’t work.  I’m just saying this idea of personalized learning doesn’t make sense to me and I don’t know how to move my classroom into something that looks like this.  If anyone out there has ideas on how this is done in a foreign language classroom, please post links, videos, anything!  Help!!!

Pinterest – Get inspired!

I am just loving Pinterest for getting French teaching ideas at the moment too.  If you are an educator and haven’t started using Pinterest – PLEASE do yourself a favor and join Pinterest!  Start searching for the subject you teach and start following some people who have ideas that line up with yours.  You will be amazed at what will happen.  It takes Personal Learning Community to a whole new level.  It’s also very addicting.  You have to be invited to join Pinterest so if you need someone to give you an invite, feel free to contact me and I will beglad to do so.  Surfing on Pinterest tonight, I found the video below and Go Animate! and some other cute ideas like this printable Eiffel Tower.


I am blown away.  Danny Maas has been posting comment after comment on my blog and now I want to give him props on TILT! 

I went through some of his screencasts today and I have learned a few things.  Most importantly, I have been inspired and I’m sure my teachers will be too.  What a great blog with so many how-tos, ideas, and resources.  Thank you for sharing with us all, Danny!

Oral Histories: Can we fathom the reality of the Katrina disaster? » Moving at the Speed of Creativity

Can we fathom the reality of the Katrina disaster? » Moving at the Speed of Creativity

Scrolling through my Google Reader today, I was captivated by this post by Wesley Fryer.  He tells of an encounter he had with a Katrina survivor and the harrowing events she experienced.

What struck me the most were these comments:

Listening to this woman tell her story, I was further convicted of the importance of recording and archiving the stories and experiences of others in our communities and in our homes. It was impossible to listen to her tale and not be moved. Too often in school, I think we focus too much on facts and dates, and fail to connect personally with a context. Listening to the lived experiences of others who have survived harrowing circumstances can be an impactful learning opportunity.

A search this evening on YouTube for “hurricane katrina” yields over 9000 videos, and I will readily admit I have NOT taken the time to watch many of these. Of the videos I have seen, however, none communicate the desperation and all-out battle for survival which the woman on our train shared in her story Sunday night. I have an abiding sense that much of “the story” of the Katrina disaster remains untold and undocumented, at least for those of us who would be students of this recent history.

So here are some ideas I have right off the bat that could be put to use (especially in those days after EOGs when teachers struggle to keep students engaged).

  • Have students find someone to interview in their community, someone with a story to tell and interview the person
  • Have students document the interview by taking photos of the person telling the story, shooting digital video, or record the audio digitally
  • Take not only the words the person says but these digital captures and mash them up in a project that tells the story visually and aurally

For these types of projects to have the most impact, they need to be shared and not just in the form of a presentation in the classroom but online through teacher blogs or the school blogs.  Ok, ideas for mashing:

  • Create a PowerPoint and insert video or audio clips of the interviewee; save them as web pages, upload to the web; link to blogs
  • Create a PhotoStory using still images and audio files; upload finished projects and link to blogs
  • Create podcasts of the interviews (there are many tools out there for this) and link to blogs
  • Create a VoiceThread project with the movie footage or still shots; share the links of the finished projects on blogs
  • Publish digital video to Google video and create a PowerPoint slideshow to accompany it with thoughts or comments; publish in Zentation where the video and the slideshow are presented side by side; link to blogs

There are probably a million ways to do this but these are some thoughts that struck me right off the bat.

Math Inspiration

I was asked yesterday by a math teacher for help.  It was a sincere plea because we do expect all teachers to integrate technology into their curriculum.  The pressure is on now because the end of the year is coming up and accountability will be in place to measure what integration has taken place over the course of the year.  That said, I won’t rant and rave about teachers being resistant to using technology in their classroom.  I heard the sincerity in this teacher’s voice.  He was genuinely in a quandry as to how to integrate technology in the classroom.  He was also puzzled by how on earth he was supposed to find time to learn how to use it much less integrate it into his curriculum.  Truly, his plate was full.

Having been a classroom teacher, I understand where he is coming from.  I personally think classroom teachers have one of the toughest jobs on earth.  They are pulled in many directions, held to high standards, play many roles to students, and meet for hours.  Time is always at a premium:  time to plan, time to teach, time to meet, time to grade papers, time to stay current with your field, and time to learn new things.

We decided to set a date so I could help him.  I am writing this post to ask for math inspiration.  What are best practices for math teachers to integrate technology into their lessons?  What are some great ways to use interactive tablets, document cameras, digital cameras, etc. so that lessons are enhanced and students are engaged?  I welcome any and all ideas here.

Swimming in the Deep End…Again!

Ok, I’ve taken a break from blog reading/posting and even using my Google home page combined with Google gadgets like Google Reader etc. I’ve just been too busy to engage in the Web 2.0 world for a while.

So recently, as my scheduled has relaxed a little, I have cannonballed back into the deep water and I am fired up once more! It’s been so easy to focus solely on NCWise or the day-to-day grind of troubleshooting and meetings. I am ashamed to see that my blog posts have waned considerably.

What I realized over the last days is that by not actively participating in Web 2.0, I have missed out on what is currently happening in the world of technology education. My professional knowledgeometer has dipped down to empty and I have been running on fumes. This in turn has an impact on the staff of teachers I am supposed to inspire and, more importantly, the student body who desperately needs teachers to engage them in meaningful ways.

So, with renewed fervor, I stand on the edge of the Web 2.0 pool and survey the waters. There is a lot of work to do.

I recently attended a department meeting of social studies teachers. One comment that has haunted me: “No matter what activity I do, the kids just don’t care. I don’t know how to make social studies interesting to them anymore.” During the meeting I heard teachers spinning their wheels with old technologies/teaching methods that don’t interest students. There was a distinct staleness in the conversation. It struck me that like many teachers, they are isolated in their classrooms and are starving for fresh new ideas. I want so desperately now to connect our teachers with professional blogs and resources where they can learn more about what others in their fields are doing with technology and the read/write web. Just like I have benefited from a renewed dip into the Web 2.0 pool, I know teachers would as well and, in turn, hopefully share these benefits with the students.

Update–NCWise Training and Gradebooks

I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been neck deep in training and a trip to Europe over the holidays.

I was overwhelmed with training and was very worried about training others on something I felt like I barely knew.  What a relief to have an awesome group of core trainers to work with and learn from!  By the time, our lead teacher and I trained our staff yesterday, training was like a well-oiled machine.

Our staff walked out with positive attitudes and smiles.  Many said it was painless and I think their fears about NCWise were alleviated for the most part.  I think it also helps that we are going to be using the program in steps and not all at once.  (We won’t be using the gradebook until next fall.)  The training materials created by the core training group helped to make things clear and concise.

So, today, I am heaving a huge sigh of relief and look forward to the actual conversion process and hope it will go as smoothly as our training did.  We have already planned for a little refresher course just before the week of conversion so hopefully things on the teacher’s side will run nicely.

As far as the parent access question and the NCWise gradebook are concerned, we are still undecided at the moment.  However, if we don’t use the NCWise gradebook, the full potential of having shared access to student data will not be realized.  Also, other online gradebook possibilities will cost money.  These are all factors to be discussed but at least the future looks bright!