Using Blogs and Wikis in the Classroom – Ideas Needed!

I’m in a workshop about using blogs and wikis in the classroom at the moment and just heard a great way to use a blog in the classroom.  One of our 6th grade science teachers set up a blog where a zoologist (his fiancée) posted short articles about various animals or topics relating to zoology and his students would read the posts and comment.  He talked about how excited the students were to see if the zoologist had responded to their comments.  Some students even read, commented and corrected each others’ comments.  What a great idea to connect with someone in the field!

My 7th and 8th grade students are getting ready to start emailing penpals in France with ePals.  The teacher and I have been trying to think of a common project the students can do.  Perhaps we will start a blog or a wiki to collaborate with each other.  If anyone out there has done this type of a project with email penpals, I would love to hear about it.

I ran across this link on my resources page and there are some great ideas there!  Enjoy!

FLANC Ideas 2011

Ok, maybe almost having bronchial pneumonia was a good thing for me this weekend.  I have gone nuts catching up on blogs I love to follow, found some new blogs to follow, and writing up my own posts.  I have missed my personal learning community or professional learning network or whatever it is you want to call it!

I went to the FLANC conference a few weeks ago and got lots of great ideas.  I whipped out my handy little bag full of goodies today and found some things I’d like to post here that may help some other folks.

  • PowerPoint and Motivation in the Classroom – This session had some great ideas on how juice up PowerPoint for your classroom.  One neat idea in particular was how to embed a Flash timer in your PowerPoint.  This might come in really handy for me as I like to put all my warm-ups on PowerPoint.  The kids need something to get them moving as they like to chatter and then before I know it, I’ve lost class time due to so many taking so long to do a short warm-up.  You will need to scroll down a bit to find the presentation she did at FLANC on 10/14/2011.
  • Blog it! How to Implement and Use Communicative Blogging in the FL Classroom – Awesome session from a school where the foreign language department has every student set up with a Google account.  The students then use blogs as digital portfolios so they can publish their work.
  • What’s Cooking in World Languages? – Interesting presentation on how to cook simple foods in class and combine that activity with teaching grammar along the way.  They had an interesting take on using the culture and interest in the food to make grammar (teaching imperative etc.) more palatable for students (no pun intended).
  • Teachers as Advertisers – I didn’t go to this session but another teacher passed the presenter’s link to me.  She has some neat ideas here about teachers being advertisers and teaching foreign language from that point of view.
I have one more that I would like to share but am waiting for a link to the materials.  Enjoy!

Dabbleboard – Online whiteboard for drawing & team collaboration – Interactive whiteboard software

Dabbleboard – Online whiteboard for drawing & team collaboration – Interactive whiteboard software.

I found Dabbleboard today after posting that last article about interactive whiteboards.  Just thought I would share.  This looks like it might be easier to use than the software installed on my teacher computer and it’s web-based and has a free sign-up.  It also has the advantage of being collaborative so the possibility to use this in a computer lab or when your students each have a computer in front of them is there.  Your students could then add to the drawing.

Interactive Whiteboards – the laser disk of the 21st century?

This is the system I have in my classroom. It's the Epson BrightLink with Easiteach software.

I read this great post on tweenteacher.com about interactive whiteboards.  I am blessed to be in a great classroom with a mounted projector and an interactive whiteboard (it’s interactive with a stylus not by touch) but I have been struggling to find ways to use the interactive whiteboard bit and I couldn’t figure out why that is.  Isn’t it every teacher’s dream to have a setup like this in their classroom?  I think Heather from tweenteacher.com put into words why I’m frustrated.

The big clunky forward facing, whole class method of lesson delivery via Interactive Whiteboard, I believe, is the Laserdiscof educational technology. The overpriced fad of Interactive Whiteboards (whether Smart or Promethean) is imperfect in their current incarnation. Sure, we all imagine classrooms with“Iron Man2”:-esque 3-D touch sensitive lessons, but inherently these pieces of equipment do not illustrate the spirit of technology in information delivery: all-access, collaborative, open, interactive, etc…

Currently, they are only as engaging as the lessons created, and those lessons are tedious to create and time-suckers in their efficiency. The prep time to create charts that utilize any effects over-and-above what you would already do with a laptop and LCD projector feels clearly developed by those with a disconnect to the precious time we have in education and the many hats we already wear.

The few times I have found ways to use the interactive whiteboard have mostly been teacher-centric and I have felt guilty afterwards.  The kids are enthralled because it is different but, especially in middle school, this kind of thrill does not last long.   So I have tried preparing some activities where the students get the stylus and go to the board but, again, only one person at a time can use the board.  I get the kids to hand the “baton” of the stylus to the next student so I try to keep them engaged through the anticipation of getting to go up and use the board.  This is still not ideal particularly if it takes a student a while to figure out the answer.  I start to lose those kids already on the fringe and they start misbehaving out of boredom.

I think the interactive whiteboard has its place but I am really struggling to:

  • find activities that are engaging enough to keep the whole class interested
  • find activities that are easy and quick to make
  • find web-based activity makers as I can’t download any software on my teacher computer
I don’t think we should dismiss IWBs altogether as they do have their place in the classroom and I know they can be used to create some great components to lessons (I just haven’t been uber successful with this yet).  I agree with Heather that mobile technology is the way to go.  I would much rather my kids have tablets or even laptops on a 1 to 1 program and be allowed to buzz in with their cellphones to a poll question in the classroom.  Since our school is far from that, I will keep trying to think of ways to make my lessons better and more student-centric using the technology I have at hand.

Where I’ve Been and Why I’m Leaving

Ok, the cat is out of the bag.  I am leaving.  So for once, I will blog about something pretty personal:  where I’ve been and why I’m leaving. This post is actually prompted by an email inquiry I received today from someone who had seen the job posting and wanted to know what I do exactly.  One of the last lines of the email asked why I was leaving.  It was a good question and gave me pause to reflect.

Before I actually give my reasons for leaving, I will describe what my role has been as an instructional technology facilitator at MCMS.  (To read what the job description is according to the IMPACT model, click here.)  I have tried to follow the IMPACT model as closely as possible but recognize that there was a lot of room for improvement.  I had hoped to be in this job for many years.  I saw so many possibilities.  I still do.

Where I’ve Been:

  • I was a French teacher at ECHS for 10 and a half years.  During those 10 and a half years I fell in love with technology and troubleshooting.  I watched the Internet change our whole world and I found that I loved teaching others how to use technology.  When I received a phone call 3 years ago this coming July to interview for a technology facilitator position, I jumped at the opportunity because this was my dream job.  When I was accepted, I was elated.
  • My first year was a whirlwind.  I had so much to learn, not necessarily about how to integrate technology into the classroom but how to troubleshoot and manage all these computers at our school.  Without a technology assistant, technology facilitators have to do quite a bit of troubleshooting.  This school had been without a technology facilitator for three years so they were starved for someone in my position to point them in the right direction.  I loved my job.  I tried to focus my attention on training the staff so I did a technology camp for teachers that first summer.
  • I was much more comfortable during my second year.  I was ready to really lay some groundwork with the staff on technology integration.  I was introduced to the world of Web 2.0 and have been hooked ever since.  I created my own personal learning network which has helped me learn so much using iGoogle and Google Reader.  Some of favorite Web 2.0 tools are iGoogle, Google Reader, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Skype, Second Life, del.icio.us (although Diigo is quickly eclipsing my love of del.icio.us), Picasa, and Flickr.  I use many others but these have been invaluable to me.  I wanted to focus my attention from the teachers just a little to equipping students so I taught a technology camp for students during that summer.
  • This third year has been a little different.  I have been in the classrooms much more, co-teaching with teachers.  I was also selected to help be a core trainer for NCWise which our county was converting to this year.  I think a lot more teachers are using technology this year than they have in my previous two years here and I am glad to say that they are putting more and more of that technology in the students’ hands.  I finish this third year happy to say the hardware is in place (3 wireless labs, two desktop labs, data projectors in almost every classroom, 2 interactive slates per team, 2 wireless presenter mice per team, 1 document camera per team, 3 digital video cameras for the school, and two student response systems for the school).  Ok, we’re not completely at my dream classroom but we’re on our way.  I don’t pretend to take credit for all the good changes I’ve seen in our school these 3 years.  We have many shining technology teaching stars, a tech savvy media coordinator, a supportive tech support team, and a fireball principal who understands the important role that technology plays in the future of education.  I was fortunate to get to ride this wave with such great folks.  I know this school will go far after I leave.

Why I’m Leaving:

  • My mother became very ill and was admitted to the hospital on February 14.  Unfortunately she is still in rehabilitative care but is making progress.  I plan on spending my summer and fall before leaving for the Netherlands taking care of her and helping my family.  Leaving this job will make me more available to my family.
  • I visited friends in Amsterdam, Netherlands over Christmas break and my thoughts began drifting to my old dream of living in Europe.  An apartment became available not too far from the city center and I just can’t let this opportunity slip away without grabbing the bull by the horns.  So, I’m going for my dream of living in Europe.  Of course, that means I am now looking for a job in Amsterdam.  Does anyone know if they need technology facilitatators/coordinators there?  🙂

So the plan is to move to the Netherlands once my mom is back on her feet.  I will be keeping this blog however and it is my sincere hope that I can continue to work in technology education even if I am in a different country.

Needless to say, I will miss my colleagues and friends that I have had here in Carteret County.  It’s not easy to say good bye to 13 and a half years of one’s life but these have been good years, learning years.  I’m sure I will have much more to reflect on in the next few months so stay posted!

TILT!!

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!

http://tilttv.blogspot.com/