Saturday, December 26, 2009

What has changed?

I recently read a post on Will Richardson's blog reflecting on the last year in education. What has changed, he wants to know.

I expect that the changes were not earthshaking. Not yet. Little things here and there -- a district with some new policies, a teacher here or there who sees education in a new light. At some point, changes will start to snowball, and educators will look back and marvel at the difference, but I don't think we're there quite yet. For the longest time, Paul and I had an e-mail address but hardly anyone to send messages to. For a while it probably seemed that there was no communication revolution in the making. And now, e-mail is practically passe. Same with cell phones. Each family member has a cell, something I would not have predicted when I bought my first one maybe ten years ago. And by the way, I have absolutely no interest in the fancy smart phones. At the same time, I acknowledge that some day I might have one anyway.

What has changed for me personally as a teacher? Quite a lot, if I think about it. Here are things I had little or no knowledge/experience of until just over a year ago, but I have implemented or at least played around with since:

RSS and Google Reader (it's a mess right now, but never mind)
blogs (I have two now)
wikis (using the Moodle ones more successfully)
Twitter (I never would have guessed I'd go there).
Diigo and Diigo Education
Google Docs/spreadsheets/presentations
Google Forms
Google Sites
Moodle quizzes
paperless handouts (I had done this before, but not as much)
backchannel in the classroom
TodaysMeet (I conducted one department meeting from a bagel shop).

There might be things I'm forgetting, but I think it's clear that I am headed in new directions as a teacher. It's not the tools, but rather what the tools can accomplish. I am looking for more collaboration, less paper, more sources of knowledge, more ways to get students excited about learning, and more ways to assess what students have learned.

I know that I have much to learn, but I think that 2009 has been a pretty good start.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Books still work.

A student was giving me a number of reasons why she couldn't get her assignment completed. Her internet was not working. The verses of the psalm she was working with were on her phone, which of course she was not able to pull out in some earlier class.

I was confused. "How about using a Bible?" I asked. Her response: "You have a Bible?"

Well, it is a religion classroom. And even with all of our nifty technology, books still work.

Monday, December 7, 2009

More backchannel

Rather spontaneously, I decided to have my students on TodaysMeet again as we started a video about the Eucharist. I like it even more for movies than for presentations, because Ron Rolheiser isn't actually there to be distracted by students typing their thoughts as he speaks.

Thoughts (and some non-thoughts) range from silliness ("oh whadup") to comments and questions that show attentiveness to the words of the speaker and a curiosity about his meaning. I was able to answer a couple of questions on the spot, and a couple more I will take up before we continue the video at the next class.

I don't mean for this to replace our face-to-face, vocal discussion, but I hope rather that it will help to facilitate it. Time will tell as I continue to experiment.

Friday, December 4, 2009

More on wikis

In the past I've considered Moodle wikis to be a bit clunky, but they're growing on me a bit. It's better to use group pages, because different groups trying to upload to the same page just takes too long.

Having the groups auto-generated seemed nifty, but then I got to a class and discovered that four students who were not shown as absent on the computer were on retreat, and the groups were lopsided. I didn't have time to reconfigure the groups. I only needed to move one student. She was not on the right page anymore, so her partner did the uploading.

Students explored websites of organizations to make connections between their work and themes of Catholic Social Teaching. I told them that if they had time they could "make it pretty" and upload photos, and most groups were able to do so. We then viewed each wiki page while the group explained their findings.

Not bad for a period's work.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What's a wiki?

Of about 50 students in two predominantly senior classes (the ones who have carried laptops around for about three and a half years), I would say that about ten raised their hands when I asked who knew what a wiki is.