Teaching to Learn, Learning to Teach

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Implementation Project

Today I conducted my implementation project with my fifth grade students for my teaching with technology course. My lesson was designed to revisit concepts of absolute location using longitude and latitude. I used Hurricane Katrina data for my students to plot coordinates on a PowerPoint template I created.

I can begin by saying that my directions were clear and the lesson started out great! I reviewed concepts of longitude and latitude, and I even made my students perform a longitude and latitude dance to help them remember the direction of the lines. The students were engaged and excited. I had strategically planned partners for the students to minimize problems in the classroom, and I even had a few colleagues observe and help with my lesson.

Using the laptops was exciting for students, and they enthusiastically tackled the task. However, nothing can prepare a student teacher for the laptops that shut down in the lesson, the students who won't share the computers, and the overwhelming noise of the classroom. I am still an advocate for technology in the classroom, but I feel that individual use of technology must begin only when clear behavioral control have been established and asserted by the teacher in charge. I did everything I could to constantly redirect student attention to me, but the laptops were very distracting for the students.

Even though the lesson did not produce beautiful products for me to present, I can without a doubt, say that students were "learning." The most successful aspect of my unit was the review of longitude and latitude before the plotting of data points. One of my colleagues told me that she saw one of the students doing the longitude and latitude dance quietly to himself during the lesson, to help remind him the distinction between both lines. And, although technical difficulties impeded the progress, I saw engaged students who were working collaboratively.

My perfectionist tendencies will continue to be my best and worst enemy, especially as I prepare for next semester. It's disappointing when I teach a lesson that doesn't meet my expectations, but our mistakes and imperfections can provide a valuable learning experience for the future. I now know my students respond positively to technology, but I have to establish behavioral control in the classroom before I can implement some of the activities I have in store.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Science experiments + Blogging = Formula for Success

I stumbled across a blog the other day by Joseph Hartman about a neat science experiment that uses a blog to record student progress. Unfortunately I couldn't comment on his blog because it's restricted to team members, but I still thought it was worthwhile to share his work.

The assignment invovled students picking a experiment topic and then blogging daily to record progress and observations. So often as teachers we want to create and plan elaborate projects for our students, but we have a difficult time checking student progress and ensuring that they are not throwing the project together at last minute. If students had the opportunity and obligation to blog about their science experiment, they would be excited to see their progress and that of their classmates. I think Hartman really captured the essenence of using a blog when he wrote: "The unique properties of blogs is thus taken advantage of by allowing the outside world to see exactly what steps each student has taken in their experiment recreation (not to mention the students themselves having access to this information) which enables the audience to then judge the validity of the recreation almost immediately after each step has been taken (rather than after the entire experiment has been concluded)."

I also think this would be a neat addition to a science fair. Students could read up on their classmates blogs before attending the fair, and maybe even be required to prepare a few questions for certain students about their project.

Next semester when I teach a unit about the scientific method, my students are responsible for creating their own experiment. Maybe I will incorporate the blogging component to my project!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Student Produced Webpages

One of my assignments this semester is to spend at least 10 hours observing or teaching with technology. I have worked with Mr. Morse, the technology teacher at DJ Montague, and he has introduced a project with the fifth graders that I am really excited about. I wanted to directly quote his lesson plan to preserve the key elements:

"Each fifth grade class will be assigned a habitat--Ocean, Rainforest, Desrt, Arctic/Antarctic, Freshwater, Plains, and Mountain. Students from each class will pick animals from a 'Mystery Box' which will contain animals form their assigned habitat. Using online resources, students will collect information on a worksheet. Using Google 'image search' they will collect images for their report. The reports will be created using SchoolCenter web authoring tools, allowing students to create their own individualized pages, and previewing pages of other students in the class and grade."

Although not mentioned in the lesson plan, the really neat element of this lesson is that the students never specifically say what anima their page is about. They write clues about the animal, like what it eats, distinguishing features, where it lives within that habitat, etc. The goal for the website viewer is to use the clues and online resources available to figure out what animal is being descibed. Mr. Morse told the fifth graders that a younger grade would be using this project, so they should carefully plan and create their page.

I just think this is an excellent way to have students learn how to create a webpage and investigate the animal kingdom. I watched the students today shout interesting facts about their animal across the room, reiterating the idea that learning should be FUN, INTERACTIVE, and PURPOSEFUL.

Even thought this project was conducted in a technology classroom, there is no reason why it can't be done in the general education classroom. I also really like that this page may be used within another grade level because it shows a school wide initiative towards fostering good thinkers and creative minds.

I will try to post a link to the website when it is finished.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

It's parent-teacher conference week at my school, and as always, I am looking for interesting ways for parents/teachers/students to stay connected when I begin teaching.

I came across a blog by Anne Davis, suggesting that parents really get involved in commenting on their children's blogs. Anne Davis showed an example of a blog where a parent had wrote on her son's blog, and her comments were very positive and thoughtful. In a world where papers don't always make it home and progress reports get lost in the bottomless pit of student bookbags, I think having student work online and parent posting is a great way to encourage invovlement from the home.

In addition, in my special populations class, we were learning a lot about grading, and this blog triggered my thinking about the importance of parent as well as teacher observation of student progress. To me, grading is a grey area that I still feel like I don't know enough about. However, I do know that nothing causes more of an uproar then a parent who finds out that their child made a bad grade on his or her report card. I can almost hear the phone ringing, "Why didn't you tell me my child was failing? I never saw any of his bad grades?!" With a blog that showcases student work and parents having the opportunity to observe it, comment on it, or praise it, this problem is eliminated. Once again, three cheers for blogging!

Are parents afraid to step into the blogosphere? Maybe yes, maybe not. However, if I were a parent, I would find it refreshing to have a way to see what my child is doing everyday and have a way to be a part of it.