Daily Archives: May 24, 2013

Guest Blog

Greetings! It’s a pleasure to “visit” your class. I enjoyed this class very much last summer and am certain you will find it very informative.

jmmMy name is Joan Mruk and I am in the graduate program for Learning, Design and Technology. I have been working in education for the past 17 years as a technology teacher and integrator. Currently I work at Mount Saint Mary Academy in Watchung NJ, an independent all-girl high school, teaching courses in Web Design, Digital Media, Computer Science Principles (preliminary course for the new AP course) and Introduction to Information Management (a tech skills and research type course). I also collaborate with the faculty to incorporate technology into their curriculum.

Our school is in the 6th year of our 1-1 laptop program. All students and faculty have a school issued device (currently a Fujitsu Tablet PC, but this summer we are getting Lenova Yoga’s with Windows 8). Our faculty has become quite tech savvy. The tools that are commonly used in our school include: Moodle, Google docs, One Note, Movie Maker, Audacity, and (of course) Microsoft Office. Information gathering (note taking, research though the web and library resources) and organization are the most common uses of technology. Assignments are primarily created and handed in electronically. However, many teachers make use of  other tools to enhance lessons.

The faculty has a great deal of latitude in exploring the uses of technology. Whether it is something they discovered through a workshop or user group or something that caught their eye in my monthly tech tip email, I will usually help them to get familiar with how the tool works and setup for their class. Often I will co teach a lesson where I help the students get started using the tool.  If there are problems with using the tool, I will follow up with the teacher, or provide support to the students. During, but mostly towards the end, of the project, I will talk wit the students to get feedback about the tool: How was it to use? Did it help you (to understand the concept, find/organize/present the information, collaborate with your classmates, etc). So, I gather informal feedback on the impact of the tool on the lesson from both the students and teachers. Teachers will also gather this type of feedback, in addition to other methods. Several teachers use Socrative to poll students, while others build components into their rubrics. Sometimes, when it is the first time a teacher is using a tech tool in a lesson, s/he will discuss with me the differences between the results in the tech infused lesson vs the non-tech lesson, and we will try to explore any disappointing results (is it the tool, the difference in students).

We have had some new tech tools this year. Thanks to a grant, we have a 1 year subscription to Gizmos, a web based tool for simulating math and science concepts. By all accounts the faculty are quite happy with this and use it effectively. Overall the students like the tool, although it seems those that grasp the concepts readily are bored by using Gizmos.

We also had several new ventures in our World Language dept.  Our Italian teacher connected with a teacher in Italy to have their classes communicate with each other. The students were to practice their language while sharing cultural information. I had been playing with Edmodo, as I had read so much about it. Turns out it was the ideal tool for this project. The students took to it immediately, as it was so “Facebook”-like. They were very engaged, communicating with the students in Italy even during their spring break. It was ideal because the teachers could moderate and control the environment, and the students privacy was protected. An important lesson here for me was the value of experimenting with tools. When you are familiar with their abilities and uses, it is easier to provide a timely suggestion for a teacher.

Glogster has also taken a foothold in our school. This allows the students to create an interactive “poster” of information, incorporating video, hyperlinks, images and text. Over the past two years our science teachers have used it quite a bit and pleased with the student’s work. For the most part, the students like it, although some say they would prefer to do the “old fashioned” paper poster boards. Our world language department is also starting to use it and I am working with other departments to use it in place of posters or traditional print projects. We had a rough start in one class this year. The teacher started the project by having me teach the students to use Glogster, then asked them to do their research and build the Glog. The teacher was frustrated with the results as she felt the students spent too much time with Glogster, and not enough time researching. I suggested that next time the students do their research first, collecting their sources and making notes, and then build their Glog. I find that helping the teachers to sequence when to introduce the tool in the lesson is very important.

We also eliminated a tool from our collection this year. We have had a subscription to VoiceThread for two years, and during that time I have done projects and workshops with the students and faculty with it. And despite all that, it just did not take off. The students found it cumbersome, and the faculty did not seem to find the collaborative features useful.

On the other hand, collaboration with Google docs has become quite common in our school. This summer our tech department is introducing Office 365 with the hope that in a year we will eliminate Google docs and work on that platform. It will be interesting to see how faculty and students adapt and embrace this change.

Those are some of the highlights. We have many other things going on including the use of Apps on mobile devices, Twitter and Skype, not to mention our digital offerings from the library. I could go on and on! But hopefully this has given you some insight to some of the highs and lows of technology use at our school.


Week 3: Changing Roles of Learner and Teacher

By definition, learning is to ‘gain or acquire knowledge’, or ‘to commit to memory’. In my middle-school-teacher opinion however, I know that my students are learning when they conduct an experiment, game, or activity in order to collaboratively recognize facts or make their own realizations. Learning often takes place through discovery, exploration, and even play in these student-directed lessons. In regards to the teacher’s participation becoming more focused on creating and shaping new learning environments, Douglas Thomas says, “You get to see students learn, discover, explore, play, and develop, which is the primary reason I think that most of us got into the job of teaching.” Although the teacher oftentimes guides the students and facilitates the learning by setting up the experiments, games, and activities to appropriately induce learning, it is always student-centered. This truly is a more rewarded, although very difficult, role that teachers must begin to practice in order for learning to take place.

As a Mathematics teacher, it is important that I recognize the many indicators of learning. I know my students have learned a concept when they are able to share their knowledge & skills with others, or when they make real-world connections between the content in our classroom and their personal lives.

In the future, I see my role as a facilitator in the classroom changing somewhat. Currently, I spend about half of my classroom time directly teaching whole or small-group lessons. The other half is spent in guided learning activities, collaborative group work, and researching Math concepts. I believe that as information continues to grow more easily accessible and understandable for middle school students, more classroom time will be spent with students directing their own learning and using the information/resources available through Web 2.0 tools. Students will be able to more actively engage with academic content and share back-and-forth with students not only in their classroom, but well beyond the walls of the school.