Thursday, November 26, 2009

Spontaneous Collaboration... How cool is that?

Google Docs has officially been added and I did some preliminary testing with it this week.  What a cool addition to the available technology we have at our disposal to use with our students.  The thing that has really blown me away so far about using it with my students is how easy it is to manage.  Beyond that, I can not believe how quickly many of my eighth graders began using it, and using it to its full advantage.  I showed them Google's Love Letter video clip and the next thing I knew, students were signed in, sharing their work, and leaving comments for their peers.  Wow, spontaneous peer reviews!  It really doesn't get much better than this.

The thing that makes Google Docs so useful in the classroom is it's collaboration capabilities.  I shared it with my eighth graders with two thoughts in mind.  First that it would provide them with an excellent avenue to work on their assignments both at school and at home without having to worry about how to move files back and forth.  Second, as a means to collaborate on a slide show.  Part of their current assignment is to create a visual aid and some students are creating slide shows.  I thought Google Docs would aid them in doing this since they can collaborate on the project at the same time, from different computers, at different locations.

I really did not expect them to embrace this technology so quickly and start using it to review each others work without being asked.  Granted not all students did this, but the handful that did was pretty astonishing.  There are so many educators/administrators out there that think many of us use technology just for the sake of using it (this thought could be a blog in itself someday).  That attitude is unfortunate because they miss the fact that by putting the tools in the student's hands that they use in their daily lives, we find that students often exceed our expectations and create the productive learning environment we strive for on a daily basis.

I am also in the process of having my junior and senior environmental science students collaborate and write a paper together.  I created roles for the students and gave them a topic related to what we are learning about currently in class.  This little experiment started off kind of rocky because I did not realize only 10 students can edit a document at a time.  So I have retooled a bit and I am ready to see where they take it after thanksgiving break.    

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It is one more thing!

I truly wonder if teachers throughout the ages received the same looks and complaints that I sometimes get when I am advocating for using a new source of technology in the classroom.  Imagine the first teacher to show up to school and hand out pencils with erasers attached.  How about the first chalk board or ditto machine.  Did people complain when the first modern copier showed up to replace the ditto machine?  Can you hear it?  "You want me to throw my dittos away and start over?  You are always adding... one more thing!"

Paper, the automatic pencil, pens, overhead projectors, film projectors, slide projectors, VCR machines, and DVD machines were all at one time new technological advances to the classroom.  Although I have no physical evidence, I imagine that these technological advances were easily accepted and received eagerly by the teaching community.  Why?  My guess is that teachers could see an immediate benefit to using these technologies in the classroom.

The question now is why do so many shy away from you when you start talking about google docs, moodle, youtube, social networking, cell phones (really!), digital cameras, smart boards, wikis, and what seems to be a never ending source of new software, internet experiences, and devices?  Unlike the introduction of the pencil, these technological advances are not as easily used in the classroom.  Actually, maybe it would be more appropriate to say that they are not as easily understood and applied by the instructor.  Today's students are commonly referred to as digital natives.  This accurate little label gives educators the ability to explain why our students are so adept at using technology while they continue to inhabit the days of old.  This isn't intended as a dig at the technologically impaired, but instead it is a reality check.  Yes our students have grown up using this technology, and it is definitely time that educators realize we also need to jump on the technology band wagon.  I don't feel that we will be left behind if we don't, but I am pretty certain our students will.  

To me technology in the classroom should be considered in how it affects both the students and the teachers.  Our students are in fact digital natives.  This is the world they are growing up in and it is the world we need to prepare them for when they leave school and hopefully become productive members of society.  Just like the technological advances listed above, some which are considered classroom relics, and others which are still in heavy use today, current technologies provide teachers with new ways to engage our students.  Beyond that, they also make our job easier.  I know that is a taboo thing to say in some circles, but it is the truth, and more importantly, it is a good thing.  Using technology to reach our students increases parent/student communication, aids in using performance based assessments, helps to gather data, and organizes our classroom/materials, increasing our productivity and time spent working with students.  Educators don't have to be a digital native to incorporate new technology into their classroom either.  In fact, they don't even necessarily need to know how to use it.  More on this later, as looking at ways for educators to incorporate technology into their classrooms will mostly be the focus of this blog.    

I don't know how often I will post to this blog, truthfully I never had anything to blog about before, but this is a topic where much of my time and interest in education is currently focused.  I have spent a lot of hours trolling through the wealth of information on the web about using technology in the classroom and hope to pull the fruits of those efforts into a valuable resource here and on my classroom website:  Suter's Education Page.