Tag Archives: teaching

Mobile 2012 Reflections

As the weekend winds down and I get some time to reflect on the Mobile Learning Experience, a couple of things come to mind right away.

Point One: The energy from the conference was intense.  The conference was big enough to meet a new person at every breakout session, yet intimate enough to make real connections with people.  Even the schedule worked into this with the meals.  I was able to sit with my colleagues, yet have new people to meet at every meal.  The keynotes were also an integral part of the energy.  Each message was connected to the conference, but unique to each keynote.  I walked away with different ideas because of each speaker.

Point Two: The power of mobile devices. The first aspect is from Graham Brown-Martin’s keynote, which is we are still not tapping into the power of mobile technology.  We are using a technology designed to be mobile in an immobile environment. Now, what educators and schools are doing with them is awesome!  I’m pushing the idea farther, as I was thinking during Graham’s keynote and tweeted the idea that teachers use Mondays as a “Keynote” day, then, let the students go the rest of the week.

I understand that wouldn’t work all the time, but it brings up the second aspect of the mobile devices and technology: options.  There is a time for lectures (think about how powerful the keynotes and breakout sessions were), a time for worksheets, a time for tests even.  A buzzword right now is differentiation.  Simply put, options.  Mobile devices equip both students and teachers with that.  As an example, I will use simple story structure as a lesson.  In class we might read, listen, or even watch a YouTube video of the story.  I would have some vocab, which I could have a stack of flashcards for them to study, or even have them design their own.  Then, allow the students to show they understand story structure by writing a story, filming a story, or creating a cartoon.  All of which can be done on a mobile device.

Which moves me to the third point: the Teacher – Student relationship.  I started an interesting discussion about app development for teachers between breakout sessions, but I didn’t get the opportunity to finish.  Understand this discussion had the chance to be one of those incredibly deep pedagogy challenging discussions, but I never had the chance to bring it up again.  At the beginning, my inquiry was on the idea of equipping teachers to be able to build apps that would help students in their study of a lesson.  The opposite side was that the students should build them.  I don’t disagree with that, but one aspect I see of technology is the empowering of teachers to be what they went into this profession for, to teach.  Teachers can be the experts again of their field.  If fostered correctly, teachers should be the experts of the curriculum, not the textbook or a website.  The “options” available to connect to the content pushes teachers to raise their game.  And that, as a professional, is exciting.  Our jobs are changing.  Our challenge is to actually design a learning experience that gives students the tools and motivation to live by the highest expression of their talents.

Mobile 2012 was an incredible opportunity for me as a teacher.  I cannot wait to hopefully be a part of Mobile 2013.

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Why I am excited about technology as a teacher.

I will acknowledge right off the bat that I know that I have a unique situation with my position at ESU 10, and that the greatest benefit I have is time. The second benefit is that I am surrounded by knowledgeable colleagues that are patient with me as I present some grand ideas.

And the grandest idea I have is that technology can empower teachers.  I think technology can strengthen what teachers do best: teach.

Before I talk about the technology, let me address a deep philosophy of a classroom.  Teachers are experts.  Experts in many different fields to handle a classroom, but especially in their subject.  But most of the time teachers have to rely on a textbook, a book of worksheets and assessments. Let alone the idea of standardized testing (that will be another blog).  These tools are good tools, and many teachers fuse their expertise with these options to provide their students great lessons.

But what if the teacher produced more of the tools for their classroom?  What if teachers actually got to showcase their expertise?  What if teachers were empowered to do what they love? To teach.  Imagine the energy and impact this would have on the students, the teacher, the school as a whole. Empowering.

Courtesy of Centura Student Angelica

One of the ways this can happen is the new iBook Author, from Apple, which allows you to create digital interactive textbooks. To be honest, this application is easy to use.  The templates range from basic design to more creative layouts, but all one has to do is type and drag-and-drop files.  Teachers can add their presentations right to a page.  There is a question widget for student review and other cool options.  Teachers can write their own textbooks.

Another interesting approach is web app development.  What do students have with them at all times? Right…their cell phones. I know that they are not all smart phones, but more and more are.  But a web app is designed to work on a web browser and as an app, so teachers can create content that bridges that gap.  And it is getting easier to create web apps, whether you know how to program or not. iWebKit is a framework that I used to create my first study app for the book The Natural.  You do need to know some basic programing but much of the time is spent on creating content because the code is provided.  Even if you don’t know any programing, services like Wix Mobile allows you to create web apps with no coding.

Technology can empower teachers to produce more of the content of their classroom.  Technology can change the dynamics of the role of a teacher back to what teachers love to do: teach.

I know this is a grand idea.  For this to happen teachers need time, support, and the technology in their classroom.  But I would rather struggle toward a grand idea then stay in place and wonder what could have been.  And I am always willing to help if I can, because any struggle is easier together.

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What I learned from “taking” my own class.


Courtesy of Centura Student Angelica

For the past month or so the TECHS class has been working with HTML, CSS and Java. As a final product, the students will produce a simple slideshow web app.  Programing is just out of my expertise, I learned Pascal in high school.  But, my job has sparked ideas for different apps for education.  So, I have been taking the class too.  And I reached a level of knowledge that I took the T3 Workshop and remixed it as a web app (See the Web App page).

But the process has reinforced a few ideas I have about education.

First, 50 minutes a day is not a way to learn something.  I spent hours studying code, experimenting with code, and researching code.  On Friday, I spent a couple of solid hours working with my app idea.  I struggled. I got frustrated. I accomplished small steps and had light bulb moments.  It was awesome.  But it took time, and high school is not set up for this process. Both time and frustration.  Growth comes from tension, from having the edges of our abilities and thoughts challenged.

Courtesy of Centura Student Angelica

Second, I needed help from co-workers.  I might have spent more time in the network room than my office working out my problems.  And when I needed help, the guys were there.  Writing and editing code is a lot like old school grammar, you have to pay attention to all kinds of writing errors, from capitalization to unwanted string information.  There was one situation that took a third set of eyes to see the problem, and it was a simple problem.  They network guys were my teachers, but I presented them with what I had done and we worked from there.  Learning is a relationship.  Sharing, guiding, and helping work with and through what ever the lesson may be.

Third, writing code is still above my head, but I am getting better.  And I am excited to see my ideas meet a real outcome.  What gives our education meaning is that fusion of ideas and reality.  That age old question, “Why do I need to know this?” At times lessons are steps to future goals and we have to build that foundation.  But do we give students an avenue to take their learning to a level that affects the world around them? To show them the power behind what they are learning?

I enjoyed being a student, and can’t wait to share what I learned with my students.

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Your Own

We have a hard rule in our house; you can’t say you dislike anything until you have tried it.  Yes, it helps us to get the kids to eat their vegetables at dinner (there are some vegetables that are not served in our house, but it is because we have at least tried them), but the rule stands also for other issues.  From Justin Beiber to reading The Chronicles of Narnia.  We don’t let the kids just spat out other peoples’ opinions.  Or to just dismiss something without at least knowing something about it so that they can form their own opinion.

This approach isn’t always easy, even as elementary students the playground conversation can get negative and degrading.  I am amazed at times with the negative opinions my children express at the dinner table and the range of topics these opinions cover, from songs about Barney the Dinosaur (not happy songs!) to political issues.  With just a couple of questions, I discover that the opinion comes from the playground.  My wife and I then lead the discussion for them to express what they know of the topic.  We help them to formulate what their opinion is based off what they actually know.  Other times, sadly, we have to simply say, no that is not appropriate.  Usually with songs they learn, but it still expresses an opinion.

As a dad, this saddens me in a number of ways.  I actually enjoy helping them learn about the world.  To discuss issues, to question them and yes, sometimes I over analyze things (did you know how many different themes are present in Disney’s Beauty and The Beast?).  But when did this all become so negative?  What is wrong with liking something?  Why do we have to fight so hard to have our own ideas?

Why is our first reaction to something negative? As an English teacher this attitude is almost a cliché.

Courtesy of Flickr user piper caldwell

“I hate reading.”

“I hate poetry.”

“I hate English.”

I have no problem when a student says they dislike a poem, after they have read it.  In fact, it means the poem actually affected them and gives me something to discuss with them.

What sadness me the most, and not just for my kids but for my students too, is the lost opportunities because of this attitude.  The depth of our life is not created by others’ attitudes but through our experiences.  And those experiences have to be both positive and negative.  Those opposites give us the parameters to build our own views. To make this life our own.

Designed at PicLits.com

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Miles Davis: So What

My oldest son is learning to play the clarinet, and seems to be doing well.  He makes sure he practices every day.  Of course he learned to play a part of the Star Wars theme, which he likes to share every day.

So, I thought I would introduce him to Miles Davis.  To expand his musical interest.  To reveal to him some of the great artists, to show him how incredible music can be.  To show him the deeper part of music.

It didn’t go well.  Not that he didn’t listen with me, but he wasn’t much interested.  I tried to get him to let the music speak to him, to feel the emotion behind it.  He just wanted to be somewhere else.

I was disappointed.  Over the last month I have been sharing movies with the boys that I watched when I was growing up.  Both boys like some of my 80s music.  I thought exposing him to Miles Davis was going to be a great moment.  Why wasn’t it?

I started to wonder about all the times I tried something like this in the classroom.  Sometimes it worked, other lessons failed.  Why?  I just assumed my son would like Miles Davis because he was learning to play an instrument.  My son has no background knowledge about Miles Davis, hasn’t even heard him before.  What did I expect?  That he would just understand how great Miles Davis was.

As an English teacher I have fallen into that same trap, especially with literature.  That my students will just get how awesome a book or poem is.  I don’t want them to miss the opportunity to be moved by the literature, just like I wanted my son to feel the beauty behind Miles Davis’ music.  Ironically, I become the barrier of that moment.  Not in sharing the music, but by being the source of the selection.  And worse, like with my son, not creating an opportunity to spark their interest, or to provide a real foundation to what they will be reading or listening to.

I want to share the great works of this life with my students, with my sons.  But more importantly, I want them to decide what is great on their terms. To search out their own deeper moments.  That is when real learning happens.  And I want to be there, as a dad and as a teacher.

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First Year, Again

The only time I totally lost my cool with a class was my first year of teaching.  I threatened them all with detention.  I even slammed my hand down on my desk.  That first year of teaching is such an eye opening experience.  All theory seems to evaporate in the controlled chaos of everyday life of school.  That year challenges you, makes you dig deep into your creativity, resolve, and meaning of it all.  Thirteen years later I am experience that again.

Instead of standing in front of a class of new students, a clean marker board behind me, walls decorated with motivational posters and first day jitters; I sit at a desk in front of a HD camera, 50 inch TV and students who are attending schools miles away.  I have taught distance-learning classes for the last nine years, but have always had a room full of my own students.  It is not the system that is challenging; it is the loss of any person-to-person contact.  I am purely a teacher on the TV to them.  All theory seems to have disappeared with that little red light on the front of the TV.

This year has challenged me in ways I wasn’t expecting.  In so many ways I am again a first year teacher.  My creativity is challenged in creating lessons that can bridge the technological divide between the students and me.  I am challenged to work through all the bumps in the road, from technology issues, to student apathy. To be honest, some days I feel like a total failure at this and wonder if I am even doing anything worthwhile for the students and my own life.

My own personal struggles got me thinking about the other aspect of my job, working with teachers on integrating technology into their curriculum.  I have had the privilege of already doing a school wide workshop, presenting at Nebraska Distance Learning Association’s conference and helping ESU 10 colleagues with their workshops.  Through all these events, I realized that sometimes when we talk about getting technology into the classrooms and getting teachers to use technology more, we forget that in a small way we are asking them to go back to being a first year teacher.  Obviously it isn’t as extreme as a true first day of school, but it has some of the same challenges.

We are asking them to stand in front of their class as a new teacher.  That is exciting, but it is scary.  Teachers take pride in their lessons, they teach to see their students grow and learn.  Nothing makes a teacher smile more then when a student’s face lights up with understanding.  Even though we know not to take it personally, it hurts when a student says a lesson is stupid, or walks into the class announcing they hate English (the class I teach).

Technology integration asks teachers to go back to that first year, but now they have tools and lessons that have worked for them.  Lessons that have brought their students to that light bulb moment.  We cannot ignore that we ask them to be a first year teacher.  We need to address their fears… but also tap back into that other feeling which all teachers had that very first day as they stood in front of that class, took a deep breath and thought, “I’m ready to make difference in these students’ lives.”

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collaboration |kəˌlabəˈrā sh ən|
1 the action of working with someone to produce or create something

As a distance learning teacher I have had classes from different schools collaborate during a class period.  I’ve used a number of different tools, Scribblar, Today’s Meet, and others. This semester I took an opportunity to see how well students could collaborate, not just across geographical barriers, but also across time barriers.

I teach ESU 10’s TECHS course. I have four class periods for the online sections. Using digital music downloading as a support issue, I divided the whole class into two groups.  Group one’s stance was that digital music should be free.  Group two’s stance was that there should be a price for music.  Side note: whether good or bad, sometimes I throw the students in the deep end to see if they can swim.  The guidelines were simple, as a group you need to produce a Google doc and Google presentation concerning your side of the issue.  Each group had a Scribblar white board to do work on, a Google doc, and presentation that I hosted for them.  They had a total of 5 days to work on it (including the weekend).  Below are the presentations.

Some observations:

1. Group work.  Just like a regular classroom, some students did more work than others (8 out 49 students reported that they barely worked on the document or presentation).  Just like a regular classroom, I had to refocus the groups at times. The interesting point was that working this way was seen as a positive and a negative.  Some quotes from the students.

“We could chat to other people in your group and talk about the assignment.”

“Well, it was hard for everyone in the groups to get on the right page. They were kind of all over the place, but in the end we did good.”

2. Quality: I feel for the open-ended way that I handled the assignment the students did a solid job.  I understand that the class is in a unique situation, a teacher they see only on the TV.  My first year teaching only from the TV, combined with my somewhat nontraditional way of teaching, probably made the students frustrated.  A student response, “It really didn’t have anything to do with what I thought this class was about.”

3. The Power of Technology.  From a student, “It’s cool how we could all work together as a group and share our ideas and opinions with each other.”  During class I would be having discussions with the students on the whiteboard (they talk more to me in text form then verbally). I remember one discussion that centered around the cost of a song verses the cost of a bottle of pop.  When on task, the students did a great job researching and holding interesting discussions with each other and me during the class period.  But there is always the negative side of this type of communication, “While working on the website with other schools it was hard to add info because so many people tried adding something to it at once.”  And the personal differences; a response from one student to the question about what negative aspect of the assignment they noticed, “the fighting.”

Final thoughts: As in any classroom, some students jumped into the assignment, others complained, some worked through the frustration, others just gave up.  The funny thing about the assignment was how much it felt just like a regular classroom.  I had the same frustrations as a teacher.  Student apathy, “why do we have to do this” attitude, and honestly, in this case, the technology only seemed to enhance the negative for me.  But I think showing how technology can connect us to opportunities to collaborate was worth the time.  When we truly connect who knows what we can create…


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Adjustments to Freedom

Student Life

Student Life

A part of change is adjustments, and in my new position I am finding the biggest adjustment comes from the freedom I have in my position.  The two biggest factors of that freedom are time and working.

Spending the last 12 years in high school, time is segmented out for you.  The calendar is set, the bells ring every 48 minutes, planning period is the same everyday.  Life in school is a tightly run routine.

The second day on the job I wanted to go to the Casey’s up the block for a pop.  I stopped at our secretary’s desk to ask if it was OK.  She was nice about the situation, but I saw in her eyes that “I can’t believe this” look just after I asked the question.

Also that week, the staff was gathered together for lunch.  Guess who was done first?  Yep, me. Finished in less than six minutes.

The freedom of my time affects the second aspect; my work.  I am responsible for producing my product.  If I have an idea, I’m responsible for it.  One example is an idea for an online only workshop covering 2.0 tools for teachers.  My boss likes the idea.  So it is up to me to produce it.  Yes, there are some guidelines and standards to meet, but if I want my idea to be a reality I am responsible for it.  Powerful way to work.

Powerful way to learn? Yes, I think so.

The first aspect of time is crucial to the second aspect of learning.  Every teacher has had the situation when the class is just clicking.  The energy is high, students are engaged, as a teacher you are flying.  No one notices, or cares, about the time… then the bell rings.  You try to finish the point you were on, kids are trying to listen and grab their book bags at the same time.  You can see the bell has intruded on them too.

There is no easy answer for the time constraints in school, without some radical change.  But, I think it is an aspect of school reform that needs real attention.  In my discussions with students, one area that time has the greatest negative impact is the industrial and art classes.  In one conversation with a student who was taking a welding class, he expressed his frustration with only getting 10 minutes of real welding done in a typical class session.  There is attendance and class issues first, then prep work, and then having enough time for cleanup.

Which brings us to what students produce.  The freedom to work on things they love, or to stay with a concept until that light bulb goes off.  Some of my best teaching has happened as I walked with students to their next class (so they wouldn’t be tardy) talking with them until the idea clicked.  That is a teacher’s gold medal: that look when a student’s eyes get big, the corner of their mouth moves into a smile, and I swear, the room becomes bright.

What would school look like with more freedom?


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