Monday, October 17, 2011

Could you have that essay on my desk by the end of the day?

In the past couple months I've been having my students blog for the first time.  Unfortunately I don't get to spend too long with each rotation of students  so our depth has been quite limited.  I have however had quite an eye opening experience when it comes to student writing, which is not my speciality.  I would say I'm moderately familiar with the content that students are expected to know in the area of writing, but the majority of my knowledge comes from personal experience.

I remember grammar, spelling, and writing conventions being drilled into my head as early as first grade.  I would never have failed to capitalize my name or the letter "i" when I was speaking about myself.  Yet for some reason here I am with students writing and commenting and those practices are a daily struggle.

But here's what I really noticed, my "aha!" moment so to speak.  When I ask my older students (7th & 8th grade) to write a post I can typically expect a great introduction, good detail, and a conclusion.  In fact their writing is just fine when they are expected to write a paragraph.  However, when they have to read their classmates posts and make good constructive comments all of those practices go out the window.  So what is the deal?

I have no doubt that my students are good writers.  However, I have a feeling that they are only truly good writers when they are writing in a form that they are familiar with, either an essay or an open response.  Comments, discussions, and chats using technology...forget it.  But does this really matter?  They are only expected to write open responses on state tests anyways right?

This is where I start to get scared.  Think of how you use technology in your day to day life and in your work.  The number one thing we all use technology for is communication.  In one day I e-mail (a lot), use Twitter to learn more, spend some time on Facebook, and send some text messages. In fact I communicate more with my colleagues by e-mail than I do anything else.  The last time I wrote someone an essay was a few years ago in college and this blog is the closest thing I ever do to that.  I didn't grow up with all this technology to communicate so I think that all of those skills translated quite easily when they became necessary in my life.  I never knew any other way to write.  But our students today, they've always known other ways.

It's not enough anymore to simply prepare them for writing essays in college.  They are communicating with one another at a very young age all the time through text messages and websites.  Enough with blaming texting on everything.  We all text every day don't we?  And I don't know about you...but I certainly make sure to capitalize when necessary so I don't look like I failed to receive any sort of education.

What do we do to cause a shift to encourage more writing in technologically applicable situations?  More crucially, how do we do it in schools without a 1:1 program and that severely restrict students using personal devices?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Where is Your Class Blog?

I can't remember the last time I looked in the physical phone book for a phone number, opened an encyclopedia, only got my news from TV/newspaper, or had a land line phone in a house I've lived in. 
...and I'm not complaining.

I now have several devices that allow me to do all these things and more no matter where I am.  Not only do I look up business information on Google to get a phone number...but I read what other people say, read detailed lists of their services, and click one button which will transfer me to my 'GPS' app and give me instant directions from wherever I happen to be. 

Like I would waste my time finding all of this out from a phone book...
In fact, I often feel I'm caught in the middle of generations. I grew up doing all my research for papers in the library, dug through card catalogs, wrote endless amounts of note cards, and had to have my parents drop my friends and I off at the public library just to complete homework for middle school.  But I also remember when the library at school first got a couple of Encarta CD's...and magically we could type in what we wanted and have our answers! (Naturally there were many library arguments over those CDs.) By high school...I don't really remember ever going to the library to do research.  It was necessary in college somewhat, but mostly because it was a quiet place with lots of outlets for laptops.  My point is...I was old enough to learn the "old ways", that my predecessors constantly remind me of, and yet young enough to be in with all the "new ways".  This gives me the choice as to how I will get information.  Will I be old fashioned and stay true to my roots or use the newest Internet and technology tools?  That's a rhetorical question of course.

Who says you can't have a "virtual" Friday Folder?
So how does this apply to the dissemination of information in schools and school districts?  As a student at any age in school today from kindergarten to high school I can tell you I would prefer you to have some sort of electronic/Internet based information system.  So why do we keep giving them paper?  Parents.  Some parents will naturally prefer something they can stick on their refrigerator (although I would argue most have a perfectly good printer), while others are more on my side as to how they get information.  For instance, I'm at the store and I just remembered I think it's my child's snack day at school tomorrow.  How do I check to make sure?  What if I just went to the teacher's blog/site and looked it up?  I will tell you one thing...when my future yet-to-exist children make it to school I better be able to check everything from my iPhone or I won't know what is going on.

I've always felt education as a whole system tends to be a couple steps behind on technological advances purely for reasons of the process for purchasing things in districts.  However, the Internet is here now, we all have it at school, and there really is no excuse not to be getting your classroom information online. 

Here are  my thoughts about the pros for an online classroom blog/newsletter versus the typical format:
  • Save Paper
  • Be more dynamic - instead of 2 pictures, a slideshow of hundreds
  • Feedback/commenting instantly
  • Customizable, creative, and fun!
  • Parents can subscribe in many ways, like choosing to be e-mailed when updates are posted
  • Something changes? No need to re-print, just re-post.
  • I'm not aware of paper being made yet that can play videos...
  • Add-ons are endless and growing: calendars, slideshows, "apps" for students (i.e. dictionary)
  • Easier consistent access.
Just keep in mind, you can't make a classroom blog and expect all parents to instantly go there to get information.  While we've been teaching their students how to read and multiply fractions, we've been conditioning parents to go through those Friday folders with a fine tooth comb.  Do both for a period of time, always encouraging parents to check out the "online version".   Allow parents to opt-out of receiving the papers once they get used to other options.  We do know that not everyone has access at home to computers and/or Internet, but they are now in the minority.  As we start to shift how we get information in our lives, it's time to start shifting how we disseminate it for our classroom as well.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Forget Those Outdated Flash Drives!

As the new school year gets started there's always plenty of work to be done.  Sometimes, that work is done with late nights at school or home.  But wherever you work, the ability to take your work with you can sometimes be just a little cumbersome.  I can't count how many flash drives I've lost, or time I've wasted e-mailing documents to myself.  So here's a great tool that I've known about for some time, but only recently put into practice....Dropbox. will take you to this fabulous life saving tool.  After creating an account Dropbox will begin downloading to your computer.  The "download" is essentially just the adding of a folder to your My Documents folder or a location of your choice.  If you want to be able to access files from other locations simply save the file in the Dropbox folder and off you go.  Download Dropbox on any computers you use as well as almost any mobile device.  And yes, on mobile devices you can view almost any file including documents, spreadsheets, and pictures.  If you happen to be somewhere where Dropbox hasn't been downloaded simply go to the website, log-in, and access your files that way.   Some advanced features include creating a public folder you can share the link to (think class information on your school website), or share a folder with specific people so they can contribute files as well.  You get 2GB of space for a free account, with the ability to earn more space for completing tasks or sharing with friends, and if you are willing to pay can upgrade to accounts with 50 and 100GB of space.

Never again lose a flash drive with crucial files, spend time trying to figure out how to get the files, or being able to access them from wherever you happen to be. This is one of the easiest tools I've integrated into my every day work and will definitely be one I utilize for years to come.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

5 Great Sites to Start the Year Off Right

There are so many resources out there for teachers now that the problem is no longer.. "I can't find..." but it is instead, "How can I sort through all of this?"  Although there are a lot of resources out are 5 that I can't live without as I start this new school year.

This website transformed my classroom last year as I struggled to find a way for students to submit assignments electronically.  Create classes, have discussions, turn in and grade assignments, and most importantly keep connected with your students.  I used it with 4th-8th graders, and all students were equally excited.  In recent months Edmodo has pushed teacher communities and they have grown exponentially.  Now it's extremely easy to join communities related to subject areas and connect with other teachers.

This is a wonderful site for students and teachers alike.  Create interactive posters with pictures, links, video, and audio.  Students will have a great time creating these and sharing them with their classmates.  As a teacher I have also used Glogs to share links and instructions with students in a fun interactive manner.  The Glogster EDU site has a free teacher version where you can create 50 student accounts.  The only downside of the free version is you cannot create student usernames (they are gibberish letters/numbers), but students will get used to that.

This website was a lifesaver more times than I can count.  If you are looking for any type of resource, literally anything, you can find it here.  Jerry Blumengarten has created a very simple site that is updated quite frequently with resources on everything from Smart Board resources, to Graphic Organizers, to Special Education.  One of my favorite things about this site is that as special events or news stories arise he compiles links and resources that are relevant for you and your students.  This is definitely one to keep bookmarked and frequently check up on.

 Kidblog is a great site for any age level and subject area.  Create a free teacher account and student accounts to manage student blogs and comments.  There is no limit to what you can do with student blogging including writing constructed responses, having students write results of research, for formative assessment, and to do collaborative projects.  Need some ideas on how to use student blogs? Check out Cybrary Man's Student Blog or Class Blog Pages.

A never ending favorite, I always seem to find some use for Google Tools in my classes.  In particular my favorites are:
  • Docs: Collaborative document work with students, i.e. multiple students working on the same project at once
  • Earth/Maps: Exploration of everything on earth and even beyond
  • Books/News/Etc.: Customize your search for news articles, books, images, and much more 
  • WDYL: Stands for "What Do You Love?", type in any topic and see the search results relating to just about everything and that topic.  For instance see pictures, 3D images, translations, search interest, videos, maps, and discussions all on one page. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

KASA Conference Presentation

PD That Doesn't Cause Panic Disorders! 
Find us on Twitter!  Whitney York - @w_york    Alison Gregory - @alison32303

----Hope you all enjoyed our presentation today! Keep watching this post/blog for more updates from Alison and I including information on implementing the PLI that she mentioned towards the beginning.  Thanks for coming!

Edmodo - Free Classroom & School Management, Learning, & Microblogging Site
Survey Monkey - Create surveys to send to others by e-mail or sharing link
Poll Everywhere - Instant audience polling through text message

Google Docs - Create collaborative documents to easily share and compile information
Glogster EDU - Create interactive posters with links and media that can be embedded on other sites
Prezi - Creative and dynamic presentation site
Jing - Create "screen casts", videos of your screen, record your voice, and share easily with others.

The Educator's PLN - Great way to connect, meet, and discuss with other educators
Twitter - Create your own network of education and learning
Cybrary Man's Twitter Page - Amazing collection of resources to learn about Twitter
Reform Symposium - International, online, FREE technology/education conference
Simple K12 Webinars - Archives and live learning sessions on a variety of topics

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Kentucky Program Review Information

Here is all the information and helpful docs from what we are doing at Murray Middle School and at Murray Independent School District to prepare for the implementation of the program reviews in the state of Kentucky.

Here are two links to copies of the Program Review documents we have used to do initial evaluation in Google Docs.  They are copies, they may not be completely finished but feel free to save a copy for yourself or your school to work with.  Instructions for how to save a copy are at the end of the video posted.

Also, please feel free to contact me if you have any questions either by e-mail, or on Twitter @w_york.

Friday, June 3, 2011

"Growing Up" with Technology

I often tell people that I didn’t always have technology growing up, and if I can get past the rolling eyes of my older colleagues I continue by saying that in fact I did “grow up” with technology in a particular way.  The milestones in my education growing up were punctuated with important technology advances that we had no option but to adjust to. 

A "visual timeline" of the most iconic
technology tools of all time.  Being born right
after the Nintendo (NES), I've experienced
a whole lot of technology changes in my life.
Original Link
When I started school we didn't use computers whatsoever.  By 3rd grade I remember going to a "computer class", and using that old Encarta CD to look up facts for class.  Through the years at home we began to acquire technology, going from a computer with only DOS through dial-up days and eventually having a fairly capable computer with cable Internet by the time I was in high school.  I continued using technology in school, although I never saw an interactive whiteboard until I was in college.  Fast forward to present day when I have more technology in my one classroom than ANY class I was ever in growing up, even though I'm only 24.

What "growing up" with technology did to my generation is something I think we're missing as an opportunity for with our students.  It taught us to troubleshoot, problem solve, and always be thinking of ways to make things  better.  These key qualities that employers clearly value are being lost on the children we're teaching today, so why is that?

I used to fix the computer at my house when it had issues, and even the computers at school.  But more than that, I used to come up with better ways to do things using the available technology...something I still do today.  Now though, kids are born with a cell phone camera aimed at their little face, iPad's used to practice motor skills, and by the time I get them in 4th grade they have gotten more technology for birthdays and Christmas than I ever have.

Bottom line...we're missing a big opportunity to let those students get their creative juices flowing and thinking of the next big thing.  We're either so overwhelmed with the current state of technology we have, or we just don't have time, that we have stopped thinking about what's next altogether unless Steve Jobs schedules another media event.

As teachers we not only need to model tech use, but more importantly get it in the students' hands by whatever means possible.  It's no longer an option not to utilize tech tools because you might think it's "good for them" or you don't want to learn.  Think about as teachers how we never STOP using technology to perform regular functions of our job: lesson plans, putting in grades, creating work for students, checking and writing e-mail, etc.  Those systems have only gotten more sophisticated through the years and they will continue to do so for those kids in our rooms today.  You don't have to steer kids towards  a particular field, prepare them ALL for college necessarily, but preparing them for the "future" is the biggest task we face.

Mostly because we're already behind in educating them for the present.