Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bridging the Digital Divide

I absolutely think it’s important to ensure that my students have digital access, and intend to do what I can to provide them with it. I can’t control what they have access to at home, but I can try to provide resources for them to use technology in my classroom and in school. I think it’s part of my job to ensure that they can successfully use technology, including computers, digital cameras, printers and scanners, and so on. The knowledge of how to use those items will help them not only in their school careers, but in any job they happen to get during or after they’re in school. Furthermore, the use of technology seems to engage students more than when it is not used, so having it would make me a more effective teacher (when used appropriately, of course). It's not just getting up in the front of the classroom and using a computer to give my lesson or show students a website, that engages them, either--it's letting students use technology themselves, having them play around and get comfortable with what they can do with it, that does it. And the goal is an engaged, actively learning student, isn't it?

I would personally love it if every classroom I taught (or will teach in) in was fully equipped with multiple computers, digital cameras, document readers, and had a SMART board, but I know that won’t be the case. Once I’m in a long-term teaching position, I fully intend to apply for a grant to get a SMART board in my classroom. The SMART website has an entire section on finding grants to fund a SMART board in the classroom. On a less expensive and more fundamental note, if my classroom doesn’t have a computer or other gadgets for students to use, I’d also try to find a grant to help me fund that, apply for it, and hope for the best. The internet is full of information on how teachers can get money to fund improvements in their schools and their own classrooms, such as this site. It’s actually a math, science, and technology company, but it has a long list of grants for teachers.

But I can reasonably expect that the school will have computers available for student use--perhaps not in each classroom, but at least in the media center. If that’s not the reality I’m encountered with, Computers for Learning is a government program that donates excess government computers to schools that need them. They give preference to high-need schools, but it seems to me that if a school needs to apply for this type of program because it doesn’t have computers for students to use, it’s a high-need school.

Additionally, to earn money for necessary technology in my classroom, Donors Choose is a great resource. Teachers put up what it is they need and how much it costs, and individual donors can pick what they want to contribute to. Digital Wish is another site similar to Donors Choose, however it is technology specific. I'd tell my students and their parents at the beginning of the year about my registration on these websites, emphasizing that everything generated goes to my classroom for student use. I would also try to find businesses that would be willing to donate to or sponsor my classroom through these sites--this way, they'd see exactly what's being purchased with their donations.

The idea for applying for a SMART board grant actually came form my first practicum teacher: she and other teachers from the middle school she works in applied as a team, got the grant, and now they all have SMART boards. She uses it constantly, and her students love it. It engages them.

Many teachers use Donors Choose for technology donations, as I found out while looking for ideas on the Educators PLN. Looking at that forum discussion, I read about other things teachers had done to obtain technology resources for their classrooms (specifically, SMART boards). It included proposing to their administrators that they pilot a SMART classroom, applying for grants, and looking into less expensive options like Eno and Mimio. One teacher even suggested MacGuyvering something like a SMART board, saying "However if you are really technically minded you can build an interactive whiteboard using a Wii remote and some supplies from your local radio shack. There are instructions on Google." However, it seems more likely that teachers will try Digital Wish, as evidenced by the many teachers who use the program.

Using all of these resources, hopefully when I have a classroom of my own I'll be able to use lots of technological gadgets to enhance student learning and help prepare them for whatever comes their way.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Teacher Leaders

Teacher leaders, based on the information I found, take their duties to their students beyond their own classroom but try to encourage improvement all around their school and community. They participate in school decisions as much as they can by working with colleagues and administrators, and they try to have a positive effect on the greater school community by working with the school board. They also work with parents and the rest of the community to make an environment outside of school that promotes learning and good citizenship. This isn't an official role, or something they're asked to do--they just do it.

The Teacher Leaders Network is a network of hundreds of teachers, and is a functioning professional learning environment aiming to connect like-minded teachers. This is a great resource, as being able to read about, share, and collaborate with teachers whose main purpose is to improve student learning will undoubtedly help me in my future teaching.

International Journal of Teacher Leadership is a good resource for keeping up with what teacher leaders around the world are doing. The current issues articles are written by mostly Americans, but also a Canadian and Swiss teacher. The articles are free for download, and as such are easily available for me to keep up with international teacher leadership issues in the future.

And, Leadership Teacher is an ongoing education program for teacher leaders meant to connect K-12 educators and empower teacher to be better leaders in their community. However, everything I read prior said that, essentially, this is something that teachers just are--you can't be taught to be a teacher leader. I think I agree, because some people are doers and some just aren't. Some put in that extra effort without thinking about it. Do you think that a teacher can be taught to put themselves in this position, or something they just do because they can't help but?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Thoughts on networked learning...

The human network is, as far as I can tell, people connecting through the use of technology and all the ways that they can and do connect using technology. The networked student uses technology to connect to this human network for the purpose of education. I feel like this is a convoluted way to describe it, so I'll use an example: a connected student will, instead of going to the library and making a poster for a project using information they get there and through talking to classmates, use the internet to do research on a project topic, and use delicious or Zotero to organize pages they find. They might go to blogs of people who are specialists on the topic and use an RSS reader each day to glance over the latest information about the topic on all the various blogs on one page. They might email a blogger or other specialist and use Skype to interview them and use that as part of the project...and so on. It sounds like being a networked student is really involved, doesn't it?

Digital literacy is crucial to the networked student. You have to be able to use all of these websites and resources to be networked. Since the student is networked, they construct their own knowledge through various resources and from multiple perspectives. As such, the teacher of a networked student isn't the vessel through which knowledge is dispersed, but more of a guide for what to do with all of this information and how to actually build their network effectively.

Beth Still is a teacher in Nebraska I follow on Twitter, and every five minutes she tweets about some project she's doing with her class and what she's working on with other teachers all over the country. She often tweets asking members of her network to interact with her students in class. It's great, but she's a bit intimidating, to be honest! This is her website. I think she's a great example of networked teaching.

I think it's great that technology allows students to control so much of their learning. I am really encouraging of students building their own network and my helping them figure out how to get the information and what to do with all of it. I don't want students to look for me for all the answers, because I don't have them. No one does. But I'm more than happy to help my future students figure out how to find good answers. I feel like it takes a lot of pressure off of teachers and helps them be more like collaborators with their students. Do you all feel that sense of relief with being a "connected" teacher, or is it just me?