Sunday, May 31, 2009
Who is it for?
People with even the slightest interest in computers would be wise to invest in themselves and master key software titles. Whether you're a budding tech-head or an advanced geek, lynda.com's breadth of training videos can move you closer to your goals. Considering the speed at which technology evolves, the Online Training Library is also a great solution for keeping your skills current. lynda.com's library subscriptions begin as low as $25 a month, with no long-term commitment required.
I recently looked into taking a Dreamweaver course through my local community college Online. I liked the price $99 (which is a steal compared to the $1,200 price-tag for a three-day small group course I've seen advertised around L.A. and Orange County); but when I looked over the syllabus, I discovered that I'd have to read every lesson and have no audio or visual interaction with the instructor at all. I have nothing against reading, but multi-media instruction should be visual. For the same price, I could have four months of access to thousands of hours of video tutorials!
You've gotta try it!
The first couple "chapters" of any topic are free with a 24-hour trial account. So, sign up. Then, pick a topic you're interested in and begin your lesson. You will hear a knowledgeable instructor's voice and his or her computer screen will appear before your eyes. It's like you're being guided by the hand!
Learn more about lynda.com.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
It's a question of equity. A righteous jealousy is merely wanting the right tool for the job. Would anyone look down on a mechanic because he wanted to upgrade from a wrench to an air compressor? During the Civil Rights marches of the 1960s, did anyone consider Martin Luther King, Jr. jealous when all he wanted was equal rights for all people? Why should teachers be any different when it comes to wanting the right tools to meet the needs of their students?
A Little Field Trip
So today, my principal, myself, and some of the teachers at Coronita Elementary school visited Todd Elementary school to learn how the staff has integrated technology into their curriculum over the past two years. Todd's principal, Grace Eden, along with classroom teachers Angela Helmer and Ed Cavillo, demonstrated their interactive whiteboards, document cameras, wireless pads, and student responders. Afterwards, we visited their English Learner lab, complete with dance pads tethered to computers, and touch screen computers.
Dance To Learn
One of the dance pad games we tried involved matching an animal with its characteristic. As a two- or three- word description drifts across the top of the screen (ex. hooves, gallop, four legs), the player stomps his or her foot on the part of the dance pad that corresponds with the location of the animal's name on the screen (i.e. horse). Points are awarded for speed and accuracy. It's these kinds of technology rich, whole-body kinesthetic learning activities that make the children enrolled in Todd's 2-hour after school EL program want to stay even longer.
Breaking New Ground
Since Todd is one of Corona-Norco Unified School District's newer schools, Grace Eden had the opportunity to make key decisions about the kind of tools with which they would outfit their school. For example, instead of deciding to purchase brand new overhead transparency projectors, DVD players, CRT televisions, and other traditional pieces of equipment, she insisted that each classroom should be equipped with more current and effective tools, such as interactive whiteboards, student responders, and document cameras. Any money that would normally have been spent on "old school" technology was going to be spent on "new school" tools. To learn more about Todd's use of technology, check out this article featuring Todd Elementary by RIMS CTAP, published back in January, '09.
Passionate About Teaching
As a strong proponent of educational technology, it's a huge encouragement to me, my principal, Beth Feaster, and many of my colleagues, to see fellow teachers across town like Angela and Ed, and a principal like Grace Eden, putting technology in the hands of students and teachers, modeling best practices, and ultimately being passionate about teaching.
Bottom line: Teachers need new tools to truly engage students and enhance their learning. There's nothing wrong with an overhead projector: but compared to a document camera hooked up to an interactive whiteboard-- forget about it! It's like the difference between a typewriter with ribbon vs. a word processing program on a computer. There is simply no contest. It's time for ALL stakeholders to embrace the tools of tomorrow because tomorrow is here. And teachers, you're not being jealous or covetous to want the right tool for the job.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
"Thumbs up - Thumbs down" is a widely used way to informally check whether or not your students understand what you’ve taught them. But who actually counts kids' thumbs? And aren't most student responses held suspect because they are so worried about feeling judged by their peers? They look around to see who has their thumb up or down before they respond... Now, imagine if your students could send you their responses privately, with the click of a button. What if their responses could be tallied and displayed immediately in a bar graph or pie chart on an interactive whiteboard or projection screen. Wouldn't that be much more accurate? Wouldn't that be cool? Let me assure you: it is.
What are they?
Most people call them "Clickers." They look like little TV remote control units, and they work in sort of the same way. Generally speaking, they all do roughly the same thing: provide a direct wireless connection between a teacher and his or her students. Student response systems include a radio frequency (RF) remote for each student in a given class, a central receiver, software, and some form of assessment software, which tallies student responses, records attendance, posts test results and provides individual feedback.
Enhances Interactive Teaching and Learning
The brand of student response system I've been testing for the last few months is the Senteo interactive response system. Like all student responders, they're designed to enhance interactive teaching and learning. It starts when the teacher either displays or speaks a prepared or ad hoc question. Students can then anonymously key in answers with their remote. Responses are tallied and displayed on a projection screen or interactive whiteboard instantaneously.
Variety of Question Types
To assess student understanding, you can use a variety of question types, including true or false, multiple choice, numeric response and more-than-one-right-answer. Decimals, fractions and negative numbers can also be incorporated into questions and answers.
Student response systems provide immediate feedback to students, teachers, and even parents. Once a student completes a test, his or her score is revealed directly on their own responder. This eliminates the typical wait-time a student normally endures after a test. It used to take me an hour to grade a math test and sometimes it took me a few days before I even sat down to grade it. Now, I can spend that time designing lessons to remediate the ones who performed poorly. Furthermore, students are afforded time, right then and there, to analyze their own results: noting which problems they missed and correcting their own mistakes.
Export to Spreadsheet
From a record-keeping stand point, nothing beats the "export to spreadsheet" feature. These scores can be easily imported into your existing electronic gradebook system (if it supports the "import" feature) or printed out and integrated into a paper-based system. There is even an option to send an e-mail to each student's parents the moment the test is over. (When I told my students I intend to enable this feature in the coming weeks, they looked as if they'd just walked out of a horror movie).
All in all, student responders are effective tools that should be in every teacher's tool box. But as with all technology, the price tag can be prohibitive. The Senteo Response System 32 Pack goes for about $2K. But if integrating technology is a priority for your district, then it's an investment that can lead to an enhanced learning and teaching experience for everyone involved. To read more about the topic of Clickers, check out "7 things you should know about clickers."