Tech, Teaching and Me

Trying to turn off my brain by writing it down

0 to 20 million (webpages) in .14 seconds…

Teaching my students to analyze, process and critically evaluate information in their world is no small task. When I was a young student, and given an assignment to research for a topic,  I had two choices. If I was lucky, the topic was in an encyclopedia we actually owned. I remember being assigned the state of Georgia in 3rd grade. We didn’t own the “G” encyclopedia, so I went to the neighbor’s house to borrow theirs. If no one on the block, had the necessary encyclopedia, it was off to the library. The copier, a bunch of dimes, and a few hours on a Saturday, usually with some friends, was the main part of my research.

Today, as I tell my students, they can input a topic into Google and in .14 seconds, receive millions and millions of pages of information. That is a daunting thought! How do they process all of that information? How do they learn to evaluate it critically? How do they learn to dig through it and find what is credible, what is accurate, and what is relevant to their discussion? Honestly, there are times, I am overwhelmed with all of it. Isn’t it understandable that 8, 9, & 10 year old students would be as well?

My answer to how do they…. is simple. They do it. They do it again. And, again. It is my job to teach, model, and reinforce learning how to decipher all of that information that is at their fingertips in .14 seconds. One lesson I enjoy teaching is the Tree Octopus Lesson. Students are directed to the website http://zapatopi.net/treeoctopus/ I create a Google Form ahead of time complete with questions they can easily find on the website (http://tinyurl.com/sggstreeoctopus).

This is not a new lesson, by any means. It is an effective lesson, though. The website looks credible, professional and organized. The information is easy to understand and “packaged” to appear valid. Students are quickly pulled into the world of tree octopuses and many don’t question the existence of the animal at all. I usually add a few youtube video clips (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Wt-dqIulGU).  In fact,  as you know, there is no such creature.

This is just one of many opportunities to teach critical evaluation of information on the internet. Students need to learn that “just because it is on the internet, doesn’t make it true”. Students also need to evaluate and analyze where the information is from, or is it based on fact or opinion. Is a personal opinion on a blog, a valid source? How do you tell the difference? A great tool for research evaluation is http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Internet/Evaluate.html. The categories for evaluation were very helpful; What can the URL tell you?, Scan the perimeter of the page, looking for answers to these questions, Look for indicators of quality information, What do others say?, and  Does it all add up?

Teaching memorized, recited facts to our students who will live in a world with information at their fingertips seems unnecessary. Teaching how to gather, analyze, evaluate and use that information is not only important but critical to their success.

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Priorities & Passion in Teaching

Yesterday, my fellow teachers and I were lucky enough to have Sheryl Nussbaum Beach http://www.21stcenturycollaborative.com/come and speak at our school. It was an afternoon of thought-provoking inspiration for me.

Her presentation was energizing and motivating. The take-aways from the day were many. I will share with you two of the impactful thoughts for me. Sheryl told us, “You can be powerful or you can be pitiful.” It is so easy to go to a place in our minds and think, “I can’t do Skype (or insert other technology program here), I don’t have a webcam (or another piece of equipment), or I don’t even know how to use the program or find another class to Skype with.” Or, “That is a great idea but I don’t have the time.” It is easy to blame the absence of technology, the craziness of the schedule, or even the students themselves because they don’t have the attention span or the knowledge to do something that “creative”.

The truth is, we all set our priorities, every day. If something is important to you, you find the time, you find the resources, and you find the knowledge. If going to the gym is important to you, you go. It doesn’t matter if you are tired, you go. If having dinner together as a family is important to you, you make it happen as often as you possibly can….because it is important to you to invest the time and the energy. You set your priorities. You find the time, the energy and the resources for what is important to you. If you don’t make it happen, it wasn’t that important.

The same is true in our teaching profession. If it is important to you, if there are consequences or results you deem worthwhile, you will make it happen. Those consequences may be the knowledge you give to the students, the joy you see in their eyes, the energy you feel from teaching a lesson in a creative and inspiring way, or the fact that your administration says it is mandatory. The bottom line is, if it is important to YOU, you will find the time, the resources and the energy to make it happen. You will stop being pitiful and you will start being powerful. The choice is yours to make.

 I am the Computer Resource teacher at my school. My job is to integrate technology lessons with teachers. I love taking lessons and infusing a new technological spin. I enjoy technology and all it offers to me, my teachers and my students. The presentation Sheryl gave yesterday was fabulous. But, admittedly, I drink the “Kool-Aid” so to speak….I am an easy sell. I was very surprised to hear from many teachers afterwards, that it was a presentation about more technology, more devices, more programs, more digital tools. I realized quickly what my second take-away from the presentation was – the presentation wasn’t about “technology based” teaching but “passion based” teaching. Making a difference in our student’s learning is not about the digital tools, the equipment, or the money we spend. The difference is a result of using those tools and all available tools with purpose, with passion, with energy and creativeness.

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Formative Assessment vs Summative Assessment

After reading the article Formative and Summative Assessments in the Classroom, I understood the different types of assessments with more focus. The very nature of the titles are clear to me. Formative is a formal assessment, generally with a grade or a tangible result of some sort. Consequences, while a result of both types, good or bad with a formative assessment the consequence is larger. A passing grade or an evaluation of the test scores if the assessment is more of a district or national basis would be a result of a formative assessment.

A  summative assessment is a more casual and more frequent.  The consequence, on the surface, seems smaller. Perhaps a participation grade is given, or no grade at all after a summative assessment. Yet, I will argue the result is “greater” than the formative assessment. The summative assessment is aimed to see what the student has learned, what the student knows about the material. The real reward, the “greater consequence” of the summative assessment is the opportunity for the teacher to see what is working in the lesson and what is not working. What a gift to the teacher AND the student!

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