21 March 2010

Why do I use Technology in my classroom?

As I sit here, procrastinating paying bills/doing homework, I am considering a meeting with a colleague this afternoon in which we are going to discuss classroom technology integration and twitter as a Peer-Learning-Network. I decided to ask myself why I use these things in my classroom and just share my thoughts on my journey to this point as a technology-oriented teacher.

A little history

I am not a typical new teacher (yes, I still consider myself a new teacher with a lot to learn!). I went back to school as an older adult (mid-30s) and began teaching at the age of 37. I've always been interested in technology, a bit of a computer nerd you might say. While in school, I was sorely disappointed in the training I got in technology. Because I respect SNU as an institution I won't go into specifics, but it appears (this is an simply my opinion) that they are not adequately training teachers to integrate technology into the 21st Century classroom. Those things said, I didn't really set out to make my classroom a technology-heavy educational setting. It kind of just happened.

To the credit of Putnam City Schools, I first got interested in technology integration in a class offered by the district. I was motivated to go to the class because it meant I would get a district supplied laptop for the duration of my employment and who doesn't want that! (I've heard about teachers applying and not being accepted and then dropping it at that; to them I say "Apply again!") But the result of the class and the direction of my classroom went/goes much deeper than just a  "free laptop".

About the time I took the class, I had just completed the SchoolCenter teacher webpage class in our district and had begun to build an informational website for my students. It was in its infancy and has grown to consume a lot of my time. However, based on the analytics from SchoolCenter (a feature I love!) I can see that many students (or someone) is visiting the site on a regular basis. The calendar feature is probably the best part since its a way for me to keep a planner/schedule that students can access from any internet-connected computer. The classroom website and the textbook-supplied website for my AP Physics homework were the two driving forces of technology-use in my classroom. I really began to use my AP Physics class as a bunch of guinea pigs by integrating the use of the calendar, discussion boards, and online homework.

I got a really positive response from students about both components (the online HW and the webite) and that really encouraged me; especially because I was (at the time) feeling very inadequate about my methods and my classroom in general (this was the time of my first year that I think many/most new teachers really begin to doubt what they are doing - 3rd quarter of the first year). The positive feedback from students was like a drug, I wanted/needed more and began to look into other areas in which I could get technology integrated into my class. At this time, I also realized that there were (and still are) laptop labs in my building which are not booked solid and I figured out I could use one of them regularly, as often as several times a week, if I wanted to do so.

I felt technology was a way to get students using something with which they were familiar (technology) to begin to get exposure to an abstract and at times difficult subject: Physics. Many students were (and still are) very afraid to take Physics. This stems from a fear of math and is whole separate post, so I'll just leave it at that. I felt that if I could get the word out that students use laptops often in my classroom that my enrollment would increase because students like using technology tools to learn. It seems to have done just that. Next year I have 56 enrolled for Pre-AP Physics 1, so far. That's an increase of nearly 100% over this year. Wow! I just now calculated that! Pretty encouraging.

Stay on Target!

So, what now? What am I doing and why am I doing it?

  1. I am still using the teacher webpage. Its a great way to have students see where we are going with the calendar, access documents we use in class such as study guides, homework answers, and I have even begun to host tests there for my Physics 1 classes (paperless classroom, here I come).  I'll see about a separate posts on integrating googledocs as a way to give paperless tests sometime in the near future.

  2. I still use the online homework component of our AP Physics textbook. Its self-grading which saves me a lot of time and allows me an opportunity to have the rigor of a true college classroom. Don't get me wrong, I don't mean its easy. I just mean its easier for me to give a larger load of homework that is on par with what these students will experience in college (its AP, right?)

  3. I began using a wiki in my classroom last year as a paperless research project. It began as a scientist research project (wherein students researched a particular historical scientist and created a wiki page) but has evolved into something that I think will be much better: a textbook. My thoughts are that students can create a textbook, using our current textbook as a guide. We use Turnitin.com to keep everyone honest about plagiarism. I absolute do not want students cutting and pasting from one website. I encourage synthesis of information and expect that they have a basic understanding of the writing/editing process since they are (usually at least) juniors in high school.

My future plans? Undecided. I'm not sure I can add anything else. I am heavily vested in social networking. I believe in transparency and teach my students the same. I do add students to my social networks for a couple of reasons. Primarily because I communicate with them about schoolwork via social networking.  A significant amount of the wiki project is done on student's own time, as homework, and social networking is an easy way to communicate quickly. This blurs the boundaries of our classroom and extends instructional time, all at no cost to the taxpayer! Secondly, I believe in leading by example. If students see that I am a how I use social networks and that I don't post pics of myself in compromising situations online, that sends a strong message that these are powerful tools that can be used for "good or evil". We talk some about digital citizenship in our classroom and we discuss social networking in that context.  It all boils down to transparency.


Why do I use it? I've built a network of people who have similar interests/goals and I follow them. I don't imagine many people get much out of what I post to twitter. I do, however, get a lot out of what others post. Its a great way to see what others are reading. I think of it like a food taster for the King. I am the King and my network is out there constantly tasting my food and passing along that which is good. I know, that seems a little self-centered, but it works for me and I like the analogy!

I apologize for the long post. Maybe someday I'll learn how to do several small posts instead of one gigantic one! Thanks for reading.

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