Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Global Learner Year One Reflections

The conclusion of my first year as a member of the Global Learners program is rapidly drawing to a close. I can comfortably say that in many ways this has been one of the most exciting years I've had as a teacher in quite a while. Not only did I choose to take on collaboration/group work as a norm of the class, but I integrated technology into my teaching far beyond what I thought I would. (Quote of the day from one of my juniors as he is typing his final: "Mr.... how do you spell 'miracles'?") Ning, Edmodo, Twitter, CoverItLive, YouTube, TextTheMob, Power Point, Google docs,, and the like played far more of a role in my classes and in my instruction than I initially believed they could, to the point that they became as much of the classroom culture as a whiteboard or a textbook. There are some that I've introduced my students to but haven't really dug into yet, like RSS feeds (I use them, but haven't spent a lot of classroom time on them yet), podcasting, videocasting, OpenZine, and so forth. I used blogs this year, and will continue those as well. I'm sure there are other educational technologies that I've not even heard of, but will seek out and utilize as much as I can.

On the one hand, it does mean a good bit of extra time and work for me, at least initially, but when schools in other countries are making it a part of their regular curriculum, then it becomes a given that my students need to be made aware of these tools as well; under no circumstances will my students be given the opportunity to be left out of the conversation. There are plenty who disagree and feel that social networking and the like have no place in the classroom; I and many others respectfully disagree. The bottom line is that the technology is here to stay and as educators we can either adapt or be left behind. The tragedy of that is if we choose to become Luddites, we drag our students down with us and so disenable their ability to stay involved and connected to the world that they can, do, and will live in.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Things that are better than they should be

Got this recipe from the Denver Post, and decided tonight was a good time to try it out:
Dangerous Chocolate Mug Cake
1 regular-sized coffee mug
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp baking cocoa
1 egg
3 tbsp milk
3 tbsp oil
3 tbsp chocolate chips (optional, but makes it taste best)
some nuts (optional)
small splash of vanilla
Directions: Add dry ingredients to mug, mix well. Add egg and mix thoroughly. Pour in milk and oil, mix well. Add chocolate chips (if using) and vanilla. Mix again. Microwave for 3 minutes on high. The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don't be alarmed. Allow to cool a little, and tip out onto a plate if desired. Eat! (Serves two if you want to share.)

The results? Omigosh. As you can see, I made up three cakes (one for K, one for B, and one for me) and served them whipped homemade whipped cream on 'em. Wow. Okay... where is says serves two? Yeah, for sure. These things are rich! They're kind of like a cross between a brownie and cake, and after a few minutes of cooling resemble a brownie more than cake. None of us were able to finish our cakes; they're tasty as heck, but super sweet and rich... go make one, but be warned! (I'll be making them again for sure!)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Set your presentations on fire

My students are preparing to give their presentations on renewable energy and what they have learned from reading Plan B 3.0 and related readings. I've decided that this time around, I'm going to have them use the Ignite format for their presentations. Basically what that means is that they will be given five minutes and 20 slides (that automatically rotate every 15 seconds) to present their ideas. The students are in various stages of pseudo-panic about this: some think five minutes is so long, others say that there is no way they can present in that short a time. I think this format will work really well. I like the structure this promises, and I also think that teaching them to be concise in their delivery will prove invaluable.

I have become pretty hooked on Edmodo. I've started using feeds for some of the groups I've used and I've discovered that when you put in a link to a video, it actually embeds it in the message... very nice! The next pieces of tech I want to master is OpenZine. OpenZine is basically a way to design and publish online magazines. OpenZine definitely represents some cool possibilities for my classes next year; I'm already thinking about the possibilities for class and IB Academy magazines. (Cross posted to the Global Learners blog.)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hah! I KNEW it!

I've always loved chocolate; it wasn't until I was in my 20s that I was identified as having ADHD... now maybe I know why my body loves chocolate so much!

Chocolate: A Cure for ADHD?
As the most widely studied childhood disorder, treatments for ADHD come in a very wide spectrum. Research has found that PEA, phenylthelmian, found in chocolate, may provide the euphoric impact needed to alleviate symptoms in ADHD patients.

And children around the world are rejoicing.... :-)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Edmodo, Twitter, and Web 2.0

Last week I found out about, and signed my students up for, Edmodo; basically Twitter for teachers and their students. (FYI, I am on Twitter as well... feel free to follow me!) It took me a little while to get the hang of it, but now that I'm catching on, I'm really enjoying it and finding it far more useful than I thought. I can send just about anything to my students and/or to the groups I set up within it. Best of all, it's extraordinarily safe: students need a code just to sign up to use it... very nice.

Along those same lines, students in the UK are now going to be required to be technologically literate by the time they leave the primary grades. The new requirements include the ability to utilize not just basic skills but also skills with social networking, blogging, podcasts, Twitter, and so forth. I'm only vaguely surprised to see these skills being formally incorporated into school curricula; not too long ago we had a rather interesting (read: vaguely heated) conversation around the idea that as English teachers our job had moved from the traditional role to more of that of a communications teacher, and as such, we were to accomplish three tasks: teach our students to read well, communicate effectively, and to think. After the initial eyebrow raising, at least some of my colleagues began to see the logic in this... and then the conversation turned to technology. Why is it so many teachers have such an intensely phobic reaction to the incorporation of technology in the classroom? There are times when I wonder how on earth I was able to get anything done before the advent of the digital age.

And yet, there certainly are risks to the uses and abuses of technology; it's not the panacea to learning as this Irish student was so effectively able to demonstrate. Like anything, technology is a tool, one that we should be using effectively instead of allowing it to use us. It's easy to get lazy about this: I see it in both students and teachers all the time. Using technology effectively takes work; it's not for the faint of heart, yet it is here and as Will Richardson so eloquently put it in this blog entry, it is crucial that our students become fluent in the language and be able to truly communicate their ideas effectively in a variety of mediums (and media). Are the days of reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn over? Hardly. But what is over are the days when we could complacently expect our students to read literature and spit back what we asked them to memorize facts and information on a paper test. It's time for our students to really be able to show us what they've learned and are learning, and it's time for us as professionals to be open to the possibilities.