Friday, 10 February 2012

Adventures in English

Kickin' It Old School

In grey blue dawn of the morning, I drove along with ease among the morning traffic, on my way to work.  When suddenly, in a flash, this red car cuts in front of me and speeds away, forcing me to break out of my serene commute.  At first I was upset and frustrated, how could this person be so inconsiderate, when there wasn't anyone behind me.  When this incident happened a few more times during the week, I realised that people nowadays are so caught up on this fast paced track that our society runs on, that we don't have time to slow down and enjoy the ride.  We move at the speed of new technology, trying to catch the next big wave of electronic devices that are supposed to help make our lives easier.  This pace becomes reflected in how we move through our daily lives, whether it is sprinting down the halls at school, or switching lanes through traffic to be the first one there.  What happens when you are forced to slow down?  What do you see?

Well, I'm no different than anyone else.  For the past 6 months or so, I've felt like I'm frantically grappling my way through 21st Century Teaching, incorporating i-Pads, Document Readers, Projector images; flying by the seat of my pants, in the hopes my students are engaged, or should I say entertained?  The more technology I stumble upon, the more I want to share it with my students.  Almost everyday I feel as though I have this "app" in my head that dings, reminding me to add more technology.  Does hooking up my lap- top to the projector and showing a PowerPoint, or You Tube clip make my lesson better?  Does it make the students learn the concept more easily?

Maybe.  But at what point do we rely on this technology so much that we forget the point of the lesson that needs to be learnt?  At what point does adding technology become "just for the sake of" because it is there and begging to be used?

Last week I spent hours preparing a lesson on poetry terms for my Eng 9 classes.  It was interactive, it had lap- tops and stations galore.  I pre-booked the computer cart and I was ready.  I thought to myself that this was going to be the best lesson I had ever taught.  "Look at me", I said in my head, "I'm brilliant at adding technology".   Then on the day of the lesson, everything crashed.  First off someone else took the computers; turns out there was a communication mishap with the booking.  So I decided to show the whole class my clips through Live Binders, but that failed too, as the wireless in my room dropped unexpectedly. 

Now what?  The class of 30 students awaited my next move.  I took a breath.  I took a deep breath and discovered the whiteboard behind me and a collection of pens.  My "old school" method of teaching poetry terms popped in my mind.  All I needed to TEACH was right in front of me.  I got through the lesson with my positive energy, and "old school tech." In the end the students still learnt the terms, without the fancy sparkle, I initially prepared.

So this is what I learnt.  Technology can be a wonderful tool, but that is all it is; just a tool.  Next time you decide to use technology to teach your lesson, slow down and ask yourself, does the technology enhance the lesson, or are you using it because you feel the "need" to?

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Adventures In English

Live Binders   
          There you are hunched over your laptop, which is hooked up the projector, at the front a full classroom, racking your brain to remember the exact title of the You Tube clip you wanted to show.  Meanwhile you have 30 impatient students waiting.  You type fast, and bring up a list of options that you know aren’t the exact match, but you hope it will do, as you have now wasted 15mins of class time just to show another example of irony.  If only there was an easier way?  Now there is: Live Binders. 
          As I continue down the road of the ever changing world of technology, I’m brought back to one of my first experiments in floating on a cloud, so to speak.  As mentioned in my previous blog, I have been dabbling in Live Binders, a cloud based program that allows you to locate your teaching resources at the click of a mouse.  When first introduced to the idea I was reluctant, as I didn’t understand the whole “cloud” phenomena, and more importantly, why I would ever need it? Though when given more time during a Pro-D day, I thought “why not give it a chance.”  So with my laptop and instruction manual in tow, I set forth on a new adventure in the clouds.  After an hour I was hooked once again.  In almost every English class I show pictures, You Tube clips, and other media from the Internet.  Normally I would spend valuable minutes fumbling my way through a search, to find said “clip”, while my students waited.  Now I all have to do is bring up my Live Binders and presto: I have my lessons right there. 
          I soon figured out my goal was to have my physical binders up in the clouds with all my material.  This way when my colleagues wanted to borrow my curriculum, I could refer them to the on-line binders, so that my hard cover ones wouldn’t go missing.  An experience I never want again.  I later realized I could post student work on it, like creative writing examples, to share on Twitter.  And just recently I presented Live Binders to the department, where it became apparent we could create a binder for each grade level and everyone could contribute their ideas to it.
          With so many uses, why don’t you just “Live Binder It”?  

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Adventures in English

     I’m going to start this technology blog, for the English Department at Sullivan Heights Secondary, with some of my own experiences this year.  In order for people to fully understand how much I have changed my teaching style, with the use of technology and 21st Century learning, I need to back up to the last week of June 2011.  My patient tech facilitator, Nicole Painchaud (@painchaud_n), kindly asked me to run a little workshop for the Summer Pro-D on “How to use Glogster”, since I had tried it once before.  At this point in time I was so fed-up with technology, the internet was inclimitent, and it seemed anytime I wanted to use technology somehow it failed me.  Or rather I failed it.  So I told Nicole “No I don’t want to do this.  And just for the record, I am going ‘old school’ next year.  Back to the basics of paper and pen; no computers, ect for me”.  Taken aback, Nicole said sorry she asked and walked away.

Well summer came and went, and the day of our Summer Pro-D started me off on a wild new journey with 21st Century Learning.  After an inspiring lecture we had to sign up for workshops, so I chose one on Twitter, as I respected the teacher who was presenting, Ryan Neufeld (@teacherneuf ).  Once I signed in I fell head over heels in love with Twitter.  I was back on the fast paced, wireless road of technology.  Since then I have tried to incorporate technology into my lessons almost every day.  So here is my journey thus far.

Wonderful Wireless
There was a running joke in the Spring semester of 2011 at our school.  Our wireless needs surpassed the system, as everyday hundreds of people were trying to connect to the wifi.  Usually students were the most successful, and the teachers were routinely bumped off.  This got to the point where many of us just plugged ourselves in and carried around long internet cables, like patients with IV’s. So the joke was we didn’t have wireless, we had “wonderless wireless”.  So in the fall of 2011 our school, Sullivan Heights Secondary, was granted with college level wifi.  This upgrade alone has transformed the way I deliver lessons, as well as how students find information.  Now I can easily bring up You-Tube clips, demonstrate how to research material from the internet, not to mention use Twitter and Live Binders, but I’ll get to those shortly.  If someone were to pop their head into my classroom they would probably see my students using their wireless devices, which used to be a major infraction at our school.  Not anymore, as my students are allowed to search words for definitions, find synonyms, as well as research topics, much more efficiently.  Now I don’t have to lug out the COW (computers on wheels) anymore just to do research, as at least one student per group would have the capabilities to access the world- wide –web, to find the answers.  So this is just some of the ways the new wireless system has changed my classroom.

Tweet, Tweet all day long.  As I mentioned before my newly found love for technology came from learning how to use Twitter.  Once I signed up I was hooked, but it took me awhile to figure out how I wanted to use it in my classroom.  I started off slow with just posting my homework for the students.  It didn’t take much time to do and it was easy, but I wanted more.  So as I started The Taming of the Shrew Unit with my less than enthusiastic grade 12’s, an amazing idea came forth.  I decided to create an ongoing assignment so my students could easily show me their knowledge about a chosen character without having to write paragraphs, upon paragraphs about.  I booked the COW for a few days to ensure every student would have access to Twitter.  At first many were reluctant, as they had never been on Twitter.  But once I encouraged it, explained and showed how easy this assignment would be using it, instead of hand writing their tweets, I got the buy in.  Essentially, all they had to do every act was tweet me 2 times about how their character was feeling at that point in the play.  When it came to assessment, I allowed the students to voice their opinions, and from that I created a rubric. By giving them a voice in their assessment I think I made them more accountable for completing the assignment.  I gave them time in class at first to do this, and by the end of the second week they were all tweeting outside of class time.  My I-phone was chirping all night, with creative hashtags and links to pictures and songs.  Now that the assignment is over I kind of miss the chirping.  Was it successful? You bet, over 80% of my students received B’s or higher.  They covered the PLO’s and did it without pages of writing, which for some would have been a struggle.

On another note, Twitter has created a positive culture and a sense of pride for our school that we never had before.  Check out #1000awesomethingsaboutsulli and see why we love our school. #Sullirocks

M. Freeman @msfree1