Monthly Archives: October 2011

A leader in technology

It’s fall break and it is really hard for me to think about school in any way. I know I have to. I have a pile of grading to work my way through that could probably bury me if it had been actually turned in on paper. Luckily for me, almost all of  them have been turned in via Moodle.

Or maybe unluckily for me. When I can’t see it, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. It just means it’s easier for me to ignore it. And that just means it’s easier for it to pile up and metaphorically drown me.

To make matters worse, every time I think I’ll have a chance to get ahead, something else comes up. At home it’s the kids. At work, it’s far too many other things to do. Right now one of those biggest “things” is dealing with all the technology issues. If it weren’t bad enough that our server gets buggy at times or that it takes what seems like forever to enter a quiz in electronically, but I often find myself stopping what I’m doing to help someone else.

It’s not that I mind helping. I really don’t. When I jumped on board with Moodle, I knew I was going to be teaching my colleagues how to use it. That was established when I got the computer classroom. The first year I was one of the only people using Moodle, so there were very few questions. However, as more and more teachers start to utilize the technology, my phone has been ringing.

And I’m ok with it. I like helping people. I wouldn’t have become a teacher if I didn’t. I like introducing people to new ideas and showing them how they can change up their curriculum in the hopes that their students find the class even more engaging. It’s not always easy though. We do have a lot of old school pen and paper teachers who still want their scantron tests and freak out when kids turn in pages with rough edges (you know, from being torn out of a notebook). I’ve learned not to push things, but rather to try to give examples of ways tech can be used in the classroom and then let them come to me if they have questions.

One thing I am excited about is sharing the video I’m creating for my masters class with the other teachers at my school. It’s actually highlighting our VR department, which I think very few teachers really know about. When I went down there to visit, I was floored by what they can do. I think my fellow teachers will be as well. I actually want to put together a whole series of videos on the different departments in our school. I think it would be fun to show just what we can do with the tech we have. It might even inspire other teachers to start using the tech in more creative ways.

For example, I think if some of them knew how to use InDesign or Publisher, they could show their kids and they’d probably be really impressed with what our kids can put together. They could make newspapers to show their understanding of history, English, art, music, science, health, etc. We could show teachers using Mobis in their classrooms. Teachers doing review games. Kids chatting online

I haven’t proposed it to my principal yet, but it’s my next big project once the scheduling committee is done meeting (in mid-Feb). First I have to get the VR video done for my masters class.

Baby steps.

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Rainy days and firewalls always get me down

So today marks the third straight day of rain and I’ll be honest, I’m getting a little sick of it. It’s especially bad because not only is it wet, but it’s cold. Yes, I know, it’s October and that is kind of par for the course, but this is a bit too much, a bit too quickly. Heck, less than two weeks ago I was sweating in jeans and a t-shirt while we were exploring the pumpkin patch, and today I was shivering in jeans, a t-shirt, a sweatshirt and a hoodie.

Another thing that is driving me crazy lately are the school firewalls. Now, I know they serve a purpose. I don’t want kids looking up pornography on the computers (and I know they  have tried). I am not keen on them trying to find ways to make meth or bombs or anything like that either (once again, I know they have tried). However, I think our blocks border on the absurd at times. A fellow teacher came to me with her hands thrown up in the air because it had blocked a site she wanted to use. The category it fell into? Educational. Yeah, um, that makes no sense.

I get really excited when I get a new idea for a lesson plan. When I find a website I think will be perfect for a webquest, research, a game, or a cool video for my kids to see, I set right to work to add it to my Moodle site. However, about half the time when I get to school and try it out, I can’t get past the firewall. Or worse, I can on my teacher computer, so I think things are great, but when my kids go to try it…no dice. So, I am without a lesson and have to roll with it. Granted, I’m pretty good at improv (I did do theater for years), but I am not always good about hiding my frustration with the situation.

We have a process at school where we can ask that sites be unblocked. The techies go in and judge whether or not we get to use it (I should point out that only one of them was ever a teacher). If we are lucky, they unblock it. However, half the time, even when they unblock it, they only take part of the blocks off, so instead of being able to view the site, we see a distorted mess. This is the case with IMDB (which I use for Film Lit), several of the international newspapers I use (for Journalism) and our online school newspaper. Yup, that’s right, because my kids can’t get school server space, they set up our online paper as a blog. It’s really cool and visually interesting, but our student body can’t view it correctly from the school computers because blogs are a blocked category. They have unblocked our site, but it displays all wonky. I am trying to negotiate another fix, but we’ll have to wait and see how long it takes and how successful I am. I’m not holding my breath.

What I am learning to do is to have students beta test things and then always have a back up plan. It is frustrating as all get out because it means I have to plan two lessons, but it’s better than having 80 minutes to fill with nothing. So, I keep hunting for new sites, displaying them from my computer (on the overhead) and begging the tech gods to open sites up.

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Techity, tech, don’t type back

I like to think I’m fairly tech savvy. Every day I spend hours checking email, texting, browsing the web, Moodling, using Word, Excel, InDesign and Power Point. And yet, I’m always amazed at the little things I draw absolute blanks at.

For example, as part of this masters class I’m taking, we had to pick a program we don’t know as much as we’d like about, do some research, and create a project that showcases some groovy new skill we acquired. At first I was thinking Google docs. Afterall, my school just switched to gmail (which is a REAL pain btw, because I used to be able to have my personal email and my school email open at all times, but now since they are the same host, I can’t. I have to log out of one to see the other. I miss emails from my husband all the time.) and my principal keeps saying he’s going to be using the Google functions. So far he’s shared one document and put a few things on the calendar, so I think I might still have some time to learn.

Before I plunged into the research phase, I thought of something I’ve always wanted to do. Well, something in tech ed I’ve always wanted to do (which is sadly not nearly as exciting as say riding through the Chunnel or drinking cafe and nibbling pastries in a French bistro, but I gotta take what I can get): make a Jeopardy game with Power Point. After some research and a very long time spent putting the initial game together, I was thrilled! I had done it! I managed to make my very own review game for All Quiet on the Western Front. No longer will I be a slave to internet searches trying to find a game to fit my lessons. It was actually a lot easier than I thought it would be. It was just time-consuming.

Even though I haven’t tried that game out, it gave me an idea for an AP rhetorical devices review, so I used the Power Point I already had saved and just reworked all the questions and answers to make one. I did it in under 30 minutes and my kids had lots of fun! It was great! This little experiment reminded me that I need to be doing more with tech. Now, I don’t need I need to be using tech more. We use it plenty. Every day my kids use Moodle for a variety of activities: journals, forums, blogs, chats, uploading work, downloading handouts, taking tests, etc. They also research, type, annotate and peer edit. In my newspaper class they even design page and manipulate photos. Ok, so they don’t actually do all of these every day, but they spend a heck of a lot of time working on the computers.

No, I’m not talking about using tech more often, but rather using tech in more ways. I want to learn how to make more learning games. I would love to figure out a way to make a Sporkle type game for the books we read (my kids are ADDICTED). I would also love to figure out ways to help them make more creative Power Points. They just did presentations that were HORRIBLY boring. They read the entire presentation to the class, and just had bullet points.  I don’t know how they didn’t fall asleep watching them. I have a feeling though, that they are using what they know. I never really use Power Points in class (although when I do, I put key points on the slides and then give them all kinds of cool extra facts and some nifty pictures). But maybe I need to. At least to model for them how they can be very affective and interesting. I need to learn how to insert more video and music clips into my the program, and then use it to show them something they’ll really like.

Another area I’d like to improve in is the use of the Flip Cameras I have in my room. The editing software on them is not great, but I need to learn how to use it better. I also need to figure out how to import the videos into better editors. I’d love to layer videos with actual edits, music, text, etc. I’m actually using my tech class to help me a bit. I’m planning to make a video as part of a group project, and hoping that I can learn the program better.

Now, I know it is big talk to start listing all the things I want to do. It’s another thing to actually try them. I have three areas of focus right now. First, I want to try my hand at making some new review games. I’m content to make a few more Jeopardy boards, but I do want to move beyond that. Second, I want to learn to edit video better. Finally, I need to learn some more tricks in InDesign (the publishing software we use for newspaper). I think InDesign is going to be the easiest to conquer. My current plan of attack is to ask my managing editor for a tutorial. She is really quite good with it and I’m hoping she can show me some of the tricks. When we go to lay the paper out this month, I’m going to have the kids quiz me over how to do everything they do. In addition, when they have questions, I’m going to go to the tutorial in the program and figure out how to answer them. If I keep doing a little at every lay out session, I should have a pretty good handle on it by the time the school year ends…just in time to prep the new editors.

As for the video software, this project is going to be my first big push toward learning it. I would like to use the cameras next nine weeks in my Novels class and work with the kids to edit their videos. I think that by helping them trouble shoot and make movies, I’ll learn the program even better.

Now, as for the games, I’m probably going to have to put that off until Christmas break. I have way too much to do right now. The grading for the two AP classes is nearly swallowing me whole. Not to mention that I am planning two classes for the first time. There just isn’t any time to mess around trying to make new games.

Speaking of time, I have to go. As much as I love blogging, these muckraking articles aren’t going to grade themselves, and grades are due on 8 days. This would be far less daunting if the pile of grading wasn’t slowly becoming taller than me. Sigh….

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