Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thankful for Thoughtful TFA Teachers

I'm thankful for my career! More than anything, the teaching aspect of it. My students are dedicated and committed to learning in and out of my course. I could share many special stories with you, but today I am giving thanks for 6 graduate students of mine who are also TFA (Teach for America) corps members. They are all in my ED 6030 Course: Technology in the Classroom. We have had several insightful discussions together either in small group or through their reflection journals about the challenges they face, especially related to technology resources in their classrooms.

What is Teach for America? I encourage you to visit their website if you have not heard about this inspirational organization: http://www.teachforamerica.org/our-mission.  Teach for America is a non-profit organization that aims to eliminate educational inequity by enlisting the nation's most promising future leaders to teach for two or more years in low-income communities throughout America. The organization aspires for these "corps members" to gain the insight and added commitment to tackle the root causes of America's achievement throughout their lives. Rockhurst has developed a partnership with Teach for America, so they may take their graduate level course here to earn a Master of Education Degree and teaching certification in their content area of interest.

Because they serve in low income schools, one of the issues they face is the digital divide: the inequalities individuals, families, schools face due to the lack of information and communication technologies accessible to them. Many students they teach do not have internet access or even a computer at home. Some of their schools do not have internet/wireless access, let alone 'smart' technology.  This may seem surprising in the Kansas City Metro area, but it a reality for these teachers. When presented with the assignment of looking through available grants they could possibly apply for, they quickly realized the roadblocks associated with researching grants for their classrooms. A few of them have found grant possiblities, but others are taking matters into their own hands. They are working with the veteran teachers in their buildings to provide professional development and use the limited resources they currenting have as they seek out other avenues of funding.

Even through their journey of locating resources, the commitment to delivering the best education to their students has been at the forefront. They instantly reflect on if they had the technology tools available to many other schools, how would these tools close the achievement gap and raise achievement in their classrooms?  Always student centered and focused on the achievement of their students, they have written thoughtful reflections such as this one...

  I see my students interact with my iPads [one through ED 6030 and one through TFA] and dream of what they would think of a giant version of this otherwise known as a Smart Board.  However, my students suffer from the school district's frequent overlooking of our school with innovative technologies or software due to the reality that our test scores rest just over district norms.  I do believe . . . that my students deserve the best of the best.  They deserve to have equal access to the great resources that are available and transforming education.  

Teaching is both rewarding and challenging. I am thankful for teachers and future teachers who set their sights on bringing to their classroom the best education they can provide.  I am thankful for those educators who strive to reflect on their practices and improve their teaching each day, with a smile on their face and keeping each of their students learning at heart... with or without technology.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Today's Forecast: Cloudy

It's all relative, if you ask the following groups of people the question, "what is a cloud? This is how they might respond...

 The average person: "a big puffy thing in the sky"

A  professor: "a mass of condensed water vapor in the atmosphere"

A college student: "where I store my stuff!"

The National Institute of Standards and Technology:
(cloud computing) "is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction."

What's that you say?

Basically, cloud computing has been around longer than you think. Do you use Gmail? That is called a Software as a Service cloud (SaaS).
Have you ever bought an "all you can eat meal"and never went back for seconds? Wouldn't it have been nice to buy only the small portion you consumed?  Through cloud computing organizations no longer have to pay to run at full capacity, only for what they use? This type of cloud computing system is called Infrastructure as a Service cloud (IaaS). This one is popular in higher education.

The highest level of cloud computing is Platform as a Service (PaaS). When an organization would rather build their own software tools and manage all the systems themselves. Some higher Ed institutions and other organizations are moving this way.

What does cloud computing mean to the individual technology user. Simply this: cloud storage...

Your PC, iPad, smartphone, etc being in sync at all times. Rockhurst U uses a cloud system for their portal: https://my.rockhurst.edu/web/mycampus/home. Another good example of this is Google docs. A popular and highly reviewed cloud storage option is "Sugarsync". No more carrying around that annoying flash drive or feeling of frustration and anxiety because you forgot which device you saved a file you need immediate access to. Watch the demo, try it out. It's inexpensive.   https://www.sugarsync.com/

One crucial point to remember: you will need internet access to mange and access your cloud storage. But, the feeling of having all your files backed up to one spot from all your devices will leave you with more sunny days than cloudy ones.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Who Says Using Technology Impedes Social Interaction?

It doesn't have to!  Another service learning project yesterday, mission accomplished.  This time the 6th graders came out from Holy Cross Catholic School. As blossoming middler schoolers, you might expect some challenges, but not this group. They quietly came in and my pre-service graduate students worked with 3-4 students at a time.  We covered the essentials of internet safety, cyberbullying through role-playing activities and showing them various videos provided free by: http://www.netsmartz.org/Educators.

The students proceeded to move forward with their Powerpoint projects and SMARTboard notebook activities individually on the RU computer lab desktop computers.  The activities we had them engaged in were built off their interests and curriculum from their classroom. As they excitedly went throught the creation and completion of their projects, a clear constant varaible was evident: they repeatedly were showing each other their work.

I'll be honest, this was not an avenue we were directly encouraging or had focused on. Their confidence was on the rise. Their motivation and excitement was expressed through their positive behavior and sharing of their work.  I must say, I was reminded quickly, as I'm sure my pre-service teachers were, the crucial piece of allowing students to ENJOY learning. The Holy Cross students were skipping around showing their color printed copies of their powerpoints, pointing out their frog dissection from the SMARTboard, and discussing how and why they were using the programs. As educators, we must offer them opportunities through small groups, 'think, pair, share' activities and informal, open conversations to move around and proudly communicate their hard work.

As schools rapidly progress towards new technologies,  individualizing instruction, offering 1:1 technology tools initiatives; the promising theme is clear: motivating students to do their best and share their hard work. Time is tight during the classroom day, but social interaction and keeping high expectations for students to discuss the evidence of their learning is a key factor in a collaborative community.

Special thanks to the RU Department of Education graduate students: Felicia Cash, Matt Dow, Nicole Flowers, Rebecca Paul and Rose Rylko.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

There's an App for That!

You hear this phrase quite often if you own a smartphone and enjoy downloading apps. The majority of people out there wonder: how do you exactly go about finding THE app that you really want without paying a hefty price?

Depends on what type of app you want...

If you are an educator, which most of the people I encounter on a daily basis are, check out this Livebinder full of places to find the best educational app for your/your students' needs: http://livebinders.com/play/play_or_edit?id=36989. It might take you some time to go through the different areas of the binder, so start small.

If you are an app-enthusiast, and would rather use an app to find apps: try "appbzr". This app allows you to view several many different categories of apps: Entertainment, games, music, productivity, educational, social networking, sports, travel, books, finance, news, medical....just to name a few. The features on this app include: Top 100 Apps, Hot Apps, Price Drops, New Apps, Updates, and you can create your own lists to organize your interests.

If you prefer to read online reviews about apps: go to: http://appreview.com/ and http://www.appcraver.com/.

Quick tips:
  1. Always read the reviews, especially if it is an app which has been around for a year or so. If the creator hasn't been updating to work out the 'bugs', probably not worth your money or time to use.
  2. Keep up with the updates. Don't disregard an app because it doe not function exactly as you wish at first. That is the beauty of apps--the updates!
  3. Create folders on your phone or iPad to organize your apps. You simply press down on the app until it 'wiggles', bring two apps together and it will form a 'folder' for you. You can drag any other apps you wish to your folders.
  4. Take a screenshot of the app you are using. (This is useful if your friend doesn't believe that you passed that angry bird level you've been working on.) Simultaneously press the on / off switch and the center home button at the same time. You will notice an on-screen flash. If you have sound enabled, you will hear a camera click.
  5. Have fun! Choose apps that are well worth your time and inspire you to learn!