Why the New Name?

Recently I’ve come to view “Teacher Tech Talk” as a name that, in a subtle way, perpetuates the notion of technology being an occasional enhancement to the learning process…technology as a separate category of learning tools not really essential to the learning process.  The truth is, as a society we entered the Digital Age years ago and aren’t turning back. If we’re to prepare our students for the world that awaits them when they graduate by fostering the essential skills that will enable their success, technology should simply be a natural part of the learning process. Depending on the learning context and how we harness it, technology can be the most powerful tool we can leverage to foster deep learning.  So to remove the “otherness” of technology, henceforth this blog will go by the name “Leveraging Technology for Learning”. What it lacks in pizzazz, it gains in getting to the point of what this blog’s purpose has been all along–helping you navigate a changing educational landscape. As Mike Ginsburg aptly noted on his blog recently, change can be intimidating. Know that I’m always here to help when it comes to leveraging technology for learning. Thanks for reading.

Professional Learning through Blogs and Wikis…and Twitter!

Despite their best efforts, school districts everywhere struggle with providing teachers with professional development activities and opportunities that meet the needs of all teachers. While we all educate students, we all have different needs due to the variety of subjects and ages we teach, not to mention the variety of learning styles we each have as adult learners. Some activities are a no-brainer…when there’s a new student information system that all teachers will be using (think Infinite Campus), everyone will benefit from a workshop that shows teachers how to use it.  However, when it comes to professional growth related to instructional practices, a one-size-fits-all doesn’t usually work. This is why some districts are encouraging teachers to develop professional/personal learning networks (PLN’s). A PLN is basically a personalized social network, developed by the individual teacher, full of digital resources that pertain to his/her specific needs or interests as an educator.

One great way to start developing a personal learning network is by reading blogs, using an RSS feed aggregator, like GoogleReader. This article does a great job discussing the role of RSS feeds and wikis in developing PLN’s.  To learn about the basic concept of RSS, click on the video below.

Another great PLN tool is Twitter.  This article by New Milford High School (NJ) principal Eric Sheninger explains why Twitter should be a vital component to anyone’s PLN. How many of you are on Twitter and use it as a means for professional growth? Leave a comment below to share your experiences. Then hit me up on Twitter…my handle is @MadisonITS.

The Blog is Back!

So after almost a year-long hiatus, I’ve decided to get this blog back up and running.  Why did I abandon it for so long? Part of it had to do with Finalsite.  I thought that platform would replace this one as a technology resource for teachers.  However, I’ve realized over the past several months that while Finalsite is great for posting technology tutorials, it’s not as flexible as this blog and, therefore, is not the best platform for discussing and sharing technology tools. Think of it this way–I see Finalsite as place for reference materials and tutorials, while this blog is more a place for inspiration and conversation.

As I continue to work on my Masters in Instructional Media, I am constantly reminded that our students today are different than they were 10-15 years ago.  They grew up with high-speed Internet access and the read/write Web, and spend way more time getting information from screens than they do from books.  They are digital natives, and they learn differently, like it or not.  So if you’re interested in the latest in educational technology tools and best practices in terms of how to engage and inspire your students through technology, please visit this site often. My goal is to post regularly about various tech tools and how they can be used in your classroom in meaningful ways that actually enhance learning. I’d love to hear your feedback and suggestions through the commenting feature at the bottom of each post.

That said, the first technology teaching tool I’d like to address is digital storytelling.  I’ve seen a couple English teachers at Polson recently employ this as a mode of assessment with great success, but for those of you who are not familiar with digital storytelling, take a listen to this podcast I put together about the basics, then take a look at the example further below that I put together for one of my course’s final projects.

Madison Students Are Blogging!

To the best of my knowledge, 2009 marks the first time Madison teachers have used student blogging as a teaching/assessment tool, and it’s been a really positive experience for everyone involved. It’s been so successful that I felt compelled to make it the subject of this week’s post.

Teachers from all over the district have incorporated blogging into their curricula.  At Island Avenue, Mike Ginsburg created student blogs for each of his 4th graders to work on their writing and communication skills.  The quality of this student’s blog demonstrates how technology can be a real motivator for our younger writers. Additionally, reading specialists at all three elementary schools have embraced “the read/write web” to instill critical thinking skills.  Vanessa Lamb, Doreen Shirley, and Stacey Collins created blogs this year to start virtual Interactive Reading Clubs (IRCs) for more advanced readers.  According to Mrs. Collins, “The kids are using higher level thinking skills (analysis, synthesis and evaluation) from Bloom’s Taxonomy in order to answer questions/make comments posted on the blog.  I am encouraging them to comment on thoughts their classmates post as well.”  In addition to reading on a deeper level, students also appear to be having plenty of fun blogging.  “The students find it challenging and exciting to interact with other students via technology. Students can blog from home or school. Some even blog from their iPOD touch!  It is very exciting learning and we are all having fun,” says Ms. Lamb. 

Meanwhile, at Polson Middle School, Christy Paradis has her own blog where she has her 7th graders respond to her posts and each other’s comments about the novels they are reading in literature circles for their “Exceptionalities Unit.”  She sees the most beneficial aspect of student blogging as the honesty it can foster in her students’ comments.  “Some students have a difficult time speaking up in class, others would rather be funny than serious in front of their friends.  The blog is a place where students can express their thoughts and understanding of the novel without having any pressure from their classmates.”  (To make this happen, Christy set up her students with anonymous usernames for her blog.)

Finally, student blogging in its most advanced, real-world form can be found in Marcie Roccio’s Advanced Web Design course.  Here DHHS seniors design and run their own blogs about topics they are passionate about.  Topics include Rock Music, Animal Rights, Hi-Tech Gadgetry, NASCAR, Video Games, and World Issues that demand our attention.  Instead of succumbing to “senioritis”, these students find themselves truly engaged in this form of writing.  According to Marcie, “The first thing they do when they get to class is check to see who has commented on their blogs.   The really get a kick out of hearing back from their readers.”  Click on any of the links above to see what these bloggers are writing about, and encourage them to keep writing by posting a comment or two.  A full list of these blogs can be found by here

For more information on how and why educators are incorporating blogs into their units of study, check out this article

Still confused about what a blog is?  Click here.

The New Digital Divide

MPS Reading Consultant Vanessa Lamb recently forwarded a really thought-provoking article to me published in eSchool News about a new digital divide that exists in education and is widening as a result of some schools’ using technology in forward-thinking ways while others simply make it available to students and staff.

Here are a few snippets:

“According to William Rust, research director for the IT research and consulting firm Gartner, there is a new digital divide occurring in schools. Whereas this divide used to refer to whether or not students had access to technology, now it concerns whether schools are using technology effectively to achieve results.”

“Citing a report by Ian Jukes and Anita Dose of the InfoSavvy Group, Rust said digital native learners prefer (1) receiving information quickly and from multiple resources; (2) parallel processing and multitasking; (3) processing pictures, sounds, and video before text; (4) random access to hyperlinked multimedia information; and (5) interacting and networking simultaneously with many others.  ‘The biggest shift we’re seeing right now is student preference shifting from print to digital resources,’ Rust noted. ‘It’s all about the web.'”

Click on the link above to read more.  You’ll have to register for free to read the article in its entirety.

Equally thought-provoking is this recent blog post about the future of our schools from Will Richardson’s Weblogg-ed. His is one of the best blogs concerning education that I’ve come across to date.

Regardless of whether you read both pieces or just the snippets above, I encourage you to leave your thoughts by posting a comment by clicking on the “Comments” link at the bottom of this post.  I look forward to hearing what Madison teachers have to say about the role technology should play in our classrooms, and I think this’ll be a good venue for a variety of perspectives to be voiced and heard.

5 Reasons You Should Consider an Edublog

The district has recently purchased a campus site license from Edublogs that allows 100 Madison teachers to create their own educational blogs.  So far about 20 of those have been snatched up by teachers at the elementary level who signed up for a November 4th professional development workshop on blogging.  The remaining 80 will be given on a first-come, first-serve basis to any K-8 teacher interested in starting a blog as an alternative to a Contribute Web page.  We also hope to get our students blogging at some point in the future.  So why would you want to start your own Edublog?  Here are five reasons:

1. Convenience. Unlike a Contribute Web page, you can edit your blog from home, or anywhere you have an Internet connection.  I like to edit mine while I watch TV on the couch.  Creating posts is also quick and easy.

2. Self-promotion. By creating an Edublog, you provide parents with a window into your classroom, a window filtered by you that you open and close at will.  Create blog posts as frequently as you like, and highlight any events of the day you deem noteworthy.  These posts will also give parents a springboard for discussions about school with their kids.

3. Media literacy. Getting students familiar with the format of a blog promotes Web literacy.  Blogs are everywhere and give voice to a wide array of perspectives and biases.  It’s important for students to understand what a blog is if they are going to be media savvy.

4. Communication. It’s a great communication tool that saves time.  Posting homework assignments and other class information on your blog will cut down on the number emails and phone calls you receive from parents.

5. Get hip. Doesn’t it just sound cool to say to your friends and family, “Yeah, I blog…I’m a blogger”?  Okay, this last one’s up for debate.

Still confused about blogging?  Visit my Web 2.0 page or check out some video tutorials at www.edublogs.org.  If you’re interested in starting a blog this year, be sure to send me an email so that I can get you started and provide you with any support you’ll need.

Fun Fact about Blogs: The average annual income for a professional blogger is $24,000.  They earn their incomes mostly from banner ads that appear on their blogs.  Sorry, our teacher blogs are not ad-supported.