Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Reflections of a Paperless Class- Part 2

After a month of paperless classes, learning was going strong. Here are 5 of my most meaningful observations:

1- Students with organizational issues were excelling using their 'digital backpacks' and were championing their time management. (Ironically those same students weren't necessarily excelling in their other subjects.) Two students who I spoke with mentioned they enjoyed learning with a computer and they felt good about themselves because they were staying organized with their digital backpacks. They also liked how assignments were laid out for the entire trimester on Edmodo so they were able to slowly chip away one assignment at a time and feel good about working towards a goal of finishing all the material. I never thought that digital learning could be equated with self esteem building!

2- There was genuine collaboration in the classroom. My classroom is entirely student-centered. One of my mantras this year is to collaborate on many levels. For example, before a student can ask me a question they first have to ask their peers. At first students did not like this and didn't always feel comfortable asking their peers for assistance. A month in and students are up and about the computer lab asking each other questions, learning from another, sharing with each other. Students that may have been ignored or were quiet in the past were now able to engage in discussions in a mature and meaningful way.

3- There was deeper learning taking place. How often do we observe educators lecturing with 25% of the class sleeping, 25% spaced out, 25% doodling and 25% passively listening? I found students were actively engaged, and using their brains- all with little to none frontal lecturing. (Again I will say I have had a few students mention they miss daily lectures but when I called them on the carpet they said it was because they didn't have to learn as deep.) Students were blogging about their learning and there were conversations taking place over the material learned for weeks at a time. No I mean that literally. In my Bible/Chumash classes for each trimester students are responsible to submit 5 blog posts and 5 blog comment posts over the material they learned. ( Students use the blog rubrics pre-loaded into their digital rubric folder on Edmodo to guide and grade them)  Students submit the blogposts to the entire class so everyone reads them and responds. One of the first blogposts submitted to the class was a discussion involving miracles in ancient times verses nowadays. The actual class was 45 minutes. The blog discussions continued over the next 16 days. Deeper learning.

4- Too much digital learning ='s not enough face to face teacher-student relationship building/bonding. A few parents really wanted their children to develop strong bonds (kesher in Hebrew) with their Judaic teachers and felt too much time in front of the computer didn't lend to this goal. Being that my mantra is be a role model first and an educator second I understood what the parents concern but also felt the pull of completing curricular goals. In fact the whole reason for going paperless was to create an environment truly conducive to excellence in education! At the end of the day connecting and inspiring students was very important however I also was not ready to go back to primarily frontal lecturing where only mid-high level students were engaged (Actually I think most were parents of mid-high level learners who requested more bonding time with the students.) I began thinking about how to carve out more live group discussion time that wasn't bogged down with too much frontal teaching and more or less maintained the pace of the curriculum.

5- The technology I was using really fleshed out the different learner levels in my classes and forced me to think through what my goals should be for all learner levels. Because everything was on the computer everything was documented. This held my students to a much higher level of accountability but all the more so for myself! I primarily found myself struggling with what the goals should be for students who were at the lower end of totem pole. Realistically an educator can't assume that all students will finish the material with the same level of understanding. The ultimate goal was to make students life long learners be it collaboratively or independently. How could I further adjust my lessons to truly differentiate instruction?

I had other observations as well but these were the big ones that stuck out. Next up was to analyze student assessments as by this time there had already been a few. Would digital learning assist or hinder student assessment performance?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Reflections of a Paperless Class- Part 1

After recently finishing a most fabulous program on Ed. Tech. through Yeshiva University-IUSP and the generosity of the Jim Joseph Foundation I was ready to roll up my sleeves and showcase some of my new found abilities; I wanted to teach a paperless digital class. To a lot of people the idea of a paperless digital class is not realistic. Not all students have laptops or mobile learning devices, and not all students have internet access at home. That being said, with forethought, planning and true 21st century/web 2.0 curriculum, paperless digital classes can be a reality.

I spent a healthy chunk of my summer producing pod casts and vod casts recordings of myself reading, translating and explaining texts students were going to study for the year. Using Edmodo, an online educational platform where students could access files, submit work and have group discussions, I uploaded all the materials (texts, worksheets, rubrics, videos, links, etc.) students would need for the year. I created individual lessons (I refer to them as levels, using gaming terminology) and pre-loaded all the course work. I knew for this to even work I would need to schedule time in the computer lab for my classes to take place. Thankfully I was able to block off time in the mornings where virtually no other classes were using the lab.

As day one of school approached it was hard to anticipate what students would say when I would explain to them how class was going to work moving forward. When I introduced the paperless concept to my students for the first time most students seemed bewildered yet happy at once. They liked the fact they would be wired in but how would they do their classwork or homework or projects? This was new terrain for all of us.

I spent the first 3 days of school orienting my students on how to use Edmodo, where to access materials, folders, files, how to submit work, and how to engage in group discussions, etc. Students (and parents) had to sign a contract including a statement on  their observance of digital citizenship. After the 3 day orientation most students felt comfortable learning in a new way, were ready to roll up their sleeves and plug in.

After the first full week of digital learning my first observation was students were engaged in learning virtually the entire class time.Students expressed their feeling so much more organized with their files in a digital backpack. Other students felt more motivated to work and had a better handle on their time management  knowing they had to submit work to meet their digital due dates/deadlines.

From a teacher point of view there were no behavioral issues because students were too busy working on their lessons/levels. I found my time was completely freed up to assist individual students as they worked at their own paces. Because the learning was digital I felt it was much easier able to offer real elements of differentiated instruction be it through assessment choices, group verses individual learning choices and etc.

I polled my students after their first 2 weeks of learning and the results were clear: All students bar one said they were learning well and enjoying the wired style of learning. I was happy with the results but needed to provide a solution to helping that one student who seemed a little overwhelmed. Was it the technology, the subject, the teacher etc? I also needed to give it more time to see how students would perform in formative and summative assessments. Were they having fun or were they learning deeper-or both?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Future of Learning- Today

After watching a video like this one, the first thing that comes to my mind is not the technological aspects (though you have to admit it is very cool to have a grade school student develop an app!) but the plethora of learning choices afforded to students these days. Thomas should skype or have a google hangout with classes to articulate his affinity for programming and app making and encourage students who have a similar passion. Perhaps allowing students to pursue their unique dreams is the ultimate differentiated instruction.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

IBM CEO Sam Palmisano on Successful Leadership Values

This video really resonated within me. After watching ask yourself- 'is this how I lead?' Particularly the last 28 seconds.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Understanding By Design

I recently finished some work on understanding by design co-authored by Jay McTighe. This short clip really puts into perspective how educators should gear their curriculum. After watching, ask yourself 'Do my students learn this way?'