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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Why Continue to Invest in Technology?

Tis the time of year when budgets are planned and votes are taken to approve said budgets. In most districts across my state of New Jersey, and probably across your state as well, jobs and programs will fall under the budget axe.

So when a parent or board member asks, "Why should we keep putting money into technology?" we should be prepared to answer.

I recently stood to defend technology at a board meeting in my own district. In order to remember what I needed to say, and in order for the audience to possible recall it later as well, I organized my thoughts into an ABCDE format. Note that it's short on statistics and buzz words; that's entirely intentional. Don't over-think this for yourself, or over-complicate it for your listeners.

Active Participation
When we were in school, the traditional model consisted of a talking head at the front of the class, and a sea of nodding heads filling the seats. Nodding either with dumb agreement, or with sleep. Either way, learning was typically a passive act.

With technology, and especially with on-to-one programs, all students are involved simultaneously. Technology throws learning back into students' laps. Technology allows students to control both the processes and products of learning. The teacher is just as necessary, but now fulfills a much different role. Excellent teachers create opportunities which allow work and dialogue to continue well after classroom hours.

Buy In
Everyone wants to know, "What's in it for me?" Students are no different. They embrace learning when it's more personally meaningful to them. The Internet allows students to connect what they're learning with the real world in real time. It helps them to realize that what they're learning is neither discrete nor isolated from the "real world."

Technology also allows students to become content creators. When I poled students at the beginning of the year and asked them if they had ever created content to post on the web, they were amazed at the possibility. That capability is now totally taken for granted; they are a part of the Internet.

Middle and high school students are social animals, thriving on peer relationships. We can harness this natural inclination in a healthy and productive way by using technology that allows students to work together. Whether we create team oriented problem solving scenarios or simply permit students to peer edit and comment upon classmates' work, we're demonstrating that the teacher isn't the only one in the classroom with the answers. Equally important, we're encouraging students to ask the questions and seek their own solutions.

A little-touted benefit of technology is its ability to differentiate instruction. For the most gifted learner, technology provides opportunity. For the struggling learner, technology offers opportunity. Within a single assignment, a teacher can offer and accept incredibly diverse responses, given the number of applications and programs with which students can express themselves.

Equal Access
Knowledge is Power. That expression is cliche only because it's been said for generations, and is absolutely true. Equal access to the world's information, via the Internet, overcomes socioeconomic variables, offering true freedom to pursue learning.

If my points are too simplistic for you, I apologize. But for me, this five point plan for discussing the benefits of technology is one I can rely upon. It's simple, yes, but absolutely proven in my classroom experiences with students.

Want more? Heather Wolpert-Gawron has put together responses to five common complaints voiced by technology naysayers. Says Wolpert-Gawron:

Frankly, there are many reasons to avoid providing technology as a more common and frequent tool in education. However, as stated in "Strictly Ballroom," one of my favorite movies, "a life lived in fear is a life half lived." Fear cannot shut us down from our mission: to educate students for their future.

How do you respond to those who say that tech spending should be cut in order to trim the budget?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Microsoft Word's Most Ignored Feature for Teachers

Learning Essentials is a free application designed to enhance teachers' and students' use of Microsoft Word. Word owners can easily download the program, for free, for use at home or school.

Learning Essentials is a suite of templates, tools, and tutorials which integrates easily and assists teachers and students in creating reports, projects, and assessments. Students and teachers use existing Microsoft Office programs more productively with the aid of ready-made assignments and helpful shortcuts.

The best way to see the features of Learning Essentials is to download the demo (tour) at the Microsoft site. You'll get a tempting glimpse of what's included in both the Educator Tools and Student Tools.

Another way to get a look at some of the application's features is to check out the Creating Writing Assignments tutorial at GreatSource/iwrite, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's companion site to their excellent Write Source books. (Another hot resource to see there is the series of videos on How to Write a Research Report).

While there, also check out the tutorial titled How Can I Use Learning Essentials for Writing Instruction?

Then, when you're ready, download Learning Essentials and give it a go. Let me know what you think!

And check out the resources at GreatSource/iwrite as well! Tons of tutorials and awesome resources for young writers. If you're in the market for grammar or writing texts, definitely request a sample of one of their books. I'm not a fan of grammar, never was, but this well-organized and well-written series serves as a fantastic classroom resource for students engaged in meaningful reading and writing.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

ChangeThis: Support and Spread Great Ideas

Ever find yourself aimlessly surfing the Internet, looking for something to get you going? Most likely you're procrastinating, avoiding the very tasks that you know are important, or urgent, or both.

Go to ChangeThis. The mission of ChangeThis "to support and spread great ideas." And they accomplish this by sharing proposals and manifestos from some of today's top thinkers and leaders.

How To Be Creative by Hugh MacLeod at ChangeThis

Don't be intimidated by that. The ideas are presented in concise, attractively packaged pdf presentations, short enough to read on the fly, but involved enough to actually challenge your thinking. Think TED Talks on paper.

Some of my favorites:
So if your brain needs a kick in the pants, check this site out! See you in a few hours.