Posted by: Navy Teacher | April 27, 2012

My Experience (so far) with Educational Technology


I will not remember every tool that we utilized in my education technology class over the past four months.  However, the experience has provided me with a new perspective of how technology can positively impact how my students learn.  I reflected upon my experiences over the semester of learning how technology can benefit my students.  During my reflection one word came to mind – resonate.

As a teacher, I want my lessons to resonate with my students.  What is the best way to accomplish that goal?  I suppose it depends on who you are asking.  Some teachers believe the best way to teach is how they were taught or how they learned.  They stand in front of the class and speak at the students while the students frantically scribble notes.  The teacher then test the students on their ability to retain the information.  I suppose it is an effective way to teach a classroom full of mastery learners.  How often does that occur?  Yes, there are still teachers out there who subscribe to lecture-based lessons.  There are other teachers who believe that he/she must engage the students through various methods (differentiated) so that every learner is engaged.  I believe that differentiation is much more effective than relying on one method of lesson delivery.

OK, where does technology fit in?  Technology opens a portal to unlimited opportunities for lessons that engage students.  We covered a lot of information over the past four months and yet I feel that we have only seen the tip of the educational technology iceberg.  I want to discuss a couple that I really enjoyed and feel that they would be of great benefit to my students.

I am very intrigued by the idea of a ‘flipped classroom’.  One complaint that I’ve heard a lot is teachers feel they don’t have enough time to cover all the material in class.  The flipped classroom has the students review presentation at home.  The teacher uses the time in class for engaging activities.  I’ve had the opportunity to observe in a couple of flipped classrooms and I was very impressed.  In my last post I talked about a veteran teacher who has been using a form of the flipped classroom for eight years.  She would never go back to the traditional way of teaching.  There are so many websites and technological tools that are available now that make the flipped classroom a realistic goal for most classrooms, even in an urban setting.  Google Sites is a great place to start.

Across America, literacy has become a focal point for student improvement.  Technology provides many opportunities for teachers to help improve student literacy rates.  Some districts are turning to electronic books to replace standard text books.  Some districts are buying iPads, iPods, laptops, and other electronic devices to help their students.  While the devices are great it is up to the teacher to determine how to use those amazing tools to engage their students through literacy-based activities.

As a future Social Studies teacher, I really like the idea of using VoiceThread in the classroom to improve my students’ digital literacy.  The students can make a VoiceThread on primary document, a historical figure or a famous painting.  Students can comment on each other’s projects.  In the end, the students are using digital literacy in an engaging experience.

I’ve provided a few items that I’ve learned as we progressed through this semester in educational technology.  Ultimately, the teacher must find ways to use technology that is both engaging and informative for their students.  As teachers, it’s not enough to introduce the tool; we must also show our students how to use the tool if we are going to positively impact their learning experiences.

Posted by: Navy Teacher | April 20, 2012

Flipped Out! Great information for moving your lessons on-line

I had the opportunity to converse (via Skype) with a teacher who has 40 years of experience.  You might think that a teacher with 40 years experience is not up-to-date with the latest/greatest technology that can be utilized in the classroom.  That would be my first thought and in this case, I was pleasantly surprised.

The teacher has been utilizing the ‘flipped classroom’ concept for the past eight years.  She decided to transition to a flipped classroom when she was preparing a lesson on the Vietnam War.  The textbook the course utilized only had one and half pages of information.  She figured that she could find more information on her own.  She designed a lesson that could be taught on-line and from there her passion for creating on-line lessons only blossomed.

Until this year, she had been using the Google website design called Google Sites.  A teacher can use Google Sites to create a website for their classroom that can also serve as a platform for a flipped classroom.  She has transitioned to a new site called Haiku Learning Management System.  The site has the ability to create wiki projects and eportfolios.  It also allows teachers to create homework and assessments to include grading assignments.  There is also a drop box manager that allows teachers to annotate assignments like homework or assessments.

She shared another great resource called Hippo Campus.  This website provides some great lesson plans for various content areas that include: math, natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities.  The website also includes Advanced Placement lessons.  One drawback for this particular site is the fact that it doesn’t have Global History lessons.

Yet another resource that she provided was Quia.    With this website, teachers can create quizzes and tests that are graded instantly.  Teachers can also create interactive activities that are informative and fun for students.

The teacher I talked to uses a diigo account that helps her keep track of important sites that she shares with her students.  It’s a site that my education technology teacher has shared with our class.

I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to talk to a veteran teacher who understands the importance of incorporating technology in her classroom.  Her experiences help fortify my belief that the flipped classroom is the way of the future.  Actually, for some teachers it has already become the norm.

Posted by: Navy Teacher | April 13, 2012

Death by PowerPoint: Is it avoidable?

Did you realize that there is actually a book with the title “Death by PowerPoint” available for your purchase through Amazon?  I didn’t until about two minutes prior to starting this post.  Actually, there are quite a few books, blogs, articles, tweets, videos, and other forms of opinions on the subject of PowerPoint presentations.

For some people, PowerPoint is a tremendous tool that can be used to creatively engage your audience.  For other people, it is a soul-sucking tool similar to the Dementors of Harry Potter fame.  Well, who is right and who is wrong?  Or better yet, does the truth lie somewhere in the middle?

I’ve been on the receiving end of several PowerPoint presentations that were of the soul-sucking variety.  You know what I’m talking about; it is the presentation that incorporates 135 slides and by slide 70 you are hoping for a power outage or perhaps a natural disaster to end your miserable experience?  OK, perhaps that is extreme but you get the point.  I’ve had that awesome experience both in the classroom and also on the professional level.

For now, let’s focus on the classroom.  Is the syndrome called “Death by PowerPoint” avoidable?  The answer to that question is simple – Yes.  Perhaps the better question is:  How can a teacher avoid the pitfalls of a horrible PowerPoint presentation that elicits little response from the students?  Well, there are several ways to do that yet I believe the most important aspect is to create a simple presentation that is engaging for the students.  The rule of 10 (slides maximum), 20 (minutes total), 30 (point font minimum) is a good start yet it really doesn’t apply to all presentations.

I believe a great way to encourage student engagement is through animation.  I’m not talking about a presentation that explodes, twirls, or appears out of nowhere.  Personally, I get frustrated by those tricks.  I’m talking about animation that incorporates decision-making action buttons for example. A great example I’ve experienced involves the use of a Jeopardy format  to conduct a unit review.  Students could work individually or as teams.  The winner(s) might earn extra credit on their unit test.   There is a free format that you can download from the Microsoft website.  Another important consideration is the fact that the teacher must be prepared for the lesson.  It’s OK if the teacher doesn’t have everything memorized.  Having note cards is much better than having every, single word written on the PowerPoint slide.  The goal is to engage the students which can be difficult if they are too busy reading and writing down information that is on the slide.

Ultimately, creating a PowerPoint presentation that engages the students through activities makes it a tremendous tool for use in the classroom.  Unfortunately, there are too many teachers out there that use PowerPoint as a note-taking means of sharing information with the students.

I’m interested in receiving opinions on this subject.  Please share some of your ideas on how to best engage students through PowerPoint.


Posted by: Navy Teacher | April 6, 2012

Voicethread in the Social Studies classroom

Voicethread is an amazing tool that can be utilized in any classroom.  It allows students to interact by providing their input on a historical photograph or painting.  A teacher can download a video clip and have his/her students comment on the video clip.  Another consideration – voicethread can be used at school or it can be utilized as a homework assignment.

As an aspiring Social Studies teacher I want to provide three examples on how voicethread can be used in a middle or high school social studies classroom.  As part of a visual discovery lesson, a teacher could place John Trumbull’s painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and have the students comment on what or who they see in the painting and the significance of the painting.  Another great idea for a teacher is to embed Adlai Stevenson’s powerful Cuban Missile Crisis speech in front of the United Nations Security Council.  The students could comment on how that speech might have impacted the  Khrushchev’s response to President Kennedy’s demand to remove nuclear weapons from Cuba.  Finally, a teacher could present a stock market graph from The Great Depression in voicethread and have the students comment on what the graph represents.

Voicethread represents yet another great tool that will help engage students’ interest.  Of course the context of the lesson is the key to successfully implementing a tool like voicethread.  Voicethread is one toll I really look forward to using in my future classroom.  Please provide some examples of how you have or will use voicethread in your classroom.

What exactly is ‘assistive technology’ (AT)?  I found it difficult to describe AT in one sentence or even one paragraph which is why I decided to research how AT is used to meet the needs of students in special education.  As an aspiring Social Studies teacher, I believe it is extremely important to understand how I can best meet the needs of my students and that certainly includes those students who have a 504 Plan or an Individual Education Program (IEP).

According to the Assistive Technology Act of 2004, an AT device is “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with a disability.”  It is important to understand the basis of why we need to provide AT devices to our students with disabilities.  As educators, it is our responsibility to consider whether the student requires AT devices and services.  Hopefully for the student’s sake, the IEP team is well versed in what AT devices and services are available and how they can best meet the needs of the students with disabilities.  Unfortunately, that is not the case in many school districts around the nation.

Educators must advocate for their students who have either a 504 Plan or an IEP.  What about students who have not been identified as having a learning disability?  I participated in a discussion yesterday about literacy.  The topic revolved around students who have difficulties in the area of literacy.  I believe it is an issue that is not identified in many students.  Some interesting points were brought up in our discussion.  I want to focus on one area because I feel it is an epidemic in American society.  Here is a hypothetical question for you:  Should a student who is five grade levels behind (i.e. reading on a 4th grade level in the 9th grade) be identified as a student with special needs?  My answer was an unequivocal ‘yes’ because he/she can benefit from AT (i.e. kindle, optical character recognition device, and text-to-speech).  He/she could also benefit from testing modifications (i.e. test read or extended time).  Another benefit would be intense reading instruction for the student.  Literacy is a significant risk factor that leads to an adolescent’s decision to drop out of school.

Another area that I feel deserves attention is students with visual impairments.  AT has been used for the visually impaired for more than two centuries.  I selected a peer-reviewed article that included a survey of teachers of students with visual impairment.  What I found was surprising; nearly 60% of the teachers surveyed lacked the confidence to teach AT to their students.  How can that problem be rectified?  The authors brought up a great point, it starts with teacher preparation.  It is not realistic to expect teachers to understand how to use a device if they have never been taught how to do so.

The research project solidified my perception that AT devices play critical roles in meeting the needs of our students.  It also reinforced how important it is for educators to advocate for their students to include students who have not yet been identified as having a learning disability.

Posted by: Navy Teacher | March 23, 2012

Social Media ~ A curse or a blessing?

There are more than 800 million active users on Facebook.  I mention Facebook because it is the most popular social media outlet in the world.  There are several other social media outlets out there like twitter, Linkedin, YouTube, and this blog for example.  I decided to include Linkedin because the site claims to be the “World’s Largest Professional Network.”

You might be wondering why I posted the picture of the ossified (drunk) gentleman with his face in the urinal.  I’ll get to that in due time.  For now, please follow my hypothetical story.  Assume that a young man similar to the one depicted in the picture is looking for employment.  He sent out his resume to many companies in the area.  He received a call from a human resource manager who already checked him out through Linkedin.  She liked his resume and didn’t see any red flags on his Linkedin page so she called him in for an interview.  He does a great job selling himself as the best candidate for the job.  Towards the end of the interview the human resource manager tells him that she was unable to view his Facebook page so she asks him to either open up his Facebook account for her or provide her with his login and password.  He is appalled by her request.  What should he do?

That is a realistic scenario that is happening across America.  Some people question the legality of the request.  I don’t believe that employers or potential employers should ask for sensitive information like access to individual Facebook accounts.  However, I disagree with Orin Kerr’s assessment that asking for a Facebook login and password is similar to asking for someone’s house keys; that is like comparing apples and oranges.  I believe that an employer has the right to ask a potential employee to open his/her account or “friend” the company.  It is also the right for the potential employee to refuse.  Of course, their refusal might cost them a job offer.

Back to the young man who was asked to either open his Facebook account or provide his login and password.  He really wants the job so he agrees to open up his Facebook account.  The human resource manager browses his pictures and stumbles across the picture above along with other pictures to include friends doing keg stands, playing beer pong, and another picture of the individual smoking a questionable substance from a water bong.  The young man tells the human resource manager that those are old pictures and feels they don’t truly reflect upon his character.  How do you think the human resource manager would feel about seeing those pictures?  In this scenario, the human resource manager thanks him for his time and tells the once promising candidate that “we’ll be in touch.”

Welcome to the 21st century where companies conduct background checks by conducting a simple Google search.  I’ve typed my name in to see what comes up.  I found that there is a world-famous Irish musician who shares my namesake and there are seven professionals with the same name in Linkedin.  If I do a more detailed search by including my name with Navy I found some information about my previous employment.  I’m happy to say that there wasn’t any erroneous information that could be detrimental to my future employment quests.

As an aspiring teacher, I believe it is my duty to ensure students understand the tremendous benefits of using social media and the potential pitfalls that they should avoid.  I also believe that it is a teacher’s responsibility to model appropriate behavior within the realm of social media for his/her students.

Please share your thoughts on this subject.

Assume that you are a teacher in a classroom that provides your students with access to the cyber world.  Assume that every one of your students has access to the internet outside the classroom as well.  Is that an unrealistic expectation?  I’m sure there was a poll taken somewhere that can provide some insight that can’t be applied to every school in the country.  For now, I would like you to assume that your students and classroom have access to the internet.

Should social media be part of a class’s curriculum?  What I mean is, should a teacher incorporate social media into the learning process for his/her students?  That should be an easy answer; this is the 21st century.  Students are tech-savvy; some have multiple paths (i.e. laptop, cell phone, iPad, Play Station 3, XBox, Play Station Portable) to access the internet.  As their (fake) teacher, you are obligated to teach to their strengths in your (fake) class.  A majority of Americans like to use social media to connect with other people.  You must use social media to effectively teach the students, right?

I believe that social media in the mythical classroom described above, can be and absolutely should be used as an education tool.  The teacher must be taught how to use social media in the classroom.  Before a teacher uses social media as a classroom tool, the teacher must teach his/her students to be effective citizens of the digital world.  It would be a huge mistake to assume that students know how to effectively use social media just because they have had their own Facebook page (for example) for years.  Social media provides opportunities galore to engage students and tap into their creativity.

Another factor to consider is the teacher must have permission from his/her administrators and also receive permission from the students’ parents/guardians prior to traveling down the digital road in the classroom.  A teacher’s livelihood could depend upon it.  If a parent/guardian is not comfortable with their child participating in a teacher’s classroom wiki page then that student cannot participate.  The teacher will have to create an alternate assignment for that student.  I love being an American.  I thoroughly enjoyed my years defending America’s honor while I wore the nation’s cloth.  Unfortunately, there is a serious issue that continues to grow in these great United States.  We live in a litigious society where it’s acceptable for someone to file a class action lawsuit because he doesn’t like paying extra for food at the movie theater.  What’s next, will someone try to sue Mickey Mouse because he charges too much for an ice cream bar at Magic Kingdom?  OK, I’m stepping off my anti-litigious society soapbox.

Bottom line – I believe that social media is a tremendous tool that should be used to engage students who have access to the digital world.  However, there has to be guidelines in place that include administrator and parent/guardian approval.  I would highly discourage teachers from ‘friending’ their students on Facebook.  Oh, and don’t be one of those teachers who uses social media to vent about a frustrating day in the classroom.  There is a good chance that you could be fired.

Posted by: Navy Teacher | March 2, 2012

The Dangers of Digital Illiteracy

Is there a clear-cut definition of ‘literacy’?  Most people believe that a literate person should be able to read for understanding, write clearly, and be able to think critically about the text that he/she is engaged in reading.  Does the ability to read, write, and think clearly define a literate person?  Not according to the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE); especially when you think about what literacy means in the 21st century.  The NCTE believes that a person must be able to perform six (yes, six!) different standards to be considered an effective 21st century reader and writer.  I want to focus on the first standard because it (Develop proficiency with the tools of technology) has NOTHING to do with the antiquated definition of literacy.

Should parents and teachers be concerned about helping students ‘develop proficiency with the tools of technology’?  I believe it is fair to say that most tweens/teens know their way around a computer.  Some tweens/teens have multiple technological devices (phone, laptop, iPad, etc) to access their Facebook page.  They can find stuff on-line.  They can upload pictures and clips.  Can they develop proficiency with the tools of technology?  I don’t have statistical evidence to back up my opinion and let’s be honest, statistics can be manipulated to support just about any view point.  It’s my opinion that there is a serious disconnect between being able to access knowledge and being able to proficiently access knowledge through technology.

I provide you with an example involving a fake student named Johnny.  He is required to write a one-page essay on the inspirational civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. during Black History Month.  Johnny is excited about the opportunity to write an essay on one of his heroes.  During his first Google search Johnny types in ‘Martin Luther’?  What will he find?  He’s going to find a lot of information (96.5 million results on Google) starting with Martin Luther.  He’s the guy who was a Protestant reformer during the 16th century.  OK, that isn’t a big deal.  Johnny is an astute young man who understands that Martin Luther of the 16th century isn’t the guy he has to research.  Let’s assume that Johnny decides to expand his search to ‘Martin Luther King, Jr.’  Johnny has found his man!  Of course, there is still a LOT of hits on that subject (48.9 million).  Like most savvy students, Johnny focuses his search on the first few search pages.  At the top of page number two, he finds an interesting site labeled Martin Luther King Jr. – A True Historical Examination.  What he finds in that website does not paint a positive light on MLK.  In fact, it is extremely negative.  Johnny’s opinion about his hero is shattered.  What if Johnny decides to use that website to develop and write his essay?  What do you think would happen?  I’ll assume that his teacher will think Johnny is an aspiring Black-White Supremacist like Clayton Bigsby who is also a fictional character (Chappelle’s Show) but you get the point.

The example I provided is a bit extreme but it serves a purpose.  It is vitally important for teachers (and parents) to help students learn how to effectively search the internet if they are going to meet that first standard of 21st century literacy as described by the NCTE.

Posted by: Navy Teacher | February 24, 2012

Inspiration for the challenged learner

As I traverse this semester, I am constantly searching for opportunities to enhance my ability to teach my future students.  This week in my education technology class, we learned about the awe-inspiring software with a fitting name called Inspiration.  It is an amazing tool that has many uses that will engage students while also helping them retain important information.  I really like the fact that students can start a graphic organizer at the start of a unit and update the organizer as they progress through the unit.  What a remarkable way for students to capture important information while also creating an assessment tool in the process!

I also like the fact that Inspiration can work in tandem with Webspiration.  I am already thinking about fascinating ways to use Webspiration to engage parents throughout the school year.  For example, I could create an organizer that I can update so the parents have a visual idea of what their children are doing in the classroom.

I decided to do a little research about how Inspiration can help students with learning disabilities in Social Studies.  I found an interesting article that was in the Journal of Instructional Psychology.  The article was based on a study to examine teachers’ attitudes and perceptions toward the use of technology-based instruction as an effective instructional strategy in inclusive social studies classes.  One of the questions they were asked was directly related to the use of Inspiration software as it relates to students’ ability to learn content.  The teachers were asked to expound upon how Inspiration software helped their students recall information.  Every teacher stated that the Inspiration software drastically increased student achievement scores.  In a nutshell, Inspiration software was a hit for students with learning disabilities.

I have had the opportunity to experiment with the Inspiration software a little bit in class and at home.  I believe that I have struck proverbial gold in the sense that Inspiration software will provide my future students and parents with a tremendous education tool.


Posted by: Navy Teacher | February 17, 2012

How to avoid the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ phenomenon

I was hoping that we would have the opportunity to play with the Inspiration software so I would have a personal experience to include in my blog post.   At first glance, I feel that the Inspiration software can be a great tool to use for both teacher and student.  The best feature in my opinion is the fact that the software reaches all learning styles through interactive functions.  One feature that impressed me was how the software creates an outline from a previously created diagram or a map.  That feature hit very high on my ‘wow’ factor scale.

Of course, there is a potential drawback to Inspiration software.  Doctor Ransom explained the potential drawback succinctly in class.  I could be wrong but I believe he was expounding upon Jozen’s post from the previous week.  If you put garbage into this magnificent tool what should you expect from the output side?

A teacher must utilize pedagogical strategies to teach his/her students how to use the software.  The next step would be for the teacher to model the software for the students.  After modeling the software for the students the teacher must allow the students to demonstrate that they are able to effectively manipulate the Inspiration software.  I consider that last step in the process to be the most crucial step.  As teachers, we cannot expect students to avoid the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ phenomenon if they aren’t provided the opportunity to show us that they know how to use the tool.  When do you fit that into the schedule?  I suppose that is another topic entirely.  However, it is unrealistic for a teacher to expect students to use a tremendous tool like Inspiration without training, modeling, and teacher-monitored execution.

I base my opinion on personal experience.  I spent a good portion of my life wearing the nation’s cloth (aka a military uniform).  I will use my last tour of duty as an example.  As the leader of Weapons Department, I used the strategy listed above to ensure that those personnel under my charge were battle-ready prior to our anti-piracy/anti-terrorism deployment.  Please understand I am not comparing a classroom to a military deployment.  Quality results should not be expected if the teacher does not ensure that the students know exactly what is expected of them.

Your thoughts on this subject are greatly appreciated.

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