Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Immersed in the Blogosphere

I have spent the past few weeks "surfing the blogosphere" as some may call it, reading blog posting by different writers, professional educators, and my own EIT colleagues. I haven't really gotten too deeply into the swing of posting yet, mostly because I am so busy this semester, but the blogs I've been reading have certainly gotten me more interested in the process.

Tonight in our EIT web conference on Adobe Connect, we were sharing our reactions about using social networking tools. Almost everyone has heard of or has used Facebook, and that social network was not featured in our class discussion, but we did compare the functions of Twitter and Blogger. Both of these Web 2.0 applications are used for social networking and communication, in that users can share information, thoughts and opinions with others who may be interested in the same topics. In our conversation about using both Twitter and Blogger over the past few weeks (and I came out favoring Twitter), I started to think about how these applications and their design/sharing style might appeal to some more than others.

I remember when I first joined Twitter. Nobody followed me for the first month, except for a few pity "follows" because I started following them. I didn't really understand the function of Twitter until I started talking to a couple of my friends about it. I have a good friend, Mr. Derek Grote (Twitter handle @mrgeduventures) who explained that he used Twitter to make connections in areas of professional development. He explained hashtags to me, and I thought "okay, I'm an aspiring English teacher, I'll search things like 'writing' 'education' 'technology' 'schools'" and started to make some connections there. By the time I got to EIT this fall, I was pretty familiar with the uses of Twitter. Or so I thought.

Twitter is a timeline, a record of thoughts, conversations, utterances, and shares that is always moving. Keeping posts under 140 characters, though some may grumble about it, actually makes the sharing easier. I prefer using Twitter to share links, thoughts and ideas because I am spontaneous, and I like to get my thoughts out quickly, before they jump away from me. With a single Tweet, I can share ideas with my followers, and with hashtags, I can share them with others too. Because Twitter moves so quickly, I have been introduced to TONS of new information, all rather concise and to the point (those 140 characters'll getcha). I prefer viewing my Twitterfeed on Tweetdeck rather than searching the net for blogs.

Don't get me wrong, obviously I appreciate and support the unique web application that is blogging, and I love my little Bloggy (though I neglect her sometimes). Blogger gives the opportunity to share thoughts and opinions about anything with anyone, and that's pretty cool. I mean, I don't necessarily know if anyone reads my blog regularly, but it's nice to know that I can blog regardless of whether I have 10 followers or 10,000. Blogging takes time though, because one is writing for a public post, and I am more likely to take time to organize my thoughts, and turn into a super-perfectionist, and that often slows me down. A favorite English professor of mine once told me to turn down the brightness on my computer monitor to black so I couldn't see what I wrote. "That way, you'll write the truth." I think he meant what's actually inside my head, instead of a neatly tied bundle of ideas. So sometimes I find Blogger harder to express myself on, because I feel less candid and more inclined to edit, edit, edit. Which is good, and you should edit anything you're placing in the public domain. But that doesn't really help me express myself on the go.

I think it would be interesting to offer use of either (or both) of these social networking applications to students in my classes, with the assumption that they would be approved by the administration and parents of course. Some teachers are using Twitter to engage students and keep them accountable, as in the case of these high schoolers at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis, MN. 

Other teachers are using blogs, wikis, and other platforms to allow students to share ideas and thoughts, as well as comment and question, on topics being discussed within the classroom. My sister's AP English class did this last year, using Googlesites to talk about different pieces of classic literature. Nate Pruett, an English teacher at Cedar Rapids Prairie High School, uses the Google Blogger to share updates with his AP class, as well as receive questions, comments, and other feedback. Check out Mr. Pruett's AP Blog

So I wonder which students would prefer? Sharing thoughts via Twitter, or Blogger? Would some students prefer the spontaneity of Twitter, being about to Tweet a thought or question now and then, with hashtags to alert the teacher and the rest of the class? Or would some rather use Blogger, and organize their thoughts into a longer, more detailed blog post? Would a lot of little Tweets equate to one  complete blog post? I hope the district I get hired in will allow students access to both of these tools, because I am anxious to see how my students would react.

As far as being active in the blogosphere, as well as the Twitter feed, these past few weeks, I have got to say that, although I felt overwhelmed at first (there are SO many things I could click and read!), I've gotten my PLN on iGoogle established and am breezing through the blogs. I think blogging can also be a very reflective tool, because I have come to understand myself better as a writer and an educator through doing my posts.

I'd love to continue waxing on the joys of social networking tools, but it is 9:30pm, and I've got a tutoring lesson left to perfect, some audio to clip, and 5 chapters of Class Warfare: Besieged Schools, Bewildered Parents, Betrayed Kids, and the Attack on Excellence by J. Martin Rochester left to read tonight. So I'll be going now, but please, share your thoughts on Twitter vs. Blogger. Who will be victorious?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Please Stay Healthy This Fall!

So, getting pretty bummed that I've barely received comments on my last few posts, especially because we're SUPPOSED to be commenting! And I'm trying really hard to read everyone's blogs, and comment, even though I feel like I've been hit by several freight trains, and my nose has been running all week long. Seriously, I should be quarantined.

The only thing keeping me alive today, besides the exorbitant amount of homework that still have to accomplish, has been Joe wrapping me in blankets, making me endless cups of tea and supplying me with an arsenal of Kleenex. God bless that man, I love him dearly. Especially because I've been cranky all day, and I look like this---------->

And anyone who will live with and support a crabby invalid (who resembles a possessed demon when photographed) deserves a medal. Or at least a pat on the back.

This happens to me every year. I'll be going strong for the first 4 or 5 weeks of school, getting things done on time, getting enough sleep, feeling a general sense of accomplishment and well-being. And then, just when I think everything is going smoothly, I am struck with some horrible cold or virus, knocked down from my productivity and thrown into a tumult of coughs, sneezes, chills, and NyQuil induced delusions. When I get sick, I get SICK.

So I thought I'd blog briefly (well, briefly for me), and provide my readers with a few tips on maintaining health during the seasonal change. Believe me, you don't want to be taking 20 credit hours, working, tutoring, writing a thesis, AND be battling an illness. It just makes for a very unpleasant experience.

1. "Everytime you shake someone's hand, wash yours." Okay, so we've been told to do this since preschool, but it still holds true! Germs are spread easiest from skin-to-skin contact, and just because we have immune systems doesn't mean we shouldn't practice hand washing. WASH YOUR HANDS PEOPLE! After bathroom visits, before and after meals, after you've been handling money, etc. Use anti-bacterial soap and hot water, and don't cut corners!

2. "Keep your hands off." This means avoid touching your nose and eyes, where it is easiest for germs to enter your body and infiltrate your immune system. I am guilty of itching my eyes often, because I wear contacts, and who doesn't itch their nose every once in a while? Wash your hands before inserting or removing contacts, and after blowing your nose. Duh.

3. "Go to bed." Being in college, I know that it is hard to get to sleep before midnight some nights. Make that most nights for me, or anyone else who's busy. But sleep is the most important thing in battling and recovering from a cold. Your body regenerates and heals itself while you sleep, so getting a good 8 hours (preferably more!) is key in staying healthy. So turn off those Glee episodes and get some shut-eye! Your roommates will thank you.

4. "Get your shot." Flu shots take 5 seconds, and you can get them almost anywhere these days. Medical clinics, health centers, hospitals, even drugstores like CVS and Walgreens offer flu shots for walk ins, and with most medical insurance providers they're FREE. Okay, I know that needles can be painful, but which would you rather deal with: 5 seconds of pain, or 3 weeks of sinus pressure and post-nasal drip? I'll take the shot.

5. "Build up with healthy food." I'm terrible when it comes to eating healthy. Mostly because I feel rushed all the time, and can't seem to find a balanced diet. But getting the proper nutrients into your body is important, and a well-nourished body can fight infections better than a body fueled by soda, frozen pizza, and Poptarts (take no offense if this is your regular diet). The food guide pyramid may seem like old news, but it's still helpful in determining what our bodies need to optimally function. Check it, yo.

6. "Work out." Our bodies need exercise to support and enhance regular immune function. Though I have a very strong aversion to physical activity, I know it's important, and my lack of exercise probably contributed to my current cold.

7. "Stay away." This means avoiding contact with people who are already sick. You don't have to ostracize those with a cough or a sneeze, just be wary. Even family and friends can pass on a cold, we don't strictly get sick from touching door handles and computer keyboards. Don't share utensils, food or drink, or personal items. Joe's already a goner because he lives with me, and has been within sneeze proximity. :(

8. "Sanitize yourself." Keep hand sanitizer nearby for instances where you can't wash your hands right away. Use an alcohol-based solution, as they kill germs more effectively. Teachers, we especially have to ritualize the sanitization, because working with students all day invites germs in droves.

9. "Another reason to quit." Okay, for me this doesn't apply, but if you smoke, STOP IT. Not only does it slowly fill your lungs with poisonous tar and who knows what else, it also changes respiratory structure and over time decreases immune response, according to a study conducted and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2004.

10. "Did you just double-dip that chip?" Don't you dare double-dip. I don't want saliva mix with my salsa, and neither should you. If you're sick, don't share!

11. "Another reason to shop." Clothes and personal items can be breeding grounds for germs. Opt for bags that are easy to wipe down and sanitize, and for clothes that can be washed easily and frequently. Also, wipe down your cell-phone with a sanitizing wipe, as hand-held devices are often overlooked during sickness.

12. "Try to smile." Happiness can boost your immune system, and who doesn't like to be happy? Engage in activities that make you smile and laugh (I might recommend Monty Python's Flying Circus "Ministry of Silly Walks")

13. "No biting." Nail-biting is a great way to introduce germs to your mouth, and into your system. So sit on your hands or something. Don't bite.

14. "You want me to sneeze where?" As we were taught in elementary school, cover your coughs and sneezes. Aim for the crook of your elbow, where at least if you can't wash after, you won't be touching anything (unless you normally feel with your elbows...)

If you follow these 14 tips, I believe you will successfully evade any cold or illness. And if you do end up getting sick, drink LOTS of fluids, take it easy, get rest, and communicate with your friends, family, and teachers so they know you're recovering. I HATE missing class, because attendance is important, but if I do have to miss a day because of an illness, I always make sure my professors are informed so that I don't appear unaccountable. Usually, people are pretty willing to accommodate for an illness-related absence.

Please stay healthy everyone, because the alternative is quite unpleasant.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

What is 21st Century Education?

What is a 21st century classroom? To understand, we must first understand what characterizes the 21st century. We must also look at what new skills are being emphasized in schools and society today. In an ever-changing world, such as the one we currently inhabit, there is the constant need to be prepared for whatever happens. Therefore, students today must adopt and apply these new skills in the classroom and in their every day lives. 21st century education embraces 21st century skills in combination with new forms of technology, and today’s media-centered digital learners. The goal of 21st century education is to prepare our children to become global citizens, capable of interacting and innovating to preserve our free institutions for a better tomorrow.

According to 21stcenturyschools.com, 21st century skills include the following:

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

Collaboration across Networks and Leading by Influence

Agility and Adaptability

Initiative and Entrepreneurialism

Effective Oral and Written Communication

Accessing and Analyzing Information

Curiosity and Imagination

These skills help develop the “whole child” in their learning, instead of simply focusing on lower-order thinking skills like identification and recall. What’s more, these skills encourage the pursuit of a global citizenship, preparing individuals for interaction, communication, collaboration, and innovation with others across the world. In addition to these skills, the use of technology and its accompanying tools will assist in further connecting our children with their futures.

The 21st century classroom looks very different than the 20th century or “traditional” classroom. Take a look at these two classes:

What differences do you see? Aside, of course, from the nun at the front of the classroom, and the black and white grain of the first photo, you might note some stark contrasts. First of all, notice the way that students are arranged in the first photo (circa. 1950s, a Catholic school classroom). Where is the instructor standing, and what are they doing? This a “classic” classroom, where teachers lectured to students, and everyone sat in their own little desk, with their own little textbooks, taking notes and staring straight ahead. Rigidity, along with memorization of facts and passive communication between teacher and student were the norm.

Now look at the second classroom. Note that instead of neat rows of desks, there are circle tables with multiple students seated. The instructor isn’t standing at the front of the classroom, as a “sage on the stage,” demanding the students’ complete attention for an endless lecture. In fact, I can’t even discern where the teacher stands in the second class. So many students are gathered together, seemingly collaborating, working with computers and programs and immersed in their work. Active learning and outcome based assessment are present in this classroom.

The second classroom is an example of 21st century education at Clemson University. The Holtzendorff Teaching with Technology Experimental Classroom at Clemson, also known as the “sandbox classroom” was converted from an indoor swimming pool, and is now home to some pioneering technology and pedagogical practices. Originally dedicated on December 18, 2007, the classroom features a new philosophy of teaching and learning, very characteristic of 21st century education. “The classroom is called a sandbox because instructors and their students are exploring the use of technology in teaching and learning with an adventurous and curious spirit similar to that of children who explore and learn about their world in a sandbox. Interactivity, spontaneity, and collaboration are encouraged in this sandbox,” (Polowczuk). This reminded me very much of the research being done by Mitch Resnick and the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab.

He suggests that learning must be drafted to mimic that of kindergarten discovery, because it is the best form of learning. New technology supports this type of learning, which is why it is becoming more prominent in the classroom.

To give a comparison of 20th and 21st century education, I present a video by 21stEducator:

The biggest differences between 20th century and 21st century classrooms also appear in the inclusion of technology and multimedia in classrooms to enrich and provide a platform for learning. Although many of our "digital natives" have been used to using the Internet, electronic media, digital images and other devices strictly for entertainment, these tools can be utilized to promote media literacy in the classroom as well! Web 2.0 and the increasing popularity and functionality of social media are coming together to create massive potential for use in the classroom. Dr. Michael Wesch attests to how Web 2.0 applications and their respective medias are breaking ground for bringing media literacy into the classroom, and supporting 21st century skills and education in general. View his presentation An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube, where he discusses the importance of such social communication tools as Twitter, Jott, Diigo, YouTube, TeacherTube, and more.

You might ask now, will all of our classrooms end up looking like the "sandbox" at Clemson? There is all this talk of classrooms going 1:1, will every school truly benefit from the 21st century philosophy? The important thing to remember is that there cannot be a strict "department store model" for the 21st century classroom. Of course classrooms will need to incorporate technology. Globalization is one of the most prominent characteristics of the technologically-enriched classroom. The world is no longer a round, spinning place (ok, it still is, physically speaking) but communication and collaboration-wise, the world is now flat. Hey, there's a great book you can read to learn more about that concept (The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman)! Now our classrooms are becoming flat too, and with our new capabilities, students here in the U.S. can communicate and share ideas with students from China, India, Australia, really anywhere they have an Internet link and access to some type of social media or collaboration tool (like Skype, Adobe Connect, or Wetoku). Students and teachers can use epals to communicate and chat with other students and teachers from anywhere in the world! The global potential inside 21st century classrooms is powerful, and will be a key element in building connections for the future of the next generation.

So the differences between 20th century and 21st century learning are numerous. You might even say that they are so extremely different that we can't possibly be moving in the right direction, because everything is going so fast! But if you really look at our world today, with the way things are changing, in climate, political issues, social and welfare concerns, global communications, international relations, and more. 21st century education is "bold, it breaks the mold. It is flexible, creative, challenging, and complex. It addresses a rapidly changing world filled with fantastic new problems as well as exciting new possibilities" (21stcenturyschools.com). And I think that we are on exactly the right track. In changing the face and function of our classrooms, if we go about implementing technology the correct way, with support and real reasons for including it, instead of using it as a "quick fix," we will be preparing students for the continually changing future.

What will 22nd century classrooms look like then? It seems like our schools are changing every day, or at least reform is being demanded and planned. But what does this mean for students? I think the digital natives will thrive in the 21st century classroom, because it has been designed for them. In the words of Ian Jukes, an educator and Futurist "We need to prepare our children for THEIR future, not OUR past." I couldn't agree more Mr. Jukes. Readers, what do YOU think?

Photo credits:



Monday, September 19, 2011

To Creative Infinity... and Beyond!

“You won’t know you’re a good swimmer unless you get in the water.” Vicki Davis uses this analogy to describe students interacting with tools on the Net. As she mentions in her latest post Kids don’t just automatically “know” how to use the web and everything it offers because they are in the generation of digital natives. Sure, they have a great advantage because they live in a world where technology is in more households in America than it ever has been before. But “there is a whole world of experience out there that students will not get just on Facebook and in email,” Davis says. Some don’t even have these things at home, and are only about to use technology’s tools in school. Because of this, students need access to collaborative technology so that they can have the chance to interact with peers, with the public, to share their ideas through blogs, wikis, and websites so that they are ready to get out and interact with the world around

them! Sharing can be such a great way for students to learn, and become more confident about the knowledge they have gained.

Davis talks about schools extending the technology use for students beyond just being in the classroom. Some schools delete students’ progress and “wipe” the digital slates every year, barring the chances for students to keep their digital creations. Davis uses dropbox in her classes so that students can take anything they create, whether it is a blog, wiki, video, webpage, or some other form of digital media, with them. Davis wants her students to extend their learning beyond the classroom, and take their creations with them as they graduate from her class. What is the good of creating something a student can only use and share in school?

For students who are just starting to form identities, understand themselves and those around them, and find their places in the world, the opportunities to create without fear, and to understand the rules of creative technology in today’s world, is extremely important. I know that lots of students today use programs and websites online to create and express their ideas, opinions, and to experiment with different forms of media that they would not normally be exposed to. And that is just amazing. Helping students to understand that they can have a “place” on the Net, to be entirely their own, created and controlled by themselves alone, is a pretty powerful feeling. I’d like to do what Davis is doing, encouraging her students to create, yet understand privacy, editing, and performing at their very best. How can someone learn if they aren’t given the chance to do so in their own, original way? What kinds of tools could be introduced to students to really help them start making something “their own” and sharing it with others?

One great way for anyone to share creative content, while still maintaining authorship and credit, is with a sharing website such as Creative Commons. Here, creators (from individual creators to large companies) can submit their work and select different licenses to keep copyrights, but also allow certain uses of their creations, depending on what they choose. They can also donate work to be included in the public domain. There are a lot of different institutions that use Creative Commons, including Google, Flickr, MIT's OpenCourseWare, Public Library of Science, and Wikipedia. What do you think about students looking to Creative Commons licensed work in their projects in school? How could knowing about this type of licensing motivate students to pursue their digital creations into the future?

Really, I think students should be able to feel like they are always moving toward creative infinity....in the classroom and beyond!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Glogster: A New View on Blogging

This is my second blog post of the new school year, and I'd like to bring to attention some new Web 2.0 tools I've been exploring recently. I often enjoy Googling in the random 20-30 minutes I find myself not occupied (which is often because I was an idiot when scheduling this semester, so I have a lot of wasted time during the day, but not enough to get any substantial homework done). Today I spent about 2 hours exploring the different applications and Web 2.0 tools I discovered through the Discovery Education webpage. There are so many to try out, I couldn't decide where to start! So I did what I always do when I need to make a hasty decision. *Close eyes, jumble options, and point*

Lo and behold! I discovered Glogster, a social network that utilizes interactive multimedia. Images, text, music and video, can come together on one platform to create a "glog" or graphical blog. Essentially, a glog is like a virtual posterboard. Users can post images, photos, videos, music files, text and numerous other multimedia to create a unique page all their own. I made one as an example, and you can view it here.

As a future secondary education teacher, I know how important the digital world is to these "digital natives." And, from what I have seen, sometimes text-only is not enough to express what somebody has to say. So glogs provide additional forms of expression, allowing alternative media to be compiled and displayed in one easy-to-access space. What's more, the controls allow you to customize color, background, font, and artwork, as well as music and video, so anyone can make a glog entirely their own.

This might sound like a bunch of flashy, fancy fluff, and you might prefer a regular blog format, but I see a lot of potential for these glogs, especially for students who are visually driven learners. There is even a Glogster EDU, entirely devoted to use in the classroom. Glogs could be used in presentations, as a way for students to make a special page devoted to a subject, a person, or anything else they might think of. My example blog is all about me, but students could make a glog about, say, Shakespeare (come on, I'm an English teacher, of course I'm going to mention him), or the scientific method, or, you name it!

Basic Glogster for teachers is free, and it allows you to do a lot with graphical blogs within your own classroom, and beyond. Students also have the opportunity to save their glogs after a project is done, go back and modify, and improve them and share with others online! Here is a video that gives you a little glimpse of what Glogster can do:

Ok, so that soundtrack might be questionable, but Glogster really IS awesome! I think it has the potential to be very useful in the classroom, if students are led through a tutorial by their teacher. Like my Literacy Education professor Dr. Tidwell always said, "Students are more likely to take the lesson seriously if YOU are going through the steps for instruction with them, instead of just listing them on the whiteboard or projector." So, have your students do as you do, and make a glog as a class first!

Mr. Greer's junior British literature students at Whitehall High School in Whitehall, Pennsylvania are using Glogster to make visual accompaniments for a graduation-required oral presentation. Take a look at what they're doing.

After looking at Glogster, what do you think? Does it have a lot to offer as a presentation tool, or does it seem like more of a frivolous time-waster, with pretty backgrounds and music players, more of a distraction for students than an enrichment tool? What areas of education would Glogster be most appropriate for? What grade levels? Tell me, when and why would YOU use Glogster? Don't be shy, comment!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Hello Fall 2011

So it's been forever since I've last blogged. Ok, I am not so good at blogging in general, since my last post was in, what, December? I'm the worst :( But I'm here now, and isn't that what's important?

I just got back from a trip to Omaha with Joe, and had a great time creeping around the sites and sounds of Conor Oberst's home city. Although I don't much care for Bright Eyes anymore ("Blasphemy" as my sister Paige would say), I was still impressed with the city's urban feel but Mid-Western size. We visited Joe's mother's (Sharon Boynton) art studio, (that's her sculpture "Omage" in downtown Omaha, to the right), as well as various dive bars, and a Whole Foods. Apparently, Omaha has one of the densest grocery store "scenes" in the U.S. Hmmmmmmmm, we'll have to check that one out.

But I had a Runza for the first time ever, which, if you didn't already know, is a little doughy bread pocket filled with combinations of beef or pork, onions, sauerkraut, and seasonings. They are apparently very popular in Nebraska According to the Runza franchise, they were brought to the United States by the Volga German immigrants back in the 1800s. The franchise started up in 1949. Take a look at exactly what I'm talking about here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Runza_Restaurants.

I didn't think they were that great, but after being bombarded with suggestions that "You HAVE to try them!" from my Nebraska relatives, and now my significant other, I gave in. My advice: throw on a little Heinz ketchup and you've got yourself some drive-thru goodness that could challenge the burger.

It is good to be back in Iowa though, and to get on with the week. As I get more time, I will be updating more regularly, especially since my Emerging Instructional Technologies class is going to be blogging too. I hope everyone had a splendid Labor Day!