Sunday, March 14, 2010

Top 5 Tools for My Classroom

As a teacher who is interested in teaching with technology, I am fortunate to teach in a 1:1 classroom where every student has a computer every day. This has allowed me to use technology to get students more actively involved in the lessons, give more timely and better feedback, and better customize learning opportunities for all students. The effect of all this is that students are writing, editing, communicating, and thinking more about their work than they did B.C.--before computers.

The top 5 tools that I have my students use that facilitate student achievement in our 1:1 classroom include:

5. Moodle
I have used Moodle less this year than the last few years because of some of the other tools on this list, but it still is an effective platform for an online class. My favorite feature is the report that enable teachers to track student use of the site. My least favorite aspect of Moodle is the very linear and limited appearance, and sometimes cumbersome features (like creating quizzes).

4. CoveritLive
CoveritLive is a live blogging tool. I love CoveritLive as a platform for backchannel classroom chats during videos or student presentations, and to conduct evening study sessions. The sessions are easily embedded onto other websites and an archive of the session is automatically created at the conclusion of the event. CoveritLive is my preferred tool for synchronous class events outside of school hours.

3. Ning
Since social networking sites have become the way students primarily use the internet to connect and share with others it only makes sense that students have the opportunity to learn in that way in school as well. Ning is a nice site because it allows for an ad free service for educators and is easily customized to the privacy and learning needs of a k-12 class. I set up a private Ning site called iCitizen for a Citizenship unit. Students created profiles, joined groups, added videos and events, and asked and answered questions related to the unit. The great benefit of Ning was that it provided an authentic voice for students who are either shy or who are bored in a traditional school setting.

2. Google Docs
The primary way students submit work, collaborate with one another, and manage their assignments is with Google Docs. Google Docs (and Moodle) has allowed for my class to be virtually paperless. It has also taught students the importance of creating an online system of organization. The downside is that students have figured out how to pass notes with Google Docs (not that students ever passed notes before).

1. Wikispaces
I love wikis! The students use their Study Hall wiki on a daily basis to post assignments, take notes, post content related resources, ask questions, and learn from each other. In the beginning of the year I did most of the posting, now I may do 10-20%. It is pretty much a student run resource that has essentially taken the place of Moodle as the primary online class resource.

So, what are your favorite tools for the classroom?

NCLB--OUT, More of the Same--IN

Obama Calls for Sweeping Changes in Education Law

I never liked the No Child Left Behind law because of its focus on high stakes standardized testing, the focus on what counts on a narrow band of disciplines to the exclusion of the arts and physical education, and on unrealistic goals like the 2014 goal of having every student at grade level--or else.

Unfortunately, the new and yet to be named education program that was unveiled by President Obama on Saturday has many of the same flaws of the NCLB law.
  1. A focus on high stakes standardized tests
  2. A focus on federal direction leading to ever more regulation and red tape
  3. A focus on winners and losers
In each of these areas the "new" educational direction we are taking is more worrisome than the old NCLB for the following reasons:
  • More and ever higher, higher stakes tests. A cautionary tale is the mass firing of the Central Falls teaching staff that was applauded by the Obama administration. Read: R.I. Grad: 'It's not the teachers' fault'
  • More federal interference and the obsession with accountability measures are destroying public education. Read: Diane Ravitch's latest article--The Big Idea--It's bad education policy. This article hits the issue on the bullseye and is especially convincing since Ravitch used to be an advocate for accountability in education.
  • Obama's Race to the Top program identifies winners and losers. Unfortunately, it's the students who are ultimately the losers when so much of our focus is on jumping through the hoops that the federal government has placed in our way. Read: Obama's contradictions on education and Obama and NCLB: The good--and very bad--news.
Hopefully, this too will pass. Unfortunately, it will probably be when another President is elected and declares that the Race to the Top was a failure and institutes a new federal program to rescue the millions of students from under-performing schools. Oh, and those schools will probably be the loser schools from the Race to the Bottom, er- Top.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

*NEW* Teacher Talk Podcast

Here is my debut podcast episode for Teacher Talk by Art Titzel, entitled "The Need for Educational Innovation."