Teachers and Technology

How do you use technology in your classroom? According to an article by eSchool News online, approximately 86 percent of teachers say computer technology has changed their teaching methods “at least some,” while 55 percent reported that it has changed instruction “a great deal.”

The perception among many students is that they know more about technology than their teachers. This perception is not entirely unwarranted. Gone are the days when teachers can ignore technology, and teachers that do, do so at their peril. Students can and will easily plagiarize any among possibly thousands or millions of (usually poorly written) essays. Students can easily throw together a web site or Power Point demonstration with minimal effort and a few snazzy elements, unduly “wowing” the technologically naive teacher.

For the past four years of my career, I have been required to use gradebook software to send attendance and report grades. E-mail has become a dominant form of communication. My home state of Georgia has a technology requirement for teachers who plan to renew their teaching certificates. A teacher must take a class, assemble a portfolio, or take a test to meet the requirement. The Internet offers a wealth of information I would have coveted as a first year teacher, but which was unavailable back in 1997 when the World Wide Web was a smaller place.

I am very excited about the prospect of using blogs as classroom tools. My classroom blog is still just getting off the ground. I have asked students for feedback on using the blog. Frankly, they’re new to the idea of a class blog, too, and I’m not sure what they think. I have found Power Point demonstrations to be an entertaining way to convey information. A peer taught me how to create a Jeopardy game for test reviews using Power Point, and students have had a lot of fun with that when I’ve used it. One of my favorite uses of technology has been creating scavenger hunts or other web-based lessons for my students. Here are a few samples:

However, using technology takes a great deal of time. On the one hand, teachers have access to information at their fingertips, and I’m sure not as much library/book research is required for planning lessons; however creating web sites, Power Point demonstrations, and the like take much longer than planning other types of lessons. I think some teachers, particularly those intimidated by computers, conclude that it just isn’t worth it.

I think our peers — other teachers — are best at teaching teachers how to use technology in the classroom. We can show each other real-classroom applications and break it down in a way everyone can understand. For me, the importance and, if you will, “rarity” of what I do was underscored by two students. I was showing my Hemingway Power Point to students, and it was easier to access from my web site rather than try to locate the file (I was a bit scattered, as I didn’t have time to set up the laptop and projector — this time, it wasn’t my fault). When I pulled up the site, a student remarked, “You have a website?” I laughed and reminded the student (as did several of his classmates) that I had told them about the site the first day of class and it was on the syllabus. He said, “Yeah, I know, but when teachers say they have a website they usually mean a School Notes page or something.” I said, “Yeah, I know. My website’s COOOL!” I don’t mean to sound like I’m knocking School Notes. I do think that if you want to branch out — hosting files, really playing with the site’s appearance and content — School Notes is a bit limited. Another student, upon hearing about my site complimented my computer skills. To me, what my students get out of the technology I use is the bottom line.

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My School in the News

The AJC higlighted our school today in an article about our upcoming groundbreaking (free registration or BugMeNot).

After visiting our sister school, Gann Academy in Boston, I am really excited about moving to our permanent campus. We are, as the article indicated, currently in temporary buildings. Our school has a nice camp feel to it, but the kids are packed in tightly. The article says we have 127 students, but it’s actually over 150 as of this year. Our enrollment was 127 last year.

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Cobb Laptop Saga Comes to an End?

Cobb County (GA.) Schools Superintendent Joseph Redden announced his resignation today (free registration or BugMeNot). Is it just me, or does this passage seem a little less “newsy” and more opinionated?

Redden’s departure from the 104,000-student system surprises few, if any. Redden had defended himself and his staff of wrongdoing after a critical report on the bidding process for what would have been one of the nation’s largest efforts to provide laptop computers to students. But his situation had become increasingly dysfunctional.The ambitious program proposed by Redden in February would eventually have provided computers for all the school system’s teachers and all students in grades six through 12. In unveiling the idea, Redden chose to emphasize the magnitude of the program rather than the incremental steps that might have been an easier sell.

After a divisive public debate, a lawsuit brought by a former county commissioner stopped the program last month, not on its merits but on the plan to fund it with proceeds from a special sales tax approved in 2003. Then, Aug. 14, came the stinging report by a corporate investigator alleging bias and deception in the bidding process for the contract that had been won by Apple Computer.

Most of the buzz in the education blogosphere seemed to indicate that many educators felt Cobb should have been able to get the laptops. I live in the next county over from Cobb, and I teach at a private school. I still can’t figure out how this would have been affordable. We have about 150 students, and we can’t afford to get them laptops. Cobb has over 100,000 students.

Other than that, from personal experience, I can say it’s great when students have laptops. There are a few who try to abuse it — play solitaire or IM — but for the most part, it really helps them organize and neaten up their work.

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Writing on the SAT

Will Fitzhugh answers some of the questions raised by College Board vice-president Wayne Camara in his article in Journal of College Admission, Summer 2005.

Specifically, why is it that readers for the SAT are instructed to ignore factual errors in essays? Fitzhugh rightly wonders how to “reconcile this with Wayne Camara’s statement that ‘The essay on the SAT writing test…is consistent with the kind of writing students are expected to do in college classrooms.'”

My tenth grade students write a five-page research paper using MLA style. Based on my memories of college, that is going to be the single most useful skill I can teach them, as I had to write papers in science, history, music, and even P.E. classes as well as English classes. Sadly, the “bang it out in 25 minutes” SAT writing sample — which is not required to be factual — will do little to assess how ready students are for college writing.

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Homeschooling Pre-K

Perhaps you already know about Georgia’s state-funded pre-K program. I actually taught pre-K for most of a full school year (November 2001-May 2002). What you may not know is how ridiculously hard it is to get into programs. I don’t want you to think I’m lazy, but we only have one car, and I have limited time in the mornings to drop my daughter Maggie off, so I had to confine my searches for pre-K openings to the public school and daycare centers in our area or on the way to work. No luck. Everyone has a (long) waiting list.

My daughter Maggie is bright. She’s very precocious. He has a highly-developed vocabulary, she recognizes all of the standard shapes and most of the odd ones (like diamonds, trapezoids, etc.), she can count fairly well, and she retains things she learns like a sponge. I know what you’re thinking. Every parent thinks their child is gifted. I can very clearly recall having a conversation with my supervising teacher in which she described her younger daughter as gifted, while her older daughter worked hard and was bright, but clearly could not be labeled gifted. At the time, it sort of shocked me. After having earned my gifted certification and having had three children, I understand a little better that Cheryl was not showing favoritism, but merely being objective about her children. So I have three children. I think the eldest is bright, but distractable. Her vocabulary was not as developed as Maggie’s is when she was four. Likewise, my younger son Dylan seems decidedly uninterested in talking at two years old. He says “car” and “mama,” but aside from that, not much moves him to speak. I find it hard to assess his abilities, because he either cannot verbalize them or is uninterested in doing so.

So back to Maggie. She really needs school. She wants to go so badly. But I haven’t been able to find a pre-K program with space. So I have decided that rather than let her “languish” before Kindergarten (yes, I realize how absurd that sounds, but I’m not a pushy parent — I just see an eagerness to learn, and I want to develop it) that I will homeschool her in pre-K. I bought some books at the local teacher store, but I am most eager to receive guidance from any early educators who stumble upon this.

Sadly, I think the thing Maggie really needs out of school is socialization with other children, but since I can’t provide that right now, I’m going to try my best to at least provide some learning experiences. I bought the following books:

They look pretty good, but I’m a high school teacher, essentially, and teaching someone to read — even someone as eager as Maggie — is a task I find daunting. I am looking forward to working with Maggie, too, but I will be happy to receive any advice my fellow educators have to offer.

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Teacher Shortage and Competence

Ever since I was finishing up my teaching degree in 1996-97, I’ve been hearing about this projected teacher shortage (free registration or BugMeNot). With increasing demands of NCLB, and complaints about the calibre of teaching candidates (and teachers themselves), not to mention concerns about teacher education, what on earth are we going to do to address this critical issue? Frankly, I know I for one have no desire to return to public schools. I’m way too happy in my current position.

For most of my career, it did seem like I was one of the younger teachers. One by one, I’ve seen colleagues retire after 30 odd years in education. It was actually kind of difficult to find a teaching position when I first went looking. I imagine that at some point, some schools will be desperate for bodies in the classroom, and I wonder what will happen when the number of schools who fail to make AYP skyrockets.

In a somewhat related issue, this is probably old news, but it was new to me. I recently read an article about a New York teacher who failed his certification exam several times paid a former homeless man with Asperger’s syndrome to take his exam for him. We don’t have tenure in Georgia. I think a principal with a documented case file on a problematic teacher could very easily dismiss said teacher from his/her position, and I doubt it would take years, which is something about which tenure-opponents frequently complain when issues of teacher competence make the news. Frankly, I’m of the opinion that a teacher ought to be able to pass a test. I guess this infamous 1999 NY Post article is no longer available for free from the source (free preview), but honestly… if this is not a hoax, and there are teachers who really wrote such things on communication that went home, there is something really scary going on, and frankly, I wouldn’t want such teachers teaching my child.

I think the bottom line for all of us as educators is to advocate for ourselves, but also think about our own children, or if we have none, our hypothetical children, and ask ourselves — would I want this for my child?

You know, the other day, I was talking with a colleague, and she mentioned that there is not one person she’s ever talked to or taught that doesn’t have some story about a destructive teacher. The teacher that in some way inflicted a wrong that still bothers us to this day. My mother will never forget Miss Allen, who broke her brand new crayon on the first day of school in junior high when she borrowed it to demonstrate something, then excused it with a glib, “Oh, well, it’s better like this anyway.” Incidentally, I had Miss Allen myself when I went to middle school and suffered no ill effects. From this incident, I can only assume we sometimes inadvertently cause harm. Barbara, my colleage, says that is her rule of thumb as a teacher — first, do no harm.

Personally, I think if your writing skills resemble those of the teachers in that NY Post article or if you are unable to pass certification tests after repeated attempts, you need to ask yourself if you aren’t doing your students serious harm.

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First Week Back

The first week back to school is half over. I have been testing summer reading assignments and establishing routines. I am enjoying getting to know the new students and seeing the old ones again. I feel very lucky to be working at my school. I have taught in some difficult places and worked with some difficult faculty, but the teachers and administration at my school are collegial, friendly, helpful, intelligent, and fun to work with. The atmosphere in our teachers’ lounge is unlike any other I’ve seen — everyone seems happy and no one complains about constant discipline issues. It’s really a pleasant place to be.

Today, a student I taught last year said that he heard I was leaving at the end of this year. I’m not. I’ll stay as long as they’ll let me! I wonder where those rumors get started. That’s an odd one.

I am really excited about some things I’m doing this year. I’m going to try a Socratic seminar with my 10th graders on The Color Purple next week. I think it will be interesting to hear what they say. The challenge will be for me to stay quiet!

Friday we’re having our Field Day, which I think is a great idea, because the students get to know each other and have a day of fun at the beginning of the year rather than at the end. I just wish it wasn’t so hot here. It’s fun for the faculty to participate, too — at least I enjoyed it last year.

It looks like I’m going to be grade level advisor for the 10th grade this year, which may mean that I can go to Boston again on the 10th grade trip. I would really enjoy that, but I would understand if they want to give someone else the opportunity to go.

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School’s in Session

I’m ready for school to start on Monday. I have my syllabi printed and photocopied. I have actually color-coded my classes this year in an attempt at organization. I have lessons planned. I know what I’m going to do in all the classes I teach for the next few weeks, even if I don’t have step-by-step lesson plans written out except for the first week.

I really love the start of a school year. It’s something that hasn’t changed since I was a kid. I used to love to go shopping for new school supplies. However, doing likewise with my middle-school daughter was a nightmare last night. Too many people trying to get at the same stuff at the same time.

We had orientation for new students today. I had a very productive meeting with my boss. It was a busy day. I really like getting back into the rhythm of school.

I feel like I learn so much more as a teacher than I learned as a student. I like getting back into that learning mode.

Bleh. This post feels all disjointed. Sort of all over the place.

I’m looking forward to a good year. Here’s hoping I can stick with this organization thing I’ve been trying to make happen for my entire teaching career this year.

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Back to School

I went back to school for my first day of pre-planning. I share a room with one of my best work buddies. Isn’t it funny how teachers become really good pals with other teachers at work, but don’t really see them socially during the summer or outside of work? We put together our new locking cabinet, despite our combined lack of spatial intelligence. I am really glad we’re sharing a room, because I doubt anyone else could put up with the way I spread out and clutter up a classroom.

I planned lessons for the first week, which wasn’t a big deal, since I need to test summer reading and give some sort of baseline writing assignment for the portfolio.

Tomorrow, we have meetings all day. Same Wednesday. I think we’re working in our classrooms all day Thursday and Friday, except for the fact that Friday is New Student Orientation, so students will be coming through.

Monday is our first day of school. This year, I am teaching two 10th grade American Lit. courses, a 9th grade Grammar, Comp., and Lit. course, and a Writing Seminar. I have already had a lot of the students I’ll teach this year as ninth graders.

I’m trying to figure out exactly what I’m going to do with the class blog I have set up. How will the students use it? What will be the most beneficial thing for me to do with it? It’s sort of an experiment for this year. Next year, we’ll iron out the kinks, I suppose.

I am going to post PDFs of the lesson documents at this site soon, now that I have the capability to do so. I will update here when documents are available.

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NCLB Transfers

Interesting… according to an article in yesterday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a school at which I taught from 2002-2004 was required to allow students to transfer to another school because they failed to make AYP for two years in a row. I wish I could say I was surprised, but after being taken to task for having standards that were too high and being blamed for schoolwide discipline issues when they occurred in my classroom, I just can’t say that I didn’t see that one coming.

I have problems with NCLB, and for all I know, the high number of Special Education students and ESOL students at my former school scoring low on standardized tests may be the reason they failed to make AYP. Thing is, there are more problems than test scores at some schools. Teacher morale at my particular former school was extremely low. I was absolutely miserable there. Even though I disagree with many of the finer points of NCLB, I hate to admit that after the shabby treatment I received by administrators at my former school, it gave me a sort of grim satisfaction to see them fail.

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