A Few Resources From ICE 2011

Despite an overall let down this past week at ICE, I do have a hand full of resources to share. Hands down on of the best sessions I went to was a Media Literacy session Friday morning. I did not attend all of these sessions but some of these are from the tweets that were tossed out during other sessions.

Digital Citizenship from MTV http://www.athinline.org/

Wikispace with great internet safety resources http://msmarshall.wikispaces.com/Internet+Safety+Resources

What is your digital tattoo? http://digitaltattoo.ubc.ca/

A youtube video addressing our perceptions and the role media plays in influencing society http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYhCn0jf46U&feature=youtu.be

List of notes from one of the participants that I seemed to have misplaced the name to… https://docs.google.com/document/d/1AOCq2szg6_ode_1oBHBwH69x_jbkpSU_d_zBevDdydg/edit?hl=en&authkey=CKuS4vgB&pli=1#

A listing of all the “cool tools” shared in the closing session https://docs.google.com/document/pub?id=1OxIoKm8on3tzpXhaIErEGrOlwBfp-0Q1OB97lRiWlbU

A prezi from Jason Janczak titled “No Markers, Paste, or Tape Required” http://prezi.com/qlsjbos7jib8/good-bye-to-paste-scissors-and-markers/

I Killed a Dog

Yes, I did kill a dog…kind of. I stepped on one of my son’s toy dogs in the basement and it broke. Although the bruise on my foot would indicate that I actually lost that fight. With that out of the way, here is the real reason I am writing this post.

The past three days I attended the Illinois Computing Educator’s Conference in St. Charles. First, let me tell you that I was able to pull some great resources that I will share in a later post. However, I rode home each day rather disappointed in two major ways. I kept trying to get over these disappointments, but as I continued to reflect, I kept coming back to these two “problems” that I had with some of the conference sessions I attended.

The first disappointment was the apparent low level of technology knowledge and understanding among the participants and some presenters. While this may sound like an arrogant and potentially rude statement, let me explain. My view may be the result of me losing the roulette wheel of session picking. However, here is a short list of things I witnessed that gave me a bit of a pause:

• Presenter taking 15 minutes to explain how to turn on, capture, and plug in a flip camera. To me this should be common sense and does not require a chunk of a session, but clearly that was not the case.

• Very few of the masses of participants were on twitter or tweeting during conference. I know that not everyone has bought into the boom of the blue bird, but I was shocked at how few had.

• Participants were blown away by prezi.com as a “new” tool. This is a tool that I have heard about, used, and seen for nearly two years now.

• Presenter spending half of presentation talking about movie maker and photostory as groundbreaking tools in education. I don’t think I need to say anything about this one.

• An entire poster session on the power of wordle.com. Enough said…

• Presenters claiming to have “cutting edge” technology that was duller than a spoon…ten years ago. This kind of goes with the previous two, but I think my definition of cutting edge is not a universal.

• Presenter claiming wikis was one of the newest, best, and greatest web 2.0 tool out there. A wiki, while a good tool, is simply one tool and a vast array of potential tools out there.

• Presenter contradicting themselves by claiming to need to give kids choice in their projects…but they must use technology for it to be a good project. This presented went so far as to call out certain projects as not good enough.

Again, I don’t mean to be rude or sound disrespectful in any way. I did go to a great workshop on Media Literacy with Joanna Marshall and sat with Jon Orech in a productive Twitter session. All in all though, I was rather astounded by the seemingly low level of technology understanding. I take this to mean one of two things. One, I am that far ahead of the curve, which I don’t necessarily think is the case. Or two, we need to do a better job of sharing resources and getting more teachers caught up to the digital age we are living in. I know I have grown so much in the past four months as an educator as well as in educational technology. Those of us that do understand technology need to do a better job of sharing. Maybe more of the “tech studs” need to step up and present next year…I know I will be putting in more than one proposal next year. :)

The second major disappointment for me was how a majority of the sessions were focused on tools and not on learning. I will not call out any names in particular but if you attended, you know what I mean. A great number of presentations took the “The Great Tools of Web 2.0” or “Must Have Tech Tools” in their approach. These sessions were essentially a laundry list of the coolest tools and hottest gadgets. Many of the tools were neat and cool. However, there was little or no connection to how they actually improved student learning. I can go to Google and find a billion tools to try with my kids. What I want to know is how they have been tried, tested, and actually shown to improve student learning. Perfect example is the trend of interactive whiteboards. Many teachers think that just because they have these tools in their classrooms, they are integrating technology. Personally, I don’t buy that. If an interactive whiteboard is simply being used to present those cutting edge Power Points, then you might as well just have them pull it down and get out your overhead and erasable markers. Tools need to be used to make a job easier and more effective. The job I am worried about is student learning…don’t show me a new hammer until you know how well it drives a nail.

Although, these “tools” sessions were overflowing so maybe I don’t know what I am talking about…

Dioramas Have a Place

From: David Shankbone via wikimedia.com
I am writing this post while sitting in a session that I will not name at ICE2011. During the session the presenter made the comment, “Hello, the 1980s called and it wants its assignment back.” The comment was in the context of a conversation about projects teachers ask kids to do. The speaker was insinuating that old school projects do not have a place in today’s classrooms. Specifically, the diorama and tri-fold boards were spoken poorly about. I would actually like to disagree with this.

First, if you read any of my work or have seen my student’s work, you know that I am all about high end technology infused projects. I toss technology in my kids hand if it will help them accomplish their specific learning goals. Technology and “techno” projects are a mainstay in my classroom on a daily basis.

I am a firm believer in giving student choice in their work, from projects to assessments. If a student is given choice then the project has value. If there is evidence of learning shown, then the method and product is irrelevant. A diorama, while outdated in some minds, still has value if it works for one student. Don’t throw a project out the window just because it has been around since your grandparent’s time. If it is still a viable tool for a student to demonstrate their learning, then it has value.

Bottom line, all projects have potential value. It is how they are used and if they engage students and can show evidence of learning. For some kids that diorama is going to work so let them do it!

Movie Magic

Here is a copy of the prezi I shared today with my session at ICE11.

Special Education is BS

I know I will ruffle a few feathers with the title on this, but I am serious. The system of Special Education is BS in my very humble opinion. My perspective is based upon my own experiences as a teacher and as a father whose son is in a fantastic early childhood program. I say this for three reasons:

  • Special Education labels and “indentifies” kids. These labels are often the defining characteristic of a child. If a kid is given a label of ADHD, which is currently a crowd favorite, they are looked at a certain way. It is very easy to say “that kid can’t focus on the lesson because of their ADHD”. Instead we should be saying, “how can I make this lesson more engaging or interactive to get that kid plugged in”? I don’t want to have a kid’s life determined by the label they are given. I recognize the numerous medical diagnoses that are places upon children. Those diagnoses are real and as a teacher I like to know what a child is working with. This informs my decisions and how I support and teach them. I am going to support the needs of every student regardless of what paperwork has been filed on their behalf.

  • Special Education is a way to provide supports and services for students with identified disabilities. Naturally you would think this is a good thing but I disagree. If we are doing our jobs as educators we should be providing support for all students in their areas of need. We should not need to convene a meeting and fill out paperwork to determine how to help a kid. In addition, we should not be confined to the “approved” supports listed on this paper work. If a kid needs help, we help them in any way we can. Isn’t that what we should be doing anyway? 

  • Special Education is often used as a crutch for students, parents, and teacher alike. Students with indentified disabilities are often given watered down assignments, less work load, and lower expectations. Human beings in general often rise to the level of expectations put upon them. Students can figure out pretty quick when they are not expected to “do” as much as other kids. This sort of enabling has damaging long terms effects that I see almost daily in my classroom. Parents can also fall victim to this as they rely on the “label” to justify anything and everything their child is doing. Teachers are not innocent in this as well. It is easy to give up on a kid when you think they are not capable due to their label.

For the record, I am not against helping kids and providing every single support available to a school. Quite the contrary, I will do anything to help a child succeed in my classroom and in life. However, don’t tell me I have to give extra help to a kid because his label and paperwork says so. I am going to give that kid some extra help because it is the right thing to do and because they need it. I understand the legal and financial implications of a special education. I also understand that my son would not have been given the opportunity to be in the fabulous early learning program he is in with being “labeled”. I find it sad that helping a child is something mandated rather than something we do because it is what we are supposed to be doing.

Special Education is not going away and honestly it probably shouldn’t. I just hope as educators we are helping all learners succeed in our classrooms and in life. I also hope that we don’t define our students by their label and hold all our students to high yet appropriate expectations.

A Picture Says It All

What are you doing to engage your students?

Note: I am not the artist of this picture. It was drawn for me by my incredibly talented brother. You can find some of his work at http://stumpyhorse.blogspot.com/