Category Archives: Pedagogy

Can We Fight the Future?

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In many ways I’m disappointed that this class has come to an end.  Discussing edtech issues with fellow educators from all over the country has been a privilege.  I have definitely had to evaluate my point of view and it has undergone changes again and again.  I have been challenged to think critically about how I use technology in my classroom and I have even been presented with issues that I had not previously considered.  It was intriguing to speak with fellow educators who have very different viewpoints on educational technology.  It was very encouraging to discover that whether teachers are for or against edtech, a genuine love for students and a concentration on their needs was foremost.  Throughout the course I came to several key realizations which I will attempt to summarize here.

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The first debate covered the merits of technology in the classroom and I came to the conclusion that technology for the sake of itself is a perilous venture.  Each integration of technology in the classroom must be weighed and measured for it’s ability to enhance the learning for students.  Teachers should not be scared to abandon certain aspects of their edtech strategy if it proves inefficient or contrary to learning.  Secondly, we discussed whether we should be teaching content that can be found on Google.  I came to a strong realization that there are certain pieces of information that must be scaffolded and therefore must be memorized.  However, I also am a strong believer in challenging students with critical questions and real world problems that cannot be simply searched.  Practical application and skill development are key skills for the 21st century.  When it comes to the role of technology in our health and wellness, I came away with the notion that in many ways screen time, online bullying, and the stresses placed upon children due to technology are indeed affecting our youth.  Although there are many instances in which technology can provide health benefits, if we are truly considering all health aspects including mental health, it seems as though a balanced approach to tech use with youth is warranted.  Ian makes a great point about the resiliency of kids which i think is necessary to keep in mind.   In the fourth debate we tackled the question of openness and sharing in educational settings.  I am still of the opinion that we need to do right by our students and be cautious with how and why we share on social media.  However, some of the greatest lightbulb moments in my classroom have come from making connections with classrooms and individuals from around the world.  It has truly opened my students eyes to a different worldview.

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Tech for equity was another tough topic to tackle but due to my experiences overseas, I still had to come to the conclusion that although technology has made great strides for equity and that the bar continues to be raised, there is still much work to be done.  There are definitely many more marginalized voices being heard because of technology but at the same time, without equal access for all, it can hardly be equitable.  Social media is a huge reason why so many more people are interconnected.  However, it is also clearly playing a major role in the development of children in our society.  As previously mentioned, the sheer number of hours spent in front of screens on social media is staggering compared to even 5 years ago.  In my opinion, this is also an area teachers must approach with good modelling and a balanced strategy.  The appropriate use of social media for positivity must be a part of every classroom.  As Andy states in his summary, “with the right dosage and application, technology has the ability to enrich our lives, not harm them, but it must be used appropriately, responsibly, and we must be explicitly taught directions for use.”  If not, we will continue to see students who are depressed, overweight, stressed out, lacking sleep and unable to communicate face to face.

Lastly we discussed the corporatization of education and the role that companies now play in the future of our children.  Once again I was reminded that these types of decisions must always be made with students’ best interests in mind.  Education is a market that is ready to be tapped by many companies that would love a piece of the pie.  We need to ask ourselves, what’s the cost to our kids? and is it worth it?  I’m looking forward to discussing the overuse of technology and the necessity of unplugging from time to time as well.

In general I have come away with several key learnings from the course this term.  I’m calling these Luke’s Keys to Edtech Use.  Although they may seem simple, when applied to the issues discussed above, they have proven to be extremely good reminders when implemented in practice.  In essence, we will not be able to fight the future.  This is the way the world is headed.  What we can do is insure that students are first and foremost, that we are giving kids a balanced education, and that we are modelling what it means to live in a digital world.  Can we fight the future?  I certainly think we would be foolish to try.

Luke’s Keys to Edtech Issues

  1. Keep Kids First
  2. Take a Balanced Approach
  3. Model Model Model

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In the spirit of the debate format of the class, Steve and I decided to record a podcast in which we tackled and summarized some of the issues presented in this course. We expound upon these in the following podcast.  We also researched some helpful links in our show notes to further explore these topics.  Please enjoy the debut episode of “Steve’s Wrong vs. No I’m Not”


No Fair: Does Technology Support Equity?

Technology is the promise of the future.  It is touted as the great equalizer.  The tools that will bring education to the underprivileged, those with disabilities and those on the margins of society.  It has the promise of breaking down barriers, of helping us all communicate better and of bringing equity to the world.  But, is technology living up to these promises?  What is the evidence that we have indeed begun bridging the digital divide?  In a recent Financial Post Study, evidence suggests that even in a developed country like Canada, disparity with regard to access and internet fluency not only still exist but are being exacerbated.  As is noted in the study, age and income both play significant roles in who accesses technology and also how it is used.

“People with some post-secondary education (and who were no longer students) had Internet-use rates nearly 10 per cent higher than people with just a high school diploma, and nearly 50 per cent higher than those without a diploma.” -Financial Post

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The question has to be asked, can technology really bridge gaps such as income disparity?  After-all, at the end of the day the technology has the potential to allow access to a myriad of learning opportunities.  People have access to apps like duolingo, coursera, MOOCs, online information hubs, and translations tools.  The problem is not necessarily the programs and software but the access to internet service and hardware.  How can these services be considered equitable learning opportunities if students do not all have access to the technology?  In addition, it has become clear that technology, even when applied across a range of different socio-economic classrooms, does not benefit all students in the same way.  Harvard Education has undertaken a study outlined in the video below that indicates that the use of a platform such as wiki as an example, is disproportionately benefiting those students who come from higher income brackets and have higher socio-economic status.

So what is the solution?  Clearly the teachers and innovators need to have a strong social justice focus as we engage in these questions.  As mentioned in the video, tools that are specifically designed and targeted at low income and marginalized youth can have a greater impact than simply applying the same broad technology strokes to the entire class and expect the technology to magically transform our students.  Technology in education is an amazing gift and I use it every day and am so thankful for it, however, it can not take the place of personalized learning.  Due to issues of access and socio-economic status, we are still not able to offer the same advantages to these students as the privileged already receive.

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Growing up in Africa meant I was able to experience a different world of education than what we are accustomed to here in Canada.  My friends went to school in which they had 1 pencil for every 10 students.  This meant that as the students sat in rows on the dirt floor, the first person in the line would copy down the notes, pass the pencil on to the next person and so on and so forth.  Is it equitable that these students do not have the opportunity to experience technology in their education?  Maybe not, but it may not be that far off.  Programs like Youth Learning, and the Text to Change project are being implemented in third world countries in order to engage youth in technology and give them a voice in a digital world in which they were not citizens.

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“Technology has the potential to be a huge force for good but it is not a silver bullet, a fix-all solution to how to fix the education and employment problems for young people in developing countries,” says Kenny. “Yet one thing is clear – it will undoubtedly play an increasingly important part of millions of young people’s lives across the world.”-Charles Kenny

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Technology has tremendous potential to affect positive change in the lives of millions of people who are not currently a part of the world you live in right now.  The ease with which we can access and share information across the world in this day and age is unprecedented.  In our own schools here in Saskatchewan, tech tools are allowing creativity to flourish in those that would not otherwise have an outlet.  They are giving hope to those can can’t access traditional learning environments, they are giving a voice to the voiceless.  But the work is not done.  As you are reading this, just remember that there are millions of others around the world right now, and probably in your city or town, who have no way to read this blog.  As educators, let us not be caught in the techno-colonial trap of presuming that as we bring technology to the poor and downtrodden of society, we will be the saviours once again.  Equity must mean more than simply providing the same tools to all.  Personalized learning is the key to success.  We must ask ourselves, what are the individual needs of this student, of this class, of this community?  For many students throughout the world, physiological needs will supersede a simple piece of technology.

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Then again for others…

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The Greatest Wealth is Health

When I first considered the question of whether the use of technology is making our youth unhealthy, I had pretty much made up my mind on the issue.  I grew up in Mali, West Africa and as such was in a continuous technology lag zone.  Living in a developing country meant that even land line phone connections were spotty at best, there was no internet until 1998 or so and cell phones were non-existent in rural areas until about 10 years ago.  I grew up climbing trees to pick mangoes, hunting lizards and birds with a slingshot, or riding my bike on the goat paths that stretched for miles around our village.  I loved growing up in Africa and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  I have a bit of a different worldview when it comes to technology and that is that simpler is sometimes better.  But wait…isn’t technology supposed to simplify my life thereby making my life easier and stress free?  The issue of whether technology is making us unhealthy is one in which there are many factors to consider.  Not the least of which are the inherent problems with some of the studies and reports that have been released in recent years on both sides of this argument.

On the one hand, I feel like one day I’m going to wake up and realize that North American society has gone the way of the humans in Wall-E.  Studies have conclusively shown that obesity rates in North America are on a steady incline and that this is due in large part to diet and a sedentary lifestyle.  Some students are spending more time in front of screens at home than hours in the school day.  I usually ask my Grade 7 students during our digital citizenship and health unit how many hours they spend in front of screens on average per day.  When I first started teaching, it was usually around 2-3 on a school day.  Now the average is around 6-8 hours.  Aside form the risk of obesity due to lack of exercise, there is also the risk of sleep loss.  For students who are still developing and in need of at least 9-10 hours of sleep a night, the devices and screens in their bedrooms mean that many of them do not get to sleep on a weeknight until around midnight or later.  We then expect these students to arrive at school and begin functioning at full capacity on their school work.  In addition, the physical activity that students are engaged in at school is nowhere near the 1 hour a day minimum necessary.  Not to mention, the social and emotional toll of the barrage of bullying, slandering and trolling that students endure on their online profiles.

On the other hand, is it prudent to simply pull all technology out of the hands of our youth? After all, there exist numerous benefits to the use of technology in the lives of students. Apps like snapchat, instagram, and skype allow students to stay connected and socialize. Fitness and sleep tracking apps like fitbit allow students to get exercise and track their progress.  Not only can technology provide entertainment, it also allows for amazing creativity.  Youth are doing things with technology that at one time used to be reserved for computer science engineers.  There are numerous safety benefits, to tech use as well as  from GPS tracking and mapping systems, to home security.  There is certainly also the question of technology playing a key role in all our students’ futures.  If we simply try to cut out technology, we may be sabotaging the futures of our students.  It is simply a part of life in the 21st century and students need to have these skills in order to succeed in this world.  As described in this NPR Podcast, screens are simply another step in the long line of tools that have affected and changed our lives over the years.  But at what cost?  In a 2014 study described below, students displayed difficulty when asked to identify facial emotions and non-verbal cues after usual amounts of media use.  Those that were removed from devices scored much higher.  This is ironic because the thing that most youth spend their time on using devices is socializing.  Could it be that our youth are losing the ability to have face-to-face interactions and if so, what does this mean for the future?  

 I believe the key with this issue as in many issues of technology is an approach of moderation.  Kids need to experience skinned knees, scrapes and inventing a new version of hide and seek.  They need to observe conflict, use problem solving skills, and learn to cooperate.  They need to recognize when someone is hurt, feel the pang of empathy in their chest and ask what they can do to help.  They need to get a sunburn, get soaked from running through the rain, plant a garden.  Many teachers and parents will immediately identify the difficulty in motivating teens and younger children to unplug and engage in other activities.  This can be daunting but it has to be all about balance.  Recently a school in Stockholm, Sk created an outdoor classroom to promote learning outdoors.  Students and teachers attest to the growth in natural and authentic learning experiences.  Schools can play a significant role in promoting healthy learning and lifestyles.  How can individual teachers and parents play a similar role?

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Here are 10 tips for a balanced approach to tech use so everyone stays healthy.

  1. Discuss tech use openly with students (children).
  2. Model appropriate balance of tech use (give children your full attention).
  3. Get outdoors (exercise together as a class or as a family).
  4. Support your child’s social life online and offline.
  5. Support the child’s interests whether these are online or offline.
  6. Teach meta-cognition and emotional self-awareness.
  7. Prioritize offline connections.
  8. Make quality time together without devices.
  9. Watch for trouble such as online bullying and intervene if necessary.
  10. Set limits on screen time if necessary and follow them as well.

Let me Google that for You…

This week I had a tough assignment.  I had to debate the question, ‘should schools teach things that can be googled?’  I was arguing the agree side of this debate and I found it challenging to say the least.  I enjoyed researching the science behind how people learn and the importance of meta-cognition in the ways we organize information in our brains and make sense of it.  In essence this debate question came down to whether students should be taught the basic facts that have been standardized across our society or whether we should be encouraging more critical thinking and skill development.  On a much deeper level this becomes a question about curriculum and who decides what knowledge is required for use in society.  For example, is it necessary for everyone in our society to memorize the periodic table of elements?  For those of us who did memorize it in high school, is the recall of that information possible or necessary at this point? Furthermore, the periodic table is easily searchable online and readily available.  I am far from saying that the information in the table is irrelevant, however I am suggesting that the memorization of these types of facts may not be necessary or beneficial for life after school.

Is this to say that we shouldn’t teach anything that we can find online?  On the contrary, their are some sets of knowledge that are necessary at a base level in order to continue the scaffolding of knowledge.  Amy Signh brought up a good point concerning reading and the alphabet.  Can we find the alphabet on Google?  Of course we can, so why do we teach young children to memorize a song that helps them remember the letters?  We do this because this base knowledge is necessary for the development of the SKILL of reading.  Students need to be able to recognize the letters of the alphabet in order to practice and develop their reading skills.  This is a key element because if we intend to prepare students for life after school, we must take the next step and help students move beyond base level memorization of facts to the synthesis, analysis and constructive phases of learning.

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“Students who create, build, invent and lead SOMETHING in high school are those who not only stand out in the college application process, but they are also those who are more sure of themselves and more confident about their abilities.”-Alex Ellison

So how should we be preparing students for life after school.  Firstly, students should be given opportunities to deepen their understanding of material through practical application.  The difference between memorization and understanding is an important distinction that needs to be present in the organization and planning of learning activities.  In essence, teachers need to assure that students are being moved from passive learning to active learning.  In other words, instead of listening to or reading information from a textbook or computer, students should be given opportunities to participate in hands on learning and then reflect on what happened and why.  Research has shown that as knowledge is applied and experienced, it is embedded further in our active memory.

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I have been very involved over the past number of years in the Middle Years Practical and Applied Arts.  As my fellow teachers and I developed kits that allowed the hands on application of scientific and mathematical principles, I began using these types of Project based learning and Inquiry models in my classroom.  I quickly discovered a few very important things.  Firstly, there is an improvement in student engagement inherent in any activity that requires practical application.  I have definitely witnessed students who normally struggle with traditional styles of teaching and learning soar to new heights when given the opportunity.  Students who have difficulty sitting in desks thrive when given a chance to use and develop hands-on skills.  Secondly, the light bulb moments come thick and fast while students are building and discovering together through experiences.  Here’s an example from our classroom in which the students created a Mbira (Finger Piano) while working with fractions, measurement, sound waves, and world cultures.  I could have given my students this information in other ways but I wanted to have them share in a challenging hands-on experience and then reflect through blogging on the process (Meta-Cognition).

It will always be a difficult question to consider.  What and how should students be learning in schools?  Let’s not forget that the entire traditional classroom design was born out of the Industrial Revolution.  Society had to find a way to produce workers for factories that would have a set of basic skills in math and language to be able to continue in the labor force.  Education systems sought to have a standardized set of skills and values adopted by all society members and students, just like future labor force workers were to be compliant and obedient to authority.  The rise of public education was due in large part to the Industrial Revolution but the school system itself was modelled in large part after the factories of the time.  As we now know, we cannot educate students as we move pieces through a factory.  This is why it is crucial that teachers focus on giving students engaging and investigative opportunities for experiential and problem based learning.

So can we forget about teaching base knowledge because most of those tidbits of information can be found on Google?  The result of this type of teaching approach would most likely result in much confusion and lack of direction.  On the other hand, teaching through wrote memorization exclusively does not serve to challenge our students, make them curious, help them solve problems or give them skills necessary for life in the real world.  Scaffolding is the key and any good teacher is constantly evaluating, planning and reflecting on their students as they move through the levels of blooms taxonomy.  I think we can all remember studying for hours for an exam, only to write it and immediately forget most if not all of the information.  If students are simply memorizing answers for a test, deeper understanding is lacking.  We need to ask ourselves, are our students being given the skills and understanding they need to thrive after the last school bell rings?

 


EdTech in the Classroom: Is it Really an Option?

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I have been teaching for 7 years now and even over that short period of time there have been many advances in the types of technology available to us in schools.  As I’ve stated previously I am a strong supporter of educational technology in the classroom due to it’s incredible capabilities for positive change.  It certainly is able to close learning gaps in many areas as subjects like literacy and numeracy are made more tangible.  As pointed out by Kyle Dumont, Erin Benjamin, and Jeremy Black this week, the positive nature of edtech goes beyond simply sprucing up a lecture to further engage students.  Online tools for students with Learning Disabilities or apps designed to help build language skills are making the difference for many students who would otherwise be left behind.  In addition, we now have the capability to have students visit famous museums on the other side of the world, skype with leading experts in a variety of fields and explore biodiversity face to face.  However, is the technology use in our schools always justified?  Are the positive aspects of edtech outweighing the negatives?

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After all, surely many, if not all, teachers have experienced the frustrations with the implementation or management of technology in the classroom.  From problems with the technology itself to the inherent issues that arise from student distractions caused by the technology, the Edtech in the classroom is not necessarily always effectively meeting the needs of students in the classroom.  That is not to say that technology should be seen as a substitute for good teaching, as was mentioned by Jeremy Black this past week.  On the contrary, many of the problems that teachers experience with Edtech manifest themselves because of lapses in planning and/or organization.  So do we throw out technology and go back to bygone days of copious note taking from a blackboard?  I don’t think this is the answer either.

What’s needed is a balanced approach to technology in the classroom.  Educational technology is defined by the Association for Educational Communications and Technology as “the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources.”  The key word in this definition is appropriate.  Technology in the classroom is just like any other learning enhancement tool.  Like overhead projectors, gestetners, or papyrus, technology is simply a tool to facilitate learning.  Therefore, teachers must constantly be asking themselves if the use of this “tool” is helping facilitate and enhance learning in my classroom?

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So how do parents and teachers perceive Edtech?  In this podcast parents and teachers share their perceptions about the implementation of Edtech and where the movement is headed.  One pertinent example is of a young Grade 1 student who went home and told her mother that she had been playing on the computer for the whole afternoon at school. There was little to no communication to parents about what the technology was being used for, and the student couldn’t name an authentic learning activity that she was using through the technology.  Herein lies one of the major difficulties of Edtech integration.  It must be carefully planned, organized and transparent.  It must have a purpose.  If the technology is simply a tool that is being used because it’s what teachers and parents think should be used, the point is missed.  Edtech tools must aid in facilitation and improvement of learning.  One of the best and most recent strategies to address the issue of Edtech integration is Blended Learning.  The idea describes a balanced approach to technology in education as students work with technology in small groups as well as being opportunities to work on problem solving tasks and projects.  Students are much more involved in their own learning and have opportunities for personalized exploration.

The issue is further explored in the Economist:Is Edtech transforming Education? In this podcast, some of the success and challenges of Edtech integration in the developing world are addressed.  Clearly, technology has the ability to bridge gaps for students who live in developing countries and give teachers in these areas of the world the power for tremendous learning in their classrooms.  However, there are also cost, access and maintenance issues that are proving to be a struggle for schools in the developing world.  On the positive side of things, making learning more individualized is always a good thing.  Students in a blended learning model have the ability to drive the questioning process and have more freedom to explore.  They also have the opportunity to apply their learned knowledge in hands on ways.

It’s impossible to ignore the fact that the world is becoming more interconnected everyday.  It seems futile to resist the flow of technological advancement and especially so in the education field.  The advancements in Edtech even over the last 5 years have facilitated and augmented learning environments across the world.  For all the distractions, cost issues, and maintenance problems, we must remember that these tech tools are not simply tools to foster learning, they are now also woven into the very fabric of our daily lives.  As long as teachers continue to remember to integrate Edtech through planned, organized, appropriate, and transparent facilitation of learning,  these tools will continue to positively affect learning outcomes.

 


Push-me-Pull-you: The Dichotomy of Ed Tech

Hi Everyone!  My name is Luke Braun and I’ve been a teacher with Regina Public for 7 years now.  I teach Middle Years French Immersion.  I love being outside and learning to make things. Our classroom is the place to come if you need tools, sandpaper, wires, or odds and ends for a project.  Some of my best teaching memories have been outside of the classroom or in a Practical Arts environment where students really have a chance to shine while they apply what they’ve learned through hand-on experience.  I also love spending time with my wife and 2 young kids.  I love cycling and fixing bikes (according to my wife this borders on obsession at times).  Technology in the classroom has been a huge factor in my teaching career.  I wouldn’t consider myself terribly tech savvy but I’m always eager to learn.  It’s been a steep learning curve so far in 2016.  I’ve had this blog for just under 5 months now and I feel like I’m becoming more comfortable with the format and and also with the value of this communication medium.

I enjoyed ECI831 very much and I’m really looking forward to discussing some of the issues that are involved with technology integration in the classroom.  It should be a very interesting opportunity to further investigate my own preconceptions about technology in the classroom.  I have been teaching French Immersion in Regina Public Schools for seven years now and have a dichotomous relationship with technology in education.  As someone who has invested hours into developing MYPAA (Middle Years Practical and Applied Arts) kits, and as someone who loves the outdoors, I see the value of students learning skills with their hands that allow them to problem solve and become creative thinkers and tinkerers.  However, I have a smartboard in my classroom as well as computers and student devices (BYOD).  We use Google Classroom and Google Apps for Education to stay organized.  We also do quite a bit of blogging.  We definitely rely heavily on these technologies in our learning, not to mention the software that accompanies the hardware.

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Through the course of the last class, which was more focused on Social Media and Open Education, I came to the realization that technology in schools is really a lot like the two headed push-me pull-you from the Doctor Doolittle story.  On one side, the technology has the potential to completely transform education through concepts like open access, Connectivism and Rhyzomatic Learning.   I love the way Dave Cormier describes his disillusionment with the idea of teaching as “putting what’s in my head into someone else’s.”  There is just so much more potential in the belief that learning is not the transfer of one set of knowledge to another.  Technology is one of the ways in which we can now begin to encourage students to share and connect, and to foster deeper and more meaningful learning.  The example in the video below illustrates the contrasting nature of the technological reality that our students exist within.

However, there is also the other ‘head’ to the technology creature.  In this side of the issue we find the many pitfalls and problems that come with the use of tech tools in the classroom.  This can be as simple as access and network issues, to issues of protecting student identity online and cyberbullying.  Does this mean that the negative aspects of technology in the classroom negates its use?  Not at all.  In many ways the issues that arise at times through the use of technology in schools should cause educators to examine and carefully plan implementation strategies. Educators should empower students to take responsibility for their online identities, encouraging them to become true contributors to positive digital learning spaces.  There are so many positive aspects to the use of technology in education but I still feel like I am being pushed/pulled from two different directions at times.

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Sometimes, I feel like I need to try every new technology that I come across and find ways to incorporate it into my teaching.  I try to constantly stay up to date with the latest apps, web tools, and tech teaching strategies.  Other times, due to some of the issues involved with technology, I feel the overwhelming urge to take my class outside and plant a garden, take apart a lawnmower engine, or even try building a kite to see if it will fly. This is the balance that I seek to have in my classroom.  A place where students are not bombarded with technology but where they can use it to enhance their learning.  A place where students can feel free to ask questions and get their hands dirty if need be.

In a nutshell, that’s where my head is at as I start this class.  I am looking forward to discussing both sides of these issues and trying to flesh out the realities that accompany technology integration in Saskatchewan Schools.  I am really looking forward to interacting with the rest of the ECI830 team as we wade into the #greatedtechdebate!  My goals for this term include:

a) Discuss a balanced and effective #edtech strategy in the classroom

b) Discover ideas for minimizing or avoiding #edtech problems/pitfalls

c) Hear #edtech success/failure stories (we learn the most through failure)

d) Grow my PLN

What are some of your goals for this term?  Looking forward to meeting them together this term.  Cheers.